Mended Crown Chapter 2

Mended Crown (Mice and Men Book 4)

Blurb:

A broken engagement should signal the end of the feud blazing between the Stepanovs and Vanicis—barring one small hitch no one foresaw: a surprise pregnancy that could turn this petty misunderstanding into outright war.

For Donatello, this new baby is a shred of hope after nearly a decade of misery—one he won’t forfeit without a fight.

For Willow, this ordeal is a glaring reminder of her own conflicted loyalty, leading to a choice she will have to live with for the rest of her life…

Salvaging this union will be the hardest, bloodiest war Donatello has fought yet. But, as the danger looming above the city reaches a breaking point, will they outlast the violence with their lives—and hearts—intact?

Mice and Men is a new standalone series in the War of Roses Universe.

Chapter 2

Disclaimer: The following is copyrighted material.

Don

“You look like hell,” a voice declares, startling me awake. “Don’t tell me you’ve slept here all night, Don.”

If the speaker is referring to the hard as hell leather chair I’m slumped in currently, they’re right. Groaning, I open my eyes to a dimly lit room where a scowling figure watches me from beyond an open door. “Fabio? You decided the first fucking thing you wanted to do at the ass crack of dawn was visit me?”

Apparently so, not that this is shaping up to be a pleasant visit. He’s standing with his arms crossed, that judgmental look on his face. The same one he’s been sporting for the past two weeks, in fact—not that I can blame him.

The truth is, I’m lucky he hasn’t cut me off completely.

Still, I bristle at his arrival, feeling like a child on the verge of a scolding.

“Why are you here? Let me guess. Mischa’s decided to launch another attack on my life? Let’s hope he doesn’t go after Vin at least.”

I’m only half joking.

Thankfully, Fabio doesn’t seem like someone desperate to prevent an assassination attempt. If anything, he looks more like a man dragged here against his will.

“There have been some developments,” he says, utilizing the stern tone he prefers to deliver bad news in. “Gregori Saleri is dead. Best to get the good news out of the way before giving the bad.”

“Good news,” I say, swiping at my eyes as I sit upright. My brain sluggishly processes the bombshell. Unlike Fab, I don’t consider it good news at all.

“What happened? It seems too much of a coincidence if the old man dropped dead of a heart attack.”

“It happened last night, apparently,” Fabio says grimly. “There aren’t too many details out now. The only bit of information we can be sure of is that Mateo is now solely in charge.”

“That is bad fucking news.” I brace my hands over the desk before me, scrambling to get my bearings. As Fabio insinuated, I fell asleep here—again. If sleep is even the right word for maybe an hour of unconsciousness. “You’re only this morbid when you’re stressed. Even if he was working with our enemy, I don’t see how his death is a good thing. Especially for the girl—” I jerk my chin in the vague direction of the room where Kisa Salvatore is sleeping. First her father, now Gregori.

“Good news is relative,” Fabio says with a shrug. “In comparison to the bad, at least. Keep in mind, Don, that I’m not telling you this because you deserve to know,” he adds to preface this unannounced worse news than the death of my enemy. “Call me naïve, but I still think you should have a heads-up…”

To heighten the drama, he sighs before pursing his lips in disapproval.

“Any minute, Fabio,” I snap.

“Word is the Stepanovs have booked a private appointment at the hospital for some time this week—”

“When?” I’m on my feet as my brain jumps to the obvious conclusion as to what that private appointment could mean. Son of a bitch, I was hoping even Mischa wouldn’t go that route. “What time? Tell me!”

Fabio sighs again. “I’m not telling you when. Not even which day.”

“But you know?”

He raises an eyebrow. “Could be tomorrow. Could be ten days from now. It doesn’t really matter. Don’t get the wrong idea, Donatello. This isn’t a heads-up so you can intervene. If anything, I want you to show restraint. This is just so that you can prepare yourself in case…”

His low tone alludes to an outcome even he has the tact not to voice.

“In case they terminate the pregnancy.” Saying it out loud guts me. Could Mischa really be that cynical? Though, hell, if I had a daughter, would I encourage her to do any different?

“Don…” Fab frowns, wringing his hands together. He’s wearing a suit as usual, but the tie is crooked. He probably rushed here to make sure I heard it from him first. “I honestly don’t know the details. We’re lucky that one of my contacts at the hospital thought to notify me. But if it is to… At least this way, it won’t come as a shock.”

“A shock?” I hiss and slam a fist against the desk, so hard pain shoots through my knuckles. So much for restraint. “Do you even hear yourself?”

“Do you?” Fabio counters, crossing his arms. “I’m trusting you to handle this maturely. Barging into the hospital will only result in you having some startled nurse alert the authorities. This is for the best, Don.”

The best.

God and Fabio must share the same sick fucking sense of humor—because that’s all this is. A twisted joke at my expense, and Mischa gets the last laugh.

Ha ha.

But it’s not one damn bit funny. No…

The potential consequences of this mess are too twisted to explore in full. It must be a joke. If only I could get ahold of Mischa or his lying daughter, confirm the ruse, and put this all to rest.

Fuck.

“If I could just be there,” I muse out loud—but I’m not thinking of the hospital. Instead, I picture Stepanov Manor and its intricate layout. “Mischa’s security is good, but no structure on earth is impenetrable…”

“Not this again. You need to slow down,” Fabio warns, surging forward. “Listen to me, Donatello. Plotting and scheming won’t help anyone—”

“Don’t tell me what the hell I should or shouldn’t do.”

Fabio winces at the fury in my tone, but so do I. Anger toward him is unwarranted, but I can’t fucking help it. “Not after your ‘advice’ got me into this fucking mess in the first place. I think I’m done listening to you—”

“Are you saying that this is my fault?” He inclines his head, his eyes narrowed to slits. Somewhere at the back of my mind, an alarm bell goes off. I’ve pushed him to an emotional state the man rarely reaches. Enraged. But, like always, his true emotions are hidden behind such a carefully crafted veneer that it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking at all.

My own expressions aren’t so fucking polished. In the reflection cast over the blade of a small knife resting in front of me. It’s hers—who knows why I’ve kept it all this time. I grab the hilt to see myself more clearly, and goddamn what a poor son of a bitch I make. My eyes are bloodshot. I haven’t really slept in… I can’t remember. My hair is a mess, but it’s the look in my eyes that I find the most unfamiliar. The most unsettling.

I don’t recognize this pathetic son of a bitch. Deep down, this man knows exactly what Fabio’s been hinting at.

This is my fault. And hell, I deserve it after all the shit I’ve done. My punishment.

Absently, I stow the blade in my pocket, running my thumb over the sharpened edge.

“You need to think clearly,” Fabio insists, coming to stand before me. He braces his hands over the desk, his expression contorted into a forced imitation of his usual calm. But he isn’t calm now. A blind man could see that. “Plotting a way into Stepanov Manor isn’t going to fix anything,” he insists. “What we need to be focused on is Vincenzo. Getting him out of the hospital, for one. According to his doctors, he’s ready to be discharged as long as we arrange for daily visits from a nurse. Have you even been to see him lately? He asked about you…”

Fabio’s gotten his wish. Instead of Willow Stepanova, someone else just as important takes center focus. Guilt is a gnawing parasite feeding off what little sanity I have left. Since that bombshell about the blood test broke, I haven’t set foot in the hospital, not even to visit Vin.

I’m too much of a coward to face him.

“Don?” Fabio waves his hand in front of me. “Did you hear me?”

I stopped listening. Not even my old friend has the answer to the problems facing me now. Still, I’m driven to ask, “How can I even look at him?”

“Don…” Fabio blinks, baffled by the question. In truth, there’s no good answer.

After seven years of believing the worst—thanks to my lies—he finally has his Safy back. Only now I’ve gone and…

“I’ll tell you how.” Fabio slams his hand over the desk, sending a nearby pen rolling off the edge. “You focus only on what you can change. Getting Vincenzo somewhere safe? That’s fully in your control. As for the rest? You put it out of your mind. You have to, Donatello. You’ll drive yourself mad if you don’t. One thing at a time, and only what’s within your control.”

But he’s forgetting that Safy… Willow—she is fully in my control. If I can reach her, I can demand an answer either way.

What will she do if she really is pregnant? End it?

“You want me to focus? Then I need to know the truth. I’ll ask you one more time to get me an audience with Mischa. Nicely,” I add, meeting his gaze. “If you want me to do this your way, then you owe me that. If not, I’ll do it on my own, and I don’t think you’ll find my methods very diplomatic.”

He raises an eyebrow. “You think that this is the time to be giving out ultimatums?” His polished mask cracks further. “Seriously? I know that deflection is one of your primary tactics, but I don’t understand how you can even turn this on me.”

“How?” I incline my head sharply, eyeing him up and down. “You insisted I work with Mischa one on one. Youagreed I should marry her—”

“And you promised me that you wouldn’t touch her,” Fabio counters. “Don’t turn away one of the few allies you have left, Don. I know that self-sabotage is another one of your defining traits. Frankly, I’m not in the mood to have you go on a downward spiral. You want to play with ultimatums? How about I set one of my own? You owe it to me to do what I say. Stay out of this. You let Mischa and anyone associated with him come to you, but you don’t go looking for a fight. Not in this instance, because I can tell you, Don, that you don’t have a leg to stand on anymore. If this was what you wanted all along, then congratulations, you’ve truly made Mischa pay for what he did to Vincenzo. At least you didn’t kill anyone.”

His face is red, the veins in his neck distended. I’ve never seen him this riled, not even during my lowest trips to rock bottom. It figures. Even high on heroin and drunk out of my mind, I still showed better judgment than sleeping with Willow Stepanova.

“I’m sorry, Fab,” I say. “But if it’s true? If she really is…” I force myself to grate the word through gritted teeth. “If she really is pregnant?”

Fabio looks away rather than answer. He knows what will happen. If it’s true, I couldn’t just ignore it. I can’t stay away and wait for Mischa to stew and plot his next round of revenge.

I couldn’t ignore her, either. If Fabio thinks I’ve won this war, then she’s gone and crowned herself the grand champion of it. She got exactly what she wanted all along—revenge.

She may not have my life in her hands, but it’s damn close. Would she be cruel enough to lord that control over me?

Could I even blame her if she did?

Fabio’s right, though even he has enough tact not to state it outright. This is my fault. I fucked up, and in this scenario, there is no easy way out. Not for me and not for her. No one wins at the end of this game, and neither Mischa nor I have a damn say in it.

Just her. Willow Stepanova.

Her choice controls everything hanging in the balance, and for the life of me, I have no idea what that means.

But I know exactly what it is that I want.

Badly enough that even Fabio and his logic can’t derail me.

I need to face her. I need to see her.

And for what it’s worth, I need to state my case.

If not for myself, then for them—an unborn child brought into existence through no fault of its own.

To do that, I’ll flaunt whatever norms I have to.

I’ll fight Mischa Stepanov himself.

After a decade spent claiming a throne for himself in the seething violence of the criminal underbelly, all Donatello Vanici craves now is peace.

Only a union forged between his heir and the most powerful mafiya family in existence could ever be strong enough to end the bloodshed for good, but the Stepanov head resists his overtures at every turn… 

Until tragedy strikes, and forces Donatello’s hand.

Haunted by a past that dogs her every thought, Willow Stepanov will do anything for the man who adopted her—until a chance encounter with the enemy lands her right in the middle of a dangerous power struggle and a war that grows more violent and vicious each day.

But it’s not just her future her captor holds hostage.

He is a man with nothing left to lose—while she may just lose everything. 

Her life, her family, and her heart…

With her family’s safety in jeopardy and her heart on the line, Willow finds herself trapped in a hopeless situation—marry the man who betrayed her and trust in his plan? Or can she navigate the deadly political landscape alone and save the ones she loves?

The question may be easier said than done when an unearthed secret from the past flips her entire perspective on its head. Is Donatello the monster she’s been led to believe?

Or is he as much a victim of past events as she is…

With a war looming and their relationship brewing, both find their loyalties tested to their breaking point—and a new threat on the horizon leaves them little time to waste.

As the past and present finally collide, will they rise above the fray…

Or will old grudges finally tear them apart?

With all hope of the peace shattered beyond redemption, Donatello Vanici is waging his most violent, bloody war yet. 

And caught in the heart of the carnage is Willow Stepanova, the adopted daughter of his dangerous enemy and the girl who once adored him to the depths of her soul. 

Torn between her loyalty to her family and her volatile connection to Donatello, Willow quickly realizes that it’s not just her life at stake in this vicious battle…

But what will be left of her in the end?

A broken engagement should signal the end of the feud blazing between the Stepanovs and Vanicis—barring one small hitch no one foresaw: a surprise pregnancy that could turn this petty misunderstanding into outright war.

For Donatello, this new baby is a shred of hope after nearly a decade of misery—one he won’t forfeit without a fight.

For Willow, this ordeal is a glaring reminder of her own conflicted loyalty, leading to a choice she will have to live with for the rest of her life…

Salvaging this union will be the hardest, bloodiest war Donatello has fought yet. But, as the danger looming above the city reaches a breaking point, will they outlast the violence with their lives—and hearts—intact?

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