Home > Shadow Reaper (Shadow #2)

Shadow Reaper (Shadow #2)
Author: Christine Feehan

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

R

icco Ferraro wanted to punch something. Hard. No, he needed to punch something – or someone, preferably his brother. It would be satisfying to feel the crunch of his knuckles splitting open flesh. Cracking bone. Yeah. He could get behind that if his brother didn’t shut the hell up. They were in a hospital with doctors and nurses surrounding them on every floor. If he really went to town and made it real, Stefano wouldn’t suffer for too long.

 

“Ricco,” Stefano hissed again, using his low, annoying, big-brother tone that made Ricco feel crazier than he already was feeling. “Are you even listening to me? This has got to stop. The next time you might not make it.”

 

Stefano had been lecturing him for the last ten minutes; Ricco figured no one could listen that long, let alone him. He didn’t have the patience. He knew damn well how close he’d come to dying. They’d replaced every drop of blood he had in his body not once, but twice. He’d been in the fucking hospital for weeks.

 

His car had hit the wall at over two hundred miles an hour, but he knew he hadn’t driven into it. Something broke and the suspension went, driving pieces of metal through his body like shrapnel. He’d lived it. He still felt it. Every muscle and bone in his body hurt like hell.

 

“I’ll listen when you make sense, Stefano,” Ricco snapped and finished buttoning up his shirt. It wasn’t easy. The pain was excruciating when he made the slightest movement, but he was getting out of this damn hospital whether the doctor signed the release papers or not. He’d had enough of all of them – especially his older brother.

 

He turned to face them – his four brothers and one sister with their expressions so concerned. Grim. But there was Francesca, Stefano’s wife. He focused on her and the compassion in her eyes. She had nudged Stefano several times to get him to stop. It had worked twice, but only for a moment or two.

 

“I’m going to say this one more time and never again. You don’t have to believe me.” He spoke to Francesca, because surprisingly, it was Francesca who believed him. They all should have – they could hear lies. That gave him pause. He could hear lies. If no one believed him, it was because he had to be lying to them – and to himself.

 

He turned his back on them. Just that little motion hurt. His body protested the slightest thing he did. “At least wait until you get the report on the car before you jump to conclusions. I didn’t have control. The car’s system just shut down.” That much he was certain of. He drove at speeds of over two hundred miles per hour and had no trouble; his hand-eye coordination and his reflexes never failed him. The car had failed. He knew that with absolute certainty, so why couldn’t he convince his brothers and sister that he hadn’t tried to end his life? Why couldn’t he convince himself?

 

It took everything he had to stand there, trying not to sway when his body broke out in a sweat and he could count his heartbeats through the pain swamping his muscles. What had he done to try to save himself? Nothing. He’d done nothing. He’d let fate decide, closing his eyes and giving himself up to the judgment of the universe. He’d woken up in the hospital with needles in his arm and bags of blood going into him.

 

His room was filled with flowers. There were boxes of cards, all from people in Ferraro territory, the blocks of city considered off-limits to any criminal. Their people, all good and decent. He hadn’t looked at the cards, but he wanted to keep them. He didn’t deserve those cards any more than he deserved the concern on his brothers’ and sister’s faces, or the compassion Francesca showed. Still, he was alive and he had to continue.

 

“Something went wrong with the car, Stefano,” he repeated, turning back to look his brother in the eye.

 

“We’re checking the car,” Vittorio assured him. He was always the peacemaker in the family, and Ricco appreciated him. “We towed it immediately to our personal garage and it’s been under guard. Only our trusted people are working on it.”

 

Ricco flicked his brother a quick glance that was meant to serve as a thank-you. He didn’t say it aloud, not with Stefano breathing down his neck.

 

“You almost died,” Stefano said, and this time the anger was gone from his voice and there was strain. Apprehension. Caring.

 

That was Ricco’s undoing. It was impossible to see or hear the stoic Stefano torn up. He was the acknowledged head of the family for a reason. Ricco didn’t deserve the way they cared so much. There were too many secrets, too many omissions. He’d put them all in jeopardy and they had no idea. Worse, he couldn’t tell them. He just had to watch over them night and day, a duty he took very seriously.

 

He shook his head, sighing. “I know, Stefano. I’m sorry. I lost control of the car.” That was true. He had. He remembered very little of the aftermath, but in that moment when he realized the car wasn’t an extension of him anymore, that it was a beast roaring for supremacy, separate from him, he had felt relief that it was over. If he had died, it all would have been over and the danger to his family gone.

 

“Are you convincing me? Or yourself?” Stefano asked quietly. “We’re taking you out of here, but you have to pull yourself together. Enough with the craziness, Ricco, or I’ll have no choice but to pull you off rotation even when you’re physically fit and have the doctor’s okay to work.”

 

Gasps went up from his brothers and Emmanuelle, his sister. Francesca uttered a soft “no” and shook her head. Ricco’s heart nearly seized. He was a rider. A shadow rider. It was who he was. What he was. A rider had no choice but to do what he’d been trained for from the age of two – even before that. It was in his bones, in his blood, he couldn’t live without it. He dispensed justice to those the law couldn’t touch.

 

Stefano stepped directly in front of him, close, so they were eye to eye. “Understand me, Ricco. I won’t lose you. I’ll do anything to save you. Anything. Give anything, including my life. I’ll use every weapon in my arsenal to protect you from yourself and any enemy that comes your way. You do something about this, whatever it takes, and that includes counseling. But there aren’t going to be any more accidents. You get me, brother? There will be no more accidents.”

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