I looked down at the scar on my arm, my battle wound, my trophy. Four years ago, I’d been afraid.
Now all I felt was numb.
Chase had my heart, but he would never get my soul; it had been taken from me the same day I’d earned my scar, never to be returned.
He’d been right about one thing. I’d refused to feel because I’d refused to go down without a fight. I was going to finish what the De Langes started, and they were all going to die.
I half-expected the word jackass to be written across my forehead when I woke up the next morning and looked into the mirror. I wouldn’t put it past Mil. I wouldn’t put anything past that woman — after all, I had seduced her when she was a teen. Not that I’d done it well, by any stretch of the imagination. I winced at the memory…
“What are you doing?” Mil asked as I kissed her mouth long and hard.
“Kissing a pretty girl.”
“You really think I’m pretty?” She blushed and looked down.
No. She was freaking beautiful. Her eyes were so blue that it almost hurt to look at her, silky black hair slid through my fingers each time I gripped her head with my hands. Every touch, every sensation felt like heaven, and I wanted to go to heaven so damn bad — that’s what happened when you lived in hell — you wanted what you couldn’t have. And I wanted her.
“Is this okay?” I reached for her shirt and slowly undid the buttons. She blushed, but still nodded, so I continued, hands shaking. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. All I knew was that she called out to me; she was my siren song, and I was lost at sea.
“Chase.” Mil’s hands shook as they pressed against my chest. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Me either.” I laughed. “Do you still want to?”
She nodded shyly and tucked her hair behind her ears, looking more innocent than ever.
“Good.” Because I wasn’t sure my body knew the word stop at that point. I finished unbuttoning her shirt and let it drop to the floor. With a shudder, she straightened her shoulders and undid her bra, letting it too, fall to the floor.
Blood roared in my ears as I stared.
I couldn’t do anything but that.
I stared like a lunatic, like a man who’d never seen breasts before — I had — but never on a woman so perfect. With a groan, I threw her onto the bed. Her hands moved to my jeans. Cursing my own inexperience, I pushed away from her to strip off the rest of my clothes.
And then it hit me.
I really, seriously, had no idea what to do next.
She must have read the panic in my eyes, because she tried to push me away.
“No, no.” I kissed her mouth. “It’s not you.”
“But you, you—”
I silenced her with my lips again. “Mil, look at me. It’s not you, I’m just… you make me nervous.”
“Oh.” She fell back onto the bed and smiled. “Well, you make me nervous too, but I still want my first to be with you.”
“Why’s that? You barely know me,” I joked. We’d met at breakfast. I’d assumed she was one of the cousins. We vacationed big in our business, never went anywhere without all the family, always. Besides, there had been some big deal our dads were involved in that had luckily made it so that all of us friends could go to Vegas with them and the women.
Between Nixon, Tex, and me, we had enough cousins to probably fill at least two towers at Caesar’s Palace.
“I know enough.” Mil’s eyes glistened. “I know you’ll keep me safe.”
“Oh yeah?” My brows furrowed. “And what gives you that idea.”
She grabbed the necklace I always wore around my neck and gave it a little tug. It was a silver cross with a giant letter A across it. “Because you’re an Abandonato. She said you’d be safe.”
“Are we doing this or not?” Mil wrapped the necklace around her fingers, tugging my face closer to hers.
“We’re doing it.” I kissed her hard. “And you’re right. I’m safe.”
“I know you are.” She sighed against my mouth. “It’s why I picked you.”
Five horrifyingly short minutes later, and we were both laughing our asses off.
“It’s okay!” Mil told me for the third time. “Really, I knew it wouldn’t be that great at first.”
“Wow, thanks.” I swore.
“You know what I mean!” She wrapped her arms around me. “We’ll keep practicing.”
“Yeah, silly.” She pushed against my chest. “I mean, I imagine we’ve skipped past the whole dating thing and slipped to sleeping together. But, after today—”
“Wait.” Panicking, I pushed away from her and told myself to stop freaking out. “Mil, I mean, don’t get me wrong. You’re hot as hell, but I thought this was just a one-time thing, you know? For fun.” I gave her a really big smile, hoping she’d smile back and shrug.
No smile. No shrug. But I did see tears begin to well.
“Aw, shit.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Mil, we can talk about it, I mean, if you wanted a boyfriend you should have—”
“I never said I wanted a boyfriend.” Mil looked down at her hands. “I said I wanted to feel safe. You promised you were safe. You promised.”
“I know and I am. Why? Did I hurt you?”
“You’re hurting me now!” She threw a pillow at my face and jumped out of her bed. “Where the hell is my bra?”
“Mil, stop freaking out.”
“I’m not freaking out. I just can’t believe how stupid I am. You know what? It’s not even worth it. At least I’m not a virgin anymore. At least he can’t hurt me.” Tears were streaming down her cheeks; she wiped them away and laughed. ‘Try not to feel, Mil.’ What a pathetic joke. Because I feel every damn thing.”
“Mil!” I grasped her shoulders and shook her. “Look at me.”
She raised her eyes, but they were empty. What the hell was going on?
“Mil?” A knock came on the door. Phoenix? What the hell was Phoenix doing there? I went to open it, but Mil punched me in the jaw before I was able to do anything.
“What the hell!” I yelled from the floor.
“Don’t open the door!” Tears mixed with rage made her face like a mask of turmoil. I pushed her away, still gripping my jaw, and jerked open the door.
“Not a good time, man.” I rubbed my jaw. Phoenix’s eyes took in my state of undress, then he pushed me out of the way and stomped toward Mil.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Dad’s going to go ape-shit if he finds you in here!”
“Dad?” I croaked.
Mil didn’t look apologetic.
“Let him,” Mil said in a numb voice. “What’s done is done.”
“Mil—” Phoenix closed his eyes and leaned against the wall. “Please tell me you didn’t… not with Chase.”
“Like I said, what’s done is done. Now he can’t hurt me.”
Confusion went off like a freaking atom bomb in my system. Now I couldn’t hurt her? Or was she talking about someone else? And who the hell was she?
Phoenix threw a shirt at Mil and stalked toward me. “If you touch her again, I’ll gut you from head to toe.”
“I didn’t know, man, I promise. I had no idea.” I held up my hands. “Swear.”
Mil cursed and pushed her way into our conversation. “Let’s go, Phoenix.”
Phoenix gave me one last look and led the way out the door.
“Why me?” I whispered as Mil stepped by.
“Because I knew you wouldn’t hurt me,” she answered.
“But I did.”
“Not in the way I was worried about.” She sighed and grabbed Phoenix’s hand. They walked like that all the way to the elevators, leaving me empty.
It was the last time I saw Mil. And the beginning of the end of my relationship with Phoenix…
“You awake?” Mil elbowed me in t
“Everything hurts,” I grumbled, not recognizing my own lust-filled voice. Oh great. How was I going to explain that away? Sorry Mil, but I’m a male, and you’re a female, and sometimes when males get… shit. If I couldn’t say aroused in my head, I sure as hell couldn’t say it out loud.
“Seriously, Chase.” Mil smothered me with her pillow. “I know you’re sore.”
Damn, her choice of words needed help. I wasn’t sore. I was dying. Every part of my anatomy that made me a man was slowly going to shrink away into my body if I couldn’t get my head out of my ass and focus on anything except the fact that about two seconds ago I’d felt her breast graze my arm.
We were married.
So breasts? Totally okay. Fine. Not a problem.
“Alright, well if you’re not going to go shower first, then I am. We have a plane to catch.”
“You can’t be serious!” That snapped me out of it. “You want us to go on our honeymoon after everything that went down last night?”
“It was never a honeymoon.” Mil stopped halfway toward the bathroom and turned. “Vegas is close — but it’s also where my mom lives, one of the reasons I didn’t want to go.”
“Wait.” I shook my head. “Back up. Your mom’s alive?”
“A ghost,” Mil corrected. “Just like Sergio, only she may have the keys we need to fix this whole mess.”
“How do you figure?”
Mil was silent for a minute before answering in a quiet voice. “She has the ear of the Capo di Capi.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to swallow as my body shook — not with anger — no this was pure raw fear. This was something unlike I’d ever experienced in my life.
“Tell me you didn’t just say Capo di Capi. Tell me we aren’t meeting with Vito Campisi.”
“We aren’t,” Mil answered.
“We’re meeting with his wife.”
It had to be a bad sign that I was spending over half our wedding night and morning in the bathroom like a complete coward. Chase’s curses filled the otherwise peaceful morning air as I slammed the door shut and locked it.
Wouldn’t be the first time we’d woken up in the same bed angry at one another.
I’d chosen Chase because he was safe — I just didn’t know that he’d also be tempting as hell. There was something so attractive about his protectiveness — damn. I sounded like every other mafia wife out there. They loved the money, they loved the lifestyle, but mainly — they loved that their husbands were fiercely protective, fiercely loyal.
I closed my eyes and tried to focus. So many scenarios swam around my head that I felt dizzy. Balancing Chase and my family was going to be difficult. Balancing my feelings? Near impossible.
At least I could trust him. He would never betray me. That thought alone got me through the morning as I washed my face and put on fresh clothes. Vegas wasn’t for the faint of heart, and I was officially walking into the lions’ den. I wasn’t sure if we’d make it out alive.
I hadn’t planned past the meeting in Vegas, because I wasn’t sure how it would go. I’d tried to sleep but sleep wouldn’t come, so I planned. I went over and over all the connections I had, went through every scenario that would have us coming out of this alive. And all I was able to come up with was my mom.
Marrying Chase had bought me time as well as protection. And I needed both if I was going to be meeting with Tanya.
My hands trembled as I unlocked the bathroom door. I’d always wondered what it would be like, to know you only had twenty-four hours to live. Would I change anything? Would I be acting any different than I was in that moment? I pushed the door open and gasped.
Chase was texting someone, completely ignoring everything else going on in the universe, which of course gave me adequate time to take in his state of undress. Standing in nothing but a pair of ripped jeans, he looked like every girl’s fantasy. Thick, corded muscles lined his flat stomach, leading all the way up to cut shoulders. His tan back had more muscles than I was aware even existed on the human body.
Yes. I gulped. I would do something different.
If I knew I had twenty-four hours to live.
I’d spend every last one staring at him.
Even if it was staring and nothing more — I’d do it. My heart did a little flip in my chest as Chase lifted his eyes and grinned. “You look good, Mil.”
I gave a weak nod, using every ounce of strength I had to avert my eyes and appear disinterested.
“I’ll just put on a shirt then,” Chase mumbled.
Yes, do that. For the love of God, put on some clothes!
I sat on the bed and pretended to be looking at my cell phone, when I heard the zipper to his suitcase close.
“Okay.” I shoved my phone in my jeans pocket and snatched my purse from the table. Chase carried our two suitcases into the elevator.
That damn elevator music was the only noise as we descended to the lobby. I wasn’t sure if I was making it awkward, or if it really was just awkward as hell. Neither of us moved when the elevator doors first opened, and then both of us moved at the same time. As his arm brushed mine, I groaned. Chase cursed and then said, “After you.”
I was like a scared rabbit getting chased by a fox. I practically ran to the front desk and waited for Chase.
“Checking out?” the guy asked without looking up.
“Yup,” Chase said from behind me, his hands braced my hips. What the—? I trembled and flashed a tight smile to the man, even though he still refused to look up.
“What room?” He cleared his throat.
“Presidential Suite,” Chase answered slowly, his lips almost grazing my ear.
“Ah, Mr. Abandonato.” The man’s hand shook as he typed on his computer. A bead of sweat ran down the side of his face. “And how was your stay?”
“Noisy,” Chase said. “A bit messy.”
I felt my cheeks heat.
The man finally looked up. His eyes darted between the two of us. “My apologies, if there is anything I can do to—”
“Actually…” Chase leaned forward using my body as a shield as I felt a gun slide from my back to my side, peeking out from my leather jacket. “I think there is something you can do.”
“Anything.” The man’s answer was too fast. He swallowed convulsively, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as his beady eyes blinked nervously.
“Next time someone offers you a ridiculous amount of money to give them access to the suites, just say no.”
“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.” The man’s deep timbre trembled slightly as he wiped his forehead.
“Life lesson number one.” I heard the hammer pull back. Shit. Was Chase really going to kill someone?
“I’m listening.” The man’s eyes pleaded with mine. I looked away.
“Big money always equals big messes that you’ll eventually be blamed for. They offer you a lot of money because what idiot says no to something like fifty grand? But trust me, it’s rare for a new associate to be able to spend all that money — especially when he’s dead. You’ll be collateral damage. And I hate collateral damage.”
I stole a peek at the guy’s face through the hair that had fallen across my face.
His eyes continued to dart from Chase to the rest of the lobby.
“Ask me.” Chase growled.
“Ask you?” the man repeated.
“Ask me why I hate collateral damage.”
“Why…” The man swore as a tiny bead of sweat slipped down his cheek and onto the countertop. “Why do you hate collateral damage?”
“Why, I’m glad you asked.” The gun was pushed further through my side so that it was visible to the guy. His eyes never left Chase’s. “You see, I hate getting my hands dirty, I hate cleaning up messes, but what I hate the most?” He paused. ?
The gun was aimed directly for the guy’s chest. I was pushed further into the counter, Chase still leaning heavily into my back. “Apologize.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Aban—”
“Not to me, you jackass. To her,” he ordered. “My wife.”
The man stumbled over his words. “Miss, my utmost and sincere apologies for putting you in such a dangerous situation. If you ever do decide to stay with us again, know that this will be the last time anything of this — nature will take place.”
“Oh, I know.” I smiled and leaned back into Chase. “Because if it does, my husband will kill you.”
“Shit,” the guy muttered under his breath, his hands gripping the counter until his knuckles turned white. He eyed the gun and started whimpering.
“Thanks for the lovely stay.” Chase laughed as the gun was removed from under my clothing and placed wherever the hell he had kept it in the first place.
Chase wrapped his arm around me and paused. “Oh and we ate some things from the mini-bar.”
“Consider them taken care of, Mr. Abandonato.” The man looked ready to pass out, still steadying himself on the counter.
“How nice. Thank you.” Chase smirked and pulled me close to him. “Such a fancy establishment, don’t you think, Mil?”
The doorman tipped his hat at us.
Yeah, our marriage was so not going to be the typical white picket fence with two-point-five children.
“Get dressed,” I barked and walked back into the bedroom where Trace was sleeping.
I heard the cocking of a gun, my old pistol. Shit, not again. I turned around to see it pointed at my face and Trace looking angry as hell. “I’m not one of your associates, I’m not part of your family, and I’m sure as hell not Tex or Chase. Ask me again… nicely.”
“Sorry, Trace.” Apologies always sounded so foreign on my tongue. It felt like I’d just swallowed a bitter-tasting pill as I choked down my pride and tried again. “Will you please get off your very nice ass, find something to cover your delectable body, and do it at a speed that doesn’t make me want to murder someone for breakfast?”