“She said my dad was going to sell my virginity to a horrible man. She said if I didn’t do something about it, I would die.”
“Wow,” Chase interrupted. “Dramatic much? Couldn’t she have at least lessened the blow?”
“Would that have made what I had to do any better, Chase? Yes, she freaked me out, but it also lit a fire under my ass. Later that night we all met for dinner.”
Chase sighed. “You were wearing the prettiest blue dress I’d ever seen.” He laughed. “I remember, I assumed you were Phoenix’s cousin. No way could a girl that pretty be related to him. It didn’t seem logical. I mean, he was just so Phoenix and you were so…” He paused. “So damn beautiful it hurt to stare at you.”
I smiled at his memory.
Chase’s mouth found my ear. “I’m pretty sure I propositioned you that night, and you tried to slap me.”
Laughing, I pulled away and shifted in the water so I could see part of his face. Looking at Chase would probably go down as one of my favorite things to do in the world. His beautiful smile made my stomach drop.
He lifted his hand to my cheek. “What made you choose me?”
I looked down, feeling the shame of that moment tenfold. “I didn’t.”
Chase pulled his hand back.
“My mom did.”
“Your mom picked me out? The same one who just—”
“Died.” I choked on the word. “Yeah, she pulled me aside and told me not to screw things up. She said you were safe, said you’d protect me. And then she left. Luckily, you took that opportunity to seduce me.”
“I’m an ass.”
“No.” I gave Chase a weak smile. “You did what I needed you to do—”
“Mil, I used you as a Vegas one-night stand.”
“Right.” I shrugged. “But I needed you.”
“I left you.”
“I know.” I couldn’t look at him in the face.
“Mil.” Chase tilted my chin toward him. “If it was all a ploy, why were you so upset with me when I didn’t want to take the relationship further?”
Because you made me fall for you. Because you protected me when nobody else did. Because the minute you took my heart, I didn’t ever want it back. Because the minute you touched me, my life was never the same.
“I was fourteen.” I shrugged. “And I am a girl. We tend to get emotional when sex is involved.”
His eyes narrowed. I cleared my throat and looked away. “At any rate, Phoenix told my dad he found us in bed together, and that’s where the story ends.”
“And the scar?” He grabbed my wrist.
I tried to pull away.
“Mil—” Chase’s teeth ground together. “Tell me all of it. Now.”
“He was upset.” My body convulsed at the memory. “Please don’t make me say it—”
“Damn it, Mil, did he touch you? Did he do this to you?” He grabbed my wrist hard in his hand, his eyes wild with fury.
I nodded. “He beat me and then he used a knife to cut this scar into my wrist, he finished it off with a branding on top of the scar, burning it against my skin, covering what he did. He said I was a marked woman, that anyone who saw this scar would know who I should have belonged to. He said it was only a matter of time—”
I choked on my words. “Only a matter of time before I was killed. He said I ruined everything. He called me a damn Helen of Troy and laughed.” Hot tears ran down my cheeks. “He laughed the entire time he cut the scar on my wrist, no matter how many times I screamed or yelled. Nobody came. Nobody saved me. I was fourteen, Chase. I thought that’s how life worked, just like the movies… someone hurt me, but the person I cared about the most would rescue me. I kept thinking of your face, but the door never opened. The next day he sent me to an all girls academy.”
At Chase’s sharp intake of breath I knew it was time to get out of the tub. The story was finished. He either accepted the truth as it was — or dug further. I preferred for him to let it go.
I tried to stand.
Chase gripped my wrist and held me firmly against his body. “You’re not going anywhere.”
His mouth silenced any sort of complaint I would have had. When he pulled back, his eyes darkened. He cursed and let me go. “We need to contact Tanya.”
“I know,” I said in a small voice. “She was my mom’s only friend after the separation. She never forgave Phoenix’s dad for sending me away. And I never forgave him for making it so the first and last time I talked to my mom in years. And now she’s dead.”
Chase cleared his throat. “The sooner we get to the bottom of this the better everything will be, okay?”
I nodded, not feeling very confident. Where did it end? With Tanya? With Campisi? Did he even have the power to make everything go away?
“Text her.” Chase kissed my temple. “Tell her you want to meet. Tell her something bad happened and you need her help.”
Wordlessly, Chase rose from the bathtub and wrapped me in a towel, drying me off as if I was nothing but a small child. I’d never been taken care of so tenderly before. Nobody had ever cared. Nobody had ever even touched me as much as Chase did. I’d always thought I was one of those people who didn’t need physical touch. You know, almost like there was something wrong with my body, because every time a guy hit on me, all I wanted to do was slit his throat. But when it came to Chase, it wasn’t ever enough. It was terrifying how much I craved him, how much my body had come to depend on him, and how much my heart needed his consistent encouragement to keep beating strongly.
Once I was dry, I threw on a bathrobe and walked out into the main living area. My sleek iPhone mocked me as it stayed charged on the nightstand. Before I could punk out, I grabbed it and sent a quick text to Tanya.
Me: Something went horribly wrong. Can we meet tomorrow morning?
I waited, anxious for her response. Sweat pooled at my temples as the phone burned against my hand. Finally the text alert went off, her text flashed in front of me.
Tanya: Not a good idea.
Me: I don’t care if it’s not a good idea! My mom’s dead!
Two minutes later my cell phone lit up again.
Tanya: You’re right. My apologies for being so insensitive. Where would you like to meet?
I chewed my lower lip. Public places were always best.
Me: The Golden Nugget Night Club. 1 hour.
Shaking, I put the phone back on the desk and massaged my temples. One hour before I was meeting the wife of Campisi. And there was a fifty-fifty chance she was responsible for everything that had gone to hell in the past twelve hours.
No other explanation would come.
We were stuck.
Going home meant waiting it out until someone planted a car bomb or tried to shoot me in the head. I’d always been the type of girl to face danger head-on. I didn’t like hiding, and I wasn’t about to now.
A text alert went off. I picked up my phone, but it wasn’t mine that had gone off. Not thinking, I walked over to the opposite nightstand where Chase’s phone was. I clicked on it and was given the privilege of seeing the last three text messages.
All from Nixon.
Each one making me sicker than the last as I read.
“Ask her about her scars?” I repeated out loud. “Get her to trust you?” Shaking, I read the last one. “Chase, do whatever it takes, and I do mean whatever it takes.”
I dropped the phone onto the bed and barely made it to the trashcan before I threw up the strawberries Chase had just hand-fed me. It was as if they’d gone sour in my stomach. I tried to keep the hot tears from pouring down my cheeks. But they came anyway, mixing with my spit and falling into the trashcan, mocking me with every salty drop that fell from my face.
“Bastard!” I clenched my fists, unable to keep my body from trembling as I knelt onto the floor, feeling absolutely broken and betrayed.
The man that promis
Had done the exact opposite.
He’d used me.
And broken me in the process.
I was whistling.
Like a damn fool.
If Nixon could see me now, he’d think I’d completely lost it. My grin got wider at the thought. Damn, if I didn’t watch it, I was going to break something in my face.
The hot water poured over my achy body. Being with Mil had been… amazing, effortless, obsessive. Already, I was eager for another round. My body flared to life at just the thought of touching her again, of kissing her, squeezing her flesh between my hands as I ran my tongue down her—
“You piece of shit!” Mil screamed. I stepped out of the shower only to find her standing in front of me, a gun aimed directly at my chest. “I trusted you!”
“Mil, put the gun down.” I lifted my hands into the air like a guilty ass and looked frantically around the bathroom for the reason behind her anger.
“If I didn’t need you so damn bad, I’d shoot you in the head.” She choked, tears running down her cheeks.
“Baby, what happened?” I took a cautious step toward her.
She shook the gun harder, this time pressing it against my wet chest.
“No.” Her lips trembled.
“What the hell happened?” I whispered. “Are you hurt? Did someone hurt you?”
She nodded, dropping the gun onto the floor. It clattered against the tile making such a loud noise that I winced.
“Don’t call me that.” Her voice was low, emotionless. “We have to meet Tanya in less than an hour. Grab your shit and put some clothes on.”
“Here’s your phone.” She forced a smile that looked more like she was baring her teeth. “Hope you got all the information you needed.” She pushed the phone against my chest and stalked out of the bathroom. I grabbed it before it also crashed to the floor and looked at the screen.
“Shit.” I wiped my face with my free hand as I scrolled through the messages. Damn Nixon. Did he have to ruin everything? Seriously? Running after Mil would do nothing. She’d just think I was lying to her like everyone else in her life. So instead, I listened to her orders. I followed her out of the bathroom, put my jeans, grabbed my gun and wallet — or my shit as she lovingly called it — and stuffed my phone back into my pocket.
“Aren’t you gonna text Nixon and let him know what’s going on?” Mil asked, without looking at me directly in the eyes.
“Nah.” I felt like an ass, even though I’d done nothing wrong. “Some things should be kept just between us. Tanya isn’t much of a threat, you know? We’re just going to do a meeting in a public place. It’s not like she’s going to try to shoot us. Then again…” I sighed, things hadn’t gone how I thought they would, “It may be wise to have backup.”
“Fine, do whatever you need to do.” Mil’s voice caught in her throat.
“It will be,” I whispered, reaching for her hand.
She jerked back and shook her head.
“I didn’t betray you. I know you don’t believe me, but if you remember correctly, I was a little distracted these past twelve hours. When would I have had time to even look at my phone? And you know how iPhones work. If the message is checked, it doesn’t show up on the home screen anymore.”
Mil stared at the carpet, her fingers twitching at her side.
“I just wanted to say my peace so you’d know.”
Her head jerked up. “Know?”
“Yeah, Mil.” I stalked toward her and pushed her against the wall, nearly knocking off the artsy picture by the door. “I want you to know. I want you to freaking feel. I want you to believe me when I say I want you. I like you. I trust you. I live to protect you. And I only do what I want to do. My cousin can go to hell for all I care. I chose to be with you… I wasn’t forced, nor will I ever be forced. And if I am, I’ll take the punishment with open arms. So pick up the broken pieces to your tragically shattered heart. Let me glue them back together again so you can get that damn look off your face and let me kiss you.”
“Is that how this works?” she said, her voice thick with tears. “You kiss me then tattle to Nixon.”
I pinned her arms behind her back, exposing her neck and mouth to mine as I slowly leaned forward, my forehead touching hers. “I have given you absolutely no reason not to trust me, Mil. When this is all over with and I walk away, just know it won’t be because I want to, but because I could only handle so much rejection and distrust before you forced me to give up and I’m not a man that gives up. I’m it. I’m all you have. So stop being so damn insecure.”
She closed her eyes.
“Look at me.”
Mil’s lower lip trembled.
I kissed her mouth and whispered across her lips, “Trust me. I need you to trust in me.”
“Okay.” She opened her eyes. “But no secrets.”
“Mil.” I released her hands and gave her a sad look, tilting her chin so I could feel the smoothness of her skin. “I think we both know who’s harboring secrets between the two of us, and it sure as hell isn’t me.” With a sigh, I released her chin.
I pulled on a white T-shirt and my black suit jacket that could easily conceal a gun without looking too weird. Then I turned back to Mil.
“The Golden Nugget Nightclub.”
My eyebrows arched in amusement. “Mixing business with pleasure, huh?”
Rolling her eyes, Mil snatched a knife from the table. She stomped over to her suitcase, and paused long enough to pull out a short black cocktail dress. With slow movements that I’m sure she did on purpose in order to teach me a lesson and get me so hot for her I was ready to forget about meeting Tanya anywhere, she let the robe drop from her body and shimmied into the tight dress. It was like a freaking second skin as it snaked around her body. It shimmered in the light with each movement; I seriously wanted nothing more than to remove the dress.
I licked my lips in anticipation. Damn, she was beautiful.
Mil walked over to me and turned. Shaking, I fingered the zipper and slowly zipped her dress up, fighting the desire to unzip the entire time.
“Ready.” She threw on a pair of red heels and then wrapped a holster around her thigh, strapping her knife in just in case.
“I’d say you were.” I whistled.
Her eyes narrowed. “I’m still pissed.”
“Good.” I focused in on her eyes. “Use it.”
I could tell she was nervous. She kept pressing her palms against the front of the dress, smoothing it down.
With a curse I walked over to her and grabbed her hands. “It’s going to be fine, I promise.”
“And if it’s not?” Her voice wavered.
“Then at least we had tonight.”
She pushed against my chest, a smile playing at the corner of her lips. “Do you always have to be such an ass?”
“Yes. Especially when you look like you’re about to shit a brick. It’s going to be fine. I’ve got your back, and we’ll have Luca, Frank, Nixon, and Tex watching from the shadows. Or in Tex’s case, distracting the would-be assassins by dropping it like it’s hot on the dance floor.”
“Right.” Mil snorted. “Like that won’t get us killed.”
“It may get him shot.” I shrugged. “But it will be a good distraction.”
Mil checked her phone. “We have a half hour to notify everyone and get down to the club.”
“Alright.” I opened my own phone and began typing a group text. “I’m going to fill everyone in on the details via text. Something about us all meeting at a public place kind of rubs me the wrong way.”
“I thought it didn’t matter which way you were rubbed?” Her eyes teased.
“Aw, there she is. I knew you’d make a comeback.” I winked. “Like I said, use the fear. Think of it this way. The only
“Yeah.” Mil nodded, her eyebrows drawing together in concern. “Trace kind of told me.”
“Let’s hope this is about you more than it is about him,” I said sourly. “Because if Tanya Campisi recognizes the prodigal son, we may have a full-out war on our hands.”
“How do you figure?” Mil asked, wrapping her hair around her head into a tight bun.
Damn, I liked it loose and wavy, but loose and wavy meant some freak assassin could pull her hair and drag her away. Bun it was. Bun was safe.
I tried to look nonchalant, even though something in me twitched with fear. “Tanya never forgave the Abandonatos for taking away her sweet boy. She felt that we brainwashed him with our American ways.”
“Hmm.” Mil smeared or rubbed or whatever the hell girls called it — lipstick across her luscious lips and pouted in the mirror. Was her entire plan to get me so aroused before we went to the club that I was rendered useless?
“‘Kay, now I’m ready.”
“Me too,” I grumbled.
“Later.” She gave me a shy smile, pink gracing her high cheekbones.
“Pinky it.” I held out my pinky.
She stared at my pinky and let out a sigh. I tilted my head, waiting. With an exaggerated eye-roll she latched onto my finger with her own pinky. “I swear, sometimes it’s like I’m married to an adolescent.”
“Amazing how you can make a man lose his arousal with one sly comment. Thanks though. I needed that, like a bucket of cold water thrown on my body.” I chuckled and opened the door, looking down the hallway for anything suspicious. After I ensured the coast was clear, I let Mil walk in front. “After you.”
“I don’t like it,” I mumbled to Trace for probably the tenth time as I toyed with my drink at the bar. The dance club was too loud, too dark, too everything. I still couldn’t see Tex, even though he’d promised he wouldn’t dance too far away from the crowd. Frank and Luca were sitting over in the corner looking more uncomfortable by the minute.