Footsteps, the first book in my new Pagano Family Series, will be released on Saturday, 16 August 2014. Today, I’m revealing the cover, offering Chapter 1 as a teaser, and introducing you a little to the Pagano family and their world.
This series is different from the Signal Bend series, though there are some similarities. I am especially interested in the multivalent relationships within a family. This time, instead of the chosen family of the Night Horde MC, I’m writing about a large, Italian-American family related by blood.
One of the brothers rides a Ducati, but this is not an MC series.
This series is, so far, a more traditional contemporary romance series. Writing Signal Bend was exhausting, with all the blood and death and heartbreak, so I’m hoping this series is mellower on that front. So far, it is. That said, my muse likes things dark and angsty, and Footsteps has some dark elements, to be sure. My muse doesn’t really do fluff.
The Paganos’ hometown is Quiet Cove, Rhode Island, a seaside town of my own imagination, inspired by the wonderful seaside towns of New England. The series will primarily focus on the branch of the family led by Carlo Pagano, Sr. Carlo Sr. has two older brothers, and their branch of the family is more…organized, if you know what I mean. Though the whole family is functional and intact, there is tension between the branches. Carlo Sr. has worked hard to make sure his six children weren’t drawn in to the Uncles’ business. For the most part, he was successful. For the most part.
Footsteps is Carlo, Jr.’s story. He is the eldest sibling and something of a disappointment to his father.
And I’ll let the story itself introduce you to the rest of the family. Again, the release date is Saturday, 16 August.
In the meantime, here’s the first chapter of Footsteps.
I hope you enjoy!
The Veterans Memorial Auditorium was aglow and festooned with light and glitter. All the prettiest people of Providence and its environs were in attendance for a command performance of the Rhode Island Philharmonic in honor of one of the city’s most cherished citizens, James Auberon—philanthropic lover of the arts, of animals, of the sick, the poor, the downtrodden by night, high-powered developer and cutthroat businessman by day.
Carlo Pagano stood outside in the humid late-May night. The air was still warm; it had been a warm spring, promising a hot summer. That would be good for Quiet Cove, Carlo’s hometown. But right now, during the intermission, he yanked at the stiff collar of his tuxedo shirt and silently lamented his presence at this ridiculous event. It was like a masquerade ball without the feathered masks. Every person he saw was encased in some obscenely uncomfortable getup—the men, like him, bound up in black ‘summer’ wool and a fucking black silk noose; the women all sparkly and laden with makeup and hairspray, all walking like they were in shackles, nothing natural, everybody sort of toddling around.
This was not his scene. Not remotely. But Peter had demanded that they show. He’d been right, of course. Auberon was an important developer, an important person, and Pagano-Cabot would never get established if they didn’t network. That was Peter’s strength, though—the schmoozing. He was great at bullshit and flirting and what the fuck ever people did to get other people to like them.
Carlo was better on his own, at his drafting table, in jeans and a chambray shirt. Flannel in the winter. Timberland boots. Not dressed like Bruce Wayne. With one last look at the glittering building full of glittering people, he sighed and slouched back inside. Better get to schmoozing.
Once inside, swallowed up by the crush of formalwear and the truly oppressive miasma from mingled scents of different five-hundred-dollar-an-ounce perfumes, Carlo turned toward the bar, thinking he’d wedge himself in and get a couple of quick, free scotches in his belly before he had to smile at any of these people. Peter was at the bar, his grin wide and blinding-bright. In his element. He was talking to…Anderson Temple. God, Carlo hated that old, fat bastard. Deciding he wasn’t ready to deal, he hooked a quick right and serpentined through the crowd and into the men’s room.
He’d been to the symphony many times—his mother and his father had both been big classical music and opera buffs. His father was still, though he didn’t go as often since Carlo’s mother died. Never in all the times Carlo had been in this building had there been an attendant in the men’s room. Yet there was one tonight, tricked out in livery and holding a stack of crisp, white towels.
He didn’t have any actual business to conduct in here; he was just looking for a quiet place to be, and other than someone in one of the stalls, and the attendant in his red jacket, Carlo was alone. He washed his hands and checked the mirror. His hair had a mind of its own. He’d tried to make it lie down smoothly—actually, Natalie had tried to make it lie down smoothly, right after she’d tied his stupid bow tie—but it stuck up at weird angles. Normally, he barely noticed, but Nat had fussed and said he looked like a mad scientist had sewn the head of a psycho survivalist onto James Bond’s body, and then she’d stuck some weird shit in his hair. Now it was crunchy, and it still stuck up.
He washed his face and smoothed his beard—that always lay nicely, at least—then turned to the attendant and took the towel he’d offered. “Thanks, man.” The attendant nodded but did not speak. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to.
When his hands and face were dry, he dropped the towel in the hamper next to his silent buddy, dropped a couple of bills onto the gold tray on the counter, and went back out into the fray.
He ran headlong into a woman charging—to the extent anyone trussed up in a getup like that could charge—down the hall. Toward the ladies’, Carlo assumed.
“Oh! Excuse me.” A soft, accented voice.
Carlo had braced his hands on her bare shoulders when they collided; now he took a step back. “No, I’m sorry. I should’ve looked before I came out.”
She smiled vaguely and then, with a terse nod, stepped around him and continued on her way.
By the time he managed to get himself to the bar, he figured intermission was down to its last few minutes. Already the crowd was thinning out, as people began to head back to their seats even before the blinking of the lights that would alert the attendees that the second half of the evening’s program would commence five minutes hence. Auberon would be getting a plaque or something—no, something more impressive than a plaque, probably some crystal doodad—before the orchestra picked up its second act.
He stood next to Peter and ordered a scotch, neat. The bartender nodded and poured from a bottle of top-shelf Macallan. At least the free stuff was the good stuff. Auberon rated only the best. Philanthropist that he was and all.
Of course, Carlo had it on some damn fine authority that there was more than a drop of blood in the cement around Auberon’s impenetrable reputation. But who was he to judge.
“Where the hell have you been, bro?” Peter lifted an irritated eyebrow and waved his empty glass at the bartender. “I’ve been talking you up, but the whole point of this was for us to make nice-nice with these people. Pagano-Cabot? That’s two names. And I’m not even the first one. So why am I the only one out here grinning like a moron?”
“Because you do grinning moron so well. You’re a natural.”
“Fuck you.” An elderly woman draped in diamonds like some kind of zombie chandelier, standing just to Carlo’s other side, gaped at Peter’s language. “Sorry, ma’am. Buy you a drink?” The woman pursed her lips and turned away, just as the lights blinked.
Carlo downed the Macallan and asked for another.
Peter clapped him on the back. “Hey—I saw you go face-to-face with the Queen of the Evening. Did you cop a good feel?”
With no idea what his friend was talking about, Carlo only gave him the look that said he was crazy.
“Coming out of the bathroom. You ran right into Auberon’s wife. The Mega-Hottie from Down Under?”
The woman he’d run into had had an accent, but it hadn’t been Australian. “What are you talking about? That’s Auberon’s wife? And I don’t think she’s Australian.”
“You talked to her? What are you talking about, Australian? I didn’t say Australian. She’s from some South American country. Like Panama or something like that, I think.”
“Down Under means Australia, moron.” Having no intention of giving his friend a further geography lesson about the difference between Central and South America as they headed back toward the theater, Carlo sighed. “And I just bumped into her and said I was sorry. I didn’t get her life story, and I didn’t cop a feel.”
“Shame to waste a chance to get a grope of that rack, but it’s probably for the best. Auberon is not the kind of guy you want to piss off.” He cast a slant look at Carlo. “But that probably wouldn’t faze you much.”
“Don’t be an ass, Pete.” They returned to their seats, well back from the really glittery folk, and waited for the rest of the program to start.
There was a simple, Lucite podium positioned in front of the conductor’s more substantial one. The mayor of Providence, resplendent in his own penguin frippery, crossed from the left and stood at the clear podium. As he began his remarks extolling James Auberon’s multitude of personal and professional virtues, Peter leaned over and muttered, “Did you see Auberon earlier?”
Carlo turned slightly and muttered back, “What?”
“Right. Probably not. You never see anything unless it’s made of brick and steel. Beginning of intermission. He was at the bar when I got there. Was practically finger-fucking some little blonde in a tiny white dress that looked like it was made of ribbons or something. Right there at the bar.”
At that, Carlo’s attention was caught. “I thought you said the woman in the hallway was his wife.”
Peter turned up one corner of his mouth slyly. “And that means what, exactly? Aren’t you an expert in how little that means?”
Carlo winced and turned his focus away from his friend and back toward the podium, where, now, James Auberon was accepting his token—yep, some crystal dust-catcher. The woman he’d run into was standing a few steps back and to the left of the podium. Carlo and Peter were seated at about the midpoint of the theater, so he didn’t have a close-up view, and he hadn’t paid much attention when he had been close up. But she was clearly, obviously, fantastically beautiful. Wearing a strapless, dark plum-colored dress that was sequins from its skintight top to its flowing bottom, and long earrings with faceted golden stones catching the spotlights that were aimed at her husband, she had her hair done in a simple ponytail, a long, chestnut fall of hair lying over one shoulder, and down onto a splendid, exemplary chest. Her skin was a golden tan; it glittered faintly, as if she were wearing some kind of shimmery something over it. Pixie dust, he thought, and chuckled quietly.
Who the fuck cheated on that?
Maybe the same kind of person as one who would run away with her lover and leave a husband and child alone in her wake. Peter was right. Carlo had no business being surprised at this kind of shit.
Maybe the blonde in the little white dress was the reason this sparkly beauty had been storming heedless down the hallway in the first place.
Auberon was finishing his remarks. Carlo hadn’t heard a word of them. But he’d heard plenty of pompously vague doubletalk in his time, so he could fill in the blanks. Now, though, Auberon held his hand out toward his wife. Even from the distance at which he was sitting, Carlo could see the dark look she gave that hand before she reached out with one graceful arm, adorned with a wide bracelet glinting with golden stones, and took it.
Auberon pulled her forward and turned back to the microphone. In his clipped, precise voice, he said “And, of course, without my beautiful Sabina, I would not have succeeded half so well in ways either material or meaningful. Thank you, my darling.” As the audience applauded, Auberon put a possessive hand on Sabina’s waist and kissed her cheek. She smiled stiffly.
Sabina, Carlo thought. Beautiful name.
In the reception area after the end of the program, where the bar was again open and people were again schmoozing, Carlo grabbed Peter’s arm.
“I’m heading out, man. I’ve had about as much of this as I can take.”
“C’mon, Carlo. The good part’s finally starting.” He gestured at a lovely, slim blonde in a slinky, shimmery scarlet gown. “That’s Chloe. She’s here with a couple of friends. I thought we’d go out, hit Port 99, maybe get a little cozy. It’s time, bro. You’re all dressed up. Let’s get you back on the hottie.”
“Not this time. I’m taking Trey home in the morning. Pop’s big start-of-summer shindig, remember? I’ll be in Quiet Cove next week. I thought you were coming out for the weekend.”
“Might do.” He smirked. “Doesn’t mean I can’t party tonight.”
“Well, it does mean that I can’t. I’ll see you tomorrow. Or I won’t, whatever.” Carlo let go of Peter’s arm. Peter shrugged and headed toward the slinky red dress. Carlo turned toward the exit and freedom, loosening his black silk noose as he went.
As he reached the door, stretching his arm to the pressure bar, he was hit from behind by a solid force. He stumbled forward, pitching toward the door. Regaining his feet, he turned to see the man of the night himself, sidling to the next door and pushing his way through, with no sign or word of apology, a murderous expression darkening his brow.
Apparently, the entire Auberon family was getting up close and personal with him this fine evening. Grumbling under his breath about rude bazillionaires, Carlo pushed through the door. Once outside in the noticeably cooler night air, he fumbled in his pocket for the valet ticket.
A flash of sparkle caught his eye, and he looked up to see Auberon and his wife—Sabina, her name was Sabina—standing at a taxi. Her dress caught and returned the gleam from the streetlights. It looked as if she had been getting into the back seat of the cab and that Auberon had pulled her out. Now, husband had wife’s arms in a death grip. She was obviously struggling to get loose, and they were obviously arguing, but too quietly to be heard.
The wide walkway and drive was moderately populated with people waiting for their vehicles, and it seemed to Carlo that everyone was watching the hostile scene play out. No one was doing anything about it, however. Carlo tried to decide whether anything should be done. A married couple fighting was not exactly unusual, even if the couple was among the wealthiest and most influential in the state. And even if the husband was dangerously powerful.
So dangerously powerful that no one was capturing this moment on their phones. Not even the reporter from the local paper was getting footage of the scene.
Then Auberon yanked Sabina forward, away from the cab, and she fell to her knees on the curb. She cried out when her knees hit, and before Carlo had another thought, he was striding toward them.
“Is there a problem here?” Why was that the question that had leapt from his mouth? Why did people ask such a stupid thing? Of course there was a problem. Sabina was still on her knees, and Auberon was still yanking on her arm. Now, Carlo was close enough to hear the danger in Auberon’s voice, even if the words were too low yet to be made out.
But both husband and wife shook their heads. Auberon smiled coolly. “Thank you for your concern—Carlo is it? Carlo Pagano?”
“Yes.” There was a threat in the way Auberon conveyed his knowledge of Carlo’s identity, and Carlo understood it.
“My wife tripped as she was getting into her cab. But she’s fine.” Auberon turned to his wife. “Right, Bina? You’re fine?”
Sabina cast her eyes past her husband and met Carlo’s. In that look, he read a plea to drop it before he made things worse for her. Then she said, “Yes. I’m a little clumsy in this dress. But I’m perfectly fine. Thank you.”
Definitely not an Australian accent. The rich, rounded vowels and rolled Rs of a native Spanish speaker.
While it was true that he was dressed like Bruce Wayne, he was not Batman, and she didn’t want help. So Carlo nodded and stepped back. As Auberon handed his wife into the cab and shut the door, a valet took Carlo’s ticket and trotted off to get his car.
When the cab drove away, Auberon nodded curtly at Carlo and went back into the theater. Carlo read a fresh, more pointed warning in that single bob of James Auberon’s head.
Carlo unlocked the door to his loft and went in. The main space was brightly lit, and Natalie was curled up on the sofa along the windows, reading on her tablet. As he dropped his keys in the stoneware bowl on the credenza near the door, she stood and stretched.
Elsa, their big Leonberger, rose lazily from her bed near the kitchen, stretched, yawned, and padded heavily over, tail wagging. He ruffled her mammoth head, and she lay down at his feet.
“You’re home early, aren’t you?” Natalie walked over, and he kissed her cheek.
“I guess. Not my thing. You know that.” He shrugged out of his jacket and toed off his shoes.
“What is your thing, exactly?”
“This weekend is closer to it. You sure you don’t want to join us?”
“Nope. I have plans with Paul.”
“Paul is…wait, don’t tell me…he’s the teacher?”
“Yep. Fifth grade. I like him.”
“Well, good then. How’s my boy?” Natalie had been Trey’s nanny from even before Jenny had run off. Since then, though, she’d practically moved in.
“Impish as ever. Over dinner, I got a long story about sharks in the waters off the coast. He was told about this by his Uncle Joey, of course. I think the thought of maybe getting eaten by Jaws made him more excited about the weekend, not less.”
Carlo laughed. Trey would be four at the end of the summer. He was hyper-verbal and completely fearless. He kept Carlo and Nat on their toes nonstop.
“Elsa had her walk?”
Natalie gave him an affectionately irritated look. “No. I made her hang her furry thunder-butt over the balcony and drop her load on Mrs. Murphy’s potted plants down below. Of course she’s had her walk.”
Laughing harder, he bent down and kissed Nat’s round cheek again. “Thanks for tonight.” Normally, Carlo was home in the evenings, and Nat could go out and live her own life.
“Of course. I’ll see you when you get back.”
“Yep. Have fun with your teacher.”
She turned and gave him a saucy wink. “Oh, I plan to.”
After Natalie left, Carlo stripped off his socks, his fancy shirt, and then his plain white t-shirt. Barefoot and bare-chested, he took a deep breath and imagined the black-tie chains falling away. He went to the fridge and got himself a beer, then walked across the wide room to the sliding doors that led to the balcony.
His building was perched on the banks of the Providence River, and he had a great view of the city from out here. The night had picked up a coastal chill off the bay, but to Carlo the cool over his bare skin felt cleansing. His mood was dark, bordering on black. The whole night had been a trial. He was not good at being randomly friendly to strangers, and he was worse at being friendly to assholes because they had something he wanted. He felt downright dirty about that. But he’d wanted to go out on his own. He’d wanted to free himself of the corporate prison and do things his way. He’d convinced Pete to jump with him. And now they needed to find a way to make their way. Designing beautiful buildings was only worthwhile if somebody then wanted to build them.
And he had a son to take care of.
Maybe he should have done what his father had wanted—still wanted. Maybe he should have stayed in Quiet Cove and taken over Pagano & Sons Construction. Security. Stability.
But that was fraught, too. The strings that came with Pagano & Sons had nasty barbs on the ends. What he wanted was not to be beholden, not to anyone.
So he’d find a way to make nice with highborn lowlifes like Anderson Temple. And James Auberon. And try to tell himself that he wasn’t getting tied up in their strings.
Though a man who beat his wife was the worst kind of man, and Carlo had a pretty clear picture now of James Auberon, Community Paragon, as that kind of man. How the fuck was he supposed to make nice with that?
Auberon had known his name. Well, it was a well-known name in Providence. In all the Northeast, really. He hadn’t had much to do with that notoriety personally. In fact, it was a hindrance at least half the time. But Carlo supposed it could be good for business if James Auberon respected his family name.
He stepped back into the loft and closed the slider. After he tossed his empty beer bottle, feeling cooler and freer, but no brighter, he went down the short hall and opened the door to Trey’s room.
His son was sleeping, rolled up into a snug ball, his blue stuffed dinosaur shoved tightly under his chin. The room was illuminated by a domed nightlight, throwing a rotating, glowing blue starscape onto the ceiling and walls. Even in sleep, Trey’s world was in motion. Carlo bent down and kissed his tousled blond head.
He had to make his way and give his son a life. It was just the two of them.
©Susan Fanetti 2014