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 5
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.
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.
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.
Morgan Estates, New York City.
The elevator dings, drawing Caleb’s attention. He stands slowly–a stiff soreness has settled over him that is irritating as fuck. It would probably be gone by now, if he would take it easy and rest but he’s been busy at the office—and learning how much he hates the office—and with his division.
Heels clack on the marble foyer, and his steps slow.
He has no desire to greet his aunt.
A low voice is speaking and his lips twist, bitterly amused. Of course. Beth wouldn’t come to Gabe’s home without Mikie. His father steps out of his office and catches Caleb’s eye. Caleb goes still, waiting, and Gabe nods once in silent approval before he steps into the hall, and his siblings’ view.
“Mikie. Beth. I didn’t realize you’d be stopping by tonight.” Gabe says, warm reservation in his tone.
“What the hell are you doing, Gabe?” Beth snaps.
There’s a quiet gasp, one that stirs Caleb to move despite the silent order to stay out of this. Because only one person in the family makes that noise, and he won’t leave her in the middle of the volatile temper of her mother and his father.
“Emma,” Caleb calls, stepping out of the shadow and into the foyer. His aunt is glaring at Gabe, while Mikie leans quietly against the wall. A quick glance from his uncle acknowledges his presence, but Caleb is focused on the small girl standing between them.
She’s in her Irving Prep uniform, her black Mary Jane’s polished. Knee high white socks emphasize her long skinny legs. Her blue eyes, already big in her pale face, widen at the sight of him.
Belatedly, he remembers his bruises, still dark and vicious looking. He tips his head back, deeper into the penthouse and reaches a hand to her. “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s let them talk, huh?”
Emma hesitates for a moment, her wide eyes darting to Gabe for assurance. Caleb doesn’t need to see his father’s face to know it’s softened and warmed—he can see how it effects Emma as his cousin musters a tiny smile and her shoulders relax as she shifts forward, scurrying to Caleb. He wraps an arm around her shoulders and gives Gabe another quick, questioning look.
The subtle approval in his dad’s eyes shouldn’t mean so much. But it always does. It always has.
Emma leans into him as he pulls her deeper into the penthouse, away from the tension boiling in the foyer. Tension he caused by his decision to quit school. To Beth, he’s making the whole family look bad. He doesn’t have to hear the argument to know how she feels about it, just as he doesn’t have to be there to know his dad is defending his decision, despite his own disappointment.
“What’re we doing?” She asks softly.
Caleb looks down at his cousin. The baby of the family and the only one who has only ever sparked his protective instincts. The only one who looks anything like him.
“What do you want to do?” he asks. Emma shrugs awkwardly against him and he grins. “Come on. Let’s find Seth.”
There’s a slight hitch in her stride that makes a laugh bubble in the back of his throat. He swallows it and steers her past the family areas, toward Seth’s bedroom. He knocks once and then pushes the door open and pulls Emma inside. The bedroom is messy and dark. Dirty jeans and shirts take up one corner, a stack of textbooks sit ignored on the desk. There’s a half empty bottle of tequila on the floor by his bed. Two pictures are propped on his desk—a profile shot of Nicolette, and a picture of Gabe and their mother. Two Glocks sit near the photos on his dresser, and Caleb eyes them briefly before focusing on his younger brother.
Seth is sprawled on the bed, smoking a joint. He smiles when he sees Emma, sitting up and dropping the roach in an ashtray. “What are you doing here, Em?”
She blushes, fidgeting as Caleb backs away and gives her space. “Mother came to see Uncle Gabe.”
Seth frowns, his dark gaze darting to Caleb. Caleb doesn’t acknowledge his brother’s silent question, just shifts his gaze to their anxious cousin. She’s watching them, her eyes too knowing for her age.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, softly. Seth shifts on the bed, grabbing her hand and pulling her down to sit next to him, an arm around her waist so she can’t squirm away. Emma goes red, but doesn’t fight the embrace.
“Nothing, Em. Everything is fine.” Seth says.
She elbows him, hard enough that Seth huffs and lets her go. Emma scrambles to her feet, and this time, the red in her cheeks is more anger than it is embarrassment. “Don’t lie!” she snaps, glaring. Seth blinks, startled, and Emma paces away, to stare at the pictures and guns on the dresser. Caleb watches her, and Seth falls silent, waiting.
“Everyone lies,” she says softly. Furiously. “About everything—Isaac and Daddy. Aunt Miriam. Everything.”
“We’re not lying, Em,” Caleb says.
She flicks a look at him, pointedly tracking over his bruises. “Then what happened toyour face?”
Caleb hesitates long enough for her to push her nose up in the air, and say, “See?”
Caleb reaches for his cigarettes. He shakes one out but doesn’t bother to light it. Just having it helps. He doubts anyone else in the family has ever seen it, but she mimics her cousins so closely when she is alone with them, when she feels comfortable and safe. It makes him proud, and yet simultaneously feels like a blow to the chest. He stares at her and shrugs. “I got into a fight, baby. Nothing I can’t handle.”
Her expression eases, and tears fill her eyes suddenly. Caleb reaches for her, and she sniffles as she goes to him, wordlessly nestling against him. Her shoulders shake and he forces himself to stay calm, quietly rubbing her back as she sobs.
“Hey, Em,” Seth says. He moves, crouching next to her. She peeks at him warily, and he gives her a slow smirk. “Come on. I’m gonna teach you to play poker.”
“I don’t want to,” she mumbles, ducking back into Caleb’s shirt. Seth’s hands clench, helpless anger, and Caleb makes a low noise in his throat. Seth glares and straightens.
“Seth is a pretty shitty card player, baby. I think we could beat him.” Caleb coaxes. “And he could use it, don’t you think?”
She sneaks a look at him, and his heart twists. Her big blue eyes are bright and red-rimmed, tear tracks down her face.
“I know what you’re doing,” she mutters. “I’m not stupid.”
Caleb shakes his head slowly. “No. You never have been.”
She flushes, a slow blush that rises across her cheeks until she steps back, and dips her head, letting her red gold hair fall down in a wave. She’s done that her entire life—hidden in plain sight.
It bothers him that she would hide now, from him. From them.
He stands and Emma smoothes her skirt as she stands. “My room,” Caleb says.
She follows him into the hall, and from the front of the penthouse, they hear Beth. Emma flinches as her mother’s shrill voice reaches them, and Seth puts an arm around her shoulders, moving her with the momentum of his body until she’s in Caleb’s room.
Emma sits on the edge of the bed, primly, and Seth laughs, a dark husky noise that makes Emma blush. He hooks an arm around her waist and tugs her deeper onto the bed. “Get comfortable, Em,” he murmurs.
Caleb sends Seth a warning look, and Seth grins. Emma huffs quietly, a little indignation and temper showing before she settles against the headboard, adjusting her skirt neatly. Caleb sits on the end of the bed and shuffles the cards, watching Emma carefully. She’s gotten a grip on her emotions, tucked the sadness away as she sits there with all the grace of a queen. She’s young and awkward still, but she’ll shed that eventually. He can see it already, the hints that will mature into a natural Morgan beauty and charm.
She would break hearts. Vaguely, as he deals the first hand, he wonders if he or Seth will be forced to break bones when some prick hurts her.
They would. Of course they would.
“Promise you’ll tell me?” She asks abruptly. “If things go wrong? If someone is gonna die again?”
Seth sucks in a sharp breath, and Caleb goes still. That’s what this is about. He looks at Seth, quickly. His younger brother has gone still and tense—a sure sign he’s furious.
“Yeah, baby. We won’t lie about that. This is stupid shit—your mom is pissed I’m leaving Irving. But no one is in danger.”
Seth glances at him, startled by the simple truth in his brother’s words, but Caleb keeps his gaze trained on Emma. She deserves this honesty, and no one else will give it to her. She watches him, and her eyes are old—so old. She nods slowly, and Caleb summons a smile. It hurts like hell, the bruises on his face pulling, and the too recent pain of his mother’s death like a perpetually open wound. Momentarily he wants to get that bottle of tequila from Seth’s room just to blunt the trauma, but that would give him away to his ten-year-old cousin.
“Those were accidents,” Seth says, his voice tight and low. “You know that’s different from the family, right?”
She shrugs, and her eyes are cold, and bitter. That is one lesson she will never need to be taught. Beth’s daughter learned it very young. “Doesn’t matter, does it? Dead is dead.”
Seth nods, and there isn’t any of the pompous shit that Caleb has seen so often from his brother. This is solemnity and seriousness—Seth setting the childish bullshit aside for the sake of their favorite cousin, and the confused grief she is facing. Seth glances at his brother. Caleb gives him a slow nod, and Seth goes still, his eyes wide and startled at the rare display of approval – so far from the hard plea atop the Empire State Building. It takes a moment for him to refocus on Emma. “It is. And it fucking sucks, doesn’t it?”
The language, rare from Seth in front of Emma, startles a laugh from her, and Caleb’s shoulders ease. The tight knot of anger loosens a little.
Caleb smiles for his cousin, and deals the cards. “So, black jack.”
Seth scoffs, and Emma’s gaze lightens, going to him. “That shit’s easy, Caleb.”
“We’re starting easy, asshole.” Caleb snaps, without heat. A smirk tugs on Emma’s lips, and her eyes are almost happy as Caleb settles down to teach her the art of gambling.
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.