AN Latro introduced us to the sexy and dangerous world of the Morgan crime family in Black Collar Empire and the novellas, Black Collar Beginnings: Cuba and Black Collar Beginnings: New York.
Now she returns with Black Collar Beginnings: Manhattan Dry a five part short story about New York’s favorite criminal royalty.
Everything in the Morgan syndicate is poised on the edge of change, and no one understands that more than Caleb. A senior in high school, he’s balanced between a false legitimate life and the deadly one as head of the family’s weapons division.
When an attack comes out of nowhere, the two sides of his world collide and the effects of that will touch everyone in the family…
Black Collar Beginnings: Manhattan Dry Part 4
Irving Prep, New York City.
“So what you’re telling me is that you have no proof I had anything to do with it, but you’re kicking me off the team anyway?”
It’s Monday morning. Caleb’s in the Headmaster’s office. The swim punks had lied about where they got jumped. Caleb maintains that he wasn’t at Grind – the all-ages dance club near Times Square – on Friday night, and that he had proof. Hell, he’s never been to that club. Dr Klien is not interested in his proof.
“Those boys were viciously injured,” says Klien.
“Is it as bad as this?” asks Caleb furiously, standing and lifting his shirt to reveal his sculpted, and heavily bruised midsection. The Headmaster clears his throat, and averts his eyes. Caleb throws his shirt back down and glares at the old man.
“That’s not the point.”
“Not the point? How do you figure?” Caleb asks, his voice just a shade less than yelling. His blood is boiling. “Five on one, headmaster, is that the kind of behavior you condone in this school? Because I’d say that’s rather unbecoming of a leader of this high institution.”
“Frankly, Mr. Morgan, one off the team is better than six, and the only reason you’re not being punished further is because your father made a healthy contribution to the athletic program just this morning. I’d advise you to watch your tone.”
Though his temper flares, Caleb forces it into the quick calculation he has learned from his illegal responsibilities. In his concentration, his body falls still as he has been training it to do. If he can pull off the deathly calm he learned from his dad, he can take the upper hand. He crosses an arm around his abdomen, and touches his lips with the index finger of the opposite hand. It’s an overdramatic show of sarcasm, they both knew it, but it’s not fear, and neither can deny that either. Caleb cocks his head to the side, just to be sure, and a grin tugs at one corner of his lips.
“Let me get this straight, you’re telling me that my sixteen-year-old brother helped me beat up five seniors. You have no viable source other than the victims, and yet you want to kick your best swimmer off the team? Frankly, Mr. Klien, that sounds like a big fucking pile of bullshit.”
Klien’s eyebrows shoot up and he gasps, and in his cultured disbelief, he’s too slow.
Caleb moves forward, which further startles the Headmaster, who abruptly scoots his big chair backward. Caleb leans down, rests his hands on the edge of the desk, and looks down with a mixture of contempt and pity. This is it, the slick capture of the flag.
He says, “You know what else just doesn’t sit right? You never even asked me why they jumped me. That says to me that maybe you don’t really give a shit about your students.” Caleb stands up, slides his hands into his pockets, and lets his grin unfurl. “That says to me that maybe you care about my teammates’ parents’ prestigious money more than the fact that I earned my place at the top of that team. That says to me that you don’t know what it’s like to earn anything, that maybe you live so fat off of all the bribes you get, that you can afford to act a little immorally every once and a while. Because you know damn well what you’re doing to me isn’t right.”
Klien rolls his chair backward, as if he can guess that Caleb wants to vault the desk between them. He says, “Those boys are from old money, solid names that give this school good publicity – not the rabble that follows your name. I have to consider what’s best for this school, and that’s not to pander to delinquent trash.”
Caleb’s eyes widen, and his fists ball painfully. Trash? His words are venom when he says, “You soulless piece of shit. Watch your fucking mouth.”
“Get out of my office,” snaps Dr. Klien, but his voice shakes and he cowers in his chair, as if there were a pit bull growling in his blanched face.
For a long stretch, Caleb just stares down at the old man. He lets it linger until his smile turns bitter. His exterior is all calm, but surely the Headmaster can see the violence that wants to surface in the blazing blue eyes of the Morgan son.
“I deal with fucks like you all day long,” Caleb says, softly. “Every one of them just out to take advantage where they can to get theirs. Hell, I’m one of those people, too, but at the end of the day I sleep
soundly, because I don’t fuck people over. Especially not the ones with a lot of money and influence. Something tells me you don’t sleep very well, Headmaster.”
“Get out, before I have you removed.”
“I’ll do you one better,” says Caleb with the coldest, most vicious sentiment the old man had ever seen from him. “I don’t need your shit school to learn greed. You can give my dad his money back, because I quit. Fuck you, and fuck this place.”
In a daze of adrenaline and control and fury, Caleb turns on his heel and sees himself from the office. He doesn’t stop walking once he’s past the school gates. His adrenaline is a steady rush in his ears and he thinks if he slows his pace, it will tear him apart. It’s quite a walk to his dad’s office, but it seems he won’t be going to swim practice today, so the exercise is welcome, and he doesn’t think he could tolerate another person in his presence in the wake of his fury.
The morning is beginning to warm, and the sun is making an appearance from behind smog-laden clouds. The warmth on his face dulls the anger, takes him back to just a year ago, when things were so much more simple, and the sunshine was a comfort and a promise of a good day.
The world where his mother was alive, and he could still hide in the shelter of childhood.
That was a world that could have lasted just a little longer, one he is choosing to leave behind. He can’t believe in it any more—hasn’t since before the accident that killer her. Seth can’t begin to understand the disillusionment that has been growing in Caleb since well before he turned eighteen and was initiated into the top ranks. Seth can’t understand the implications of what they did, when they had exploded into a crime-friendly bar and laid waste to some extremely white-collar spawns of the city’s money. Caleb had known what he was doing, he had recognized and disregarded the rules of the social ladder.
He points himself toward the Morgans’ headquarters. He’ll be damned if his father finds out about this through the grapevine.
* * *
By the time Caleb reaches the high-rise, he has worked himself into a good sweat and a steady pace that his well-oiled body can handle. The exertion helps him calm down, and the cadence of his steps brings order to his thoughts. His adrenaline has become a smooth hum, and his grand insolence in the face of Dr. Klien lends him a particularly cocky buzz. Even if he’s walking into a harsh sentence from his father, he won’t feel shame for standing up for himself. If his family’s money couldn’t save him, his resilience might.
When he enters the front glass doors, his suave exterior is in place despite the still darkening bruises. His senses are heightened by anger and adrenaline, and his light cologne burns with his pheromones. The receptionist fumbles the papers in her hands when she sees him, and he smiles at her.
“Good day,” he says, and a blush instantly colors her lips.
“Thank you, Mr. Morgan,” she says, her voice hardly more than a whisper.
He doesn’t stop, doesn’t have to. He has the highest clearance here, and has since the first time he wandered into headquarters alone. Everyone knows him. He always makes it a game to see how many chicks check him out on his way upstairs. Now, on his way to a situation that could turn very ugly, it’s no different. He flashes glances at the young interns and presidents alike. He knows exactly what he is. He has never had Seth’s innocence. He knows he was blessed with exceptionally good looks. He knows his lean, hard body helps matters. The attention is like a planet to his gravitational pull, and the praise bolsters his cool demeanor.
All too quickly, he passes them by, and he’s staring at the elevator. It doesn’t take nearly long enough to open, unload, and usher him inside. The other people waiting suffice themselves to wait until the next comes, lowering their eyes respectfully. He mashes the button to the executive office, and the doors trap him in. Long breaths, he tells himself, which helps sooth the small riot of nerves that rise.
When the doors open, he strolls into the office as he had into the building, like he owns it all. He ignores the assistant’s plea for his attention, and walks up to the open door of his father’s office. Gabe is behind his big cherry desk, and one of the family’s lawyers is in the seat across the desk.
Gabe stops talking mid-sentence when he sees his eldest son. He stares for just a few seconds, then looks to the lawyer. “Will you excuse me?”
The lawyer glances back, and stands quickly. Even a lawyer who has served the family for years doesn’t have any desire to be between father and son just now. “Yes, of course.”
He collects his briefcase and slips out the door. Caleb doesn’t have to wait for his dad to tell him to come inside and close the door.
“Why aren’t you in school?” Gabriel asks as soon the latch clicks. His tone is pregnant with quiet fury. It usually takes longer to push Gabe into this kind of anger.
Caleb looks his dad in eye, and says, “I quit.”
Silence descends and the eye contact becomes like lead. This is the ritual, always. Caleb doesn’t waver, shows no doubt. Except this time, Gabe lets his anger seep ever so slightly into his hardened eyes.
“You did what?”
Again, before Gabe can say it, Caleb takes the seat where the lawyer had been. He doesn’t slouch, doesn’t take on the air of automatic guilt that has been his way since childhood. His posture is that of a prince.
He has earned that title, more than any other royal born into the family.
“Klien kicked me off the team. So I told him to give your money back. That place is a joke.”
Gabe lets another long stretch pass as he studies his son, during which he doesn’t move. He doesn’t look like he’s breathing. He’s pissed. It’s a rare thing, but Caleb has seen this before – the way his dad falls to stillness in order to reign in control of himself.
It’s where Caleb learned the same skill.
Gabe’s breath is a thin hiss, then he says, “That place is a prestigious academy. Who exactly do you think you are that you’re above it?”
Caleb’s frail high from the walk is crumbling, losing an epic battle to his temper, which rises hot in his cheeks. He’s not even close to being able to mirror his father’s self-control.
He leans forward. His words come sharply edged.
“Because I’m such an academic, right Dad? I don’t belong there and you know it. You had to know it the first time you taught me how to shoot a gun.”
Gabe’s hand smacks down onto the desktop, and true fear laces all the rest of Caleb’s emotional mess. This moment, the pendulum swings. This could get ugly indeed. For all the rage his dad keeps in check, when the coin flips, it’s a terrifying thing.
“I taught you to protect yourself. That school is a shield, an appearance of normalcy that keeps the attention away from the truth about this family,” Gabe rumbles. “And you would be selfish enough to compromise that? We all have to fake it sometimes, Caleb. That’s what adults do.”
Caleb jerks as if he’s been struck. Selfish? If there’s anything he is, it’s not that. No, that’s Seth. He springs up to a stand. He didn’t make the decision to do it, but his composure is unraveling so fast.
He’s not quite yelling when he says, “People drop out of high school every day. It’s not so fucking strange. That bastard Klien isn’t even going to punish those pricks. He didn’t give a good goddamn about me, that I was the star on that team. And apparently neither do you.”
Gabe stands swiftly. Caleb readies himself for a blow he would never dare return. But his dad just pins him with a glare, and says, “Sit down, Caleb.”
Caleb’s mouth snaps shut, and his knees fail him. He falls back into the arm chair like an abandoned puppet. He stares up with wide eyes, full of more hurt than anger. He can’t know how much his blue eyes against those ugly bruises pains his dad to see, but he does realize – in his muddy thoughts – that his own pain is reflecting in his father’s gaze. Now, the guilt comes.
Gabe straightens his tie, and sits back down. Some of the tension has eased from his shoulders. He pulls open one of his desk drawers, and pulls out an ashtray with a big cigar stub left there. Caleb looks like his boyhood self, taken by his dad’s presence. Gabe doesn’t smoke often. The silence that settles is less aggressive, and Caleb just watches as Gabe pulls out an engraved silver lighter, and sparks it.
Gabe takes a couple puffs to light the thing, and through the smoke, he says, “Go ahead. Have a cigarette.”
Caleb just stares. His father has always been vehement about his smoking habit. He moves slowly, half expecting his dad to still slap his pack of smokes out of his hand. But the moment doesn’t come. He lights his cigarette with a cheap plastic lighter.
The smell of the cigar overpowers Caleb’s smoke, and it fills the room. At length, Gabe sighs.
He says, “You were dealt a huge loss and a great responsibility at the same time. Things have been hard since your mom died. You barely had time to grieve before you took Emilio’s division.” Caleb swallows hard. Losing his mother and uncle in one freak accident had been devastating. The loss is still fresh, a sharp pain that goes deeper than he ever thought possible. He swallows the grief as Gabe continues. “I know that, but there’s one thing you need to understand. There will never come a time when I don’t care about you. When it comes down to it, you and your brother are my world.”
Silence. More introspective puffs, and heavy, anxious pulls from Caleb – whose expression has turned into a crumpled glare, some mask against the inevitable pain. Gabe continues.
“You’re an adult. The decision is yours to make. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“I couldn’t let them make an ass of me,” Caleb blurts. His voice shakes. Nerves and grief and fury all mixed up and leaking out. “Klien called me trash.”
Gabe makes another heavy sigh, taps the cigar on the ashtray, and sets it down. The smoke curls up into oblivion between them. He says, “That’s pride, son, which is not such a bad thing. I’ll level with you on this, because I know if I try to force you into anything, you’ll rebel. It’s your nature. But also because I think you’re learning from your mistakes If you want to quit school, I won’t try to stop you.”
Caleb gasps, all his hard edges going slack. He can’t pretend to look cool in the wake of his surprise.
“Are you going to demote me?” he asks. He’s a kid again.
Gabe chuckles softly. “I am not. But, if I find that you’re not actively learning from said mistakes, I will take measures to see that you are humbled. The thin line you’ve been walking just got thinner. You want to be a man, you’ll show me. Do you understand?”
Caleb can’t find his voice, so he just nods. The cherry on his cigarette creeps toward the filter, left abandoned in his hand.
“Take the rest of the day off, get your head together,” Gabe says in a tone he might use for one of his rankers. “You’re to be in your office by 8 a.m.”
Caleb jerks forward, stabs out the cigarette. The nerves that should have calmed make another play in his gut. He says, “Yes, sir.”
Gabe scrubs a hand over his tired eyes, and he manages to find a smile as Caleb stands. His son turns toward the door, and hesitates. He’s staring at the floor when he says, “Dad?”
“I love you.”
He’s so quiet. Gabe’s smile warms. He says, “I love you, too.”
Caleb doesn’t look back. He just goes, quietly.
Catch up on the series now!!
Black Collar Empire:
After two years away, Seth Morgan has returned to New York, desperate to honor his father’s dying wish for a unified family. But the heir’s welcome is sadly lacking: his family’s criminal empire is divided, the woman he loves hates him, and his brother Caleb has become a cold stranger.
When a brotherly spat becomes a vicious misunderstanding that ends with Caleb dead, Seth is left reeling, and unsure who to trust.
Emma Morgan grew up while her closest cousin was away. She’s been sheltered her entire life from the realities of their family—something Seth has every intention of changing upon his return.
But not everyone in the syndicate is happy to have Seth home, and there are secrets surrounding Caleb’s murder. The deeper Seth and Emma dig, the clearer it becomes that not everyone shares their dream for the Morgan Syndicate, and not everyone wants the heir to ascend.
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Black Collar Beginnings: New York
Caleb Morgan is the black sheep of the family. Two years of his brother’s absence has left him cold and alone—except for Emma, the youngest Morgan. Because with Seth gone, there is no one else to teach—or protect—their innocent cousin. But teaching isn’t always pretty—not in family who peddles in crime.
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iBooks
Black Collar Beginnings: Cuba
Alone in Cuba, Seth Morgan isn’t mafia royalty—he’s a thug with a gun, and everything to prove. When the shadowy kingpin behind the Cuban syndicate finally takes notice, nothing in Seth’s world will ever be the same.
Before the Empire, there was exile. A novella, set just before Black Collar Empire.
Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks
Part 1—Monday, Nov 3rd.
One Guy’s Guide To Good Reads | Talk Books to Me | Vera is Reading | sarit | Just Booked | A Life Bound By Books | My Favorite Things | Reading Addict
Part 2—Tuesday, Nov 4
Home Is Where the Wine Is Book Blog | Can’t Talk, I’m Reading | Addicted Readers | Best Book Boyfriends | One Last Page Book Blog
Part 3—Wednesday, Nov 5
SnoopyDoo’s Book Reviews | mustreadbooksordie | Hooked On Books Forever | 101 Ways to Make Love to a Spoon | I Heart YA Books | Travels n Reads |Between The Lines
Part 4—Thursday, Nov 6
Red’s Book Blog | The Geekery Book Review | Rustys Reading | bookshelf dreaming | GenGen’s Book Blog | FictionZeal.com
Part 5—Friday, Nov 7
Obsessed by Books | Naughty Book Eden | Reading Is My Superpower | River Book Reviews | Whirlwindbooks | Collector of Book Boyfriends
AN Latro loves good wine and the ocean, and prefers to write with both. She has a passion for bad boys in books, and stories that make you feel. She can most often be found along the Florida coast.
Twitter | Facebook | Author Goodreads
Enter AN’s giveaway:
a Rafflecopter giveaway