The second book in the Ruby Darke series, 2014
The Camorra is Naples’ equivalent organization to the Mafia. It came into existence in the eighteenth century, about a hundred years before its Sicilian counterpart.
Now it is a huge political and economic force in southern Italy, and its tentacles stretch out even further, well beyond Italy’s shores…
THE DARKE FAMILY
The Darke Family
It happened one night as Reg drove Ruby Darke home to Marlow on the edge of the Thames. And really, was she even surprised? For weeks there had been such stress, such an atmosphere of dread surrounding her that the final thing, the last act in this horrible play, was almost a relief.
She was a strong woman. Tough in business, uncompromising, used to cutting deals and making her mark. After years of graft, she was now not only Ruby Darke the once-despised mixed-race child from the East End, she was also known as the Ice Queen of Retail, owner of the Darkes chain of department stores.
Ice Queen, she thought to herself. What a joke.
She had never felt as weary or as vulnerable as she did at this moment. Michael, her great love, had been murdered, Kit was in trouble – and now there was Thomas Knox who had come into her life and tipped her world upside-down, ruined everything. And these awful people, this merciless Italian clan who seemed intent on damaging the Darke family any way they could.
As the Mercedes turned into the drive leading up to her small Victorian villa, she sat up and stretched in anticipation. A hot bath, a warm bed. She needed both, then she’d start to feel a bit better.
But… there should have been two men on the gate.
The thought sprang into her brain and with it Ruby felt a bolt of fright shoot from her feet right to the top of her head. The family was under threat, so Rob had been taking extreme measures to keep them all safe. Instead of leaving it to Reg, her chauffeur and minder, to protect her, he’d assigned two men to guard the gate…
But they weren’t there.
‘Reg…?’ she started, alarmed, her heartbeat quickening.
Reg said nothing. He kept driving.
Ruby reached forward and tapped his shoulder. ‘There was no one on the gate. Where are they?’
Reg didn’t answer. He brought the car to a halt outside Ruby’s front door. In the white glare of the headlights she could see people moving about. But not Kit’s people. These were men she recognized, with a shiver of foreboding.
She lunged across the seat and threw open the far door, getting ready to run. But someone blocked her path and leaned in. As the interior lights came on, she saw Fabio Danieri standing there grinning at her.
Then the other rear door opened, and Vittore Danieri got in and sat beside her. Ruby shrank back. Fabio got in too, so that she was caught, helpless, between the two of them.
‘Good evening, Miss Darke,’ said Vittore, turning his dark vulpine gaze on her.
Jesus, they were going to snatch her. They really were.
She thought of Kit, the son who still resented her, hated her for giving him up all those years ago. He had said he would try to forgive her, but he never had; she knew it. Now her heart clenched as the bitter realization hit her. If they thought he would pay them even a single penny to get her back, they were mistaken. He wouldn’t.
But maybe this wasn’t a kidnap at all. Perhaps this was it, the end: perhaps they just intended to kill her, not bargain over her. As if reading her thoughts, Fabio drew out a knife and held it almost casually against her throat.
Panicking, straining away from him, terror gripping her, she could only think of Thomas’s last angry words: that there could be bits of her daughter Daisy sent through the post to her, bits of Daisy’s children if this feud with the Danieris wasn’t brought under control. But he’d got it wrong. She realized that now.
It wouldn’t be bits of Daisy, or her kids.
It would be bits of
‘Now, Ruby Darke,’ said Fabio. ‘You choose. Where should I cut you first?’
The late Michael Ward and Tito Danieri had been business partners, barely tolerating each other but rubbing along well enough as they poured their own money and a big government grant into the refurbishment of a group of derelict cotton warehouses in the Albert Docks. Now it was the evening of the launch, and all the VIPs were assembled there, cooing over an elaborate model of the projected finished article.
There would soon be designer shops, restaurants, a docklands railway – everything that was needed for smart young execs to live the ‘café society’. Everyone was impressed. There were drinks, nibbles and hostesses shimmying around among the excited crowds, handing out smiles and nourishment.
It was a fun night, and Tito pressed a lot of flesh and charmed a lot of women with his bulky prosperous silverback looks, ice-blue eyes and dashing grey beard. Michael Ward – his business partner – of course, wasn’t there, because Michael Ward was dead.
Tito gave the nod at around twelve-fifteen, and one of his boys hurried off to fetch his coat. He made his way outside into the damp night air with his three minders moving ahead of him. It had been a good night, he thought with satisfaction, puffing on a freshly lit Cohiba. And there would be more to come. He was a millionaire now, a situation that could be improved upon still further. Tito had big plans.
A shame, really, but they’d never got on. Tito’s friendship with the Conservative peer Cornelius Bray – and other things – had grated on Michael Ward, who was firmly in businesswoman Ruby Darke’s corner. And Ruby and Cornelius… well, there was bad blood there. Lots of it.
Suddenly there was someone standing right in front of Tito, between the boys and himself. He couldn’t see a face, not even in the sickly sodium glare of the street lights. The face was covered. Tito’s eyes widened in shock and his mouth opened to say,
But there was no time for that. A piercing, awful pain in his chest whipped the breath out of him, crushed any facility for speech.
He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t shout to his minders for help. His mouth drooped open further, the cigar falling to the ground in a small shower of sparks. Tito felt blackness descend like a thick curtain as his legs started to buckle beneath him.
It was Miller’s voice! It was him, that
He clawed at Kit, but he was already gone, running off into the deeper shadows. Tito folded almost gracefully to the ground. He barely had time to hear the shouts as his boys realized what had happened, then he closed his eyes and died.
One of Tito’s less experienced boys, one of the three who’d been with him at the Docklands launch, was sent to the favourite family-owned nightclub – which Tito had grandiosely named Tito’s in his own honour – to find Vittore, Tito’s brother, while the other two, each of them trembling with shock, said they would call on Tito’s mother Bella, break the bad news. They’d had to leave the scene when the ambulance and the police came. What the fuck – it was too late to do anything for Tito, anyway.
It was gone one in the morning, and downstairs Tito’s was quiet, a man tinkling away a bluesy few notes on a piano, the lighting low and drifts of cigarette smoke creating a drowsy miasma around the couples talking softly at the tables as the hostesses slowly circled them. Donato went through the main body of the club and straight upstairs. One of the boys was on the door there, and he took one look at pudgy Donato’s face and let him through without a word.
Inside the flat it was less tasteful nightclub, more Roman orgy. There were chandeliers and Aubusson carpets, deep sofas and a roaring fire. Five men, all big faces from around Little Italy, were being fawned over by a mob of girls – all of them beautiful, all scarcely wearing a thing.
Everyone was laughing, drinks were being filled and refilled. A fat swarthy-skinned man with his trousers pushed down was in a corner with a blonde woman bet ...