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‘It wasn’t his fear that told him no one would love him. The world told him that every single day.’

The war is building between the Pagano brothers and the Bratva, and as we come to know the cast of characters intimately, firstly Trey in Simple Faith (Pagano Brothers Book #1) and now Donnie, in Hidden Worthiness, we admit we’re a little nervous for what’s to come as the series progresses. Susan Fanetti weaves a compassionate tale, teaching us to dig beneath and find the beauty within, all whilst building a suspenseful, gritty, emotional and gritty story with a theme that will continue throughout, with the characters who will shape the Pagano future.

Forty-six-year-old Donnie Goretti is the underboss, the right-hand man and best friend of Mafia Don, Nick Pagano. A man revered and feared, Donnie has lived a life in the shadows as it were, believing he was unlovable, due to disfigurement on one side of his face, the result of being agonisingly tortured twenty or so years earlier. Instead of opening his heart to hurt, Donnie settles for ‘arrangements’ with women. He is physically involved, showering them with gifts for their time, but not giving them his heart believing no woman could love him because of the way he looks.

‘He was not lovable, so he would never love.’

What he didn’t envisage was thirty-one-year-old, ballerina Arianne Luciano. Donnie is immediately taken with Ari, and after one night together, Donnie offers Arianne the same arrangement. Ari is hurt by his offer, as she sees the man beneath the scars – she sees a handsome, compassionate, caring, sad man whose coldness is a mask to protect his heart, not a disfigured man.

‘He’d been too young and stupid to want love. Since that night, he’d been too damaged to have it.’

Despite the chaos facing the Pagano families, both blood and brotherhood, Donnie can’t stop thinking about Arianne, wondering if she really did see him as someone she could love, and in return could he find a way to open his heart and trust her with his feelings. Arianne is determined to make Donnie see the possibilities a relationship with her could yield. The beautiful act of kissing is foreign to Donnie, who thinks such a thing would repulse Ari, but he didn’t count on the honesty of her feelings.

“You won’t kiss me? At all?”
“No.”
“A kiss is the seed of a romance.”

We loved Hidden Worthiness, a sort of the Godfather meets Beauty and the Beast, where we saw the beautiful heart of a man tortured by his past, who had simply accepted his lonely future until his beauty came to save him. Set against the powerful and dangerous Mafioso, we witness a simmering and passionate love amidst the chaos unfolding around the Pagano clan.

“Love doesn’t grow in this world. So, it’s best not to pretend it can.”
“But Donnie, how can you be happy if your heart is so closed off?”
“A closed heart is better than a broken one.”

Revenge is in the air, danger lurks on every corner. Can Ari and Donnie find their way, and open their hearts to love, or will the danger and violence of Donnie’s life be too much of a price to pay? Susan Fanetti delivered a beautiful and compassionate story with a couple we both adored. Ari and Donnie were soulmates through and through. A beautiful heartfelt love story with a smattering of suspense.

Synopsis

Twenty years ago, as a young Pagano Brothers soldier, Donnie Goretti was horribly injured on the job. The devastating scars of that attack led him to be known as “The Face.”

Since then, he’s been alone, reminded daily that he’s too ugly to look at, much less to love. He devoted himself instead to his work, and he rose through the ranks to become the underboss of the Pagano Brothers family.

Now, he is a man of wealth, influence, and respect. In the day, he’s a powerful executive and philanthropist. In the night, he’s the don’s ruthless right hand. When he wants companionship, he has it; there will always be women attracted to his status. But he harbors no delusions that they care about him. How could they, when they can hardly bear to look at him?

When he meets Arianna Luciano, a principal dancer with the Rhode Island Ballet, Donnie offers her the same arrangement he’s offered many other women. He’s armored his heart with cool reserve and an arsenal of iron-clad rules about what he expects, what he’ll allow, and what he’ll give in exchange.

But Ari doesn’t like rules, and she wants no part of Donnie’s offer. She sees his scars as signs of his pain, markers of his history. They are nothing to be ashamed of. They don’t diminish his worth. She wants the chance to fall in love.

If only she could make him believe it.

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