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First pages

Chapter 1

March 2006

 

“Awesome goal!” The ball soared through the air, slid into the net perfectly in the top left corner, just beyond the reach of the keeper. “Did you get it?” Nia Nelson asked her coach Giuseppe Zambrotta, who was taping the soccer match between Italy and USA with his ever-present digital camcorder. He made a habit of recording games, even the ones he coached, so later he could show his players and discuss tactics with the team. Nia loved soccer—watching and playing. Especially when the two teams were world class. She only wished she was down on the field instead of in the stands.

The Italian national versus the US national men’s team were playing a friendly match at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in preparation for the upcoming World Cup. Although the seats were cramped and the stadium outdated, somehow her soccer coach, the miracle worker, had gotten front row tickets which made the view up close and personal.

Si, carina, I got Sandro’s goal. Plus Luciana is recording the game off the television. We will have many hours of new Sandro videos to watch.”

And that was just great with her, even as guilt twinged her for cheering for the Italians so much. Of course, she cheered for every good American play as well—especially since she was on first name basis with so many of the USA men’s team members; her brother was on the team after all although he wasn’t playing today due to an injury—but Sandro, the most famous Italian soccer player in the world, was her idol.

“Do you really think I’ll be able to get his autograph?” Nia almost felt like a middle-school kid for asking, but she couldn’t tone down her excitement at the thought that she might actually get to meet him, have him sign an autograph. Un-middle-school-kid-like thoughts followed as she imagined his fingers brushing against hers when he took the magazine she wanted him to sign. Sparks would fly between their hands, and he would be as mesmerized with her as she was with him. Although it was delusional, the image made her body even hotter on what was already a sunny and warm, early spring day.

She used the soccer program to fan herself. Delusional or not, it was a fun fantasy, one of about nine-thousand nine-hundred and ninety-nine fantasies she had of the very sexy and talented Sandro.

Coach Giuseppe looked a little heated himself. She fanned him as well. With his flushed cheeks and his balding head surrounded by tufts of gray hair, he looked more like an indulgent father than a bad-ass tough soccer coach.

“Non solo will you get his autograph, but I promise you will meet him and spend the evening with him,” Giuseppe said, his bright hazel eyes twinkling.

Nia did a double take and blinked. Surely she hadn’t heard right. Did he just say she’d spending the evening with— “Are you kidding me?” she asked, excitement making her loudly blurt the words.

He smiled, appearing quite satisfied with himself. “Kidding? No. No kidding.”

“How can you be so sure? Do you know him from when you lived in Italy?”

Giuseppe had repeatedly shown her soccer tapes of Alessandro Crocetti over the years he’d been her coach. But he’d never once mentioned he personally knew the famous player whose style he had taught her to emulate.

“Si, I know him from Italy.”

“Really? How come you’ve never said anything? How long have you known him? It must have been when he was just starting to play professionally since you’ve been over here for a few years. What was he like?”

Giuseppe’s smile turned indulgent “So many questions, Nia. The players will be back on the field, and you will miss him because you talk so much.”

“How will I miss him? You know I’ll be quiet when they start playing again.”

“No. I want you to go stand over there by the rail—”

“They don’t want us next to the rail. The security people will make me sit down.”

“Security people are at the other end of the stands taking care of rowdy fans. See that one?” Giuseppe pointed out a red-haired man with red, white and blue stripes painted on his face. Typical overzealous sports fan. “He just threw a bottle onto the field. Besides, you will not be at the rail long. Just long enough to yell something to Sandro.”

The security people no longer worried Nia. “Yell something? You want me to stand by the rail and yell something at Sandro when he comes onto the field?”

Si.” Giuseppe patted her head like she was a bright little girl, even though she was a college junior and had been playing on the US women’s national soccer team since she was in high school. Of course, Giuseppe had known her since she was a junior in high school and had played a major role in helping her win a spot on the national team and in getting her a full soccer scholarship to the college where he coached. He had a right to his fatherly attitude.

“So what do you want me to yell?” Nia swallowed. No Fear ala the old Nike motto—Nike was one of her sponsors—was also her motto, but this was something altogether different. She had idolized Sandro for years; she had posters of him all over her bedroom, for heaven’s sake. When she dreamed of the perfect man, she dreamed of Sandro. As a matter of fact, she dreamed of him every night.

She didn’t know if she could work up the courage to actually say something to him.

Giuseppe told her a phrase in Italian.

She repeated it.“Ciao, caprino mio. . . . What does it mean?” All the years she’d known Giuseppe, and she’d never picked up Italian. Of course, he didn’t speak his native language much except when he was mad and yelling at the team, and she doubted those were words she needed to know anyway. Most likely they’d get her in trouble if she ever said them to another Italian.

“I tell you later. Here they come. Go!”

“But—”

“Sandro will know, is all that is necessary. Vai.”

With a push from Giuseppe, she scurried off her seat and down the aisle to stand by the rail. Taking a few steps to her right brought her even with the Italians walking onto the field. She drew a ragged breath, bolstered her courage and shouted his name, which came out higher and tighter than she’d intended. He didn’t react, likely didn’t hear that pathetic squeaking sound she made. So she took a deep breath and yelled his name louder, adding the Italian phrase.

He stopped dead still. Stopped on a dime, the sports announcers would say. Stopped so abruptly that she instinctively stiffened as if her body were mimicking his. Players around him chuckled while two of his teammates rubbed his curly dark brown hair. He ignored them and pivoted to face her, his gaze zeroing in on her. He walked toward her, holding her riveted with his stare. Her mind urged her to run, but her heart put a halt to that command. As shocked as she was that her idol was walking towards her, pinning her with a stare, she doubted she could have moved anyway. Security would have to lift her and carry her away.

“Mi ha chiamato?” he said when he drew closer.

“Huh?” She barely managed to push the word out over her heart hammering in her throat.

“I thought you called my name. Is mistake, scusi. He turned to leave.

“No, wait!” Her voice squeaked again. How absolutely embarrassing. She swallowed, dragged in a quick breath, tried again. “I did call you. I’m supposed to tell you something.” She repeated the phrase.

Dark brows furrowed over his nose, his eyes narrowed. “Who tell you this? No one says this to me, not in many years.”

Sheesh, what did she say? Her hands went all sweaty. She wiped them on her shorts and glanced sideways, looking for security. Now that she was talking to him, she didn’t want to be dragged away. “My coach told me—”

“Coach? Who is this coach?” Sandro demanded, his English quite understandable despite his accent.

“Giuseppe—”

“Beppe? He is here?”

Man, her coach really did know Sandro. “Right over there.” She pointed and turned to look, but curious onlookers had gone to their feet to stare at her with interest. She could no longer see her coach and was immediately aware that some of the more diehard soccer fans, those who followed both women’s and men’s soccer, were starting to recognize her.

“I can’t see him now, but—”

“Vieni qua.”

She pivoted back to face him. “What?”

Sandro held up his hands. “Climb down, I need to finish talking to you, but I must play.”

Climb down? Finish talking to her? Oh, damn, this was good.

Still, she hesitated—should she dare? How much trouble would she get into going onto the field? Another quick glance down the aisle showed the security guard still occupied with the rowdy fans. “I don’t think security’s gonna like this,” she muttered to herself. In a quick impulsive move, before she had time to chicken out, she slung a leg over the rail. No way would she miss this chance.

It was a long drop, over eight feet. She turned around and dangled by her hands, her chest brushing the concrete wall in front of her. Sandro took hold of her, his strong hands easily spanning her waist, easing her to the ground.

Totally off balance from his touch, as much as the risk she took, she quickly stepped away and turned to face him. What was she supposed to say to her hero? A man she practically worshipped in her dreams. “M . . Maybe I should introduce myself. My name—”

“Go get ‘em, Nia!” someone called out from the crowd, interrupting her pitiful attempt at small talk. Cheers and hand clapping followed from the section that watched her climb over the rail.

She turned to wave to her fans.

Sandro moved beside her.“Ha anche le i tifosi?”

Tifosi. She had heard that word before when she played in Italy; it meant fans. He was smiling when he asked it, so perhaps he was joking, not knowing who she was? Of course, she was more well known in the USA than internationally, like he was. “Fans? A few,” she admitted.

He frowned, obviously puzzled.

Two of his teammates came up to him and started speaking in Italian, pointing to the field.“Si, si. Va bene, he answered.

“I must play. You come sit here, out of way of coach.” He took her arm right below the short sleeves of her t-shirt and led her toward the Italian bench. His warm fingers branded her bare skin, sending heat searing through her body. Every bit as good as she imagined.

Call her a school girl, but she decided she would never wash her arm again.

The referees passed by them. One of them recognized her. “Hey, Nia.” They stopped as a group.

“Hey, Mr. Bankston. How’s it going?” She held out a hand.

The other three referees recognized her then, and she exchanged greetings and handshakes with them, too. Not one of them asked why she was on the sideline, heading for the Italian bench, but she saw the question in their eyes.

“Anche loro? You know them, too?” Sandro asked.

“Sort of.”

He tilted his head and stared at her. “I think somehow I should know you. You are familiar, but I have never met you . . . ”

She had played in a televised soccer match in Italy against the Italian women’s team. She shouldn’t expect him to recognize her, yet still, her heart sank.

Someone yelled his name from the field. “I must play now.”

He surprised her with a kiss on her mouth. “For luck,pecorina,” he said before he turned and jogged onto the soccer pitch.

“Oh, damn.” She sat down hard, grateful she landed on the bench. She fingered her lips as if she’d never felt them before. She hadn’t expected a kiss. Had she imagined it? Only in her most private dreams had she explored any intimacies with him, never expecting to have a chance to meet him. Yet here she sat, waiting on him. And he had kissed her. He had really freaking kissed her.

And called her “pecorina. She had no clue what it meant, but it sounded nice.

Holy freaking cannoli. The world had suddenly gone magical where dreams do come true.

The Italian players on the bench eyed her suspiciously, but one came to sit beside her. He said something to her in Italian.

“Sorry.” She shrugged. “No Italian.”

He switched to English then. “You are friend of Sandro’s?”

“Just met him,” she admitted, her brain still struggling to process all that had happened inside of seconds. “My coach knows him, told me to yell something in Italian to him—sheesh, that got Sandro’s attention. What’d I say?”

He told her.

“Goat boy?” Inwardly, she cringed. Surely not.

“Was name for him when he was young boy. Because of his curly long hair,” he explained. “Like Angora goat.”

Now, the same curly hair was pulled back in his trademark ponytail. Omigosh, she called him a goat. Her cheeks heated. It was a wonder Sandro hadn’t thrown something at her. What was Giuseppe thinking? Yet, here she sat, she reminded herself. He knew something.

The Italian patted her leg in a kind gesture, obviously sensing her distress. “Is okay, because he say you are pecorina. A little sheep.”

A chuckle escaped, and she shook her head. A little sheep? And she thought he’d called her something special.

During the game, she chatted with the Italian player, whose name was Francesco. The Americans nearly scored, and she jumped up to cheer. Francesco tugged her back down.

“Sorry,” she said with a self-conscious shrug. “Forgot whose bench I was on.”

An Italian player was taken down in a hard tackle. At the break in play, Sandro took the opportunity to trot to the touchline. And Nia took the opportunity to admire him in his royal blue jersey and white soccer shorts from this close. The white shorts emphasized his tan, ripping-with-muscles legs. She didn’t have long to ogle, though, because Sandro yelled instructions to Francesco who interpreted for her.

“He wants you to take him water bottle.”

Okay, then. Maybe a little high-handed relegating her to water-girl status, but she wasn’t going to quibble at the chance to be next to him again. Nia grabbed a water bottle from a basket full of bottles and ran to Sandro, feeling as if she were in an alternate dimension the whole thing was so unreal.

Sandro took a drink, squirted some water on his head. She watched every droplet that ran over his face, down his neck—she had a vivid mental image of her tongue following the drop of water—

“Come ti chiami?What is your name?”

She jerked her gaze away from his neck and self-consciously cleared her throat. “Nia. Nia Nelson.”

“I know you now,” he said. “You play for American women. I saw you score against our women’s team. Pretty goal. Favoloso!”

She couldn’t stop a proud, satisfied smile, a little flutter in her heart. “Giuseppe says I play like you.”

“Si, e vero.Is true. We play alike.” He nodded and handed her the water bottle. “Now I will score goal for you.” Once again, he pulled her close for a brief hard kiss on her mouth.

She barely had a chance to register the kiss or the feel of his hard body pressed against hers before she was left to stare after him again. Her hand not holding the water bottle went to her lips. Oh, man. What the hell was happening here? Whatever it was, she liked it.

“You gotta move, Nia. You’re too close to the line,” the referee’s assistant warned her since she was practically standing on the pitch, and in his line of view.

She blinked. “Oh. Sorry.” Still dazed, she walked back to the bench.

Francesco reached for the water bottle. “I will place it back. . .” he pointed toward the basket.

“No.” She snatched it away and then smiled dreamily. “I want to hold it.”

He grinned back at her, and said, Che bestia, l’ amore, as she sat down.

L’ Amore. Love. Oh, yeah, baby, she was in love.

# # #

The ball rocketed across the mid-field line, an Italian player ran with it and as he was approached by the US defender, he slid the pass over to Sandro, who danced around another defender and with a burst of speed took off for the goal. Without missing a step, he took a shot, and the ball found all net. Score for the Italians. The promised goal. The crowd went wild, and so did she.

After the game, she ran up to him, threw herself into his arms, no matter that he was hot and sweaty. And this time, she kissed him.

A pleased look came onto his face as he held her close. “Was good?” he asked, his warm breath brushing her face.

Favoloso! She stared into his shining hazel eyes, realizing the pictures she had didn’t do justice to such beautiful eyes—green with flecks of gold and brown.

“For you,” he told her.

He scored the goal for her. Her heart did a roll. “Thank you.” She considered kissing him again if she could work up the nerve, but someone called to her.

“Hey, Nia, you traitor. You’re with the wrong team!” The voice was in jest, and from someone she’d known a long time.

Reluctantly, she released Sandro and turned toward the speaker. “Brad,” she said, a welcoming smile forming on her lips for the American team goalkeeper.

The young American pulled her into an exuberant, sweaty hug. “Heard your brother will be back soon.”

“That’s right. The doctor plans to release him in a few days.” Her brother was recovering from knee surgery. He normally held a starting position with the US team. The media dubbed them the soccer twins, even though they weren’t twins, and she played on the women’s team and he was on the men’s team.

“We could’ve used him today.”

“Yeah, tough luck. You played a great game, though.”

“Except for those goals your friend scored. Never saw that last one coming.” He released his bear hug and turned her around, easily tucking her against his side, his arm draped across her shoulder. He towered a foot over her five-foot-four-inch frame.

“Great goals, man.” He stuck out a huge, beefy paw, minus the goalie gloves now to the Italian.

Sandro took his hand. “Grazie.” He studied Brad, then angled his gaze to her trapped beneath the goalkeeper’s arm.

An unspoken challenge flared between the two men. Having grown up with five brothers, Nia sensed the undercurrents and puzzled over the cause. She broke the growing silence and made quick introductions between the two, and told Brad, “He scored the last goal for me.”

“Betrayed by my own countrywoman.” Brad shook his head. “Say, I didn’t know you knew Sandro.”

“I just met him. He’s Giuseppe’s friend.”

“Giuseppe? Your coach?” He frowned. “Oh, Sandro! I remember. He’s that Italian player your brother told me you have posters of—”

Nia stomped Brad’s foot.

“Ouch.” He held up the injured foot and hopped on the other to balance.

She threw him an “if-you-say-one-more-word-I-will-kill-you” smile. “It’s certainly been nice seeing you, Brad. I’ll tell Joseph you said hello.” She stepped away but allowed him to brush a kiss on her cheek.

“I can tell when I’m not wanted,” he muttered against her ear.

“And they told me you didn’t have brains.” She grinned and gave his cheek a sisterly peck before scooting out of the way as he tried to swat her bottom.

A moment’s indecision paralyzed her. For once in her life, she was at a loss for words. Did Sandro understand what Brad meant about posters? If he did, how totally embarrassing. Regardless, she couldn’t stand here like a goal post the rest of the day, and running away didn’t seem an option either. Especially since Giuseppe wanted to see Sandro.

“You have many friends in this big country.” He looked at her as if he were trying to decide if Brad were just a friend. Or was she being hopeful?

She shrugged the titillating thought away, warning herself not to let fantasy get in the way of reality. “The soccer community is pretty small here. It’s still not a popular sport once kids outgrow the Saturday morning league play.”

“Ah, si, you Americans like the other kind of football.”

“Some of us like soccer.” Well, yes, it was obvious she liked soccer, duh. Brilliant there, Nia.

An unfamiliar uneasiness spread through her. She was the only sister among a pack of brothers, she grew up playing on boys’ soccer teams, and she had a lot of male friends, yet standing with Sandro, a man she had only previously dreamed of meeting, had her tongue lying limp and useless in her mouth. Again, she struggled for something to say. If only he weren’t staring at her with such an intense look.

At last, he smiled and saved her. “You said Beppe is your coach? He coaches your women’s team?”

“My college team,” she corrected, happy to latch onto something to talk about. “Not the national team, although it was his coaching that helped me win a spot on the national team. I was on his select team before he took the job at the college. He helped me get a scholarship there, too. He’s a good coach,” she rattled off in her typical chatty manner then realized he might have trouble interpreting with her talking so fast.

“Si, a good coach.” Sandro nodded, seeming to easily assimilate the information.

She guessed that he’d known Beppe as a coach in Italy.

He glanced at the departing crowd. “Where is he now? You have somewhere to meet?”

She looked through the crowd, too. “No, we didn’t have time to plan a meeting place. He wanted to see you.”

Sandro slid an arm around her shoulders and led her toward the locker room. She fit beside his five-foot-ten-inch frame much better than she had with Brad’s hulking height. Sandro felt better too, all heat and hardness that felt nothing like the brotherly relationship she had with the US goalkeeper. She resisted the urge to melt against him, although it was a thought that made her stomach swim in anticipation.

“You go find him, then wait for me. Here.” Sandro pointed to a gate that led off the field.

“So it’s true, then? He really does know you.”

Sandro angled his head as a brief smile passed across his face. Si.He knows me well.E’ mio zio…my uncle.”

“Your uncle!” She stepped abruptly away. “I’ll find him then.”

# # #

 “All these years I’ve known you, Coach, and you never told me he was your nephew,” Nia scolded as Giuseppe pushed them through the remaining crowd. Others waited gathered by the gate, too, hoping to get autographs of the departing players.

“It was never important,” he answered.

“Important! You say I play like the man, you have me watch hours and hours of his soccer games, you know I idolize him, and you say it was never important that I knew he was your nephew?” Nia drew a breath as if she’d run the length of a soccer pitch.

“Why is it important?”

His question stumped her. “Well . . . maybe because I never believed I’d have a chance to meet him.”

He pulled her to one side, away from any eavesdroppers. “I never thought you would have a chance. I have not seen him or talked to him since I left Italy.”

“Why?”

Giuseppe glanced away. “I have never been able to go back.”

His elusive answer sparked her curiosity. “Were you in danger over there? Is that why you can’t go back to Italy to see him or even talk to him on the phone?”

He patted her head. “Such an imagination.”

“I get it from my mother.” Who was a romantic suspense writer, and the reason Nia went by her middle name instead of her first name Shanna. Really, what sort of name was Shanna for a soccer player? Even if, according to her mother, it was one of the best historical romance books ever written.

Nia narrowed her eyes. “I’m right, aren’t I? You were in danger.” The thought spun her imagination.

“Why do you think danger?” Beppe asked, interrupting her scenario of him running from the Mafia. “Perhaps . . .” he shrugged and held out his hands, “our families had a feud.”

“A family feud? Is that why you sent me to Sandro? To see if he would agree to see you?”

“Is good way don’t you think?”

She nodded. “It would be if I believed you.”

“You think I tell an untruth?” Giuseppe plastered his hands across his heart looking wounded.

“So dramatic.” She shook her head, not entirely sure she bought his reason. Something in the nervous way his eyes kept flickering away from her gaze told her he was lying, but she didn’t press the issue. Instead, she changed the subject. “Do you think he can visit?”

“Si, I checked his game schedules on the Internet. He should have a day or two to spare.”

“I hope so,” Nia breathed, awed by the possibility of spending two days in Sandro’s company. “I wonder if he can stay long enough to watch me play tomorrow night?”

“Possibly.” Giuseppe studied her, much the way Sandro had studied her earlier.

Their hazel eyes were very similar, and although Giuseppe was much older, he shared many of Sandro’s features. The eyes, the straight, proud nose, the high cheekbones, and a quick, ready smile. She didn’t know why she’d never picked up on the family resemblance before. Except . . . “You don’t have the same last name.”

“His mother is my sister,” Giuseppe explained before pointing. “Look, there he is.”

Fans had surrounded Sandro, seeking his autograph. He wore expensive white nylon shorts sporting his sponsor’s logo, and a matching cap turned backward on his head. His royal blue Italia t-shirt molded to well-honed pecs and rippling stomach muscles. He carried a sports bag slung over one shoulder, and sunglasses hooked onto the front of his shirt. He looked as if he’d walked out of an ad in one of her soccer catalogs.

While reaching for a soccer ball thrust in his face to sign for an eager fan, he looked up and caught her watching him. He winked, then smiled, which made her belly do a funny juggling act. She swallowed, definitely feeling the heat while he looked so cool, so collected—and so damned sexy.

He is out of your league, girl.

Possibly. But she could fantasize.

He signed the ball in his hands, exchanged a few words with the fan, and started making his way toward them, after signing one last autograph.

She might actually get to spend some time with him. Oh, man. Nia’s pulse pounded, making her dizzy. If she felt this way, what must Giuseppe be feeling? She glanced at her coach, who stood stiffly stoic, with his hands clasped behind his back.

Sandro approached Giuseppe. Stopped. The two men stared at each other. Then, as if on cue, they threw their arms wide and embraced. They patted each other on the back and spoke in Italian, and although she didn’t understand what they said, their words were so heartfelt, emotion clogged her throat. She sniffed. By the time the two men broke apart, all three of them were discreetly swiping at their eyes.

Giuseppe said something else to him. Sandro answered, then looked over at her. Her skin prickled along the path of his gaze. Whoa, what a feeling.

Her coach translated. “He can stay. Two days like I thought.”

Sandro smiled. “I would like to see your game. You can score goal for me,” he told her in English.

His yummy smile, the way he looked at her, made her thoughts go to scoring with him, forget soccer.

Then she realized what she was doing, pulled herself together and met his gaze with a smile of her own. “You got it.”

They walked to the parking lot, arm-in-arm, Sandro in the middle with Nia and Giuseppe on either side. Nia felt like pinching herself, the way the day was unfolding felt so unreal—for heaven’s sake, here she was with her arm linked with his, close enough to smell his fresh, clean, just showered scent.

Giuseppe carried Sandro’s sports bag, having already put the video camera up earlier. When they approached the big red SUV, Giuseppe unlocked the passenger side for them before walking to the back to throw the bag in the roomy vehicle. Sandro laid his hand on the door handle, pausing to answer a question from his uncle.

Suddenly, Nia remembered the soccer catalogs and magazines she had on the seat, each opened prominently to Sandro’s picture. Panicked, she shoved his hand aside, jerked open the truck door and snatched up the magazines. “I’ll just get my stuff out of the way, and you can sit up front with Coach.”

Sandro stared at her and then at the magazines in her arm. His gaze came back to hers. “There is room for us.” He pointed to the front bench seat.

She’d be sitting right next to him. She fought to keep an idiotic, goofy grin off her face and forgot her frantic magazine rescue attempt might seem suspicious. “Okay.”

She shouldn’t have forgotten.

Sandro took hold of her magazines, his hands lying on top of hers. “What are these?”

She pulled back, despite loving the feel of his hands on hers. She didn’t want him to know she’d been panting over his pictures and tried to close the magazines. When that didn’t work, she tugged them out of his hands and hugged them to her chest.

“They’re . . . um nothing, you know. Just soccer stuff.”

“I like soccer.”

Yeah, like that was some understatement. A knowing gleam in his hazel eyes told her he suspected what he’d find on the slick pages.

No way was she going to embarrass herself. “We can um . . . look at them later. Luciana is waiting,” she finished in a rush. His aunt had stayed home to prepare a special meal, watching the game on television, confident she would need to prepare food. Nia now understood her confidence.

“What is taking you two so long?” Giuseppe had already slid behind the steering wheel.

“I will hold them while you get in.” Sandro held out his hands and challenged her with his mesmerizing gaze.

She didn’t need him to hold the magazines for her, and he knew it. But there was something commanding about the way he said it, and the way he held out his hands expectantly that made her hesitate. Of her five brothers, three of them older bullies, she never once backed down from them. Yet here she stood, debating on whether to just hand over the magazines to Sandro, in a situation that would have been a life or death struggle with any of her brothers.

“Nia, are you riding in front with us?” Giuseppe’s voice was sharp. Patience wasn’t one of his most endearing qualities.

Patience appeared to be one of Sandro’s qualities, though, for he still stood expectantly—patiently—holding out his hands.

She blew out a breath. “Oh, here.” She thrust the magazines at him and tried to slip by him. She had decided to sit in the back seat so she didn’t have to watch as he looked over her collection of his pictures.

His arm shot out and stopped her. He didn’t speak but nodded his head toward the front seat.

She glared at him. Who did he think he was, just tossing his head to tell her where to sit? She didn’t take orders from just anyone, and especially not someone so arrogant that—damn, was she crazy? She was pissed because he wanted her to sit by him? So, what if she’d be embarrassed when he started looking through her magazines? At least she’d have this memory to treasure for a lifetime.

With a final frown—just to let him know she wasn’t happy about giving in—she climbed in, scooted beside Giuseppe and hooked up her seatbelt.

“What took so long?” Giuseppe had his own frown decorating his face.

“He wanted my magazines,” she muttered.

A smile replaced his dour look. “Ah. . .” he said knowingly.

“There’s nothing to be so happy about.” She crossed her arms.

“Si, bambina, Giuseppe nodded, the smile still big on his face, “there is much to be happy about.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Diana Layne is a homeschooling mom of six, also sometimes known as the crazy cat lady, who loves to make up stories to entertain herself. Writing them down and sharing them with readers is a dream come true.

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
As an only child in the days before Internet (or cable TV for that matter) I created stories to keep myself entertained. I began writing them down as soon as I learned to write. I’m thrilled now to be doing what I love, creating and writing stories and sharing them with people who love to read.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
The idea for Nia, Be Mine was inspired by the 1994 World Cup Soccer games which was held in the United States. Life intervened, the story had to be put on hold for a couple of decades, but the idea never left me. Eventually, the whole Vista Security Series evolved from that one idea.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
Nia, Be Mine is the prequel The Good Daughter: A Mafia Story (Vista Security Series). While it doesn’t directly involve Vista, a private security company which is a front for an agency that handles jobs off-limits to U.S. Intelligence Agencies, it introduces characters that are vital to the series.

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