Home > Villain of Secrets (Verona Legacy #3)

Villain of Secrets (Verona Legacy #3)
Author: L.A. Cotton

Prologue

 

 

“Lorenzo, get over here,” my dad yelled, waving his hunting knife in the air.

I dropped the ball and jogged over to him and Uncle Toni. “What’s up, Papà?”

“You ever skin a rabbit, kid?”

My brows crinkled as I leaned over his shoulder and saw the bloodied fur. “No, I didn’t ever skin a rabbit.” The words got stuck in my throat. Poor little thing looked like it had been skewered wide open. But there was something fascinating about the way its eyes stared back at me. Empty. Lifeless.

When our Nono died, Aunt Lucia said it was only the physical body that was gone. That the eternal part of a person, their soul, would go on to the afterlife.

Was there an afterlife for rabbits?

“You want to learn?” My father’s gruff voice yanked me from my thoughts.

Uncle Toni tsked. “Vin, leave the kid alone. He’s nine.”

“Ten,” I said, proudly. “I’ll be ten in a few days.”

“Nothing wrong with toughening him up, mio fratello. He might be nine now, but he won’t stay that way for long. Here, Son.” He thrust the blood-stained knife at me. My hand trembled as it curled around the hilt. Sunlight bounced off the blade, making the drops of blood shimmer.

It was the holidays, and me and my dad were out at one of our family’s cabins in the Blackstone Reserve. We came every year—me and my dad, Uncle Toni and Uncle Michele, and my cousins, Nicco, and Matteo—while the women stayed at home and prepared for the holidays.

My dad said shit like that was for women to take care of. He said that it was better to get out of the way while they were doing their thing. Whatever that meant.

He didn’t seem to like my aunts very much. My dad didn’t really like anyone much. I liked them though. I liked how they always made a fuss over the kids, over me. Growing up without a mom, I’d craved their warm smiles and gentle touch. They were so warm and touchy feely compared to my father. But I was growing now, and I wanted to be tough like him, like my uncles.

I didn’t like my girl cousins so much either. They were annoying: always laughing and giggling and talking about stupid girl stuff. I was glad I didn’t have a sister like Nicco and Matteo, but a brother would have been nice. Someone to talk to when my dad was out, which was a lot.

My dad didn’t like to show his feelings. I often wondered if it was because my mom died when I was born, and he was left with me. Sometimes he acted like I was nothing more than a burden. But then there were other times, like right now, when he looked at me with so much intensity, I knew without doubt that he loved me.

“Come on, figlio mio. Hunting is a rite of passage. It makes you a man. Besides, what’s a little blood on your hands.” He chuckled darkly, sending a shiver racing down my spine.

Frozen in place, my hand trembled as I stared down at the lifeless animal. I didn’t want to skin the poor thing—it sounded messy and disgusting—but I wanted to please my dad. I wanted him to look at me with pride in his eyes, the way Uncle Toni always looked at Nicco.

“What do I have to do?” I asked, trying to disguise the quiver in my voice.

“Vincenzo,” Uncle Michele muttered, but my dad ignored him.

I glanced back at my cousins playing in the snow. It was only a thin layer right now, enough to make them slip and slide as they ducked and dodged snowballs.

Sometimes I wondered why their dads didn’t want them to learn this stuff. Michele, not so much. He was different to Uncle Toni and my dad. Softer. Calmer. He rarely raised his voice or hand to anyone. But he was always watching. Always taking everything in.

Uncle Toni was the eldest, the head of the family. After our Nono died a few years ago, he had stepped into his role. I was used to being over at Nicco’s house. He was my best friend. But something was different about it now.

We weren’t supposed to talk about it, but I knew who my family were. I knew what they did. Me, Matteo, and Nicco often snooped on their business talks at Nicco’s house.

“Lorenzo,” my father snapped, jolting me from my thoughts. “We don’t got all day, ragazzino.”

Ragazzino.

I hated that word. I might have only been ten minus a few days, but I wasn’t a kid. I’d practically raised myself. I didn’t have a mom around to fuss over me, and Dad’s constant string of women never stayed more than one night. We had a housekeeper, Greta, but she barely spoke a word of English. She made good cannoli though.

“What do I do?” I repeated, my stomach a tight ball of nerves.

“Get down here.” He grabbed me by the arm and yanked me down onto the overturned log, right at the same time as Uncle Michele got up.

“I’m going to warm up.”

“Pussy,” my father grumbled, and something passed between them.

“Bloodthirsty coglioni.” Uncle Toni got up too, squeezing my father on the shoulder. “Go easy on the boy.”

My brows crinkled. I didn’t understand what they were talking about. But I still had the knife in my hand and my father’s icy stare drilling holes into the side of my head.

“Pinch its hide and cut it near the base of the neck.”

My fingers trembled as I reached for the dead animal. The blood was cold and sticky as my hand slid into the wet fur.

“Good, now make the cut,” my father barked at my hesitation. I dry heaved as the blade slid into it like butter, but no more blood spilled.

“That’s it. Now turn the knife edge facing up and cut from the stomach to the neck.” I did as he instructed. “Okay, use your fingers to pry the skin apart. It’ll be a little tough, so you’ll really need to pull.”

Puke rushed up my throat, but I swallowed it down as I began unwrapping the rabbit like a candy sucker. It was all kinds of messed up seeing the flesh and bone underneath, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the helpless thing.

“Good, Lorenzo, good.” My dad gripped my shoulder. “Now we make little cuts around the feet here,” he sliced the fur, “and here, see. Then we can pull out the legs.”

“Holy crap,” I breathed as he helped me.

“What do you think?”

“It’s… gross but kinda cool.”

Laughter rumbled deep in his chest. “You are more my son than I give you credit for.” He stared at me in that intense way of his. I didn’t know what he meant, but I liked hearing him say it. All I ever wanted was to make my dad proud. To get him to pay attention to me the way Uncles Toni and Michele doted on my cousins.

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