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The New York Tribune's headline the next morning read "Valencios’ Bootlegged Club burnt down, no injuries were reported and search is still on for the cause of fire."

I slammed the morning paper down angrily, spilling coffee on the table. Everyone sat around our dining room table that morning for breakfast. Tony cleaned up the mess I made with some napkins and got some more fresh coffee, while Rocky got up to help him. Alex and Rico sat grimly reading their own copy of the newspaper.

“It’s gotta be those Berlacchi bastards who did it!” I shouted. “I know they are out to get our empire; first Pop, now our club. Those bastards are going to pay!”

“The Berlacchis aren’t stupid! I’m not saying they couldn’t have done it, ‘cause knowing their past, they had a history of arson along with their crimes, but really, they aren’t that stupid,” said Alex, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Unless they have someone doing their dirty work for them,” Tony suggested.


“I know someone is out to get rid of us. It’s a conspiracy! I'll bet they're behind it all,” I said bitterly.

“The Black & White Ball at the Ritz is tonight. The Berlacchis are going to be there, no doubt. Let's say we get them there!" Rico suggested, angrily.

"Wait a minute. There's no evidence they did any of this," said Rocky. Rocky always tried to make peace with everyone, which was something that annoyed me about him. "We can't all assume it was the Berlacchis."

"Well, who else could have done it, if not them?" wondered Tony aloud.

"Don Luciano," I answered darkly. They turned to look at me questioningly.


“You really think, besides, the Berlacchis, he’d be responsible?” Tony asked me, “What motive would he have, other than you refusing to give it back to him last night? He’s got plenty of other businesses so why else would he burn down one just for that?”


No one had an answer. The rest of breakfast went along bitterly.


News reporters and paparazzi stood outside The Ritz snapping pictures of the famous and wealthy celebrities in the Black and White Ball. We arrived in a white limo and were blinded by the flashing bulbs. We entered The Ritz and descended down the staircase. Overlooking the grand ballroom, a giant chandelier of crystals glittered above illuminating it.

Our guests greeted us and sent their condolences for our late father as we made our way to our table.

Excusa, Signor Valencio?” asked a feminine voice. I turned around and the beautiful woman I met at the Bootlegged Club was standing behind me. She was in a cream colored dress and her hair was up in a sophisticated bun, silver earrings dangled from her ears. She smiled shyly as I took her hand and kissed the back of it.

Ciao, bellissima. You aren’t going to run away from me this time?” I asked, half-jokingly. She blushed crimson.

Ciao, Signor Valencio, condolences to your family. I’m sorry about your father.”

Grazie. May I know your name, Miss--?”

“Mariana!” Tino Berlacchi called out sharply, who strode up behind her. Tino glared at me and turned to Mariana. “What are you doing?” he demanded her.

“Nothing, Tino, I was mingling,” she stammered. Tino turned to me again and stepped closer to me.

“Don’t ever let me catch you talking to her again!” he said through clenched teeth. I glared at Tino.

“I can do whatever I please; I don’t need your consent to anything.” I glanced at Mariana and eyed her up and down hungrily. “Besides, I couldn’t help myself from talking to a beauty, now could I?”

Tino looked at me and her in disgust before narrowing his eyes at me.

“Stay away from my sister, Valencio, if you don’t want to end up like your father,” he threatened.

“Don’t go making threats you can’t back up, Berlacchi.” I shot back.

“Just watch yourself, Valencio.” Tino turned on his heel as he grabbed Mariana by the wrist roughly and dragged her with him to their table where the other Berlacchis were seated.

“You know better than to mingle with a Valencio. Do you have any idea what Father would do if he knew about this?” I heard him yell at her.

“Tino, I’m not a child!” I heard her shout back.

He sat her down roughly at their table. She wiped her eyes with her fingers while being consoled by her other brother Sergio, who in turn scolded Tino for his roughness. Tino sighed and apologized but she ignored him and got up heading to the restroom.

I hesitated before following her. I found her sitting on a velvet couch weeping. I slowly approached her.

“Are you alright, Mariana?” I asked. She quickly wiped her eyes on a handkerchief before looking up at me.

“Yes, thank you. I apologize for the way my brother treated you,” she replied.

“You don't have to apologize for his actions because I'm not going to apologize for mine,” I said.


She looked up at me with sad brown eyes.

“Why do you hate my family?” she asked.

"Your family is the one that hates mine!" I shouted. She flinched at my sudden outburst and moved away from me.

"I'm sorry." I immediately apologized after seeing her reaction.

She looked deeply into my eyes and I could see the sadness brewing in them.

"I have seen what my brothers and father have done and... I...I feel angry at them for it…I feel like I am a prisoner in their world. And I am afraid that whichever path I choose, whether to leave them or stay, I will lose them either way. I have already lost my mother…I’m sorry… I shouldn’t be telling you all of this…" Mariana began to cry.

I reached out to caress her hands and consoled her. Even though she was a Berlacchi, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. I couldn’t imagine what she must go through with her family; the conflict that she struggles with. She reminded me of Rocky when he had wanted to leave the family because he did not believe in what we did. He chose his own path, a path my father did not want him to go on. It tore my mother apart to see him leave at the age of 16. It tore the whole family apart, especially me. Mariana must feel this way, and I am beginning to see that she is nothing like her brothers or her father.

"I'm sorry for the turmoil your family puts you through. If anything, I don't see you as my enemy," I said.

“The same way I feel for you,” she said.

I smiled at her then I leaned forward and closed my eyes. Before I could kiss her, we were interrupted by Alex.

“Nico!” His arms were folded across his chest and an angry scowl showed on his face. I tightened my jaw and turned away from Mariana.

“What?” I barked.

“Rico, wants you with us. They are about to serve the food,” he announced, not even acknowledging Mariana’s presence.

“I’ll be there in a second,” I answered impatiently.

“Well, he wants you there now—actually we all want you there now,” he pressed on, not moving from where he was standing. I stood up and sighed angrily. I turned to Mariana and apologized.

“My dear, please excuse me.” I kissed the back of her hand as she stood up and headed back to her table with her own family.

We reached our table and the rest of the guys, except Rocky, looked at me disapprovingly.

“Look, let’s leave Nico be. He can see whoever he pleases,” he spoke out.

“Not if she’s a Berlacchi,” Rico muttered under his breath, who shot a threatening look over to the Berlacchis at their table across the room.

"I don't care who she is anymore," I answered.

"You have no idea what you're getting yourself into, Nico," said Alex.

“Could we discuss this afterward? I’d really like to eat before arguing,” Tony intervened, as he eyed the roasted pork that was just placed at the center of the table.



Back at our mansion...

“Maybe by uniting Nico and Mariana together our empires could unite as well. Once and for all, there would be no more feuds,” Tony said.


We got home around midnight and sat around our kitchen.

“You’re not actually considering this are you, Tone?” asked Alex incredulously. “And, weren’t they the suspects of Pop’s murder?” he asked turning to me.

“You didn’t even believe Pop was murdered from the beginning, so don’t you dare use that card on me!” I shot back.

“I would rather die than share our empire—or Pop’s empire for that matter—with a Berlacchi!” Rico declared.

“I can’t believe this is how you dishonor Pop by getting with a Berlacchi no less,” Alex continued, “How would you think Pop will react if he was still here? I’m sure he’s rolling over in his grave right now at the thought of his favorite son falling in love with a Berlacchi bitch!” 


Alex had always been jealous of my relationship with Pop and had accused me of being the favorite son, but I know that Pop loved all his sons equally, even Rocky whom he had disowned.

“I don’t care what you all think! I will pursue this woman and I will not let anything come between us!” I cried.

“Not even us? Tell me, would you choose her over us, Nico? Would you choose her over your own family?” Rico asked.


I didn’t answer him, as I didn’t know what to say.

“I don’t think we should discourage Nico from being with a woman, even if she belongs to our rival family. I know that when Pop was alive, that’s what he always wished for him and for all of us; to find a woman and to find love. From what I have seen, this woman seems to be kind and nothing at all like her family,” Rocky finally spoke.


Everyone sat in silence after Rocky’s little speech unable to utter a word. I was also taken aback at what Rocky had said. He had seen Mariana as I had seen her when she confessed her feelings about her family to me earlier that evening.

“Rocky is right. Nico, if you truly believe Mariana to be good for you, then you should pursue her,” Tony agreed.

“Thank you,” I said to Tony and Rocky. Rico and Alex didn’t say anything but exchanged glances. Rico sighed and went over to embrace me.

”Go and pursue her if you truly feel that she is the one for you,” Rico said as he embraced me.


Alex remained where he stood and had his arms crossed.

"I'm still disapproving of this," he said, firmly. "I don’t trust anyone with the name Berlacchi."


He got up and left the rest of us in the kitchen.