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Worth Of Waste

Worth Of Waste



General Romance

The Chicago Mob is the same as it has always been—violent, greedy, and excessive. The Outfit families have turned their backs when they were needed the most one too many times, but Dino DeLuca didn’t expect anything different. His whole life has been lived for the Outfit—for his family. He has a whole new set of reasons to live and fight now. Karen Martin makes Dino change all the rules. He’s finally ready to show everyone just how much waste is truly worth in the mafia, and just how far one will go for freedom from it all. He’s learned these lessons well. Too well. DeLuca Duet, 2


WHO are you?

Karen Martin woke up each and every day, asking herself that same question.

Who are you? How did you get here? Why did you do this to yourself?

She didn’t have the right answers to tell her reflection in the mirror, certainly none that would explain her current situation, or the hell she had found herself living in. She also knew she had no one else to blame—mostly—other than her reflection staring back at her.

Maybe that was the worst part, the fact that she didn’t have someone else to blame.

How could she, when she was alone?

Today was a harder day than normal, and those questions she always asked came with a little more force than normal, if only because the first thing she saw on the small television as she sat down with a cup of decaffeinated tea in her hands was his face.

The first thought that came to her mind?

That’s a better picture than the mugshot.

A shot of Dino DeLuca sitting in the courtroom, suit and tie perfectly in place, standing as he handed his ‘guilty’ plea over. And then he was gone, the image fading away as the anchor room flashed back on the television where the anchors had already moved onto another story.

Karen had only caught the very tail end of the news story, but what she had seen was more than enough to know Dino wouldn’t be coming back out anytime soon.

A sickness climbed from her sensitive stomach, and she set the tea aside, not daring to take another drink. She could have blamed it on the pregnancy—blamed her warring emotions on the little life just barely beginning—but it would have been an excuse.

She didn’t know what to do.

She was alone.

She was pregnant.

She was scared.

An item caught her attention out of the corner of her eye, and for a second, those fears bled away and were then replaced by a heated anger swelling in her chest. The thick manila envelope, filled with stacks of cash and topped with a note Karen couldn’t begin to understand, sat on the very edge of her coffee table.

She’d recognized Dino’s handwriting on the package the second the mail man banged on her door and shoved it into her hands, pissed off because it was too big to put in her mailbox downstairs. She hadn’t known what was happening to him at the time she’d gotten the package—that early Monday morning had just been another day for her, although a sadder, bleaker morning, given she had been convinced Dino’s lack of presence was yet another sign that she would just have to move forward alone.

How stupid she had been …

How crazy …

Karen glared at the cash again, hating that she hadn’t just taken it somewhere and handed it off to get it out of her hands. A charity, maybe.

The police, even.

She sighed.

No doubt, the police would be happy to get a package like that from Karen, especially if she could say it was from Dino. Something stopped her from doing either—the charity or the police.

Her pregnancy.

Dino’s child.

The unborn life was the one and only thing that stopped Karen’s anger from making her do something she might regret one day. She knew Dino hadn’t meant any harm by sending her the money, and his note inside the package had only confirmed that fact, but the last few sentences of the scribbled mess had just left her more confused.

Don’t give the child my names, it had read.

Karen tried not to dwell on that as much as she could, but it was becoming more and more impossible as the days went on. Especially on a day like today, when she happened to see something like the news broadcast on the television, yet she still felt so far removed from the entire scene.

Because she didn’t know.

She didn’t know anything about the legal problems, what Dino faced, when or if he might be out, or even how she could find out more without stepping foot into his business and making her presence known.

If nothing else, Karen had figured that one thing out all by herself and without any help.

Dino did not want Karen involved.

Not with his people.

Not with his life.

Not with the … mafia.

It all felt a little surreal.

She met a man one day, a sad, frowning man who seemed so cold from afar, so entirely unapproachable on that foggy, damp morning. She’d watched him from nearby as he talked to a gravestone, his large hands being so very careful as they wiped off the stone with a pristine white napkin from his jacket pocket.

Karen had thought about how lonely he looked, crouched down in front of the grave. How alone he seemed, in his distant gaze that looked right passed her at one moment in time, not even noticing she was standing there by a tree watching him.

She should have known better, honestly.

She had no business interfering when she hadn’t even known the man.

And yet, she did.

When Dino DeLuca smiled, Karen had felt like she won a battle that day.

She had done something good.

He made her feel amazing with nothing more than a grin.

In a way, Karen had put herself in her current position by not pressing harder for answers from Dino over the course of their year-and-a-half-long relationship. Times when he flaked on her without explanation, other moments when he seemed quieter than normal—though he barely talked as it was—and passing comments from others about his side business and other life that she allowed to fly right over head.

Maybe she pretended like he was exactly what he seemed because she didn’t want to know about the rest.

Or maybe she didn’t ask things she should have because she wouldn’t have liked the answers.

Karen prided herself on the fact that she wasn’t stupid. For the most part, she made rational, educated choices about her life and the people in it. She didn’t like negativity, but rather, filled her days with goodness and happiness to keep all the darkness at bay.

Then there was Dino …

A man who seemed almost swathed in an aura of darkness he couldn’t—or didn’t want to—escape from.

She hadn’t minded that. He drew her in like a moth to the brightly-burning flame, and while his actions promised never to burn her, his soul never said a damn thing.

Who was really at fault here?

Certainly not him.

The news program ended, switching over to an early morning panel sitting around a glass table with hosts ready to gossip about the latest in politics, fashion, and the celebrity life. Karen wasn’t really seeing what was on the show, but rather, the image of Dino standing in the courtroom.

It had burned into her brain.

She couldn’t get the image out.

Who are you?

That was all she wanted to ask him.

She just wanted one more minute of his time—a few passing seconds—to ask the one question she should have demanded he answer over and over again.

What would he even say now?

I’m a criminal.

I don’t live a good life.

I lied to you.

I love you.

Pushing those awful fucking thoughts from her mind, Karen grabbed the remote and shut the television off, hoping it would rid the image from her mind. It didn’t; she should have known better than to try.

Like that first time they’d met, this was no different.

Dino’s black soul had imprinted itself inside Karen’s heart without even trying. He should have warned her, maybe, given her a chance to run when she could have, before she got too mixed up in him.

Deep down, she didn’t want that at all.

And in a way, he had given her that chance.

Tell me to leave and I’ll go, he’d told her again and again.

She hadn’t ever told him those words because she hadn’t wanted to. Not when she knew something was wrong with him, not when she knew he was hiding things from her, and not even when he’d hurt her by walking away when she needed him to stay.

Karen didn’t say things she didn’t mean, after all.

That didn’t mean it was easy, or that she understood where all of this was going to lead her in the end. She had the distinct feeling nothing would make sense or feel particularly good until she had the chance to sit down with Dino once and for all to get the answers she craved, to questions he had refused to entertain over and over again.

But she would get those answers … eventually.

Karen had long since decided on that.

She just had to figure out how.

Well, actually, Dino would have to wait a short while longer. She had something more important to deal with, or rather, figure out what in the hell she was going to do about and how she was going to make it work.

Her baby, that was.

As much as she wanted to go and demand answers from Dino, as deep as her need was to simply talk to him and hug him, even if she was angry with him, she had something else to take care of and she didn’t think he would mind.

That was never more apparent to Karen than when she flew off the couch and headed for the bathroom faster than she thought was possible, her hand thrown over her mouth in a shitty attempt to keep the spilling vomit inside for those last few feet.

Thankfully, she made it in time. That didn’t necessarily make vomiting any more fun.

Morning sickness was a bitch.

The books all said the sickness would probably wane by the second trimester, but Karen still had weeks and weeks to go for that just yet. Her stress and worries weren’t helping her sensitive stomach in the least, considering the worse she felt mentally or physically, the sicker she became.

It was almost like her morning sickness was reflecting her moods, if that were possible.

It wasn’t just Dino she was worried about, either.

It was also herself.

She lived in a too-small apartment with only one bedroom. The place didn’t have nearly enough room for all the things a baby needed. Not that she had the money to actually go out and buy the things the baby would need, because she didn’t have any money at all. All the savings she had managed to accumulate over the years was a dwindling pile of cash—now that she had quit her job at Dino’s restaurant—and she needed to fund herself and keep herself housed and fed until another job popped up.

But who was going to give a job to a woman with a taste for photography, bookkeeping skill, and a baby on the way?

Her situation was looking bleaker every single day.

You could go home, her mind pressed.

Karen didn’t even want to entertain the idea of returning to California where her parents lived, if only because the shame would eat her alive. Not only would she be forced to admit to her parents that Chicago had turned out to be a massive failure on her part, she would also be left explaining her pregnancy and just how all that came about.

She was an adult, for Christ’s sake.

She could and would figure this out on her own.


After finishing in the bathroom and putting the mouthwash to good use for the third time that morning, Karen went back to her tea in the living room, though she didn’t bother to drink it. Instead, she took it to the kitchen and dumped the contents out, as her thirst and appetite was entirely gone.

Leaning back against the cupboards, she massaged her temples with the pads of her fingers, hoping to relieve some of the tension there.

It didn’t help all that much.

From the other side of the apartment, the manila envelope with its cash spilling out caught her attention again.


She had resolved herself not to entertain the idea.

Not to touch the money.

Life probably wasn’t going to give her much of a choice.

The baby was the most important thing, Karen knew.

First, though, she had to talk to Dino.

Those last few words on the note haunted her for reasons she wasn’t willing to face.

She needed to know why.

He was the only one who could tell her.