like a pagan, she lost her faith to the gods of the gun : haille
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    like a pagan, she lost her faith to the gods of the gun : haille
    <center>





    This shining city built of gold,
    a far cry from innocence.
    There's more than meets the eye round here,
    look to the waters of the deep.
    A city of evil.
    There sat a seven-headed beast,
    ten horns raised from his head.
    Symbolic woman sits on his throne,
    but hatred strips her and leaves her naked.
    The Beast and the Harlot.
    </center>



    <font size="1">"Beast and the Harlot" by Avenged Sevenfold</font>

    <font color="#FF626B" size="1">[ October 23, 2006 10:06 PM: Message edited by: partially inclined ]</font>

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    New York, 1998

    It is double pleasure to deceive the deceiver.
    Niccolo Machiavelli


    Nervous. The word didn't even begin to cover how she was feeling at the moment. Squirming a little in her chair, eyes lifted to settle on the man across from her. He radiated power like a live wire, even though he looked entirely at ease and as harmless as a person could be. Don Vittoro Medici, he controlled all five boroughs in the city, and Haille was here to offer her services to his familia. Fingers clenched together in her lap, when his eyes lifted to rest on hers, as much as she wanted to drop her gaze, it was held intently. She had a feeling this was some sort of unspoken test, and after a long minute, he smiled.

    "I've heard good things about you, Signora Moracelli. A long time ago, in Tuscany, I had the pleasure of meeting your father as well. My condolences on what happened." Flashing him her own weak version of a smile, her head bowed for a moment. "Grazie, Don Medici. He was a good man." The use of her married name caused her skin to crawl, but to correct the man would be a sign of disrespect. Shifting position, legs crossing comfortably, a hand lifted to splay towards him. "The two years I spent training under Signor Donetello have brought me here, Don Medici. I feel that it is time to stop practicing. Sono aspetto."

    Fingers steepled together, they were brought to rest against his mouth as he listened, expression calm. "Si, Cesare Donetello has provided me in the past with worthy Men and Women. Of course," pausing, a most handsome smile was directed to her, "It would be foolish of me to welcome you into the family without knowing exactly what you can do. For all I know, you could be here to infiltrate the regime, to gather information for another family." The look he gave her then was long-- studious, as if watching for any signs of falsehood. Chin lifting, gold-browns were steadfast as they remained on him. "Tell me what I would have to do to earn your trust, Don Medici, and it will be done." The smile that coiled across his mouth then was worthy of any serpent, and he stood to his feet.

    "Bueno."

    -----

    The building across the street was brightly lit, showing signs of a party. Reclining comfortably in the car's seat, the cigarette in her hand was lifted for a long draw-- smoke exhaled lazily towards the roof as eyes remained on the front door. Her information stated that at around eleven o'clock this evening, her mark would be exiting the festivities, on his way to meet with Don Constantin Arturo. An information swap -- the very thing Don Medici had accused her of -- to give Arturo an in depth look inside of the Medici regime. Tongue poking at the side of her mouth, all motion stilled as a singular form could be seen moving out of the front door and down the sidewalk. Cigarette was flicked out of the window then. She had his photograph, statistics, and the address to where he was supposed to convene with the other Don. There was no rush on her part.

    Watching him climb into his car, once he pulled away from the curb and started down the road, Haille counted slowly to ten, and then started her own car. Headlights were flipped on once she was angled around in the same direction. The miles melted away, until the city was little more than a sparkling backdrop in her rearview mirror. Up ahead, the dim glow of tail lights acted as a homing beacon, and suddenly, they flared more brightly as the brakes were hit. Switching off her headlights, the car was pulled over onto the shoulder of the road. She'd give him time to walk inside and get comfortable before intruding on the tete-a-tete.

    Slipping from the car, shoulder holster was checked to make sure the Ruger P97DAO was loaded and ready, and the sheath strapped to her leg was checked to make sure the six inch blade was in place. Satisfied, hands slipped into her pockets, and an easy saunter carried her towards the small house where the two were. The one thing about this entire thing that didn't sit well with her: the Don himself was the one meeting the mark for the information. Usually, they sent their capo or sotto to do the menial work. The only problem it presented to Haille, she had to be on the lookout for button-men patrolling the area.

    Catching sight of the two vehicles parked side by side in the yard just ahead of her, a brow arched and a sigh was loosed. As expected, two figures were standing outside, on guard. The one thing in her favor at the moment, she was a relative unknown. For all they knew, she was just out for a stroll. That theory was about to be tested as they spotted her, and one broke away to head over. "Who are you?" asked gruffly, as if the man wasn't used to speaking. Adapting her best innocent facade, hands flailed at her sides as she gestured up the road. "My car, it stalled on me and I don't know what's wrong."

    Some women used their gender to capture a man. Haille was using hers to capture these men, but in a different sort of way. The one that approached her glanced back to his partner, and gestured him over. They slipped into Italian, apparently thinking she couldn't follow the rapid fire exchange. These weren't the smartest of guards, that was becoming apparent. Haille was the epitome of an Italian woman, complete with sun-kissed skin and the lyrical accent that turned her English words into something more pleasant. Eyes rolled as she waited for them to figure out what they were going to do, though the expression quickly shifted back to innocent helplessness when they looked over to her. "Mario'll go with you to check on your car, honey."

    Giving them a most winsome smile, she gestured for Mario to walk on ahead of her. "It's not even a quarter mile up the road. I appreciate this." Falling into a slow saunter behind the man, she waited until they were out of sight of the other before poor Mario's throat was slit and he was left to bleed in the leaves. Dusting her hands off, the knife was re-sheathed, and she stood there for a few moments. If she'd learned anything, it was timing. Checking her watch, once five minutes had passed, she broke into a run back towards the other man, a hand waving him down. "Sir! Sir! Your friend, he went to lean under the hood to check something and the radiator exploded!" Curses streamed ahead of him as he jogged over towards her, but the moment he was close enough, the knife had reappeared and was jabbed into his gut. Using the force behind him, while he ran, and her own strength, the blade was shoved in until she felt it skip off of a rib-- hilt bruising into the man's flesh as he began falling to the ground.

    Biting her lower lip as she leaned down after him, fingers sliding up to make sure there was no pulse at his throat, the knife was jerked out and wiped clean on his shirt. Expression had bled down to something cold, and she stalked towards the house with the grace of a panther. Door kicked open, the Ruger was already in hand-- a bead drawn on the snitch even as Don Arturo hauled up to his feet, going for his own weapon. Aim switching, she didn't even blink as the trigger was pulled. A wash of red exploded from the Don's head as he began his fall, splashing over onto the mark as he began screaming and yelling in Italian about his innocence. While he pleaded for his life, Haille shot him directly in the mouth.

    -----

    When Don Medici entered his office a few hours later, a small gift wrapped box was situated on the desk, in front of his chair. Brows furrowing, he moved over to lift the box, red ribbon slipped off and left to drop to the floor. Inside, nestled on a bed of white cotton, were two things. A finger complete with Don Arturo's ring and the bloody bullet she'd reclaimed from the mark's body. Moments later, Haille moved into the office as well, hands clasped at the small of her back and features arranged in a perfectly neutral mask. Lifting his eyes to look at her, Don Medici suddenly smiled and extended his hand to her, ring up. Accepting the hand, she bowed her head and placed a singular kiss to the ring, as it was customary to kiss the hand that would feed and protect you.

    "Welcome to la famiglia, Signora Moracelli."

    <font color="#999999" size="1">[ January 08, 2006 10:10 AM: Message edited by: partially inclined ]</font>

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    <center></center>


    One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.
    Niccolo Machiavelli

    The night didn't feel right.

    From the very beginning of the evening, something had felt amiss, though Haille had been hard pressed to put her finger on what it was exactly. Even the men with her seemed a little more on edge than usual-- hands on their weapons at all times, and eyes anxiously darting about the vicinity of the warehouse they were to infiltrate. Each person all in black, it appeared to be more of a stealth mission than what it actually was. Hand extending to the side of her, fingers went up to ghost over her mouth, silently telling the unit to be as quiet as possible. Up ahead, in one of the closed off rooms lined with frosted windows, came the vague sound of voices murmuring together disjointedly. As well, the outlines of forms walking in front of the opaque glass could be seen, and it caused a wicked sort of smile to curve the soft line of her mouth.

    The targets were simple. Julian Favrone, Ivan Dukavi, and Phillipe Dufrey. Each had pledged their allegiance and support with Don Medici, and in turn, each had betrayed the entire regime by interrupting a freight en route to Chicago, and retaining the import for themselves. Half a million dollars in cocaine, a half million in heroin, and a large supply of firearms that were to help the Illinois Outfit-- the Italian, the Ruski, and the French were now merrily laughing and congratulating each other on a job well done. With the take, and the ( measly ) numbers that had joined in support of their cause, it seemed that they'd neglected to think of the repercussions that would fall from such a betrayal.

    Arm extending, two fingers waved a section of the men off to the right, and then another section was waved off to the left-- she and the remaining four men would take the straight-ahead route, and cover the door. Footsteps were near silent, and only the occasional scuff of rubber soled shoes could be heard as positions were taken. Gun removed from its holster, Haille pressed her back to the wall directly beside the door-- barrel pointing to the sky as she risked a glance towards one of the windows again. Turning to issue a command, eyes widened slightly when instead of seeing her second in command, she was faced with another gun. This one was pointing directly at her temple, held by man that had at least a foot in height and a hundred and fifty pounds on her. On the floor were the crumpled bodies of her compatriots-- knocked unconscious and sprawled unceremoniously.

    "Surprise," was the only thing said to her as a beefy hand extended, grasping her shoulder in a hold tight enough to almost cause her to cry out, and she was steered into the now open doorway. Favrone, Dukavi, and Dufrey were sitting a table situated in the middle of the room, smiling around the ends of their Cuban cigars and looking much like the cats that ate the helpless canary. "Welcome Mrs. Moracelli. Or, should be we say, la Belladonna? Would you prefer the name you're most feared by since you're here on .. business?"

    The first thought in her head was that someone had ratted them out. With the exception of the four men that still hadn't regained consciousness, none of the others seemed to be about. Brows knit in thought as a level, flat gaze was directed between the three in front of her, and very briefly, the man behind her was given a cursory glance. Teeth clenching, a rough nudge to her arm prompted her to drop her weapon. Letting it clank dully to the floor, a sneer replaced the neutral expression on her face. "Parassita basso di vita,," retorted with a stream of spit aimed at the favored table-- hand lifting to swipe beneath her lower lip afterwards.

    Before she could think to say anything else, she was spun around, and the world exploded in a flash of bright stars, immediately followed by slow fading darkness as her head was rocked to the side. The impact was hard enough to knock her to the floor, and for the longest moment, she stayed there on her knees-- palms flat to the floor and hair hanging over her face like a veil as shoulders rose and fell with sharp intakes of air. Jaw worked momentarily, to make sure it hadn't been knocked out of joint, before she was hauled up to her feet again and shoved towards Favrone, who had walked forward to join the party at the door.

    "It's a good thing your father in law thought to give us a call and mention exactly who Medici had working for him." Hands went out at his sides as he laughed, a gesture made to Haille as she stared coldly at him-- a thin trickle of blood sliding down from the corner of her mouth. "The great Belladonna," proclaimed grandiosely before he reached out to jerk her forward by the collar of her shirt. "Mignotta figlia di Luciano Caliendo." Snorting with that, she was shoved forward to land in the hands of Dukavi, who in turn trailed fingers down Haille's exposed throat. "Cuchka derganaya," was his contribution to the insulting of the woman, before she was finally passed over to the Frenchman. Reaching up to jerk her head back by the hair, cool eyes swept over her face, down to the exposed neckline, and then lower. "Chienne foutue."

    Leaning closer to her face, her expression twisted when it seemed as if Dufrey was going to kiss her, but instead, he repaid her for the earlier favor. Spitting directly onto her mouth, a balled up fist was rammed down into her side, and she was released to the floor-- gasping for air and swiping the back of her hand over her mouth to rid the foulness. A deep breath was short in coming, but when a good sized one finally reached her lungs, tawny hues lifted to rest on the three men.. and she smiled. "Leccare la figa," was returned to Favrone. To Dukavi, "Savok," and to Dufrey, "Va t'empaler encule." The words were punctuated with another forced smile as she struggled up to her feet, hand favoring the side where the French bastard had punched her.

    Collectively, among the insulted men, purple was a mild understatement in description of the color their faces turned. Favrone moved closer to the door and barked out an order for a few men to come escort Haille outside, and dispose of her, but what met him instead caused a yelled curse of surprise. Taking the moment's distraction and using what little time there was, she removed her second gun from its belly-band and jabbed it into Dufrey's crotch. With little more than a whispered, "Ciao," the trigger was pulled three times. Blood splattered down and covered her from fingertip to forearm, though she was paying more attention to the movements of Dukavi. He was reaching into the inner holster of his jacket for his weapon, though the closest he got to pulling it was touching the handle. Three more gunshots rang out in the next instant, and a triad bloom of red appeared on his white shirtfront.

    Rocking back on her heels, a quick pivot had her upright again, and this time, all attention was on the dark haired man holding Favrone at gunpoint. Brows arching, the clip was dropped from the gun and replaced with a fresh one, but instead of focusing in on the traitorous bastard that had only moments ago cursed her and her father's name, eyes were squarely on the stranger. "Who are you?" asked as if they were meeting at a bus stop instead of at the scene of multiple murders, and for the span of a minute, her only reply was a devilish smile. "Medici thought you might need better back-up, Signora Bella. Explanations can come later." As if punctuating the end of the sentence, one final gunshot reverberated through the room as a bullet was imbedded directly into the temple of Favrone, and the man's body was allowed to slump to the floor.

    Still favoring her side slightly, she limped forward a few steps-- gun held rigid in front of her and aimed at the stranger's heart. If he even blinked the wrong way towards her, he'd be joining the trio of men now lining the floor with their blood. Meeting her gaze steadily, his expression remained impassive until she was nearly standing on his shoes-- chin lifting to keep his face in sight and the mouth of the gun met the target it was aimed at. "Give me one reason why I don't go ahead and shoot you to save myself the trouble later?" asked in a heavily accented tone-- one that developed if she spent any amount of time speaking her native tongue. Grinning in the face of her suspicion, he dropped his voice to a conspirator's whisper, lips only a breath away from hers. "Poiché sono buon osservare." With that, the inch was closed as he brushed his mouth hotly over hers.

    Before she could pull the trigger on him, he ducked to the side and took off at a leisurely stroll towards the front of the warehouse, as if knowing she wouldn't shoot a man in the back. Brows furrowing, the gun was shoved back into its holster as she followed after him-- for the third time tonight, wiping off her mouth, as she went. Nearly running into his back when he came to an abrupt stop, dark browns slanted over his shoulder towards him with another quirked smile. "Jacob Cipriani, at your service, la Belladonna." With a stiff salute, he picked up his pace again and exited the warehouse, leaving her behind to stand there staring blankly at him.

    Moments later, the sound of melodious, rich laughter could be heard following him to his car as Haille shook her head and moved to leave the scene behind as well. As much amusement as the man's arrogant display provoked, the wheels in her head were still turning from the newly acquired information she was sure wasn't supposed to be remembered on the basis that she was to be dead. Lukah Senior was begging for a visit from his .. loving daughter in law. Gracious woman that Haille was, who was she to deny?

    <font color="#FF626B" size="1">[ October 16, 2006 04:48 PM: Message edited by: partially inclined ]</font>

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    like a pagan, she lost her faith to the gods of the gun : haille
    No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.
    Niccolo Machiavelli


    One year ago.


    <font color=#000000>Leather gloves were tugged over long, thick fingers just before the car door was opened. Long, lean body unfolded from the back seat of the black sedan, dark eyes lifting toward the cloud-covered sky and the flurry of white flakes swirling down toward the ground. Why in the hell had Haille chosen this little mountain community? He hadn't figured that out yet, but no there was no doubt in his mind that there was a motive - and a lucrative one at that - behind Haille's actions. There always was. He'd always admired that about his wife - almost as much as he did the fact that given the opportunity she would gladly end his life. Their marriage was an intricate web of complicated events and emotions; at least they never got bored?

    As soon as he stepped away from the car, the door was closed by one of the five men accompanying him. It was silent. The sounds of the cities had been left behind and now only the snow was heard crunching beneath his feet. A short, but solid man finally broke up the silence. "The house is ready, Mr. Moracelli. Both it and the grounds are cleared." The words were met with a terse nod of his head, eyes wandering over his newest property rather than on the man who had spoken. It was a sprawling mansion, much more than he really required, but then .. to have something a little more simple would have made him stand out more than purchasing a lavish home like every other resident. Purpose driven steps were taken toward the entrance of the villa style house, though a hand was held up to stop his men from following. They shifted back to their original positions and watched Lukah Moracelli disappear from view.

    Once inside leather gloves were yanked off and stuffed into the pockets of the dark wool coat. It followed suit, broad shoulders shrugging out of the extra layer of clothing before it was draped over the back of a chair. Slowly and methodically Lukah moved through each room of the house, eyes grating over every last detail, making a mental list of things that would be need to be changed to meet his specifications and needs. Overall, it was ideal for what he needed. His survey finally came to an end in his private office upstairs just off the master suite. The cordless phone was plucked from its cradle, a series of phone calls made .. business inquiries, orders made, meetings arranged.

    Thickly accented deep vocals finally silenced again as the phone was returned to the sprawling wooden desktop that gleamed from the heavy lacquer that had been applied. A lone file on the corner of the desk was lifted, the pages shifted through and scanned. Then the photos were taken from the bottom of the stack. A faint smirk quirked the corners of his mouth as he stared down at Haille's face. He'd had some of his men follow her and they had done their jobs well. He'd find out what she was up to soon enough. The file was closed and tossed down onto the desktop before he shrugged out of his suit jacket. Turning to study the grounds from the bank of windows behind the desk, his hands pulled at the crimson tie around his neck before released the top two buttons of the white dress shirt. Hands lazily disappeared into the pockets of navy slacks, quiet words falling into the silence. "I'm home, bella." </font>


    <font color=#000080>"What do you mean Lukah's in Paradise Valley? I thought I was to be informed the moment his plane left New York." Immaculately manicured nails curved inwards and raked along the edge of the polished desk's top-- dark ambers fixing icily on the two men before her. Though her tone never lifted above normal conversational level, they began squirming uncomfortably, eyes downcast and hands loosely at their sides. Heel pressing to the floor, her chair was angled around, allowing her form to rise fluidly upright. "Incompetenza, in any form, is not tolerated. Pietro, Dominic, you both know this."

    "Si signora, but Lukah, when we went to meet his plane at the terminal, in New York.. he wasn't there." Chin lifting, the two of them were regarded coolly. "It was your job to make sure you knew where he was. New York, Tuscany, Egypt.. La vostra ignoranza sta sbalordendo. Out of my sight, now." Lifting a hand, they were both dismissed with a flick of her wrist. "Bella, forgive us. We'll not fail you again." Backing away in a near subservient manner, Pietro exited first, followed rather hastily by his companion. Teeth gritting together, a slew of curses were bitten off under her breath before the phone was lifted. "Adriano, it seems poor Pietro and Dominic aren't up to our standards. Make sure you show them the way out."

    Without hesitation, Adrian's voice replied calmly. "It shall be done, Donna Bella." Receiver placed back to its cradle, she settled herself back into the chair, fingers lifting to twine together and rest beneath her chin. Failure, in any form, was met with punishment-- this was known from the sotto, to the capos, down to the simple buttonmen. The beginnings of a migraine were starting in her temples, and her head thumped back to rest lightly against the cool leather behind her. Flicking an idle look down to the slim gold watch encircling her wrist, a sigh was loosed, and she stood again. Coat grabbed from the rack near the door, little time was wasted tugging on the silk lined linen. If it bothered her, the fact that she'd just given an execution order for two men, she never let it show. It was all a part of the job description, after all. Weakness was a doorway that many would use, to kill her.

    Once in the foyer, heel clicks marking her procession almost angrily, gloved fingers lifted and pointed at one of the men loitering around the area. "Find Paulino. Tell him to bring the car around, and I expect it at the curb in no less than five minutes. Capice?" Breaking away from the conversation he'd been engaged in, he nodded. "Si, signora." With little more than that, he rushed out of one of the side doors, and in exactly two minutes, the new, sleek Rolls Royce Phantom was pulling up just outside of the building. Without a word to anyone, she slid her frame into the backseat-- moments later, the door shutting quietly. "Where to, Haille?" Paulino was one of the few to address her by her given name, and she glanced his way over the black leather seats. "It seems I'm to pay a visit to my husband."

    Cell phone untucked from her pocket, a quick call to a reliable source located within City Hall had her supplied with not only his current address, but his phone number as well. Passing the address over to Paulino, the car lurched forward in the elegant way only a Rolls could. Once they were on the road, a second call was made, though this one was straight to the Devil himself. As soon as the other line picked up, she didn't give him time to finish any sort of hello he may have attempted. "So, caro, what brings us the pleasure of your presence here in this simple town, hm?" While the words were civil, almost sickeningly so, the undercurrent of what she really wanted to say was apparent. Why are you here and not in Hell where you belong?</font>

    <font color=#000000>Finally turning away from the window and the snow swirling just beyond it, Lukah again swept his appraising gaze over his office. A mixture of dark, rich wood, mostly mahogany and cherry setting a precedence while chocolate browns, lush golds and brilliant crimsons provided a more comfortable atmosphere. The lighting was perfect, accenting upon the artwork and wine cabinet shipped over from his home country. The designer had impeccable perception when it came to his vision for this space; who wouldn't with the threat of an untimely end lurking just over their shoulder?

    Steps were crossed to the wine cabinet, the doors pulled open. Racks of wine lined the interior as well as a small shelf hosting a myriad of crystal glasses. His brows creased together, one of the dark bottles was carefully slid from it's place. Fingers smoothed over the label, glass cool under his touch. La Rosa Scura. It was the vineyard that had cost him his life. While he still lived and breathed, there was no longer a heart that beat within his chest. Such a trival thing, a vineyard. It was ridiculous to be continuing this feud with his estranged wife over a little piece of property. The bottle was slid back into place and the cabinet doors rattled in angst as his frustration was taken upon them. He knew neither one of them would give into the other if for no other reason than to keep their pride intact. What more did the woman want from him? He had giftwrapped his own father for her and let her butcher him? Was that not enough?

    Apparently it wasn't or he wouldn't be in Paradise Valley chasing after her. He preferred to call it protecting his interests. As Haille's husband, he owned half of everything she laid claim to .. and that in itself was a bur in her hide that even she couldn't tear out no matter how she scratched, clawed or bit .. and certainly he had survived the brunt of all of it. Returning to his desk, he sank down into the oversized chair, enveloped by the strong scent of new leather. Remote was lifted, a button depressed and flames leapt to life within the Italian marble fireplace across the room. His attention was settled on the file of information laid out before him. With just the first ring of the phone, Lukah knew who it would be before he even answered it.

    Speakerphone was opted for as he leaned back in his chair, hands lifting to settle behind his head. A wry grin settled over his lips as she wasted no time in getting down to the motivation behind her call. "I am well, thank you for asking, bella." Deep vocals dripped with the heavy accent of their native language. "What brings me to this quiet mountain vista, Haille? Surely you know." He paused only a moment before continuing, though the tone of his voice hardened. "I thought it common knowledge that in most marriages, the two wedded individuals are supposed to be close to one another. Ah, bella .. I remember when you used to reach for me in the middle of the night as I slept and I would go into your arms .. do you remember, Haille? How could you forget? Times like that are burned into your memory I don't doubt."

    Oh, she'd be angry all right .. and flushed from head to toe even if she'd never admit it. "I came to rekindle old flames, bella." His words were a jest, but never too far from holding a single shred of truth. "I go where you are. I am sorry you find my presence so distasteful. I had hoped you would have gotten past our bad blood and consider becoming business partners with me. Veleno has a good foundation and the prospect of making a substantial sum of money." Turning in his chair, he saw the Rolls pull into his driveway. Only moments later the door was pulled open by her driver and a huffing Haille stepped out and marched straight for his front door. Haille was a wildcat to deal with, but predictable - at least when it came to him. He had forewarned his men of her arrival before he'd even received her call.

    His phone was hung up once he saw her disappear through the front door. Antony would relieve her of any weapons - concealed or open - and lead her up the main staircase to the entrance of his office that opened into the staircase foyer. It would only be a matter of seconds before she stormed through those double doors. Rising to his feet, hands were slid into his pockets as he waited for hell's fury to shower down upon him. </font>


    <font color=#000080>She may have been predictable, but there was one thing Lukah couldn't foresee. Before, she'd been rash. Impulsive. Motivating off of her feelings rather that sitting down, and calculating each and every step deliberately. The position of Donna had calmed her from her violent ways.. in some regards. If there was anyone on this planet that could set her teeth on edge, it was Lukah Moracelli. The conniving bastard. Features arranging themselves into a perfectly calm expression -- even if he couldn't see her through the phone -- a look was given down to her glove covered fingers as he rambled.

    "If I wanted to know how you were, inamorato, I would've asked. Of all the things I've thought of you over the years, branding you a stalker never occurred to me until this very minute." Cool, collected-- there was a warmth to the words that had nothing to do with love. Contained rage always had a distinct flavor to it, and right now, it was searing her tongue. Glancing up to Paulino, she gestured for him to go 'round and open her door once the car came to a stop. Phone snapped shut in the cup of her palm, her head tipped backwards to survey the proverbial fortress he had ensconced himself in, through the vehicle's window.

    The fact that he owned half of Veleno irked her, yes. The club's basis had been entirely her idea. The club itself had been built with her own money, and the employees answered solely to her, or they'd be subjected to dire consequences. Yet, in the end, fifty percent of the club's proceeds would come directly to .. to this man, while he did nothing but jump on her last nerve. Before Paulino made it around to her side of the car, she had already prepared herself-- affixing the silencer to her gun and checking the wax seal on the hypodermic needle carefully nestled within a holder strapped on her wrist. With the loose fit of the jacket, and the fact it fell well past her wrists, there was no chance of seeing it.

    Patting idly at her smoothly coifed hair, Paulino was flashed a hint of a smile, and she promptly headed for the massive front door of the house. Knowing full well that someone was there to answer it, even without her knocking, as soon as the structure opened, she helped herself inside. Paulino slipped in quietly behind her, hands clasped unassumingly against his abdomen. As Antony stepped up to her, to pat her down, two things happened simultaneously. Paulino reached out, as quick as lightning, to grab the man up in a choke hold -- not giving him time to cry out or go for his own weapon -- and Haille jerked her hand forward to allow the needle to nestle into her hand. It was jabbed into the side of Antony's throat, and once the contents were dispersed, he slumped to the floor, unconscious.

    "The opiate won't kill him, but stay in case he's strong enough to try and fight its effects, caro." With little more than that, she moved up the staircase, almost as if Lukah had a homing beacon on him that she had the controls to. Once at the top, Haille paused before the doors-- leaning just enough to check her lipstick in a decorative wall mirror. Satisfied with her appearance, one of the doors was pushed open carefully, and she moved into the office. White linen pants -- matching the jacket she was wearing -- and a blood red silk top; the right shoulder of the blouse dipped down low enough to rest against her forearm, and a ridiculously girlish bow adorned the drape. Of course, by the time Lukah had a chance to see what she was wearing, the silenced gun was already pulled from the inner holster sewn into the jacket, and a newly formed bullet hole appeared in the back of his leather chair.

    Cherry lips pursing, she blew imaginary smoke off of the gun's barrel-- free hand going up at her side as if offering a makeshift apology. A glint of the old, predictable Haille, he received a most magnificent smile from her then. "The next one goes into you, marito. Don't ever send one of your servants down to touch me." In case he'd forgotten, she had a severe aversion to being touched by anyone she wasn't familiar with, in any regard. Gun tucked back into its holster, the jacket was relieved to the floor-- stiletto heels clicking nosily against the marble floor until the carpeted area was reached.

    He had given his father over, gift wrapped? It was no less than what she was owed. Her vineyards had been returned? It was no less than what she was owed. Their marriage would've never happened if not for the brutal meddling of Lukah Senior; Haille felt that any disregard or lack of emotion towards Lukah was justified. When she left, he'd not tried to find her. It was only when she began rising within the ranks of the Sabinos, that he'd even given thought to her existence. To Haille, Lukah was just like every other man out there, looking at a woman in a position of power. They -- he -- wanted that power, by any means necessary.

    "Have you come to pledge allegiance to my regime, Lukah?" The soft voice was taunting, satin wrapped razors extending to caress and bleed at the same time with mere words. Head canting, dark ambers drifted lightly over his features nonchalantly; thinking of ways to slit his throat and in the same line of thought, how he'd feel against her, with her back pinned to that desk. </font>


    <font color=#000000>Dark eyes watched hungrily as his wife stormed into his office ... his predatory gaze sweeping over those seductive curves draped with red silk and white linen, curves he could almost feel beneath his fingertips. The woman had threatened his life more times than he could count, had taken several shots at taking his life .. and still he felt an insatiable hunger and desire for her he couldn't quite understand or put words to.

    His brow arched idly as he watched her pull her gun out and point it at him. That was nothing new. It happened on numerous occasions. He didn't even act startled when she pulled the trigger and the whizzing of the bullet was heard followed shortly after into the Italian leather armchair just to his left. "If I didn't think you'd do it, bella .. I'd say I would rather have the bullet in me than in that chair. Certainly it would be worth more to you than I am, no?"

    It was true that he hadn't come after her when she'd first left Italy. He hadn't much choice in the matter, though he wasn't sure she entirely understood why he'd had to stay behind. He was his father's son, but he knew that wouldn't earn him any favoritism in his father's eyes. If he had gone after Haille, his father wouldn't have batted an eye giving the order to have his firstborn killed. Lukah had been reminded of that every minute of every day even as his mind whirled with the knowledge of the blind role he had performed to play Haille and her father right into his own father's unmerciful hands. He knew he had betrayed her as deeply as a person could be betrayed - even if he hadn't been aware until it was too late - how could he have gone after her knowing that?

    "I had a different sort of idea in mind, Haille." His voice lowered in volume, the deep tones almost a rumble deep in his chest. Again that predatory gaze burned in his eyes as he fell into motion, stepping around the desk and crossing to stand just in front of her. Only inches separated them, the only light from the fireplace enveloping them in a seemingly romantic setting that was misleading given the circumstances. "We each have remarkable forces behind us, bella .. just think of what could be accomplished if we were again side by side working with each other instead of against each other, hm?"

    Before she could spit fiery words back at him to scald him for even thinking about such a thing as an alliance, Lukah was quick to put her fire to a better use. His hand rose to cup her cheek, fingers curling around to the base of her skull, tangling into and disrupting that neat coif of caramel strands, dragging her soft lips to meet his mouth as he leaned over her. His mouth was nothing short of brutal, heated and demanding of her even if she did not - at first - give freely. His other arm slipped around her hauling her against his chest so he could feel the body he'd been so long deprived of. Crimson silk was balled into his fist and a sharp jerk was given that parted the silk from the soft linen waist band just before his hand slipped within to spread against the heated satin of her skin. </font>


    <font color=#000080>Why did she think she'd be able to carry out her plan here, in Paradise Valley, without Lukah's interruptions? This wasn't a large place, not like the other cities, when she'd been second in command-- Chicago, New York, San Francisco. Fighting tooth and nail, disposing of obstacle after obstacle, to claw her way into the position she was now. Not a simple mayor or a coveted sotto, but Donna. It had been so simple. Set up a base operation functioning out of Veleno, establish the regime, build up her men, and then move on to bigger and better things. Build herself up to finally face her ... husband, without worry of emotions coming into play. Ten years. A minimal amount of time in the scheme of things, but it was also a lifetime in the mind of a woman that had been kicked down as low as a person could go. She knew Lukah Senior had been the mastermind behind the entire plan to murder her family and steal the vineyards. She also knew Lukah Junior would've done anything his father had told him, to make sure his plans would come to fruition.

    Shoulders squaring as Haille came back to herself, pulling away from the thoughts that motivated her through each day, a delicate brow lifted. "Good Italian leather is so hard to find here, caro marito," remarked casually about his chair. "A bullet hole is easier to fix than trying to remove blood stains." A joke perhaps, about why the shot hadn't gone into him instead. Hands hanging loosely at her sides, fingers curled in towards her palms the closer he moved. Sheer determination was the only thing stopping her from backing away like a frightened deer, and a cool look of disinterest iced her eyes over. Try as she may, the collected facade that had been perfected over the years never had a chance of holding when he was around-- something she hated herself for. Upper lip curling into almost a sneer at his words, a breath was taken to indeed blast him for such a silly notion when he sprung into action.

    At first, there was no reaction. A stone statue beneath the heat and pressure of both his mouth and hands; unyielding and un-pliant. Head jerking to the side from the tangle of fingers in her hair, it was like someone had flipped a switch inside of her, that enabled movement again. The moment her blouse was so harshly moved to un-encumber his quest for her skin, both hands went up to press against his chest. Instead of pushing him away-- jerking back and running from the room, her own fingers tangled around the length of his tie, pulling down with enough force to grind their mouths together that much more. As if possessed, the tugging motion intensified, even as she bent enough to drag them both to the floor. Tongue running along the lower ridge of his lip, a low sound was made as -- once they were on the floor -- a leg was swung on one side of him, to allow her to straddle his waist.

    The snow storm outside was intensifying-- wind howling around the house like a banshee screaming, and the fire crackling just a few feet away served as a sort of macabre background music. Of course, it was the most inopportune time for a sense of morality to sneak into her mind, and eyes shot open wide. What was she doing? He did this every single time. Used the fact that she still desired him, against her, to try and change her mind away from her plans. Fingers convulsed around the material of his shirt almost violently, and one jerked away as if she'd been scalded. By the time it went back down to him, the light from the nearby fire glinted off of the syringe in her hand. Considering the wrist sheath -- which also looked like an exquisitely crafted gold cuff -- was now empty ( emptied, of course, into one of his employees ) there didn't seem to be another visible place to hide such a thing. Then again, a woman never reveals all of her tricks.

    "Was this your plan, Lukah?" hissed down his way through clenched teeth. All vestiges of both her facade and her passionate self were gone, leaving behind this woman with white static in her eyes, and her heart beating in her throat. "Seduce me so you can worm your way even deeper into what I have set up? Che cosa desiderate da me? You've taken half of everything else.." The tip of the syringe was held directly under his chin; if he even hitched a breath the wrong way, it would puncture his skin. It's effects? She was more than willing to tell him. "Aconite, caro. They used this with belladona to make a person believe they were flying." The words were almost whimsical, for the association to her street name, if not for the daggers that hung off each syllable. "It can also paralyze your extremities, and suffocate you as you lay helpless. Along with a few other unpleasant things.. If you ever.. ever try this again, I will see you dead, and trust me, it won't be by a simple gunshot wound. Sono chiaro?"

    The anger wasn't directed at him alone. There was such a rage within herself, at herself. She'd been more than willing, just seconds ago, to throw away years and years of work, for an hour or so of pleasure that would never last. How could something good last between two people with bitterness so deeply ingrained within them? Rolling up to her feet slowly, syringe held in front of her like a sword, she backed towards the door. Inhaling a shaky breath, she stopped long enough to grab her coat, and then to reach blindy behind he,r trying to grasp for the door handle. Senses were muddled; the smell of his cologne still clung like a second skin, and she could feel the pressure of his mouth on hers, even though he was now a few feet away. </font>


    <font color=#000000>Once cold and defiant against him turned to molten heat beneath his touch and for just a moment he was reminded all over again of what their marriage had been when they had both been so young and naive to have loved each other so freely and deeply without thought to what it would cost either of them. Such a long time ago, but now with her mouth spreading liquid fire through his veins it didn't seem so far away. Following her lead, he lowered to the floor with her, hands settling on the curve of her hips as she shifted her position straddling his waist.

    And then she opened her eyes and his wife was gone again. The flames of desire were gone from her dark eyes and instead the icy shards of hatred stared back at him as if he'd hurt her. Her quiet words left nothing unsaid for just how much she despised him and she neatly laid out for him all of his motives and plans so confident she was right with that lovely little syringe jutting up underneath his chin. Lukah remained silent as long as she kept that needle aaginst his skin, to have done otherwise might have caused him to have all of those symptoms she was now describing to him in such detail.

    When she eased off of him and got to her feet, Lukah eased up on his elbow, a hand lifting to rub at his jaw where the needle had been just moments before. His eyes lifted as she backed away, holding the empty syringe out as she would a stick to frighten away a snarling dog. "Run, Haille. Just like you always do." The words were scalding as he got to his feet again. "If you think you can kill me, bella, I wish you would just do it already and be done with it. This little game of ours is no longer amusing to me." Usually Lukah let Haille run off to lick her wounds and curse his name into eternity in her safe haven. But not this time. Enough was enough.

    Calloused fingertips lifted to rub against his temples, trying without much success to tamp down the sudden surge of blind fury that was beginning to consume him. "You know nothing of my plans or motives, Haille .. NOTHING!" Deep voice that had previously been steely quiet now roared forth so loudly and fiercely the glass nearly rattled in the window frames. "I know you have changed, Haille. I see how you have worked to make something of yourself. To become what you are and to earn the respect and fear of all those around you. You snap your fingers and someone dies. I am not blind or stupid, Haille." Dark eyes seared into her own, challenging her to remain where she was and listen to everything he had to say.

    "You have done everything in your power to prove my father wrong, bella. And you have done so impressively. I do not hesitate to admit that. But do you not see what you've become, Haille? You hate with a hatred so blind, it is all you can see. And a hatred that deep and that blind I have only seen rivaled in one other, Haille ... and it was in my father. In your struggle to get what you desire, you have become exactly what you have despised most of all." Again the cold steel of his voice had been reigned in, but again he felt the thin sliver of self-control he possessed slipping away. "Before you begin to question me and my motives, Haille .. maybe you'd better begin to question your own first."

    Lukah quieted only long enough to step behind his desk and if she even attempted to speak, one glance was all she needed to know now was not a time to interrupt .. Donna or no. "I have tried to make any sort of peace with you, Haille, but still you refuse. You listen to nothing I have to say and if you should give me time enough to speak my mind, you repeatedly assume that I have ulterior motives. I AM NOT MY FATHER, HAILLE! I am not him! You of all people should know me well enough to know that his motives are not my own and I don't give a fuck what kind of profits your businesses bring in. I follow you because deep down inside me I can't get you out of my system .. and believe me, I've tried like hell to forget you. And I think if you didn't feel the same way, you wouldn't have even come over here to have to tell me how unwelcome I am here."

    He bent slightly and opened a bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a sleek silver briefcase, laying it on the desktop. A code was punched it and it clicked open. Lifting the lid, he turned it toward her to reveal crisp bills stacked and bound and filling the entire briefcase. "My share of your profits, Haille. I've never spent a fucking dime of your money. If you don't trust me, count it." It was true that he owned half of everything she did by their marriage; he hadn't, however, spent it because it didn't rightfully belong to him. If it had been anyone else, Lukah wouldn't have had a second thought about staking it as his own profit. But it was Haille and she always struck a nerve in him. The lid was slammed shut again and he pushed the briefcase off his desk and it clattered the floor. "Take it. I don't want it. I've never wanted it."

    "I'm sure you'll talk yourself into believing this is some sort of trick I'm trying to lure you into .. just like I was trying to seduce you there on the floor a moment ago for some supposed motive that I must be unaware that I possess. I am TIRED of playing this fucking GAME with you, Haille. I am TIRED of trying to make it up to you only to have you spit in my face. I was a kid, Haille. A fucking KID just like you! How much more can I give you, Haille, to make you realize that I didn't intentionally do ANYTHING to hurt you?! What can I say to make you believe that I LOVED you and that nothing in our marriage was a lie to me? I didn't marry you knowing what my father had planned. I wasn't lying when I said I loved you. So what is it going to take for you to believe me, Haille? WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT FROM ME, HAILLE?" The small Tiffany glass lamp sitting on the corner of his desk was lifted and soon shattered against the mantle of the fireplace, the multi-colored shards of glass gilttering in the light from the dancing flames. He stared at her, a wild rage glittering in his eyes before he realized what he'd done.

    He sank down into his chair, hands lifted to scrub over his face and then through his hair .. his weariness from this constant battle between them obvious. "You don't love me anymore, bella. It is not something I celebrate, but it is something I will have to accept." He reached down into the same drawer the briefcase had been taken from and two folders were retrieved and tossed across to the other side of the desk. Leaning back into his chair, his fingers locked and fell to rest against his lower abdomen. "As you have made it very clear to me today that your feelings toward me have not changed and you still think I'm only after your money and success .." He paused, dark gaze lifting toward her again. " .. I leave you with two choices. In one of those folders is a decree of divorce. All you have to do is sign it and be rid of our marital vows forever. If that should be your choice, bella, then the only string left attaching us will be in the business arena as I will still own half of Veleno as well as whatever business endeavors you possess until which time you have the funds together to buy my shares if we are both agreeable." He dealt in illegal products and services mostly, but he was not a shady businessman. If he could see profit in a sale or buy out, he would take it and no longer being her husband, he would be free of guilt to be able to make business decisions without his past haunting his every move.

    "In the other folder .. are the deeds to every single business endeavor of which I currently possess partial ownership. If you sign those, they are completely and totally yours, Haille. As I said before, I am not after your profits or your success. We will remained married, however. I don't expect to play house and pretend to be a happily married couple again. I would like for us both to agree to be civil to one another. No more threats. No more accusations. I've paid my debts, you've paid yours. We're both making a decision about the future instead of being enslaved to our pasts. The slates are wiped clean and we move on with our lives either way. It is up to you to decide your fate, Haille, and mine." Pen was taken from his desk top and tossed, landing between the two folders. "What will it be, Haille?" </font>


    <font color=#000080>The syringe was recapped before she slid her jacket on. It wouldn't do at all to accidentally inject herself with the aconite. The effects were ten times worse than the succinct summary spit into Lukah's face just moments ago. While he was still on the ground, his words were ignored. There was nothing wrong with running, as long as you weren't abandoning the situation completely. As for him being hard to kill, she believed that. Then again, there were more ways to kill someone than simply passing the order. While some liked to be blatant with their murderous skills, she spent hours upon hours in the small lab set up in her house, constructing inconspicuous ways of disposing problems. "It stopped being amusing to me a long time ago, Luk." Words were soft; such a difference than they had been prior, and his old nickname slipped past her red smudged lips before she could think otherwise.

    When his words intensified, a wince was hidden behind her aloof mask, and while direct eye contact was kept -- being that she was never one to back down from a challenge -- her hands busied themselves with tucking the syringe back into the hidden pocket of her slacks. Coat was shrugged on in the next instance, gun checked to make sure the safety was on. Most of what he was saying, she couldn't argue with anyway. Never one to concede easily to the fact she may be wrong, there was no retort to offer, even if he wanted one. That is, until he compared her to his father. The suitcase of money, the divorce papers, the weariness on his face, each and every single thing was noted and filed away in that Rolodex that passed for her mind, and still, as he wished, she remained quiet. A silent figure taking up space in front of his doors, hair messy, makeup smeared, and clothing wrinkled. It looked as if they'd been doing exactly what he had tried to start, though Haille knew Paulino knew better than to say anything about it. That is, if she ever made it back out to him, alive. The look in Lukah's eyes almost had her thinking she might not.

    Starting suddenly when the lamp crashed against the fireplace, only then did life fill the silent woman, and her eyes actually lowered to the floor. Cheeks were flushed with their physical actions, and the words that were being thrown at her like rocks, and for the first time in a very long time, shoulders slumped with something that might've been defeat-- or maybe it was a reflection of the same weariness within him. A blind look thrown behind her, one of the ornate chairs decorating each side of the grand double doorway was pulled towards her; legs screeching loudly within the room that still reverberated from the sound of his voice. "He didn't just kill them, Luk. They were all I had, and he took them away like they were nothing." For all intents, the tired voice could've been directed to her shoes, being that she didn't have the energy -- or perhaps the courage -- to look at him now. Fingers lacing together in her lap, they were lifted briefly to touch at her lowered forehead. Shrugging, the next words were spoken on the edge of a quiet, mirthful laugh. "And it felt like my heart was taken away when he first took them, and then took you."

    Glancing up his way then, a smile flickered to life, but quickly faded out, like a candle trying to stay lit in a windstorm. "He may not have killed you, mi amore, but he took you, and I don't know how to bring you back. Something in me.. it.." Inhaling sharply, she pushed up to her feet in one solid motion; palm lifting to brush down the length of her face as if wiping something away. Tears from the Ice Maiden, of course it couldn't be true. Her body was rigid, face set in tense lines that screamed for him not to touch her. The only reason she moved closer to him, by her own free will, was to take up the folders he'd offered. The suitcase was ignored. It had never really been about the money. It's always easier to use something as an excuse, rather than to face the real reasons. He wanted her to make her choice right then and there, but it wasn't that easy. The woman part in her told her -- no, screamed at her -- to sign the decree of divorce, if for no other reason than to let him live his own life.

    On the other hand, though, the business side of her -- the side that was almost always at the forefront -- told her to stop and consider what he was offering. Additional business ventures, merging in with what she already had, built not only a strong foundation for herself, but for her people. La cosa nostra-- the regime wasn't there for her to simply breeze through life, able to snap a finger, and have her whim done. The men and women under her; this was the only life they knew. When she profited, so did they, in accordance to their rank. Their rank was based on how hard they worked, just like any other place of business. Swallowing hard, it took a long moment for her voice to return to her, though her eyes didn't go up to his. "Stop by Veleno tomorrow night. You'll have your answer then." Folders pointed towards him with another half assed attempt at a smile, she turned on her heel and finally moved out of the room.

    Paulino looked up from the still unconscious man on the floor, eyes filled with worry and apprehension. He knew her well enough, that if something bad had happened, she would've taken care of it, so he didn't burst in behind her, and try to kill Lukah himself. Recognizing the need to get away, and get away fast, a hand went around to rest lightly on the small of her back. "Come on, Haille. You've spent enough time on business. Time to go home." Chin lifting, the only reply he received was a simple nod, which further cemented the notion something had gone on. She wasn't this quiet or reserved. Ushering her through the main door, once she was safely in the back seat of the Rolls, he climbed in as well and pulled away from the estate. Temple resting on the cool glass of the window, darkened ambers lifted towards the front of the house, watching as it faded from view both from distance and from the flurry of snow falling heavily. </font>


    <font color=#000000>He hadn't know what to expect Haille's reaction to be. He had just laid her freedom in front of her, just in two different versions. She was faced with choosing which was more important to her. He had backed her into a corner with only two ways to escape. He half expected her to come out clawing and hissing, making her own route of escape. Dark eyes watched her as the anger and passion from her temper slowly drained from her. The quiet words she spoke could be nothing other than the painful truth she'd kept locked away at all costs. The urge to cross to her, throwing everything else aside, and cradle her against him was great. He wanted to soothe away those hurts that caused her such pain and torment. He wanted to murmur words of comfort against her hair and stop her tears from falling. In another place and time, he would have .. just as he had years ago. It was only Haille's rigid posture and struggle for composure that kept him from doing all of those things.

    His eyes slowly moved over her now - disheveled or not - Haille was the most beautiful woman he'd ever known. She had been beautiful as a young woman when he'd married her and time had only enhanced her beauty with maturity. She looked tired now, though, and about as defeated as he left, too. He hated to always be the one person who could continually cause her so much grief. Maybe she would be better off without him in her life anymore even though the thought of it made his stomach churn in disappointment. He watched her fight for her composure and the steadiness of her voice and only offered a small nod in response to her request. In silence his eyes followed her retreat from his office until the door quietly clicked shut behind her. He fought to find his own voice, rough and hoarse to keep it from breaking altogether.

    "I'm right here, bella .. "</font>


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