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The Skull Crusher (Skull 2) Penelope Sky 2022/8/5 16:52:04

“Just doing the books,” he said. “Nothing new.”

“How’s business?” Since the company had been run by the Cardello family for generations, sales had always been strong. Italians respected our family lineage throughout the years of business.

Case suddenly turned quiet, looking at the folder like there was something hidden inside.

I knew my brother so well that I could spot his unease in a heartbeat. I knew when he was hiding something, because he hardly ever hid anything. “What is it?”

Balto chimed in. “Just tell her. She can handle it.”

I stared at the man I was sleeping with, having no idea how he was involved in this. “Case, what’s he talking about?”

Balto stared at Case, wearing that impenetrable poker face.

Case held his gaze before he lowered his chin to the table.

My eyes glanced back and forth between the two men.

“Get it over with, man.” Balto grabbed the bottle of scotch in the middle of the table and poured himself a glass.

I looked at my brother, waiting for whatever secret he’d been hiding from me. “Case.”

He swallowed a shot of scotch then wiped his mouth with the back of his forearm. “Alright. Dirk and I have been running a side business right in this factory.”

I expected something a lot more scandalous than that. “Another business?”

“Yeah,” Case said. “It’s been going on for a few months. It’s had tremendous success, and we’re going to keep doing it.”

“Well, that’s great,” I said. “What’s bad about that?”

“It’s not the most respectable kind of business,” Case said. “It’s the reason Balto and I know each other.”

“Okay…” I stared at Balto for a moment, seeing the same cold expression. “What kind of business are we talking here?” If Balto was involved, then I could only assume it was criminal. Case was clean-cut and smart, so I was surprised he would get involved in anything besides the family business.

“Drugs,” Case answered. “Dirk does the cooking. We make an exceptional product. We sell it throughout the country. Balto found out what we were doing and threatened to kill me if I didn’t pay my taxes.”

Balto held up his glass before he took a drink.

Being with Balto taught me how terrible the world could be, but I never expected my brothers to be involved in something like that. “But the pasta business is already successful. Why would you risk everything to sell drugs?”

“Because it makes a lot of money,” he said bluntly.

“So?” I snapped. “You already have a lot of money.”

“Not like this,” he countered. “We make more a month than we do in an entire year with just the pasta.”

Case and Dirk both had beautiful homes in the countryside. They drove nice cars and had luxurious lives. Why would they risk that simplicity for something so dangerous? “Money is just money, Case. You can’t take it with you. I suspect you’ll be leaving this life sooner than expected, to top it off.”

Case took another drink.

“Mother and Father would be disappointed…” They’d left their children with a viable company that would provide for them, but it wasn’t enough. Case and Dirk wanted more even though they didn’t need anything else.

Case sighed. “Cassini—”

“This stops now. No more, Case.”

Case shook his head slightly. “There’s nothing you can do—”

“You wanna bet?” I challenged. “Balto will end this if I ask him to.”

“Balto?” he asked blankly. “He’s the one who profits from it.”

“Doesn’t matter.” I was so disappointed in my brother. “Stop this operation now, or I’ll make Balto do it.”

Balto stared at me, still giving nothing away.

“Balto can’t stop me,” Case argued. “And he doesn’t want to stop me. There’s nothing to worry about. Dirk and I know what we’re doing.”

“No, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into,” I snapped. “I’ve been a prisoner to Lucian, a horrible man who does horrible things. I’ve been with Balto, a man who rules an underground world. He crushed a man’s skull with his boot not long ago. And you want to get involved in that?”

“I’m not involved in that,” my brother argued. “I make a product and I sell it. That’s it.”

I rolled my eyes. “If that’s really how you see it, then I’m even more worried. It’s not that simple. It’s certainly not that easy. You’re gonna get yourself killed.”

“That’s what Balto is for.” Case stared at me, apology in his gaze. “He keeps business running smoothly. Someone steps on us, he steps in. Cassini, I get that you’re upset, but this is what Dirk and I want to do.”

“It’s dangerous,” I snapped. “What would I do if something happened to you?”

“Cassini…” He shook his head slightly. “You weren’t involved in anything criminal, and you ended up as a slave to Lucian. Now you’re Balto’s prisoner. Life is risky no matter what we do. You’re never safe. You can live in a house in the middle of nowhere and never interact with anyone, and you would still be at risk. So let this go.”