Authors: Blaire Drake
BOOKS BY BLAIRE DRAKE:
Chapter One – Adriana
Chapter Two – Hunter
Chapter Three – Adriana
Chapter Four – Hunter
Chapter Five – Adriana
Chapter Six – Hunter
Chapter Seven – Adriana
Chapter Eight – Hunter
Chapter Nine – Adriana
Chapter Ten – Hunter
Chapter Eleven – Adriana
Chapter Twelve - Hunter
Chapter Thirteen – Adriana
Chapter Fourteen – Hunter
Chapter Fifteen – Adriana
Chapter Sixteen – Hunter
Chapter Seventeen – Adriana
Chapter Eighteen – Hunter
Chapter Nineteen – Adriana
Chapter Twenty – Hunter
Chapter Twenty-One – Adriana
Chapter Twenty-Two – Hunter
Chapter Twenty-Three – Adriana
Chapter Twenty-Four – Hunter
Chapter Twenty-Five – Adriana
Chapter Twenty-Six – Hunter
Chapter Twenty-Seven – Adriana
Chapter Twenty-Eight – Hunter
Chapter Twenty-Nine – Adriana
Chapter Thirty – Adriana
Epilogue – Hunter
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Copyright 2016 Blaire Drake.
All Rights Reserved.
BOOKS BY BLAIRE DRAKE:
Ten years earlier.
“Addy, I need you to come with me, now.”
I rubbed my left eye and batted at her with my other hand. “Mamma, go away.”
She grabbed my covers and whipped them off me. “Adriana, I’m not joking.” Her voice was a whisper, but the urgency in it made me roll over and find her gaze in the darkness.
“What’s going on?” I whispered back scratchily.
Mamma took a deep breath and pushed a loose bit of hair from her forehead behind her ear. “I don’t have the time to explain right now. I need to do what I say, exactly how I say, exactly when I say it, without asking me anything. Can you do that for me,scuro?”
Our eyes met through the pitch black room. “Always.”
“Get up.” She stood from where she was crouched at the side of my bed and reached behind her. Black clothes hit me in the face.
I swung my legs out of the bed. My feet hit my cold wooden floor with barely a sound, and I changed without a word.
I knew her. Mamma would never ask me to do something like this without a good reason. I’d obey her—there was no question. My respect for her had always been unquestionable. Everyone’s respect was.
Mamma spoke, you listened. Mamma ordered, you followed.
Mamma held a gun to her head, you did, too.
It was the way we lived.
She was power. She was respect. She was Queen.
I dressed quickly. My pajamas lay discarded on my floor as Mamma grabbed my hand and held one manicured fingertip to her lips. Her movement was the request, the hard glint in her eyes the demand. I didn’t dare make a single sound. I was afraid to breathe as she gripped my fingers so tightly I thought they’d fall off.
A floorboard creaked beneath my feet.
Mamma turned, her lips drawn together in the moonlight streaming through the bathroom window. The door was open, illuminating the hallway and the stairs. Once again, she pressed her finger to her mouth.
It seemed as though hours had passed before she moved again.
We went down the stairs, our backs pressed to the wall, without any more creaks. The way we moved from side to side to middle made me wonder how many times she’d practiced this.
Because I knew she had.
The black bag I’d found myself familiar with was waiting by the front door. It was the escape bag. Always necessary. Always ready.
When you were at both the heart and the top of the mafia, the escape bag was a part of your life. It was the thing that held everything you’d need for a life on the road as another person, from wigs to hair dye to passports and birth certificates. All fake, all forged, all necessary if you needed to… disappear.
I had the most terrifying feeling that was what was going to happen tonight.
We were going to disappear. And I didn’t blame Mamma one bit.
Wordlessly, she handed me a black backpack. I swung it onto my shoulders and wrapped my arms around my waist. She was shaking as she heaved the gym sack onto her shoulder and walked through the mansion to the kitchen. The light over the cooker was on, and from where I was standing, I could see the back door wasn’t fully shut.
I tiptoed my way to her and grabbed her hand. She stilled, turning to me slightly, then I wrapped my arms around her waist and hugged her tightly. Her chest heaved as she took a deep, steadying breath before she released me.
She released me without a word. Before I could speak, she pulled the door open and pushed me through it. After she’d followed me outside, she closed it with the quietest click, locked it, and hurried past me, down the stone path that cut through the backyard.
A flashlight flickered through the scary darkness, and I froze, backing up. I knew we were running. I knew why. I knew this wasn’t good.
“Addy,”the familiar voice hissed. “Quickly.”
Darien’s soothing tone calmed me instantly, and he shone the light right at me, his hand outstretched. But…
“Mamma?” I whispered into the night.
“It’s okay,” she replied from somewhere. “Come on,scuro.Darien is safe.”
I needed it more than she knew.
I wrapped my fingers around Darien’s. The warmth of his hand spread up my arm, filling me with comfort.
He illuminated the path with the flashlight, flicking it up so I could see the waiting car, lights off, engine not running. “Quickly, Adriana. We can’t waste time tonight.”
I ran. It was the only choice I had.
Darien bundled me into the back seat with Mamma and carefully shut the door behind me. I shook, not out of fear, out of relief. I was glad she knew. I was glad she was my mother. I was glad for her unwavering protection.
She was taking me to safety.
Twelve hours before, when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork, I’d heard the argument.
Where Mamma went crazy because he—the man who dared to call himself my father—had sold my body. As if I were nothing but a ragdoll in a toy store, free to be used and tossed around. As if a spin in the washing machine would wash away the dirt from what he had planned for me.
As if I were… nothing.
He was stupid. He knew nothing. Mamma would never let that fly. She’d never let her daughter be used as a pawn in his desperate power game.
I closed my eyes tightly as Darien started the car and pulled away from the car. There were no lights, nothing to illuminate our way. I had no idea where we were headed. I didn’t know what lay ahead.
I just knew I had what I needed. Mamma.
And that she’d saved me from a fate possibly worth from death: rape. She’d saved me from a lifetime of horrifying flashbacks and struggles.
But…Hunter,a voice whispered in the back of my mind. Carlo ‘Hunter’ Rosso. My best friend as long as I’d been alive and the guy I was sure I would marry. The guy I loved without question or deliberation, although I was sure I didn’t exactly know what love was. What I did know of it, I adored him with.
He would be hurt. So hurt.
Memories flashed before my eyes. Theme parks. Gun ranges. Sleepovers. His arms around me as someone we loved died. Cotton candy in the lights of a local fair. Hugging him as his older brother was pronounced dead on sight. My uncle arrested. His mother disappearing. My mother protecting us. His father contesting her choices.
My mother holding a knife to his father’s throat, as though he could argue her choices. As though he could blame her, the queen, for something she had no hand in. For something someone else had orchestrated.
The kidnapping I’d survived because of Darien. Because Hunter was so obsessed with my safety his teenaged old self followed me to the ends of the earth and into the devil’s lair.
I took a deep breath, and although I was barely thirteen, I promised myself something as the chill from the leather seats spread through my shirt and across my back.
My name, Adriana, was dark.
My nickname,scuro,was dark.
My life, a mafia princess, was dark.
My father had no idea what he’d done.
One day, he would pay.
He would atone for his sins.
I would make sure of it.
Chapter One – Adriana
“I don’t care, Rossi, you’re not having the tuna.”
Rossi mewed at me, winding his black and white body around my ankles. I could hear his cat-speak, that relentless meowing that pleaded, “Please, Mommy.”
“Oh, fine.” I grabbed a fork, bent over, and pulled the tuna flakes out into his bowl. He made a happy sound and abandoned his ankle circling to devour the fishy snack.
There went my lunch.
I'd long determined that if I ever fell in love and had children, they'd be the world's most spoiled brats. If I couldn't say no to my loving, two year old cat, I stood no chance against tiny humans that would be ten times louder and more annoying.
As it was, Rossi was my baby, and damn. He knew it. I hated it.
It was my own fault. I knew better than to open tuna without checking the house to see if he was around. Or the yard, come to think of it. The damn animal had the nose of a rottweiler and could smell fish a mile away.
I'm not kidding when I say that three weeks ago, he jumped out of the window and headed into next door's house because he smelled fish.
It took me at least three minutes to walk there. Rossi was wasted as a pet—I should have given him to the LAPD. He would have out-sniffed their dogs any day.
My phone buzzed on the side with a message from Darien, and I picked up the shiny new Samsung I could barely work.
Darien: working late. The publicist messed up the schedule.
I rolled my eyes as I texted back a quick, 'k,' mostly because I knew it would annoy him, and that had been my guilty pleasure for the last ten years, no matter how much I owed the man.
The day after we arrived in California, escaping our old life in New York to protect me, Darien threw himself into work. As the bloodline for the Romano mafia family, Mamma had enough money hidden in secret, which enabled us to buy this house and live secretly. Darien quickly became one of the most sought-after security guards in Los Angeles, his appearance hidden by shaving his hair short and never leaving the house without sunglasses. Even Mamma insisted that she and I had to change. She dyed her hair, she cut mine, and she kept cutting it until I was sixteen and decided I didn't want to hide anymore.
She wasn't stupid, and neither was I. We both knew my father would find us. It was just a matter of when.
And whether or not anyone within the Los Angeles family would rat us out. Apparently the money my mother supplied them with on a monthly basis was enough to publicly ignore our entire existence.
I was amazed we'd lived ten years. Well... I had.
I shook off the thoughts of my mother as Rossi meowed loudly. Apparently, I'd been ignoring him while stuck in my own head. Nothing new there. I looked down at my feet, but he wasn't there, which only meant one thing. It wasn't me he was meowing at... Rather a bird or perhaps next door's tuna again.
I reached forward and opened the kitchen window. Rossi jumped out, his paws hitting the grass silently, and he bounded up onto the wall. I swore he was Tigger in a past life. The feline had back feet made of springs.
With a sigh, I picked up the bowl he'd licked clean of tuna and put it in the dishwasher. The older I got, the more I found my thoughts traveling back to the life I had before this. I'd made myself a promise the day we left New York, and I had every intention of keeping it... until I realized exactly what that promise would entail.
Sneaking away from California and across the country. Into New York. Find the Hamptons house my father was happily living in... the one that belonged to me... And kill him.
That was the short version. I imagined the long version to be a lot bloodier than that one.
So it never happened. I'd stayed here in California, afraid that telling Darien would make him put me on lockdown, and that's the last thing I wanted. My life was sheltered enough as it was, limited to attending UCLA for an advanced degree and grocery shopping.
Oh, not to forget the monthly meetings with the highest members of the Los Angeles family. How else was my existence supposed to remain secret? With my mother's death, the job of protecting me fell to... me. The meetings every few weeks consisted of my buying their silence for another month and them updating me on whether or not my father knows about me.
Just because they protected me doesn't mean that other families did.
All it would take would be for one person to look hard enough. I was hardly hiding. I didn't care enough about hiding. The only reason I didn't have a neon sign proclaiming my existence on the roof of our Calabasas house was because I promised Mamma I would do what I could to stay safe until the time for revenge came.
That's why the only friend I had other than Darien—and Rossi, of course—was Gaige Pontarelli, the second son of the head of the Los Angeles family. His brother, Angelo, was his father's shadow, which left Gaige to amuse me, as it was put.
Like the fact the money I handed his father every month didn't keep his place at the head of the family secure. I could collapse his family in a heartbeat if I was willing to take the risk of being found by my own family.
That day was coming closer.
My phone buzzed on the counter and I picked it up. Gaige's name flashed on the screen with a new message, and I clicked 'open.'
Gaige:Ciao, bella. Let me the fuck in.
I laughed loudly as I put the phone down and headed for the front door. Our community was gated, but he was on the entry gate, so I rarely knew he was coming unless he... Well, unless I called him first. Usually this was how he showed up: randomly.
I peered through the spyhole in the door and down at my ruggedly handsome friend. His hair looked like he'd just had ten rounds on an electric chair, as it always did, but the rest of him was impeccably put together, from his soft brown eyes, sharp cheekbones and plump lips.
I pressed the button on the intercom. “Who is it?”
“Bite me, Addy.” He hammered his fist on the door. “Let me in. I'm turning into a fucking tomato.”
I rolled my eyes and unlocked the door, then opened it. I turned without waiting for him to follow me. “Tomato, right. Is that under that thick Italian skin of yours?”
“You wound me, baby.”
I glanced over my shoulder at his grinning face. “What do you want, Pontarelli?”
“You know,” he started, “I want a coffee.” He grabbed my shoulders and steered me into the kitchen. “Be a doll.”
“Or you can kiss my ass and make your own damn coffee.” I shrugged his hands off of me and pulled a bottle of water from the fridge. “Aren't you supposed to be... I don't know. Doing something this afternoon?”
“Oh, like work?” He raised his eyebrows as he fired up the coffee machine. “Yeah. Supposedly. Except Dad decided Angelo was doing it instead.”
“What were you supposed to be doing?”
“Not a fucking clue.”
“Don't you think that's why Angelo is doing it instead?”
“I know that's why Angelo is doing it,” he confirmed. “Why do you think I don't know what I was supposed to be doing? I'm already the black sheep. All I had to do was stare blankly at Dad when he called me down this morning and he told me to come protect the little princess.”
I snorted. “Little princess. Next time he says that, remind him who keeps his ass from being sliced off by someone else.”
“Not the greatest visual in the world, but it works.” Gaige dumped three teaspoons of sugar in his black coffee, making me wrinkle my nose in disgust. “What?”
“I don't know how you drink it like that,” I told him. “Just the smell of black coffee makes me feel sick.”
“What can I say? I take my coffee the way I like my women; sweetness and darkness all in one.”
Yet again, I rolled my eyes. “Yes, those poor women. I bet they last as long as a cup of coffee, too.”
“Now, now, Addy,” he chastised me. “I last longer than a cup of coffee, so they certainly do.”
“And once you're done with them?” I walked into the front room. “Precisely.”
“Look, baby, I'm the son of the head of Los Angeles's crime family. I can't settle for just anyone. And she certainly needs to have real tits, because if a fake one gets shot, I don't wanna be cleaning that mess up.” He sat on the other end of the sofa. “Besides, they all think I'm an up and coming actor.”
“You're a permanent actor. I don't think I've ever seen you be honest with a woman.” I tucked some hair behind my ear. “Except the time we met and I caught you masturbating because you didn't shut the bathroom door properly.”
A hint of red flamed in his cheeks, and I just about bit back a laugh. Yeah. I'd never tire of reminding him of that. He hadn't been told that Mamma and I were coming to his house, and when I'd gone to use the bathroom, I'd found him in it.
“Why do you keep bringing that up? I was fifteen. I had to get my kicks somewhere.”
“I'm just saying, Gaige, you should have been in your room or have locked the bathroom door.”
“One day, I'm going to walk in on you masturbating, and then you won't be so cocky. Mostly because I won't walk out.”
“And one day, you're gonna give up on your quest to get inside my pants.”
He pursed his lips, his eyes flashing with laughter. “Sorry. That doesn't make any sense to me.”
I laughed. Ever since I'd turned eighteen, he was certain that sooner or later, I'd give in to his random attempts at seduction and let him give me what he proclaimed would be 'the night of my life.'
That was five years ago.
He was still trying.
I had to give him props for effort. He wasn't letting it go, and if I were a weaker woman, I'd have given in long ago. Unfortunately for Gaige, I was too attached to our friendship to let something like that ruin it. Not to mention Darien was sure he wanted more than just one night, and with my future plans, that was out of the question.
I was no virgin. I was no slut. I was happily somewhere in the middle where I met guys, I screwed guys, and I conveniently lost their numbers.
There was no room for attachments in my world. Not while it was at risk of total catastrophe.
I would take down my father and any man who got in my way, but I wouldn't take anyone else down with me. There was a huge difference. I refused to put anyone at risk.
Maybe that's why I was so hesitant to do actually go through with my own promise.
I knew Darien would insist on coming, even if I refused, and I also knew he'd be shot on sight for being the accessory to our disappearance. I wouldn't have him killed for Mamma's choice, even if he knew the risk when he agreed.
He gave me life, and I would ensure he kept his, no matter the cost to myself.
“You're in another dimension again,” Gaige said. He kicked me across the sofa.
I swatted at him. “Just because I'm thinking doesn't mean I'm not listening to you.”
“Yeah? What did I just say?”
My lips pursed. Shit. He had me there. “Something about not walking out of my room if you ever catch me masturbating.”
“Are you finally admitting you masturbate?”
“This is a highly inappropriate conversation to be having right now.” My cheeks flushed as I put down my water bottle and got up. Time to go... I don't know. Do laundry or something.
“Ah-ha!” Gaige ran after me. I tried to shut the door to the laundry room, but he stuck his foot in the gap, thwarting that plan. “I knew you did.”
“Oh, for the love of God. I'm a twenty-three year old, single woman. Do you really think I lead an orgasm-less life?” I dragged the laundry basket in front of the empty washing machine and shoved a handful of clothes into it. “I'm not exactly a nun, Gaige.”
“I know, I know. I'm just teasing.” He leaned against the doorframe, a grin stretched across his face. His biceps bulged as he folded his arms across his chest. “I've never seen you with a guy, that's all.”
“Because some of us don't flaunt our conquests in the faces of others.”
“I know that, too. And I don't flaunt.”
“You do.” I put the last handful of dark clothing into the machine drum and closed it. I missed the old top-opening washer. I hated sitting on the floor to do this, and there was no way I'd ever catch Darien doing something as horrifying as washing my underwear. Fucker expected me to wash his though, didn't he?
“Your panties are on the floor.”
I snapped my head away from the control panel and looked at the floor. Yep. There we go. Clear as a day against the light gray tiles—my navy blue, lace thong.
I snatched it up and hurriedly put it in the machine, slamming the door once it was safely in there. Gaige laughed loudly, bending forward. I threw a clothes peg at his head as the machine whirred to life.
My pantiessafelyinside it.
“I swear if I didn't love you, I'd kill you.” I lightly punched him in the arm as I passed him. “You're a prick.”
My insult only made him laugh harder, and he grabbed me around the shoulders and squeezed me. His body shook with each chuckle. “Ah, Addy. You're so easy to embarrass.”
“I also know how to shoot you and kill you instantly, so I'd back up on the embarrassing.” I elbowed him in the side.
He refused to let go of me. “I can do the same.”
“You won't have a chance to shoot me if I shoot you first.”
“So shoot me.”
“Nah. You're not worth the jail time, and I don't have anyone to buy me out of it.” I grinned and finally extracted myself from his grip, only to drop myself on the sofa with a dramatic flair. I even added a sigh for good measure.
Gaige was exhausting.
“Seriously, though, is there any real reason you're here?” I asked him when he sat down. “Or are you just here to piss me off?”
“Well, the pissing you off is a bonus.” His smile lit up his soft brown eyes. “But yes. I am here for a reason.”
“Oh, goodie. You're never here for a reason, so this can't be good.”
His expression sobered. “Not exactly.”
I waited for him to speak, but he didn't. Gaige was the kind of man who would never use five words if he could use fifty, so for him to have no words at all... Well, it worried me. A lot. I kept waiting, but he still didn't talk, and now, he wasn't even looking at me.
His eyes were fixed on the TV although the screen was blank. His knee was bobbing up and down quickly, and his shoulders heaved as he inhaled loudly.
“Gaige?” My voice was quiet. “What's wrong?”
“Angelo went to Chicago last week.” He turned back to me, all traces of amusement in his gaze completely gone. In its place was hesitance and, if I wasn't mistaken, a glimpse of fear.
“I knew that. He goes every three months.”
“Yeah. When he left, he overheard your dad'sconsiglieretalking to Gino Sollecito's.” He stopped again. “They don't believe you're dead anymore.”
Slowly, my brows pulled into a frown. “They've believed it for ten years. Why would they suddenly change their mind?”
“I don't know, Addy. They stopped talking after that because they saw Angelo looking at them. That's all he heard.” Gaige runs his hand through his already messy hair. “This isn't good. If they find out you're alive, then we're all in trouble.”
“Because you've been hiding me,” I whispered softly, drawing my gaze away from his. “I knew this would happen.”
“You're prepared for it though, right? You and Darien? You have a plan?”
No.“Of course we have a plan, but without knowing if they've found us here, then it could be hard to move without alerting them. Is that all Angelo heard?” I looked back at him. “That they think I'm actually alive?”
“Your mom, too,” he answered. “But, yeah. That's it.”
“Well, there isn't much I can do off of that.”
“Do you want me to find out more?”
“No.” I touched his knee and patted it gently. “It's okay. I won't ask you to put yourself at risk any longer. If they come for me, they come. I'm not going anywhere without a goddamn fight to the death.”
Gaige's nostrils flared, and he grabbed my hand. His fingers wrapped around mine and squeezed so tightly I felt every bit of his apprehension in that one touch. “And that, Adriana, is exactly what I'm afraid of.”
“Addy?” Darien's voice traveled through the house, followed by the shutting of the front door.
“Hey,” I called back, shuffling on the sofa. My feet were resting on the back of it, and I knew he'd hate it, but I couldn't be bothered to move. I'd been in a slump ever since Gaige had left six hours ago. He was reluctant to leave me alone until Darien came home, but there was no way he could stay here until almost midnight.
“You're still awake?” Darien asked, walking into the front room. He loosened his tie as his eyes fell on me. They skirted over my feet on the back. “What's wrong?”
“Why does something have to be wrong for me to be up late? I'm not tired, that's all.” I dropped my feet down and sat up, crossing my legs instead. “How was work?”
“It was work. Stopped her getting groped by tons of fans and almost got arrested for shoving an over-enthusiastic photographer out of the way. It still amazes me that of all the cities in America, your mother chose this one.” He pulled his tie out and undid the top button of his white shirt.
“You could move, you know. You don't have to stay here.”
“We've already discussed this,scuro.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.”
“Good. Now tell me why you're really up late. I know you're tired because I can see the shadows beneath your eyes. Rossi still out?”
I shook my head. “He came back after presumably failing to find any food.” And they say cats bring us humans dead birds and things to feedus.The only time my cat has ever brought me anything is when he pulled the salmon off the kitchen counter and wanted to eat it at my feet.
“He's a pathetic excuse for a cat.” Darien sits back in the armchair and rests his ankle on his other knee. “Now what's up?”
“Geez, you're like a dog with a bone, ain'tcha?”
“Yes, because the only time you hide things from me is when it's bad, so I know this is bad.”
“Who says I'm hiding anything?”
His answer was the raise of his eyebrows.
“You shouldn't do that,” I told him. “It'll give you even more wrinkles.”
Which was bullshit, because the man was fifty and barely had a single damn wrinkle.
“You and I are this close,” he pinched his finger and thumb together in front of his face, “to fighting over this.”
I sighed heavily and rolled my eyes. “Gaige came over earlier.”
“Are you finally going to go on a date with the poor guy? He's been pining for years.”
“Darien. No. And he's not pining—he's my best friend. He just happens to have a perpetual potential boner where I'm concerned.” This conversation would be awkward, but Darien's always insisted that he was the 'fun uncle' and not a father, so he's gotta deal.
“Only potential?” he questioned, one eyebrow quirked.
“True,” I acquiesced. “Maybe it's not potentialallthe time.” I guess that it is a literal boner occasionally. Depends what I'm wearing. Luckily, today was a sweats day, not that it thwarted his attempt.
“Okay, so if it wasn't his attempt to date you, then what is it?”
I licked my dry lips slowly. I could feel them chapping as my tongue slipped over my lower one. “You know how Angelo went to Chicago last week?”
Darien sat up straight, his foot dropping back to the floor. It was quick, and I knew he was one hundred percent listening to me. “Yes.”
I wrung my hands together, then forced myself to stop, clasping them in my lap instead. I met his dark brown eyes with fear bundling in my belly. “He heard Gino'sconsiglieretalking to my father's.”
His fists clenched. “Go on.”
“He didn't hear much, but my father thinks I'm alive.”
Darien squeezed his eyes shut, then pinched the bridge of his nose. “When did he hear it? And is that all?”
“Armo should have called us,” he bit out, referring to Angelo and Gaige's father. “Straight away.”
“I know. I told Gaige before he left, but he shrugged and said he told his dad to. It was only when he realized he hadn't called you that he came over.” I tucked my hair behind my ear. “What do we do?”
He took a deep breath, still pinching his nose, and leaned forward. His elbows rested on his knees and he glanced up to meet my eyes. “We see if we can find out more. Not everyone in the Romano hierarchy is entirely loyal to your father, Addy. They stay for their safety, but it's how I've been able to keep you safe.”
“So you can find out what my father's plan is?”
“Not necessarily.” He sighed. “If it was common knowledge in the family, I would have known already. I will try to find out, but it sounds like this is information your father wants to keep close to him.”
“Because they already think I'm dead,” I said softly. “And if I'm not, he will be questioned.”
“Precisely. And if he's questioned, his time as Don is over.”
“Good. He shouldn't fucking be there anyway.”
“I know,bambina.” Darien stood and walked to me. He dropped a kiss on the top of my head, then turned away. “Don't stay up too late. You have class at eight.”
“I know.” I smiled up at him.
He reached the doorway and looked at me. “You will be safe, Adriana. I promise you.”
“I know,” I repeated, still smiling.
Chapter Two – Hunter
Rain hammered against the window as the car sped down the road toward the Hamptons. Frustration had been coiled in my stomach for the last twenty-four hours—ever since I'd first heard the rumors.
That Adriana Romano was alive.
I was sure I'd lost my fucking mind—or that the people who'd started the rumor had. There was no way she was still alive. She'd died in a car crash with Alexandria when she was thirteen and I was fifteen. I fucking remember being told. I remember finding out that she was dead.
I went to the fucking funeral.I cried my broken heart out over her white and gold casket.
And for what? To find out ten years later that she might be alive?
I was a clusterfuck of searing emotion. I wanted to slam my fist into a wall, just to see the plaster break, at the same time I wanted to tell everyone to leave me the hell alone so I could cry like a pussy.
Ten. Mother. Fucking. Years.
Enzio Romano. My boss. Her father. Godfather of the Romano family. Now the idea was in my head, there was every damn chance he'd been lying through his damn teeth when he told us she was dead. I remember his tears as he struggled to get the words out—as he spun a web of sick lies for his own agenda. As he sobbed as he described Darien's crash.
Suicide mission, he'd called it. He'd found the note in Darien's room.
He was sickly in love with Alexandria, and couldn't stand the fact that she wouldn't divorce Enzio. The only way to be with her was death, and thebastardohad killed hisbambinawith his wife.
But maybe it was all a lie... Every last word.
I hated him. Enzio. I wanted to rip his throat out with my bare hands, but I couldn't. I had to be numb, pretend I didn't care, be the killer he'd raised me to be.
Because that's all I was to him. Not the man his daughter once loved. Not the fourteen year old boy who promised his twelve year old daughter than no one would ever touch her and that one day he'd marry her, just to make sure of it.
Born, raised, and groomed. There was so much blood on my hands I could barely see the lines of my palms. Lord only knew that my knuckles were scarred. My fingers were calloused, and I constantly believe it was a miracle that my nails weren't stained with gunpowder from all the triggers I'd pulled.
I didn't want to think of the number. Mental tally or not. I hated myself for what I was, but there was no other choice.
There was only one way out of the family: death.
I sometimes thought death would be a welcome reprieve from the guilt I carried around from all the lives I'd taken. Thoughtlessly, too... I didn't even spare a thought for the people I was instructed to kill. Not their families, not their friends. Husbands, wives, mothers, brothers... children.
None. Not a single thought.
If I did, I'd never pull the trigger.
The trigger would be pulled on me.
I ran my fingers through my hair and looked out of the window. I was certain we were breaking the speed limit, but you didn't argue with a Romano driver under the orders of Enzio.
“Pack a bag,” he'd said to me an hour ago. “I have a job for you.”
So I packed a bag and got in the car when it came. You didn't argue with Enzio Romano. Unless you wanted to die, of course. I'd be lying if I said I'd never toyed with the idea... Just to escape.
I knew escape would never fucking come. I was too good with a gun, too steady, too coordinated. There was no chance of me ever being an associate or having a simple job. It was my own fault. My own, stupid, natural fucking talent kept me alive.
Because it was easier to pull the trigger on others than on myself.
Because I was a fucking chicken in a wolf's outfit.
The driver turned into the Hamptons. It occurred to me that perhaps I should ask him his name, how his day's going, all that menial shit you're expected to do, but he hadn't showed any signs of wanting conversation, so I hadn't indulged in it.
I was grateful. The last thing I needed when I was being sent on a job was to talk to someone. I wanted to walk in, get my job, then walk right back out again. No frills or fucking fancies.
I hated frills and fucking fancies.
I watched the raindrops as they slid down the window. I focused solely on them, clearing my mind of any thoughts and washing away every emotion I felt. The mundane paths the drops trailed on the glass was welcome.
Mundane was good. Mundane was raw. Numb. Unfeeling. Mundane was necessary.
The car pulled up outside the giant house I recognsied so well. The heart of the Romano family, and Enzio Romano's unsuspecting fortress.
I pushed open the door and got out before the driver could do it. I didn't need his help to get out of a damn car. I left my belongings inside it, because my next stop was the private airstrip where Enzio's jet would be waiting to take me to wherever I needed to be. The car wouldn't move.
The door opened as I walked in. I picked lint off my coat as I passed Enzio's butler—I never did learn his name, and I doubted I ever would. My shoes squeaked against the flawlessly clean wooden floor, and I turned down the hall that lead to Enzio's office. His bodyguard, known only to everyone as Socci, was standing outside, his arms crossed in front of his chest. The large mahogany door he was guarding made him look small, although I knew he was six foot six and at least three hundred pounds of pure muscle.
If I didn't know I could put a bullet between his eyes quicker than he could mine, I'd be afraid of him.
Socci reached behind him and opened the door with a brisk nod in my direction. I returned the acknowledgment with a jerk of my head and walked through the door with my hands in my coat pockets.
Enzio was sitting behind his desk, his face hidden behind a book. It didn't hide his hair, though. It was black, streaked with silver strands that gave away his age. He didn't acknowledge my presence until I was sitting down, my hands removed from my pockets and resting on my lap. “Carlo.”
“Boss.” I inclined my head in his direction.
He shut his book and lay it on his desk. His hands, rough, like mine, came together in front of his body, touching only at the fingertips. He looked at me then. His eyes were such a dark brown they verged on being black, and if you didn't know the man, they were black.
They were the eyes of a dangerous man.
“I have a job for you.”
“I'm ready for it.”
“That's it,” he said, his voice flat. “I don't know if you are.”
“Why don't you tell me and let me be the judge of it?”
He stared at me. The air sizzled with tension, and I knew that if I were anyone else, I'd have felt his fist against my jaw for that. “My wife and daughter,” he said slowly, watching my expression.
I fought to keep it blank. “Are dead, Boss.”
“Are not dead.” His correction was swift, and his words dripped with ice. “They never were dead, I believe.”
My heart clenched painfully. The rumors were true. “I don't understand.”
“Alexandria and Adriana are alive and living in Los Angeles. I believe, but I cannot prove, that the Pontarelli family has been protecting them.”
“So punish the Pontarellis.” Every word stung. Fuck.
“They're useful allies to have. Keep an eye on activity south of the border. Stop those fuckin' cartels getting too big for their cheap-ass britches.” He smirked. “But my wife and my daughter are alive. This puts me in a bad position, Carlo.”
I didn't respond. He didn't want me to. I could see the thoughts organizing themselves behind his eyes as he stood.
“There are people, inside and outside, of this family, who believe they are dead. They need to continue believing that, or we will go to war with them. I'm unwilling to do that.” The drawer squeaked as he pulled it open and removed a handgun. He set it on his desk, next to the book. Slowly, oh so fucking slowly, he slid it across the desk toward me.
My eyes followed its path. It was a Colt M1911, .45ACP. It wasn't my favorite means of killing, but if that was the weapon the Boss wanted... I reached forward and grasped the handle, keeping my finger clear of the trigger, and stared at it. When I glanced back up, two bullets lay on the desk next to a silencer. I stared at the gold cases that wrapped around the deadly shots before looking up and meeting Enzio's questioning gaze.
He shut the drawer then leaned forward, his hands flat on the desk. His eyes, if possible, went even colder, darker... There was no humanity in them as they bore into mine with intensity. “Your job is to kill Alexandria and Adriana Romano. One shot each. Take care of them.”
I took a deep breath. My mind was buzzing. It was going crazy with the rumors and the confirmation, the thoughts blocking out all emotion.
The gun felt ten times heavier. It was like holding a ton of granite in my palm.
And Enzio was right.
I wasn't ready.
I put the gun on the desk, aware of Enzio's calculating gaze scrutinizing my every move. I opened my coat, then reached forward for the silencer and the bullets. I tucked them into the inner pocket on my right side, then picked up the 1911 and checked the magazine. It was empty, so I snapped it back into place.
Then tucked it into the pocket on the left side of my coat.
Enzio's lips curved into a dark smirk. “There's a plane waiting for you. You'll be flying to Nevada and will be taken care of from there. You have three days to come back with your task complete, or you'll join them in their fate.”
I held his gaze to tell him I understood. I didn't trust myself to speak. If I spoke, I knew I'd say something I'd regret, so I turned and walked out of his office without another word.
As I slid into the back seat of the car and rested my head back with my eyes shut, I realized that I really did want to rip his throat out with my bare hands. He was asking me to kill the Romano family queen. He was the godfather, but Alexandria was the fucking queen. She was coveted and respected, feared more than Enzio ever would be.
Maybe that's why he needed her dead. She'd given him what he wanted, but failed in what he needed. She gave him power, but no son. So he wanted her life, for whatever reason.
He wanted her blood.
And Adriana's. More terrifying than Alexandria. He wanted me to kill the princess. Myprincipessa.
Chapter Three – Adriana
Rossi padded across my laptop keys without a care in the world. I stared flatly at my black and white cat as random letters, symbols, and numbers appeared on the screen.
“Are you done, Rossi?”
He turned his head toward me, his black eyes finding mine, and plopped down on the keyboard. He curled into a ball, still watching me. If cats could smirk, he'd be smirking right now.
I sighed and swept my finger across the trackpad and hit 'File' to save my now half nonsensical essay. I shut down the word processor, turned off my laptop, and pushed the chair away from the desk. “You win, cat. As always.”
I was so his bitch.
I mean, it wasn't like that measly seven hundred word document needed to be five thousand and completed within forty-eight hours. No big deal at all. I could knock that out in my sleep, noproblemo.
My sigh was heavy as I left him sleeping in the sunlight on my laptop. Who had it right, eh? He got to lay there for the next several hours then meander his way downstairs and beg to be fed. Meanwhile, I was destined to fret over anything and everything to do with that essay while waiting for him to decide to free up my keyboard.
A note was pinned on the fridge when I walked into the kitchen, so I pulled it from the magnet and looked at it.
You were studying and I didn't want to disturb you. Gone to work. See you at ten. Call me if you need me.
Wow. I didn't even know he'd gone. I must have been in my own little world until Rossi barreled in like a feline avalanche.Ugh.I was never going to get that essay done on time.
The echoing sound of my phone ringing found my ears. “Shit,” I muttered, dropping Darien's note and turning. I ran back into the office and snatched my phone up from its place on the bookcase.
Gaige. Of course.
“What do you want, Pontarelli?” I answered the phone.
“Your pants, Romano,” he fired back with a deep laugh. “I wanted to check up on you. Make sure you're all right.”
“I'm fine.” I turned back down the hall to the kitchen, then opened the fridge. “Why would something be wrong?”
“Oh, I can't imagine why.”
“Don't take that tone with me, Gaige. I will beat your balls with a wooden spoon.”
“Such an Italian.”
“Vaffanculo,” I replied. Fuck you. “I told you, I'm good. If I need you or my life is in random, sudden danger, I'll call you.”
“Addy, if your life is in random, sudden danger, chances are you're not gonna be able to call me,” he drawled. God, I hated that damn dry tone of his.
“Your sarcasm is starting to piss me off, dickhead.” I pulled a bottle of water out of fridge. “In that case, if I don't call you, then worry.”
“You never call me. It's like I'm the only one trying.”
“Oh, booboo.Povero bambino.”
“Poor baby? Jesus, you're speaking a lot of Italian today.”
“You just told me I was 'such an Italian,' and believe it or not, Italians speak Italian.”
“Your sass is out of this world.”
“Says the one who's been throwing shade at me this whole conversation.”
Gaige laughed. “All right, all right. Just check in soon, yeah?”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Try not to break any hearts between now and then.”
“Not hearts, Addy. Only pussys.”
“Niiiiiice,” I muttered, hanging up.
I really didn't need to know that. Like, really fucking didn't.
I put my phone on the island in the middle of the kitchen and turned on the oven. I didn't realize it was dinnertime already, so I pulled a pizza from the freezer. Blasphemy, I know, but of the two of us who lived in this house, Darien was the one who could make a mean pizza base. I could do the sauce, but the base?
No. Not a damn chance.
He regretfully kept frozen pizzas for me. It was just another thing I did to wind him up. Really, I was lucky the man loved me. If he didn't, he'd kill me on a daily basis.
I put the pizza in the oven and set the timer so I wouldn't burn it—which had happened more than once—and walked into the front room to watch some TV. I had no idea what to watch, so I knew I'd end up on Netflix.
The saddest part of that was I knew I would get to Netflix and still not know what to damn well watch.
I turned it on anyway. Why not? It's not like I could do anything with my cat holding my laptop hostage and being virtually house-bound. Sure, I could have called Gaige and gone out somewhere, but I wasn't in the mood for his flirting. Besides, it was Friday, and he was always busy on a Friday.
And not busy work-wise. Busy 'breaking pussys' as he put it.
Sometimes it was hard to believe he was twenty-four.
Something banged in the direction of the office, and I craned my neck around although I couldn't see past the door. “Rossi!” I yelled. Silence followed, so I turned back to the TV and my mindless scrolling of Netflix's TV showed.
Watched. Watched. Didn't finish because it was shit. Watched. Didn't want to watch. Watched. Watched. Watched.
Apparently, I had a Netflix problem.
There was another sound, this time from upstairs, and I sighed heavily. “Rossi!” I yelled for a second time, putting down the TV controller and getting up. I poked my head in the office, but he wasn't there anymore, so he had to be upstairs and trying to break out of my window. I grabbed the banister and started going up. “You know how to get out. Stop tearing the damn place apart. Rossi.” I made a kissy kind of noise to get him to come to me, but he didn't.
“Rossi?” I asked, this time softer. “C'mere, cat.”
I swallowed and turned back downstairs. I was pretty sure I'd left my bedroom window open, so he'd probably jumped out of it and onto the garage roof. It wasn't a huge leap.
Although, I did feel a little... out of place.
I shook off the unsettled feeling and checked on my pizza. Fine. For once, I had the timer right, because the ten minutes left would have it cooked perfectly. A chill coated my arms, so I rubbed my hands up and down them, then went back to the living room.
I barely heard the steps behind me until the hand was clamped over my mouth.
I screamed as I was slammed back into a hard body, but the sound was muffled by the gloved hand covering my mouth. Fear bolted through me as the cold metal of a gun barrel touched my temple. Adrenaline pumped harshly through me, lending me the strength to force my eyes open.
When I looked up, into the mirror, my entire world stopped.
Steely gray eyes, flecked with silver, looked back at me in the reflection.
I didn't need the balaclava gone to know who was standing behind me with a .45 pressed to the side of my head.
“Are you going to kill me, Hunter?” My voice was barely a whisper, muffled by the thick material of his glove, but I saw the shock flash in his eyes when I said his name. I swallowed hard, my heart twisting and tightening inside my chest.
Those eyes. Oh, god.Those eyes.
I'd know them anywhere.
He pushed the gun harder into my temple, not saying a word. His body gave him away, though. His finger shook. It wasn't even touching on the trigger, more hovering in front of it. His hand trembled where it covered my mouth, slipping slightly, freeing me up to breathe properly. The slightest hint of hesitance shone in his gaze. It was hard... cold... Glacial, even.
I closed my eyes. “Do it,” I whispered. I cleared my throat and said louder, “Do it, Hunter. It isn't hard. Pull the trigger. Do your job.”
He inhaled sharply. “How... How did you know it's me?”
Despite the gun against my skin, I smiled, opening my eyes. “I might have forgotten what your voice sounds like and what it feels like when you touch me, but I'd never forget your eyes.” And my heart would never forget to skip a beat when he's close, and my soul would never forget to reach out for his. “I looked into them too many times to forget them.”
“Fuck.” Hunter stepped back, releasing me from his hold. He dropped the gun from the side of my head, and when I turned, he was pulling the balaclava off his head.
A feeling I couldn't put into words flooded through my body in one fell swoop as he threw the mask on the coffee table and set the gun of top of it. The gloves followed, then he straightened, and he looked right at me.
I didn't know what I expected, but it wasn't this.
He looked everything like I remembered, but nothing like I dreamed.
His hair was the same dark brown, but it was cut close to his head on the sides and longer on the top, and the longer bits were swept backward from his face. And his face... Sweet fucking Jesus. He looked like Hunter... except he wasn't that fifteen year old boy I left behind.
His rugged features, from the shadows that highlighted his cheekbones and the stubble that dotted his sharp jaw, to the prominent line of his brow that was exaggerated by the frown marring his features, they were...
He was a man.
Pure, one hundred percent, man.
But it was his eyes. Always his eyes. They studied me with an intense scrutiny that made me want to squirm, and my blood pumped harshly around my body as he ran his eyes over me from head to toe. If I weren't so stunned by his appearance, I'd be more conscious of the fact I was wearing unforgiving yoga pants and a tank top that hugged my torso. I knew he could see every dip and curve of my body—and every dip and curve of my body could feel his burning gaze.
My mouth was dry, but I needed to say something. I couldn't take the silence anymore. I didn't know what to do with it, even though once upon a time we could spend hours without saying a word. Now it felt foreign, unnatural, and I wanted to get rid of it.
“So it's true. He found me,” I said, my scratchy voice breaking the tension that was building between us. “And he sent you to kill me. How lovely.”
Hunter dragged a hand across his face, and the white scars on his knuckles caught my eye instantly. “And Alexandria.”
“Good luck with that,” I drawled. “Mother Nature beat you to her.” I stalked past him as the oven beeped.
“What do you mean?” He followed me into the kitchen, still wearing the giant black coat he arrived in.Man, he must be hot in that.
“I mean,” I said, opening the oven and grabbing a tea towel to pull the pizza tray out. “She died two years ago. Breast cancer.”
“Shit. I'm sorry, Addy.”
“It's Adriana.” I closed the oven door, not looking at him. I couldn't bear to hear him call me by my nickname. I hated the way his voice dipped at the start. I hated the way I wanted to hear him say it again and again and again. “And you're not sorry. If you were sorry, you wouldn't have just had a gun to my head.”
“You think I wanted to do that?”
“You think it matters if you wanted to or not?” I spun around, my adrenaline subsiding, allowing anger to take its place. I could feel the red hot tendrils of my frustration snaking through my veins. “You did anyway. You still broke into my fucking house and tried to kill me.”
His expression hardened. “If I'd tried to kill you, you'd be dead,Adriana.”
I slammed the drawer shut after grabbing the pizza cutter. “Then you should try a little damn harder and finish the job, shouldn't you?”
“Jesus. I don't want to kill you.”
“Then fuck off back to New York and leave me alone.” A lump formed in my throat, and I slammed the pizza cutter blade into the middle of the pizza and rolled. Him standing in front of me was too much.
I'd spent endless hours and an unimaginable number of nights imagining what it'd be like to see him again, but I knew now they were all the dreams of a hopeless romantic. They were eyes meeting across a bar, bumping into each other in a store, maybe him even tracking me down... We'd see each other and we'd still love each other and everything would be perfect.
This was bullshit.
“I can't go back to New York,” he said quietly, eyes pinned on me. “It's your life or mine.”
“Well, you need to make a choice.” I put the cutter down and threw the slices onto a plate. “Judging by the fact you're here, I'm guessing you don't make many choices. Just do as you're told, right?” I raised my eyebrows as I passed him.
Kitchen. Living room. Kitchen. Living room.
I felt like Rossi probably did when he went on a crazy balls to the wall energy fit and ran from room to room aimlessly.
I put the plate on the coffee table and turned to Hunter, my hands on my hips. “Well? I'm right, aren't I? You're his fucking lackey. God forbid thatpezzo di merdaget blood on his hands.”
Hunter unbuttoned the heavy black coat and shrugged it off. He threw it on the arm of the chair.
My eyes were drawn to his arms. They were so muscular and toned that they strained against the material of his t-shirt, and tattoos decorated his right bicep. It took everything I had not to stare at his trim body and broad shoulders. “Staying, are you? Figure it's easier to kill me in my sleep?”
Once again, he rubbed his hand across his face. He said nothing.
“Trying to work out whose life is worth more, right? Mine is probably worth a lifetime of comfort for you. Kill me and everyone's happy, right? My pathetic excuse for a father gets to keep his empire and you're taken care of for life.”
He looked at me, and his expression was a little tortured. I was being harsh. I knew that. But I needed to be. It was easier to provoke him and be angry with him than give in to the horrible ache that had settled in my heart.
“Adriana...” Weak. The word was weak.
I wanted to ignore the indecision on his face, but I couldn't.
He was considering it.
He really was.
I scoffed quietly at him and grabbed the gun from the coffee table. His mask and gloves fell to the floor, but he made no move to pick them up. The safety was on the gun, and I held it out to him. “Here. Take it. I don't care, Hunter. I don't have much of a life here in hiding anyway.”
He didn't even look at the gun. His silvery gaze never left mine. I wished he would look away, because in that gaze, I saw the Hunter I knew. The boy who once ripped his favorite shirt to stem the bleeding when I fell and cut my leg, then proceeded to carry me home. The boy who offered to pee on my foot when I got stung by a jellyfish in Mexico on vacation when I was seven.
The boy I loved before I knew what love even was.
“You're weak, Hunter,” I whispered. Slowly, I turned the gun back to me and touched the barrel to my temple the way he did. His jaw clenched when my thumb edged toward the safety, and when my finger moved to hook around the trigger, he moved.
He was like a lightning bolt. He came at me like a flash, snatched the gun from my hand, and dropped it on the sofa. It bounced but stayed on the seat, and then he turned on me with blazing eyes. “Don't,” he ground out, his arms tensing and looking even bigger. “Don't ever fucking put that to your head again.”
“Why? I was saving you the job.”
The words had barely left my lips when he pounced on me. It was deadly, the way his hands clasped my face and his mouth descended on mine. I staggered back into the wall, gasping at the ferocity of his movement. Shock paralyzed me as he kissed me harshly. His tongue ran along the seam of my mouth, and as I fisted the sides of his shirt, I bit his lower lip.
A low growl left his throat, but he didn't relent. He just kissed me harder. He kissed me until I was fucking spinning and could barely string two thoughts together. Until my whole body was alight with his touch and responding to his every movement.
He tasted like whiskey. The strong, rich taste that lingered on his lips was heady and only added to the intoxicating way he touched me.
And then... It hit me. He was touching me. Kissing me.
Twenty minutes ago, he could have killed me.
The thought gave me the strength to shove him away from me. I covered my mouth with my hands as his eyes blazed back at me with an angry heat I'd never seen before. My heart was beating so harshly I felt it right through my body, and I couldn't catch my breath, buthow fucking dare he?
“How dare you,” I breathed, fighting for oxygen. “How fucking dare you come into my house and do what you have!” I slammed my hands into his chest, but he didn't move. “Fuck, Hunter! What the fuck?” I pushed at him again and again but he was too strong for me. It was like flicking a brick wall despite the fact I had my whole body behind each shove.
His hands darted out and grasped my wrists to stop me. His grip was tight but not painful, and my skin tingled as the roughness of his palms rubbed against me. “How dare I?” His voice was deathly quiet. “How dareI? From the girl whose last words to me were “I'm pretty sure I'm going to marry you one day.” From the girl who fucking promised me she'd be mine forever then up and left without a fucking words twenty four fucking hours later, huh, Addy? How fucking dare I when you ran out on your family and everyone who loved you? How dare I when you broke my fucking heart and I cried for motherfucking days when I thought you were dead?”
“We had to go!” I didn't mean it to come out as a scream, but it did, and it was so raw it made my throat hurt. I tugged on his grip so hard he had to let me go. I squeezed my eyes shut as I ran my fingers through my hair. “You think we wanted to leave? Fuckingreally? I wanted to tell you where I was, but I couldn't. It was too risky. It wasn't a whimsical, last-minute idea.”
“Why?” he asked me hoarsely. “Why did you go?”
“He sold me!” I backed up and wrapped my arms around my waist. It still stung, even now, ten years later. He was my father, and I’d loved him more than life until that day when I realized I was nothing more than a disposable pawn to him.
Hunter stilled. The expression his face took on was thunderous, and the tension that threaded through his upper body gave credence to his nickname. He looked every inch the hunter he was. “He did what?”
“Oh!” I laughed, but there was nothing happy about it. It was bitter and sarcastic. “Your precious godfather didn't tell you that, did he? Your beloved boss didn't tell you that he got himself screwed up with the wrong family and sold me to cover his debt.”
He didn't move... still. He was like a statue, although I was sure his emotions were all inside. Like an inferno ready to explode. It was unnatural for a human being to be so controlled.
Was he even human anymore?
I didn't know. As I looked at him, looking exactly like a predator ready to strike for the kill, I realized this Hunter really wasn't my Hunter. He was a stranger, someone I should know but would probably never know in reality. The scars on his knuckles proved how dangerous he was, the callouses on his palms showed he wasn't afraid to get dirty in a fight.
Was there a real heart under there? I'd just seen a glimpse of it, I was sure, but was it a flash of feelings from the past or real emotion?
He didn't look human. It didn't look like there was a single scrap of humanity left inside his strong body.
He looked like he'd sold his soul to the devil.
Chapter Four – Hunter
Rage. It was everything.
I was trained to be unfeeling. To be permanently numb. There was no emotion in my job.
I was an assassin. Silent. Deadly.
If I felt anything, everything would go wrong. You couldn't kill if you cared. You couldn't take someone's life if you cared about the pain you were causing.
It's why Adriana was standing in front of me instead of lying on the floor in a pool of blood.
And fuck. She was standing there. A woman. A fuckingwoman.Tall, toned, more beautiful than I could ever remember her being, and in my eyes, she'd always been beautiful. Now, she was breathtaking. I didn't know if it was the way her dark brown hair tumbled around her shoulders or the way her large, sapphire blue eyes blinked at me from behind long, dark eyelashes. Maybe it was the way her soft lips drew together.
Maybe it was because she tasted like coca-cola and candy.
Maybe it was just because she was Adriana and no one else would ever come close to her.
She'd taken me from killer to victim in seconds. The second she looked into my eyes in the mirror and my name fell from her lips, I knew the true assassin here was her. This tiny, fearless woman who held a gun to her head because she knew it was her or me.
And now I knew. Now I knew why she disappeared. Why Enzio faked her and Alexandria's death. He could never admit what he'd done to the family or he'd be overthrown. Probably killed.
I wanted to kill him now.
I wanted to torture him for every day he'd forced her to be away. I wanted to slice every second's worth of pain I'd felt into his fucking sick skin until he had some kind of idea what he'd done.
I wanted to kill him slowly. So. Slowly.
I was vibrating with anger. I knew it. It took every ounce of strength I owned to keep it inside my body, to stop it running away and escaping. She didn't need to see the kind of monster I was deep inside.
She was already looking at me as though I was a stranger... Like she was scared of me.
“Don't,” I managed to get out without shouting. “Don't look at me like you fear me.”
Adriana swallowed hard and tightened her arms around her waist. “I don't,” she lied.
“You can't lie to me. You know it.”
“I couldn't,” she corrected me, her bright eyes finding mine. “Once upon a time. But this isn't a fucking fairytale, Hunter. I don't know who you are anymore.”
“You don't want to know who I am,” I told her honestly. “You won't like it.”
“That's the problem.” She paused, then reached up and pushed some stray hairs from her eye. “I do want to know who you are. I want to know how you changed so much that you could hold a gun to my temple.”
Disgust shot through my body.
I took a few steps back and sat on the sofa, next to the gun I'd brought in. That fucking gun. It was tainted. By her.
The worst part about that gun is that it may have killed her if she hadn't said my name.
If she hadn't looked into my eyes and said my name, I may have pulled that trigger.
I leaned forward, my elbows on my knees, and dove my fingers into my hair. Her eyes were hovering hesitantly on me, but I couldn't look at her. For the fucking first time in my life, I didn't want to look at her. I didn't want to see her opinion of me reflected back in her gaze. I didn't want to see the disgust and horror she undoubtedly felt.
“You're his assassin, aren't you?” she asked me softly, moving closer to me.
Only she could ask that and come closer.
I answered with a sharp nod.
“How long? Since you were eighteen?”
Another nod. Seven years. Seven damn years I'd been killing for him. Seven years I'd been an unfeeling human being, cold and heartless.
I had nothing to feel for, after all. I thought she was dead. Growing up in the mafia wasn't exactly a bright and sunny existence, but Adriana was that for me. She was the bright spot because she was untouchable to anyone.
Except apparently her father.
Just the thought of him made my fists clench in my hair.
“How many people has he made you kill?”
The question shocked me and I jerked my head up. Our eyes met instantly. “You don't want me to answer that question,principessa.”
“Don't call me that,” she whispered. “I'm not a princess, Hunter. Not anymore.”
“Your blood says differently. You know that as well as I do.”
“You expect me to accept what my blood tells me when you won't accept yours?” She wasn't whispering now. “If I didn't want you to answer the question, I wouldn't have asked it. You're a killer. You always have been.”
“And you're scared of me. Telling you how many people's blood coats my hands isn't going to help that.”
“I'm not afraid of you. You forget who gave you your name.”
“Yeah, you called me Hunter right after I hit a raccoon with a frying pan and killed it, all because it wanted your bacon sandwich. How manly.”
“You forgot to take the egg out of the pan, too. Its friend had that.” She smiled and looked down, tucking hair behind her ear again.
The look on her face made me smile. I couldn't help it. I could still remember how she'd laughed, her nine year old giggles echoing through the backyard as I had to dispose of it. I'd kicked it into the fire pit and set it alight an hour later.
It was so easy then. When that was the worst thing I'd ever done in my life.
“Why did you come here?” Adriana looked up and into my eyes. Her smile was gone, and her blue eyes were sad. “Were you really going to do it?”
“I don't know,” I admitted. “I thought so. But then...”
“Then I made the mistake of talking.”
“Yes. Except it wasn't a mistake. The mistake was thinking I could kill you.”
“Well... That's good. I suppose.” She sat back on the sofa and hugged her knees to her chest. She rested her chin on her knees and looked down at her feet. “What happens now? If it's you or me?”
I shrugged and turned away from her, finally dropping my hands from my hair. I didn't want to kill her, but I didn't want to fucking die either.
“How long do you have?” she asked.
“So you have two days.”
“All right, all right.” I glanced back at her in enough time to see her lips twitch into the tiniest of smiles. “I have two days to convince your father you're dead and hide you again.”
She sighed and picked up the remote control. “What you have is not long to get out of here before Darien gets home from work and tries to resolve the 'me or you' problem.”
“I'm not worried about Darien.” That was a lie. I learned everything I knew from him. He was Enzio's assassin when I was nothing more than a kid in target practice. In fact, he wasn't even Enzio's. He was Alexandria's.
“Then you're a fool,” is all Adriana said before she picked up the untouched pizza and carried it out of the room.
I decided not to follow her. Nothing good could come of that. She was torn. I could see it in her eyes. One minute she trusted me, then the next she looked at me as though I'd pounce on the gun next to me and do what I came here to do in the first place.
I didn't blame her.
I didn't trust me, either.
And I knew that Darien sure as hell wouldn't trust me when he got here, but I was reluctant to leave her. Although I was one hundred percent sure I was here alone, you never knew. I knew I had to check in with Enzio tonight or he'd send someone to make sure I was doing my job.
I had to come up with a story that could buy me time. Time to think of something that could keep Adriana safe.
I'd come with the intention to kill her, but now all I could think of was getting her far away from everyone who wanted to do that.
Even if it meant she was away from me.
Something deep inside me clenched at that thought. I was a fucking fool to think I could come in here, hurt her, and then walk away from her. Hadn't I been missing her for ten years? Wouldn't I have done everything in my damn power to find her if I knew she was alive?
Yes, and yes. I did, and I would've.
“You're still here.”
I turned my head toward the doorway. Adriana was leaning against it, her fingers wrapped around the frame.
“Why are you still here? Darien will kill you if he comes back and you're here. The gun won't stop him. He'd probably use it.”
I shrugged a shoulder. “I'd deserve anything he did to me.”
“Yet there's no apology for almost trying to kill me.”
“Do you want an apology?”
“Not really. You were just trying to do your job. Shame you're pretty shit at it.” Now it was her turn to shrug.
I cracked a smirk. “Yeah. I'm awful. That's why my hands look like they went ten rounds with a wood-chipper.”
“You sound proud of that.”
“Not really, but I've got fuck all else to be proud of, Addy.”
“Adriana,” she repeated. “You don't get to call me Addy.” Her phone rang in her hand as she finished speaking, and she glanced at the screen. “I have to take this. If you've got any brain cells, you'll be gone when I get back.” She swiped her finger across the screen and lifted the phone to her ear. “Now what, Pontarelli?” she answered, leaving the room.
My jaw tightened.Pontarelli.Angelo or Gaige? That was what I wanted to know, although I had no damn right to. It was none of my business what kind of relationship she had with the Pontarelli family, although it did confirm what Enzio thought.
They'd been protecting her and Alexandria.
He could keep thinking it. I had no plans to confirm it and put her in further danger.
She was lucky he sent me to kill her.
Still, though... Angelo and Gaige. I hated fucking both of them. Angelo had a chip on his shoulder the size of North America, and Gaige barely gave a fuck about the family business because he had no responsibility.
Fuck, I sounded bitter even to myself.
Mostly because one of thosepezzo di merdashad known her and had her for the last ten years, when I hadn't. When I couldn't even fuckingtry.
A door opened and closed from somewhere in the house, and I dropped my head forward into my hands again. Adriana was right. I needed to leave and think about what to do. I needed to leave and stop feeling so fucking much for her when she clearly couldn't stand to be around me.
“What the fuck do you think you're doing in my house?”
My head snapped up at the sound of Darien's voice. I guessed it was too late to leave now.
He didn't give me a chance to respond. He grabbed the collar of my shirt and pulled me to my feet and spun me. My back slammed into the wall so harshly the collision almost winded me, and I took a big, deep breath to try and counteract the movement.
Darien's hand moved from my collar and closed around my throat. “What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Doing. Here?”
I couldn't respond because he tightened his grasp on me.
“Oh for the love of God, Dar, put him down.” Adriana strolled back into the room and perched on the arm of the sofa.
Darien turned around to look at her, easing his grip on me slightly. “You let him in?”
“Not so much 'let' him. He found his way in. Kinda like Rossi does when he wants food.”
He slid his gaze back to me, his dark eyes narrowing into slits. “And there's a gun on my motherfucking sofa, why?”
“He was going to kill me, but decided not to.”
“Thanks,” I rasped through Darien's grip.
“You're welcome.” She grinned. “Darien, let him go. He can't breathe.”
He paused for a moment, still staring at me. “That isn't a convincing reason to let the little bastard go.”
“Darien... I'm alive. Let him go. Don't make me pull the princess card.”
Oh, I got it. She was a princess when she fucking wanted to be.
Darien released me and shoved me toward the chair he just dragged me from. “Sit the fuck down. Now.”
I rubbed my throat and took a seat.
“How did you find us?”
“I didn't.” I stretched my neck from side to side. Jesus. Being pinned by your neck was fucking uncomfortable. “Enzio sent me.”
“He knows where I am?” Adriana sitted up. “Exactly where I am? And you didn't fucking mention this earlier?”
“Earlier?” Darien bellowed. “How long has he been here?”
“Not important.” Adriana waved him off. “Hunter?”
“Someone knows exactly where you are. I doubt Enzio will have bothered to find out the finer details of your location. All he cares about is that you die.” Inwardly, I winced at my own words. I could have put that a little better.
“Wow, rip that shit off like a Band-Aid why don't you?” She snorted. “Are you the only person who knows where I am?”
“Apart from the informant, yes, I think so. I came alone. Flew into Nevada and drove here.”
“Are you always alone when you do a job?”
“No. I regularly bring an audience to watch me shoot someone between the eyes.”
Darien rubbed his fingers across his forehead. “It's been ten damn years and you two haven't changed,” he muttered. I stared at him, and noticed Adriana doing the exact same thing. “Is she in immediate danger?”
“Not immediate,” I hedged. “But she's not exactly immediately safe, either.”
His lips pursed.
Honesty was always the best policy, even if it wasn't what he wanted to hear. I wasn't going to lie about her safety.
Darien pulled his phone from his pants pocket and looked at Adriana. “I'm calling Armo and getting him to sort his fucking shit out. He's got enough bitches he can order to keep an eye on you. And you,” he said, turning to me. “I want your ass the fuck outta my house by the time I'm done with this call. You got that, Carlo?”
Of course he called me Carlo. I clenched my jaw, but I wasn't about to argue with the man. It wouldn't do any good. He'd probably give me a black eye for the effort and throw me out the window.
The upstairs window.
“Got it, Darien,” I answered.
He nodded in acknowledgment and left the room. The atmosphere instantly warmed with his absence, although it was still tense between me and Adriana.
“You heard him,” she said, standing up. She picked up the gun, the balaclava, and my gloves, and held them out to me. “You need to go.”
I stood and grabbed my coat. I slid my arms into it and shrugged it over my shoulders, then took then gun from her hands. The silencer was still safely encased in the inside pocket of my coat. I could feel it as I secured the gun in the other one.Was I ever going to kill her?
“Here.” She shoved the mask and gloves at my chest. She let them go too quickly, and they fell to the floor between us.
I wrapped my hands around her wrist and tugged her against me. Her bright blue eyes glared up at me, raging with anger and contempt. The look filled me with a familiar feeling. Hatred. Disgust. Loathing. “Give me your phone.”
“I'm not fucking asking you, Adriana. Give me your goddamn phone.” I held my other hand out, palm up, and waited.
Reluctantly, she slammed it onto my palm.
“Unlock it.” I turned it so the screen faced her.
She tapped in the pass code. “What the fuck are you doing?”
I dialed my number and hit 'call.' My phone buzzed in my pocket, so I ended the call and handed her phone back to her. “Now you have my number. If you need me, or you think you're in danger, call me.”
She glanced down at the screen before meeting my eyes. The glimmer in them was even more scathing than a moment ago. “Callyou?Not likely, Hunter. I don't ever want to see your face again.”
I dipped my head down to hers. “You've changed your tune. You weren't complaining when your tongue was down my throat,bella.”
She wrenched her wrist from my grip and swung. Her hand connected with my cheek with a slap that rang out through the room. “A fanabla, testa di cazzo.” She spat the words at me, then turned, storming out of the room.
Go to hell, dickhead.
My lips twitched despite the sting that was radiating through my cheek.
Fuck, it was wrong, but I liked it.
I felt fuckingalive.
Chapter Five – Adriana
I rolled over for the fiftieth time in what felt like five minutes, and my eyes found my phone on the night stand. I reached my arm out of the covers and picked it up, typed in the passcode, and brought up the call log.
His number glared at me.
It wasn't the first time, either. It didn't matter much that it was four in the morning. I'd practically memorized the order of the digits by now.
Why did he have to leave me his number?
I wasn't lying when I told him I never wanted to see him again. There wasn't a single cell in my body that regretted slapping his smug ass face after what he said to me, even if all of the anger I put into the smack wasn't directed at him. A huge part of it was at myself.
Why did I let him kiss me? I should have pushed him away straight away. I shouldn't have grabbed his shirt like he was a rubber dingy and I was floating out to sea. I sure as hell shouldn't have drowned in the taste of rich whiskey on his tongue.
That wasn't how our first real kiss was supposed to be. It was supposed to be sweet and gentle, maybe on a beach somewhere with the sun setting and the gentle sea breeze flitting through my hair. It was supposed to be playful and unexpected in the middle of a fight. At prom. On my birthday. At Christmas. Onhisbirthday.
Yet at the same time, it was everything it was supposed to be. It was real and raw and consuming. I felt it everywhere but nowhere and I got completely lost in the rhythmic moves of his lips and mine.
Was that why I couldn't sleep? Because I couldn't scrape the kiss, of all things, out of my head?
It was the gun, mostly, but the kiss was definitely up there. Either way, it was all Hunter. He was the sole cause of this insomnia.
I couldn't believe he was here in Los Angeles. I couldn't believe he was in California or anywhere near me. A member of the Romano family in Pontarelli territory would never end well. The families worked together in themafiosobecause it was beneficial to everyone, but that didn't mean Armo would take kindly to my father sending one of his men into his city, let alone his assassin.
Darien assured me that he hadn't told them who was here or who he was in the family, but I didn't know if he was telling me the truth or not. He had no reason to lie to me, but I couldn't help but wonder if he was worried I still loved Hunter and didn't want me to worry about him getting hurt.
If he thought that, he was wrong.
Thirteen year old Adriana loved fifteen year old Hunter.
Twenty-three year old Adriana had absolutely no idea who twenty-five year old Hunter was.
He may as well have been a total stranger plucked from nowhere and sent to bring me to my demise.
I wished he was, but that was ridiculous. If mypezza di merdafather wanted me dead, he was going to send the person I cared about the most to do it. I'd bet anything he was sitting in his office in the Hamptons residence, his feet on his desk as he held a lit cigar between his teeth. The fact he'd sent Hunter proved to me that the heartless bastard hadn't changed a single bit.
It made me angry.
I was angry that he thought to prolong the silent war Mamma and I had waged for the last decade, the one I now stood all but alone in. My father was no fool—stupid on occasion—but no fool. He sent Hunter for a reason.
It was a test. To see if he really was the assassin he'd been raised to be. I had no doubts that he was. He admitted it himself, the mistake was when I spoke. When I said his name. If I hadn't, I'd have a bullet lodged in the middle of my brain right now.
The boy I'd once loved was now a monster. Nothing more than a cold-blooded killer.
Or was he?
I was alive. I was breathing and moving and speaking. I was wholly alive, the only reminder of his assassination attempt a fleeting memory of the cold barrel against my skin.
He either wanted my death to be heard or he deliberately didn't put it on. Someone as meticulous and careful a murderer as he was wouldn't forget a silencer. Even I knew it was a necessary item for a quick and easy kill.
I still couldn't believe he'd almost done it. He'd almost pulled the trigger on me. I didn't know how I felt. Maybe I was numb? I was shocked. At least, I think I was shocked. I had no idea how to explain the heaviness that had settled in my heart. I knew he wasn't my Hunter, but I wanted him to be.
Even if, at the very core, he did belong to me. But that was only because of blood, because the Romano blood wasn't my father's. It was Mamma's, which meant it was mine, and my father's only claim to being the Don was if we were dead.
I couldn't begin to imagine how much that pissed him off, but I was enjoying the thought of it.
My thumb hovered over Hunter's number on the log. I didn't want to see him again. It wasn't a lie, but that didn't stop my heart from stuttering every time I glanced at the digits on the screen. I wanted to tap the number, just once, to hear his voice. To hear the deep, guttural tones of his voice that had swept across my skin earlier.
I put the phone face down and slid it beneath my pillow. I had to be delirious from a lack of sleep. There was no other explanation to the way I was feeling. When it came down to it, the past didn't matter. It rarely mattered when the present was so dangerous.
Would Hunter protect me?
I don't know.The thought bolted through my mind, and I stared into the darkness of my bedroom as I realized the truth in it. I didn't know if he would protect me if it came down to it.
Me or him? My life, or his?
What did he value more?
I don't know that either.
I sighed. That was the problem with beingmafioso.You couldn't always trust the people you were supposed so. It was a part we'd largely left behind when we moved here. We had minimal contact with the Pontarelli family until it was decided that I needed to go to school with Gaige for my protection, but even beyond my close friendship with him, there wasn't much to go on.
Gaige. I sighed yet again. He'd called me three times after Darien had spoken with his father, but I'd ignored every single one before texting him that I didn't want to talk. It wasn't a lie. I didn't want to talk, but mostly because I didn't know what to say. I'd never told Gaige about Hunter and the relationship we'd had before I left New York.
Back then, it hurt too much. I guessed it still did.
I knew I'd have to speak with Gaige when the sun came up, but I had no idea what to say then, either. I couldn't exactly blurt out “My first love held a gun to my head,” could I? While it stood to reason that it would be an excellent conversation starter, I doubted there would be an actual conversation. More like Gaige tearing out of me his name and going to find him to holdhisgun toHunter'shead.
I knew mafia boys all too well. An assassin versus a prince: there'd be more bullets flying than you could count, and if either came out alive, then, well. That was a serious win.
I rolled onto my side, turning away from where my phone was tucked under my pillow, and curled into a ball. I snuggled deeper under the covers, and Rossi pounced onto the bed with two flashes of white fur and bright eyes.
He circled the space above my knees three times before dropping down into a ball and leaning against me. His body was warm and comforting, and I nudged him with my knees to bring him closer to my body. He obliged, but not without his cold, wet nose touching my hand beneath the covers. I pulled it out and scratched beneath his little white chin, and he rewarded my obedience with a low purr.
I smiled anyway. It was sad when the only person a girl could fully trust was her pussy.
Then again... Pussies didn't lie or cheat on you as long as you kept them happy.
I laughed silently at my own double-entendre thoughts. If my life weren't in danger, I'd say I needed a female friend my own age, and I needed her quickly.
I looked down at Rossi and scratched his head. He purred again, and it sounded deafening in the silence of my room. Still, I closed my eyes, because it had the calming effect of white noise. Maybe that was what I needed—a monotonous sound to drown out the clusterfuck of thoughts whirring aimlessly around in my head.
In fact, that sounded like exactly what I needed.
It didn't take long for Rossi's continuous purring to lull me into a state of half-sleep. I was in the weird place between asleep and awake, where I was totally conscious of my surroundings, but too far gone to do anything about them unless I was physically pulled from it.
It was the oddest feeling. It didn't do a thing to shut off my subconscious, either.
No, it kept going and going and going until I could barely breathe through the continuous loop of thought after thought after thought. The hint of panic rose in my chest, but I felt paralyzed in my half-asleep state, and there was nothing I could do to combat it. I couldn't stop the overwhelming feeling that everything had changed in the blink of an eye as it swept through me like a tidal wave, suffocating and intense.
Rossi pawed at my face. His claws weren't out, but the gentle scratch from their edges on my jaw snapped my eyes open. His bright eyes blazed in the darkness, staring down at me.
“I'm okay,” I whispered to him, scratching under his neck. “I'm okay, Rossi.”
He watched me for a moment longer before turning his back to me and curling back up to sleep.
“We can't trust him.” Armo was sitting at the dining room table, which had become a meeting room, of sorts. He'd been throwing me disdainful looks with his dark eyes for the last thirty minutes. He didn't want me here, but since the Los Angeles crime family was so far down the pecking order, technically, I outranked him.
He fucking hated it.
I didn't care, because he wasn't my favorite person. And I swore to God, if he looked at me like I was a piece of shit again, I was going to remind that silver-hairedbastardowho I was.
“Papa, he didn't kill her,” Angelo pointed out, leaning forward and resting his forearms on the table.
Angelo, like Gaige, had dark hair and strong features, but he was always more put together. He was twenty-seven, three years older than his brother, and he'd taken to the life of crime far easier than he had. It was a burden to Gaige, and while I didn't think for a second Angelo particularly liked keeping the streets of Los Angeles in cocaine and meth, he sure as hell liked the payout he got at the end of it.
He liked the Colombian girls the cartels sent with the drugs, too.
“He tried,” Matias Rodriguez, Armo'sconsigliere, argued. The only Mexican in the made men of the Pontarelli family, he kept things running smoothly with the cartels. Mostly because Armo couldn't speak Spanish to save his life, and was too ignorant to learn it.
“But he didn't.” Angelo stared at Matias. He wasn't going to let that point go, and I didn't know if I was glad for it or not.
I was only here to make sure they didn't make any stupid decisions. In my experience, when left alone, men tended to fuck decisions up.
“He had the perfect chance,” Angelo continued, sitting back and holding his palms up. “He was alone and had the gun to her head. We've all pulled triggers. We know how quickly they go and how easy it is to end someone's life. All of us in this room with the exception of the lady herself has killed someone.”
Gaige's face darkened in the corner—if it were possible. He was already in the foulest mood, and he still had no idea who Hunter was to me. Him being reminded of the man his father forced him to kill for stealing money wasn't going to improve his mood.
“And if it came down to it,” Armo spoke before Gaige could, “I doubt the lady would kill someone.” He slid his eyes to me. “Isn't that right, princess?”
I held his dark gaze without blinking or wavering. “Keep talking and you'll find out.”
He sneered. “Your life or theirs. Would you shoot?”
“Yes.” It was a half lie, I supposed. If I had to, I would. And it also depended on the person.
This world wasn't as black and white as people thought.
Angelo shook his head. “Papa, we don't know if we can trust Carlo Rosso, but that doesn't mean we can't.”
“Guilty until proven innocent,” Armo snapped at his son. “This isn't a fuckin' democracy,figlio.It's a motherfuckin' dictatorship.”
And I own your ass. Ner-ner.
“Darien?” Matias asked, turning to him. “You've been quiet,amigo.What is your thought?”
Darien clapped his hands together and leaned back in his chair with a sigh. “I trained the boy. I know he could walk in here right now and put a bullet between all of our eyes before the last man standing has a chance to pull a gun on him.”
His words silenced the room for a moment.
“But I also know that beneath his hardened exterior, he does have a heart.” He glanced at me, briefly, and I looked down at my hands clasped in my lap. “I think he's buried it to be the person he's expected to be. Enzio Romano is a ruthless man, and he expects his family to be the same. It doesn't matter if you're a damncapoor merely an associate. He takes nothing less than unforgiving cruelty in all manners of his life.”
No shit. That's why I grew up in Calabasas, surrounded by rich, plastic, air-headed fucks.
“Enzio Romano is an asshole,” Gaige bit out.
“And he's a dangerous one,” Armo replied before Gaige could continue. “He is not a man for you to mess with,figlio.He would snap you in two before you could finish your sentence, but we are not discussing Enzio Romano. We are discussing Carlo Rosso, and I want to know how dangerous theassassinois before we make any choices. Darien?” He turned his attention back to Darien.
He looked disinterested, probably because he'd already told him how dangerous he is. “When Carlo was ten, he was hunting better than associates twice his age. When he was twelve, I watched him beat a sixteen year old boy from a rival family into tomato puree because he tried to take Adriana. Carlo had barely touched puberty, and that boy should have ripped him to pieces, but he couldn't.” Darien reached forward and sipped his water.
Everyone held a stunned silence. Armo, Matias, Angelo, even Gaige... no one moved. I don't even think they breathed as they took in what Darien was telling them.
But me? I wasn't fazed. In fact, I looked up at met Darien's eyes as he set his glass back down on the table. I knew these stories. I remembered them clearly, because I played them over and over in my head as we drove across the country. Even after we were settled, I would think of the boy with the steel knuckles, as I teased him, who took every blow and kick and hit that was meant for me.
“Once, when he was fourteen, and Adriana was twelve, another rival boy tried to lure her to where associates were waiting to kidnap her for ransom.” Darien cracked his knuckles, then his lips tugged to one side as he dragged his gaze from me to Armo. “Carlo Rosso broke his arm in three moves and left him lying on the street, bleeding and crying, while he ran with Adriana. Then the week before we left New York, I took him on a hunt, and he shot a moving stag between the eyes. So is he dangerous?” He laughed now, and I wanted to, but all I felt was a dull ache. Darien killed his laugh as quickly as he'd started it, and the room went cold. “Yes. Carlo Rosso is one of the most dangerous young men I've ever met, but he's loyal to a fault. If he wants to protect Adriana, I have no doubt he would kill an army of twenty men with his bare hands.”
“But how do we know where his loyalty lies?” Gaige asked. His fists were clenched tightly at his sides, and I didn't dare look at him.
I was too scared he'd see the sadness I felt. Because hearing those things about Hunter? They'd scare anyone else. They'd disgust them. I knew different, though. Darien was right. He was protecting me, every single time.
I'd always been a target as a child. That was the plight of themafioso principessa.I was destined to be hot property for as long as I lived, but Hunter was my own personal bodyguard. I can barely remember a time that he wasn't by my side when I left the stronghold of the Romano family.
Gaige walked forward and dropped into a chair. The slam of his fist on the table drew me out of my own head, and I sucked my lower lip into my mouth. “We don't know where his loyalty lies,” he snapped. “If it's with Adriana, then fucking perfect, she's got herself a bodyguard. If not, she's got herself a target on her goddamn back.”
“Out.” Armo said the word so sharply that he left no doubt as to its meaning... its demand. “Gaige. Out. You cannot participate in this conversation unless you are calm.”
Gaige clenched his jaw, but he didn't argue. He got up and slammed his chair away from him, making it fall to the floor, and stormed around the table. His hand brushed my shoulder as he passed me and went out of the dining room. The door closed with a finality that sung of his frustration.
“I apologize for his demeanor.” Armo looked directly at me with his words. “He struggles to see past his feelings for you sometimes.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but no sound came out. I honestly had no idea how to respond to that. When it became clear I wasn't going to speak, the men all but shut me out as they contemplated Hunter's loyalty.
I couldn't contribute an answer, because I didn't know myself. I wanted... God. I so badly wanted to believe that he was loyal to me, because he was one of the few people in the family who knew the truth about the Romano bloodline. I wanted to believe that deep inside the monster my father had created, a little piece ofmyHunter hung on.
I wanted to believe that the reason he didn't shoot yesterday was because he truly cared about me, not because he was shocked I knew who he was just by his eyes.
That really was his first mistake, of course. Not many people had silver eyes. Especially not ones like his. His eyes were like diamonds, set in the flawless roughness of his face.
I hoped his heart was the same; a diamond in the rough of his existence. I wasn't much of a prayer, but I prayed then that it wasn't a misplaced hope.
I didn't know ifmyheart could take it if he truly was an assassin right down to the depths of his soul.
“Excuse me,” I said when there was a quiet moment in the conversation. “I'm gonna find Gaige.”
Darien nodded at me with a slight smile, and I got up and left the dining room. The constantly questions and contemplating was driving me crazy. I needed to get out of there, and finding Gaige seemed like the best thing to do.
I searched the house downstairs but couldn't find him. I noticed the back door was ajar, so I reasoned he'd probably headed out into the yard. I walked outside, barefoot, and stepped off the path onto the grass. The bright green blades tickled between my toes as I made my way through the yard toward the pool. I knew exactly where I'd find him, and I was right.
He was sitting on the side of the pool, his pants rolled up over his knees and his feet in the water. I grabbed the bottom of my dress and sat next to him, dipping my legs into the water. I kicked them slowly, whereas Gaige sat completely still, watching the ripples in the pool.
“Wanna talk?” I asked him, my eyes following the reflection of the sun on the moving water.
“What is there to talk about? Papa made it perfectly clear that my opinion isn't welcomed.”
“I care about your opinion.” I nudged him with my elbow and turned my face toward him. The sun glanced off of his strong features, casting shadows across his face. “And as much as I respect your father, the outcome of the discussion is ultimately my choice.”
“Must be nice to be queen,” Gaige muttered, getting up.
I stared at him, my mouth dropping open. “What the hell is your problem?”
“Gee, I don't know, Addy. Why don't I think about it and call you later just so you can ignore my calls?” He took several steps away from me.
I got up and followed him. “Why don't you tell me how you really feel, Gaige? Stop acting like a damn five year old who isn't getting his own way. This isn't a game!”
“You think I don't know that?” He spun, and I could almost see the frustration coming off of him. He ran his fingers through his hair and met my eyes. “This guy came to kill you, Addy. Fuckingkill you. And they're in there discussing whether or not the Romano assassin is a fucking danger to you?”
“He's not just the assassin,” I said, my voice quieter than his. “He was my best friend. Do you get that? We did everything together for as long as I could remember. He's not a hired hitman whose sole purpose is to kill me because he doesn't know me. Hunter knows me. At least... he did. Once.”
“You're crazy if you think he won't kill you. Your life or his. Do you really think your life matters more to him than his own?”
I looked away. I didn't want to answer that. The thirteen year old girl inside me wanted to tell him that yes, it did, because he'd told me so. He'd said a hundred times that he'd take a bullet before he saw it hit me. He'd told me a hundred times that his life was nothing compared to mine.
“You've lost your damn mind, Adriana.”
I snapped my eyes to his. “And you're judging a man you've never met based on his reputation, his job, and the ridiculous demands of the man who calls himself my father. If Hunter was a true danger to me, I wouldn't be alive right now. Do I believe he might still kill me? Yes, because I'm not a precious fucking naive flower with no understanding of the mafia. He could walk up to me right now and shoot me between the eyes then disappear before anyone could do anything. But don't stand there and tell me I've 'lost' my 'damn mind' for believing that the boy I used to know is still inside him somewhere.”
Gaige shook his head slowly. “He'll kill you. Without a thought. You have no idea how sheltered you've been. I know things about Carlo Rosso that would make your skin crawl,Princess.”
“Then why don't you pull your balls from your asshole and tell me so I can make a fully informed decision about him instead of wrapping me up in washed down truths? I'm not a china doll. You know that better than anyone.” And he did—and that's why I was so mad.
I knew I'd been sheltered. I knew Mamma and Darien had done whatever they could to keep me in the loop without keeping me fully embedded in the mafia world. Mamma's greatest wish was that I grew up with a life that resembled somewhat of a normal teenage girl's. She didn't want me worrying about what happened in New York, or Boston, or Chicago. She just told me enough that I wouldn't worry.
But I knew more than everyone thought. I'd overheard more conversations than they knew.
“Six months ago, your father found out one of hiscaposwas double-crossing him and giving information to the Teresi family,” Gaige started, his eyes scarily intense on mine. “He called your precious Hunter in and ordered him to break every possible bone in his body. He did it, including his neck, then after twelve hours of excruciating pain, Carlo shot him between the eyes to end his existence.”
I swallowed hard.
“Several weeks ago, the smuggler who was supposed to provide the Romanos with one million dollars’ worth of cocaine was intercepted by the DEA because he was careless. He escaped arrest, but they took every single ounce of powder that was supposed to be delivered. Do you know what happened to him and his family? His daughter only just escaped with her new baby, but his wife was brutally raped bythreemen, one after the other, then all together. Carlo stood there with a gun to the smuggler's head and made him watch every single fucking second, and then he shot him in the thigh as a warning.”
I felt sick. My stomach churned, forcing bile up my throat, and I covered my mouth with my hand. I couldn't look at Gaige in that moment. Not because he'd told me it, but because he said it so stoic. He didn't flinch once, even as he described how the guy's wife was raped. There was no expression on his face, but I could see the disgusted hatred in his dark eyes.
“See? You look like you're going to throw up, Addy. He isn't the boy who used to protect you from the big bad men who wanted to kidnap you. He's a brutal, sadisticficawho deserves to burn alive for the things he's done.”
Fica.Cunt. A word Gaige rarely used. That alone told me how much he hated Hunter.
“He's forced to do those things,” I reasoned quietly, dropping my hand from my mouth and resting it at the top of my chest. “He's working on my father's orders.”
“You're making excuses for him. It's unreal.”
“It's true, Gaige. You know it is. Yes, they're despicable things he's done, but you know he'd ordered to do them, so don't act like they're done off of his own back.” It was my turn to stare at him now. “You forget that your family stays here through drugs and women. Keeping Los Angeles in crack, heroin, and meth and trafficking the occasional prostitute is how the Pontarelli family is still here. New York is a different world.” My voice got quieter. “It's rougher, harsher, and far more brutal. So yes, I am disgusted by what he's done, and you should be, too, but it's a whole other world there. And my father rules it with an iron fist. If he didn't, someone else would.”
Gaige held my eyes, even as he ran his fingers through his hair again. “Sounds like you've already made your mind up whether or not you trust him.”
“Far from it.” I wrapped my arms around my waist. “Just because I want to see the good in him doesn't mean I trust him. I just don't want you to look at him and see nothing more than a killer, because I know there's more to him than that.”
“But by trying to see that, you could find that he is nothing more than a killer, and then that leaves you dead.” The worry he clearly felt reflected back at me in his eyes, so I dropped my arms from myself and closed the distance between us.
I circled my arms around his waist and rested my head against his shoulder. Gaige's chest heaved as he sighed heavily and hugged me back tightly. He kissed the top of my head, letting his lips linger there for a long moment. I closed my eyes and squeezed his waist.
“Will you trust me?” I asked softly.
“It's not trusting you I have a problem with. It's him,” he said into my hair, tightening his grip on me before releasing me. “I don't trust him to be anywhere near you.”
It was hard to argue with that. I didn't exactly trust Hunter around me, either.
“I know.” I looked up at Gaige and rested my hand against his cheek. The light stubble that dotted his jaw and lower cheek rubbed against my palm. “I know you want to keep me safe, but to do that, you have to let me put myself in danger. A little bit.”
“That's the most contradictory thing you've ever said, Addy.”
“I know. But it makes sense... to me. And let's face it.” I stepped back and raised an eyebrow. “If he doesn't kill me, someone else is going to try to.”
“You really know how to reassure a guy,” he said dryly. “Fine. I know that look on your face.”
My eyes widened. “What look?”
“This one.” He waved his hand in front of my face. “Eyebrow raised, laughing eyes, a futile attempt at not smirking... That's your determined face.”
“I don't have a determined face,” I scoffed. How ridiculous.
“You do, and I can see you're determined to speak to him again, so fine. I'm going to let you.”
I licked my lips and smiled. He was, was he? How sweet of him.
“But I want to know when you speak to him and where you are, and if you don't check in with me every thirty minutes, I'm coming to find you.”
“Shut up.” He grabbed me back into him with one arm and hugged me from the side, then let me go again. “Let's go back inside. I promise to control my temper this time.”
I rolled my eyes, but let him lead me back into the house. The sound of raised voices traveled down the hall and through the kitchen. The walls muffled the sounds, but I could just about make out the heated discussion regarding Hunter. I shook my head, shrugged off Gaige's arm, and made a beeline for the dining room.
I leaned against the door frame and cast my gaze over the four men arguing the toss. It sounded like the only one on my side and willing to give Hunter the benefit of the doubt was Darien. Gaige, too, of course, but his willingness was under duress, so I wasn't sure that entirely counted.
I doubted he'd even be supportive under duress if he knew just how close Hunter and I really were ten years ago.
“Adriana?” Darien turned. “What are you thinking?”
I glanced back at Gaige before meeting his eyes. “I want to talk with Hunter.Alone.”
“Out of the question,” Armo shot me down. “It's too dangerous.”
“I'm sorry,” I said, locking my gaze onto his. “You must have heard me wrong. I wasn't asking to talk to him. I'mgoingto talk to him, and I'm going to do it alone. Sending an army for a simple conversation is going to do nothing.”
Armo clenched his jaw, and Angelo shrugged his shoulders. At least he knew better than to argue with me—his father could have done with a lesson or two in that.
“Now if you'll excuse me, I have a phone call to make.”
And with that, I turned and left the men to be men.
Chapter Six – Hunter
I slam his body against the cold, exposed, red brick wall. Blood trickles from the corner of his mouth, the very place my elbow has just connected with. “Now what's your fucking excuse, Porter? Your wife go into labor again?”
“P-p-please.” His teeth chatter as I put pressure on his neck. “D-don't d-do this.”
“Do what? Take care of the problem you've fucking created by not doing what you were paid to do?” I hold the gun against his neck, aiming up into his brain. “You've caused my boss some serious issues.”
“I'm sorry. I'll cover it—w-whatever it is.”
“Three hundred thousand dollars, you stupid fuck!” I pull the gun away and punch his jaw. He falls to the floor, and already, I can see the fight draining out of his body.
“Get. Up.” I kick him. Hard.
He pushes himself up and staggers to his feet, using the wall as a guide to pull him up. He almost falls but manages to steady himself somehow.
My hand wraps around his neck as I pin him to the wall, a grin stretching across my face. “Let me tell you something, Porter...” I say quietly. “You're one of the lucky ones. Your wife won't be touched.”
He attempts to fight me, but I squeeze his neck tighter and bring the gun to his face.
“Now be a good boy and open your mouth.”
I hold the gun against his temple and tilt my head to the side. “And you know what I said about your wife?”
He sneers, a missing tooth at the front more prevalent now. It's missing because of me, so I laugh.
“She's safe.Tonight.” I laugh harder.
He tries to move.
I pull the trigger.
The shot echoes through the alley. I let him go and step back as his body slumps to the floor.
Useless. Worthless. Lifeless.
I flicked through the hotel TV channels aimlessly. If there was something of interest to me on the screen, I didn't fucking see it. I was staring at it, but my head may as well have been on another goddamn dimension.
My phone was lying next to me on the bed like a silent torture device. I'd been trying to call Enzio since I left Adriana's house last night, but he hadn't answered a single call. I'd finally gotten through to Isaia, theconsigliere, and he told me he'd have Enzio call me.
I was still fucking waiting, and it'd been six hours.
I dropped my head back against the headboard and closed my eyes. The kiss with Adriana yesterday played in my mind on loop. The way she gasped when I slammed her against the wall was like a damn broken record, and the tiny moan she let out as she'd bitten my lip made my cock hard as I thought about it.
Shit, who the fuck was I kidding? My cock had been rock hard the second our lips had touched, and now, each time I thought about it, blood rushed to the fucking thing like I was a sixteen year old opening his first Playboy.
Even now when I was lying in bed, thinking about the taste of coffee and candy on her lips and her hands grabbing my shirt as she yielded to my kiss, my dick throbbed uncomfortably against my zipper.
I adjusted it. It was fucking wrong. I shouldn't have a goddamn hard on over her. I was supposed to kill her... Not kiss her and get a boner.
I rubbed my hand over my face. I wasn't stupid enough to believe that this erection would disappear by magic, but I wasn't prepared for the other option either. If I thought getting hard over her was wrong—and it was—jerking off over her was definitely wrong.
But, fuck. I could feel the tension rolling through my muscles, and as I shifted uncomfortably, I wanted to undo my zipper, pull out my cock, and get myself off until this inappropriate burst of desire disappeared.
I got up and yanked my shirt over my head. It fell to the floor in a heap, and I left my phone on the bed as I made my way into the bathroom. Fuck it.
I wasn't getting her out of my head. I wasn't getting rid of this hard on with fucking fairy dust. It wasn't like she ever wanted to see me again, was it? She was clear enough on that yesterday. So fuck everything.
I turned on the shower and unbuttoned my jeans, then shoved them down with my boxers. My cock sprung free right as the shower cubicle steamed up from the hot water. I stepped out of my clothes and got into the shower. The hot water beat down on me, and I welcomed the rush of heat through my body.
The soap almost slipped out of my hands as I grabbed it, but I managed to hold onto it long enough to get it on the sponge. It lathered into a foam as I rubbed the sponge across my body, covering my body in a layer of soapy suds.
My cock still throbbed.
I dropped the sponge and reached down. I shut my eyes as my hand wrapped around my hard cock, like not seeing it would make this fucking okay. Nothing would make what I was about to do okay, but fuck, I had nothing left to lose.
I kept telling myself that, like it mattered.
The soap acted as a lube as I worked my hand up and down my cock. Adriana sprung to mind immediately, and although I tried to fight the thoughts, I couldn't. I couldn't fucking get rid of the memory of her standing in front of me in skin tight pants and a tank. I couldn't get rid of the memory of how they clung to her body, how her ass shook as she walked, how her tits pushed together because of the tightness of her shirt.
I squeezed my cock a little tighter as my mind fast forwarded to our kiss. To how her tongue teased mine and her lips softened beneath the pressure of me. Pleasure jolted through me, and I bit back a low groan as the memory took on a mind of its own.
In my head, we weren't kissing.
She pulls off her shirt and it falls to the floor. I kiss down her neck until I reach the mound of her tits and take one pink nipple into my mouth. I suck hard, and she dives her fingers into my hair, moaning. She arches her back, forcing her tit further into my mouth.
My hand moved even faster on my cock, and my whole body tensed.
She reaches between us and unbuttons my pants. One hand slips inside my boxers, her fingertips brushing the head of my cock as I turn my attention to her other nipple. She wraps her fingers around my dick and slowly moves her hand up and down its length.
I clenched my jaw as that thought took over. It wasn't my fucking hand anymore. It was too easy to imagine that my rough palm was now her soft one.
She gasps as I suck harder on her nipple and slide my hand inside her pants. My fingertips rub against cotton panties, and I rub her through the material. She whimpers, momentarily pausing her hand. I dip my fingers beneath the panties to touch her wet clit. She gasps, gripping my cock tighter, and the easy circles I rub over her pussy seem to egg her on as she tugs hard on my erection...
“Ah!” I dropped my head forward as the fantasy won out. My balls tightened uncomfortably, along with the rest of my body, and I clenched my jaw as my orgasm swamped me. I pumped my fist along my cock as my release left me in spurts.
I hated myself for that.
It was so fucking wrong... So fucking sick, and I'd done it anyway. Less than twenty-four hours ago I'd had a gun pressed to the side of her head and now I'd just fucking come to a fantasy of her.
What the hell was wrong with me?
I cleaned myself up, this time using the soap for its correct purpose, and got out of the shower. My phone starting ringing as I secured a towel around my waist, and I ran to get it in case it was Enzio.
“Boss,” I answered, my hair dripping water onto the bed.
“Well?” he responded. “Isaiah said you wanted to speak with me. Have you not taken care of my problem yet?”
“Not exactly. I know where she is,” I added quickly. “But she hasn't been alone yet. Even last night, she stayed with a friend.”
“So kill the fucking friend.”
“Too risky. You know that.”
“What are you asking for, Carlo? More time? How do I know you're not lying to me?”
You don't.“Because I've never failed. She has an active social life and goes to school. It seems like getting her alone will be hard. I can't guarantee I'll have her taken care of by tomorrow night.”
“I haven't seen her yet, Boss.”
There was almost silence at the other end. All I heard was several heavy breaths and the sound of a drawer opening and closing. He was probably lighting a cigar, the thing he did whenever he heard something he didn't like. Stopped him killing people on the spot.
Not that he had that option. That was probably why he was lighting the cigar—because he couldn't touch me.
The click of a lighter and one deep exhale proved me right. “You have an extra forty-eight hours. That's four motherfuckin' days, Carlo. Get the fuckin' job done, or you'll be done. Understood?”
He clicked off the line without another word, and I dropped the phone on the bed with relief. Fucking hell. Enzio never gave extra time. Not to anyone. I knew then how important this job was to him.
He didn't just want Adriana dead—or Alexandria, for that matter. He needed them dead.
My phone rang again, but when I flipped it over to see the screen, I didn't recognize the number, so I ignored it and went to my suitcase. I got dressed in dark jeans and a black t-shirt, and when I turned, my phone was blinking. I grabbed it to clear the notification, but it showed me a voicemail.
I frowned and unlocked it, then dialed to retrieve it.
“One new message, left today, at two twenty seven, p.m.” Beep, and then the voice I didn't expect to hear traveled down the line. “We need to talk. Meet me at El Matador beach at nine o'clock tonight. It's just north of Malibu. And secluded, so if you want to kill me, it's the perfect location.”
I shook my head, but my lips twitched. Damn—she'd always been ballsy, but now Adriana Romano was staring death in the face, and she was fucking taunting him.
Of course she was. It was in her blood.
I went into the call log and tapped her number, then hit 'message' on the menu.
Hunter:You're playing with fire, Principessa.
Her reply was instant. Almost as if she'd been waiting for me.
Adriana:Wrong. I AM fire. Try not to get burned,Cacciatore.
I put my phone face down as the word echoed in my mind. She was the only person who ever called meCacciatore.
Just like I was the only person who ever called herPrincipessa.
If any part of my dark soul wasn't tainted with blood, I was sure it was the part that still loved her.
The sun was just beginning its descent toward the horizon as I turned off the Pacific Highway. The sky was currently painted with a golden glow that hinted at hues of red and pink and even purple, and I was thankful for my dark glasses.
The sun always seemed brightest as it gave way to darkness.
I pulled up near El Matador and killed the engine of the bike I'd rented after Adriana left me that message. I'd heard a million times that the best and only way to drive the coast of California was on the back of a bike, and I was fully aware I may never get to do it again.
I kicked the stand down and got off the bike. The steps that lead down to the tiny cove were only feet away from me, and I could see a sleek, red Audi parked next to them. That had to be Adriana's car, so I walked to the steps and started down them.
I saw her instantly.
She was sitting on one of the rocks with her back to me. Her hair blew in the gentle breeze that carried in off the Pacific, and she reached up several times to push it away from her face. By the time I reached the bottom of the steps, she'd swept it all around one side of her neck and was turned slightly into the wind.
My cock throbbed at the memory of my shower earlier that day. I was even more disgusted in myself as I watched her sitting in complete silence.
She looked like... peace. I knew she was anything but. She was chaos and danger and temptation threaded with darkness.
It made no sense that the sweetest person I'd ever known meant darkness.
Yet my name, Carlo, meant free man, and I was the furthest thing from it. I was owned in my entirety by the man whose darkness bled into the girl sitting a few meters away from me.
I didn't want to speak to her. I wanted to stand here and stare at her. Just stare. She calmed the tornado that was my soul, and she had no idea.
Her name meant darkness, but she was gray compared to me. I was darker than she knew.
I didn't want to taint her with my damaged existence.
“I know you're there.” Her voice carried over the quiet crashing of the waves. “For an assassin, your approach resembles an angry toddler's.”
Chapter Seven – Adriana
I watched as nature took hold of its sun-shaped paintbrush and dragged it down the sky toward the sea. Each inch painted the blue sky in shades of yellow, orange, red, and pink. They all mingled together like a watercolor painting, except this one glowed. It reflected up off the ocean and across the billions and billions of grains of sand that coated the beach.
The gentle lapping of the waves against the shore calmed me. I knew sitting with my back to the entrance to the beach was risky, but if Carlo was coming with a gun, I didn't want to see it. I didn't want the opportunity to look into his eyes and see the very thing I'd feared he'd become.
I'd told everyone I wasn't scared, but I was. Just not of the things they thought.
Death? No. I didn't fear death. A part of me welcomed it. Welcomed the silence, the peace, the black abyss. I figured that when it came, I'd be Alice jumping down the rabbit hole, except there would be no Wonderland, only numbness.
And if there was anything, it'd be the fiery pits of Hell.
So, no. I wasn't afraid of him killing him. I was afraid that he would and what that would mean for the boy who once pulled twigs and leaves out of my hair when I fell from a tree.
My heart refused to let go of the Hunter I knew. I hated it for it, but it cried out for the past. Cried for the boy I'd loved with all my understanding of it.
Maybe that was why I was at odds with my heart as I sat on the rock and looked out at the setting sun. I didn't want to remember how I loved Carlo 'Hunter' Rosso. I wanted to forget, because beneath everything, all the years and the darkness and the fear, I was afraid of loving him.
I was afraid a piece of me still did, because there was no goodbye. There were only silent footsteps in the night. No goodbye, no explanation, no closure. No promise that one day it would be worth it.
Maybe it wasn't worth it. Maybe it never would be worth it.
That's why he was standing ten feet away from me. The bike he'd driven up to the coastal cliff on wasn't the quietest thing in the world. In fact, it couldn't have been further from it. It was a tempest of anticipation and hesitance, a swirling tsunami of indecision and darkness.
It was Hunter, I realized.
“I know you're there,” I said without turning around. “For an assassin, your approach resembles an angry toddler's.”
“The bike wasn't maybe the best idea,” he said back.
I still didn't turn. “Not really.” I looked down and stretched one leg out in front of me. The sea was getting closer, but I'd left everything—including my shoes—in my car. If he was going to kill me now, I'd have no way to call for help.
I wanted it that way. I didn't want to know death was coming. I didn't imagine it usually knocked on doors—more picked the lock and caught you off guard.
Surprise tingled through my stomach when he climbed up onto the rock next to me.
“You're going to get wet feet,” I remarked, seeing his shoes still on.
He shrugged. “It's just water.”
“It's quiet here,” he said after a moment of silence. “How do you cope?”
It was my turn to shrug. “It's not as quiet as you think. Los Angeles is as crazy as New York, in its own way. This little peace of heaven is just that: heaven.”
“I suppose.” Hunter reached his hands behind him to steady him and leaned back.
I tried to ignore the way his biceps flexed and tensed, but it was harder than I thought. I didn't want to think of him like this... Handsome. Hot. Fit. I didn't want to have the memory of his mouth against mine seared into my memory, either, but I did.
I slowly turned to face him. He was staring at me, and his gray eyes locked onto mine. It was a strange sensation, to be so intent on someone else's gaze that looking away seemed impossible. It was consuming and uncontrollable.
Hunter didn't move. He simply sat there, looking into my eyes, as the golden hue of the sunset cast itself across him, illuminating every angle of his face. His cheekbones seemed sharper, and the hair that coated his jaw cast hundreds of tiny shadows across his chin. The light made his eyes seem as though they were made of liquid silver.
I didn't know how he could be so still. My heart jumped into my throat, and I could feel its erratic beating as my blood pounded through my veins. The rush was so loud it echoed in my ears, all but washing out the steady crashing of the sea. I took a deep breath and tried to look away.
I couldn't. I was stuck here. I couldn't move, I couldn't look away, and I could barely breathe. My whole body was frozen in place.
And then, I leaned over and touched my lips to his.
He returned it, reaching up to cup the side of my neck. This time, he tasted like cinnamon buns and coffee. He didn't try and deepen the kiss, although I expected him to, so our lips just touched. Softly. Like a whisper.
I sat back up with a jolt. “I have no idea why I did that,” I whispered through the thundering of my heart.
He had to be able to hear it. Oh, God. This was going wrong. All wrong.
Hunter looked away, out to the sea. “Good to know we're both clueless.”
I stayed on the rock for a minute before I jumped down. The sea had crawled up the beach just far enough that it splashed as my feet hit the sand, and the sun had dropped low enough that there was a hint of deep, inky blue creeping across the sky. I knew that soon enough, that sky would be midnight blue and it'd be dotted with thousands of blinking stars.
Why did I have to kiss him?
I wished I knew the answer to that thought. I didn't want one kiss in my memory bank—never mind two. I wanted to forget. Forget everything. Forget him.
If only it were an option.
A light splash sounded behind me. “For someone who claims we need to talk, you're not doing a very good damn job of it.”
“Why am I alive?” The words blurted out of me as I spun back to face him. “If you're supposed to kill me. Really. I want to know why I'm alive.”
He quirked a brow. “Do you want to die?”
“Not particularly. I just want to know... why. Why didn't you pull the trigger?”
“I don't know.” He didn't even think about it. “I just couldn't. How could I? It's you.”
“But you could come all the way here from New York. You could do everything possible to get to the point where you could kill me... Except do it.”
“What do you want me to say?” Hunter threw his arms out to the sides. “You want me to spin you a fuckin' line, Adriana, huh? You want some grand fuckin' declaration of how I couldn't kill you because I'm still inlovewith you? Is that it?”
“No.” I shook my head. “I want the truth, Hunter. It's not asking a lot. Unless you're not capable of the truth.”
“Do you think I am?”
“You don't. Do you?”
I shook my head again, but this time, it was shorter and jerkier than before. “No,” I admitted quietly. “I don't think you are. I think you're capable of many things, but honesty isn't one of them.”
“And why is that? Because the Pontarellis told you so?”
I snapped my eyes to his. “The Pontarellis have done nothing but protect me for the last ten years. My opinion of you is informed by them but not decided by them.”
“Informed, huh?” He laughed bitterly. “And what did they tell you, huh?”
“They told me about the smuggler! And the guy who was double-crossing the family.” I wrapped my arms around my body. It made me feel better... Protected almost. “They told me how you broke every bone in the rat's body. How you held the smuggler down and forced him to watch his wife be raped by three men over and over again.”
“Of course they did!” He laughed again, but this time, it died out. “But did they tell you the reason the smuggler's daughter escaped with her baby? BecauseIwarned her that Enzio was sending his men in to punish her father. She escaped unharmed with her tiny baby because of me.”
I didn't answer.
“I didn't think they did.”
“What about the rat?” I asked, meeting his eyes again.
He shrugged a shoulder and simply said, “La famiglia é tutto.”
Family is everything. And he was right. Family was everything—especially in the mafia. It was loyalty or death. Blood didn't lie. Once you were in, there was no way out.
No, that was a lie. There was one way out, and it was death. It really was that simple.
Could I judge him for doing what he was told to? For what was needed to protect the family?Myfamily?
Because that's what it was. My family. The Romano blood was mine. My father didn't have a drop of it in his body. He was a fucking fraud.
“Are you going to kill me?”
Hunter looked away from me, so I dropped to the sand. I hugged my knees to my chest and looked out past him. The sun had disappeared beneath the horizon now, and darkness was falling quicker and quicker. I didn't care. I welcomed the dark.
You could hide many things in the dark, but emotion was my favorite thing to hide.
“I don't want to kill you,” Hunter finally answered a few minutes later.
“That doesn't really answer my question.” I reached down and grabbed a handful of sand, then watched as it trailed between my fingers. “I want to know if you'regoingto kill me. Not if you want to.”
He sighed heavily and came and sat next to me. His steel-gray eyes cut through me, and he opened his mouth before closing it again and looking away.
That didn't answer my question, either.
I got the feeling that it wasn't a good idea to push him for an answer. I could have. I could have stood and demanded he tell me. I could have ordered him and really... he had to do it. He knew the mafia blood flowed through my body, not my father's.
But I wouldn't. I would never use that against him, even if he was currently the biggest danger to my life.
I was weak where Carlo 'Hunter' Rosso was concerned.
I wished I could be strong. I wished I could blank him out and be as cold as he sometimes seemed to be, but I just couldn't. Not with him.
“No.” The word fell from his lips so quietly I almost didn't hear it. “No, Adriana. I don't think I can kill you.”
“Then what?” I asked just as quietly, turning to face him. I finally let my knees go and stretched my legs in front of me. “What will you do when he finds out I'm alive?”
“I guess I'd take my fate.” He looked at me now, and his eyes were stripped bare. It was so dark now that I couldn't see his face, but his eyes? I saw those just fine.
“Seems futile. He'll just send another for me.”
He lifted his hand toward me, and I held my breath, but he dropped it.No.I grabbed his hand and raised it to where it was before he dropped it, and his lips twitched. I let his fingers go.
Hunter reached forward and cupped my cheek. His thumb brushed across my skin. “You won't die my hand,Principessa. Lo prometto.”
I covered his hand with my own and glanced away briefly, then took a deep breath. “Then will you protect me?”
“Con la mia vita,” he replied, unblinking.With my life.
I moved onto my knees, facing him. “My father can't stay where he is.”
“What do you mean?” Hunter's hand fell from my face, taking mine with him, but he grasped my fingers tightly.
“The family is mine, Hunter. You know it as well as I do.” I tucked my hair behind my ear as I held his gaze. “And I want it.”
“You want to overthrow your father?”
I nodded. Yes. That was what I wanted to do. I'd been dreaming of it for too long. This was the best chance I'd probably get. “I promised myself when we left that one day he'd pay for his sins. He'd pay for selling me and making me leave my home.”For making me leave you.“I don't know if I'll ever get another chance.”And I refuse to let you die for me.
“Do you realize that's nearly impossible?” His thumb brushed back and forth across my hand. “You'll probably die before you get anywhere near him. Since you left... He owns most of the Hamptons, Adriana. He's expanded the businesses beyond anything you could imagine, and he has a hand in just about every single crime you've heard of. Probably some you haven't. With Alexandria not there, he's taken the family to a whole other level.”
“Not a good one, by the sounds of it,” I muttered.
“Depends on your definition of good.” Hunter smirked. “But no... Not really. He's made the family the most ruthless. That's why what happened to Enrico Giordano happened. Enzio demanded that we sent a message to the others, both inside and outside the family. He wanted everyone to know that we weren't to be crossed. You speak, and you're tortured.”
“Sounds like he's enjoying being king.”
“God, you mean. He basically runs New York. He has the NYPD in his top pocket.”
That sounded about right. Mamma had always charmed them, but I suspected my father took a much different stance on that. I couldn't see him charming the cops. Holding a gun to their heads? To their wives heads? Their kids? Sure. Charming them? Not so much.
“For now,” I said quietly, sitting back on my ass. I slipped my hand out of Hunter's and looked down the beach. He was God for now.
Unfortunately for him, not everyone believed in God.
I guessed I was one of those people.
“Adriana Romano, you've lost your mind.”
“Come on, Darien! It makes sense!”
“You're supposed to be dead,bambina.” He slammed the carton of orange juice down onto the island and looked over it at me with his dark eyes. “Not raiding your father's business.”
“My business!” I protested. “Mine, Darien. You know it, too.”
“It isn't that simple.” He unscrewed the cap and poured two glasses. “You cannot walk in there, shoot your father, and take over the family.”
“Of course I can't. I can't take over something that already belongs to me.”
“Addy, you're working on your emotions. You can't make decisions when you're emotional.” He tightened the cap on the carton and put it back in the fridge. “You've had a rough two days. Why don't you calm down before making plans for your crazy ideas?”
“Because time is something I don't have, Dar.” I took the glass he offered me and sipped. “If I had time, Hunter wouldn't be here.”
“Hmm.” He took a long drink of juice, then wiped his upper lip. “And how much does Hunter have to do with this?”
I just about resisted the urge to roll my eyes. He knew every detail about our conversation the night before, except the part where I kissed Hunter, so he knew exactly how much he had to do with it. Even if he had blown me off when I got in and told him.
I felt stronger with Hunter behind me, and that was the end of it. I needed him to do this.
“He said he'd protect me. I believe him.”
“His loyalty isn't to you,bambina.His loyalty is to Enzio. You're surely not naive enough to believe he'd switch sides that simply.” Darien looked at me with pity in his eyes. “I know what he is to you. What he was. But he isn't that boy anymore. He isn't the boy you'd take home to your mamma.”
“If Mamma were alive I'd bring him home to her.”
“Only because she'd make you.”
“So what's the difference? She'd take him as he is, even if he isn't the same boy I knew. She wouldn't even question his loyalty to me. Why are you?”
“Because the day she died, I promised her no one would hurt you.” He swallowed, emotion thickening his voice. “I promised her no one would lay a finger on herbambina.I've already pushed it more than I'd like by allowing you that conversation with him last night. I don't trust him, Adriana.”
“What if I do?”
“Then you are a fool!” he snapped.
I stilled. Darien had never spoken to me like that. Ever. I swallowed back the small lump that'd formed in my throat.
“Just because he said he can't kill you don't mean he won't. Do not allow your heart to lead you where your mind knows best.”
I grabbed my glass and turned away from him. Call me stubborn, childish, naive... I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to listen to him tear Hunter apart in front of me when his only conversation with him lasted five minutes and began with him pinning him to the wall by his neck.
“Addy.” Darien sighed, following me. “I'm sorry. I wish you'd listen to me, that's all.”
“You're the one who said I should be allowed to talk with him. You obviously don't think he's that much of a danger if you let me meet him last night.” I sat on the sofa, hugging my glass.
“You weren't alone,” he said quietly. “You were followed.”
I inhaled sharply.
“And yes. I know you kissed him. That's why I believe you're working off your heart and not your mind.”
“I can't believe you did that.” I put the glass on the table and stood to meet his eyes. “But since you did, you'll know he didn't lay a single finger on me when he had the prime opportunity to kill me. You haven't even spoken to him. I'm not stupid.”
“I can't break my promise to your mother.”
“And neither can I,” I said softly. My heart clenched. “I promised her I'd pay him back. That he wouldn't get away with what he did. Promised her, Darien. And she gave me her blessing. If I die trying, then I died for a reason, and by my own choice, not by his. The way she did. She wouldn't be sitting around here weighing up the pros and cons of it. She'd be strapping a gun to herself and filling the gas tank in the car.”
He softened the way he always did when we talked about her. He loved her, even now. It'd been two years but the hole she'd left in our lives hadn't shrunk or even eased. When she'd died, she'd taken a piece of Darien's heart with her. The rest belonged to me, and if it didn't, I knew he'd have joined her that day.
He was her soulmate in the way my father never was.
“Come on, Dar. Please.” I walked to him and grabbed his hands. “She'd want this. Her heart would break knowing that we weren't doing anything when we could.”
He looked down at me, his lips pursing to the side. His internal battle was written all over his face, and I bit my lower lip. I could see him slowly giving into me as I gave him my biggest puppy-dog eyes I'd ever given.
“I want to talk to Carlo,” he demanded. “And then I will consider your fucking ridiculous plan. Do you understand? I will consider it.”
Yes. I understood the word consider, and I also knew what it meant.
He'd get every last drop of information out of Hunter, and then he'd agree, because he had no other option.
“Thank you.” I reached up onto tiptoes and kissed his cheek. “I'll call him.”
Chapter Eight – Hunter
I pulled into the driveway of Adriana and Darien's house on my bike. Thankfully, this time, I hadn't had to break into the gated community because I'd been added to the access list. Not me, exactly. A fake name, but that was something.
I hoped it meant Darien trusted me even the smallest amount.
Well, he trusted me enough to let me into the house.
I stood the bike up and took off my helmet. Tucking it under my arm, I approached the front door and prepared to knock.
Darien beat me to it. He swung the door open as my bottom foot touched the first step and glared down at me. His dark hair was slicked back from his face, showing the graying hairs at the sides of his face. He looked like he hadn't shaved in a couple days, and even that was peppered with gray flecks.
I got the feeling that his conversation earlier today with Adriana had aged him considerably.
I understood that entirely. She had that effect on people. Always had.
“Come in,” he said, reluctance in his voice. She'd definitely worn him down on her plan—and to be honest, she'd warned me. I knew what I was getting into here.
“Thanks.” I followed him into the house and through the hall to what looked like an office. Although I'd looked in most rooms when I was here last, this one had been locked. Now I knew why—it was Darien's.
“Make yourself comfortable. Coffee?” he asked, pausing in front of a machine.
“I'm good, thanks.” Coffee machine in his office. How much time did he spend in here?
He nodded, but didn't speak as he sat on the other side of his desk. He leaned forward and dug his fingers into his hair. Minutes passed in silence, and I didn't dare speak first.
I didn't have much, but I had respect for Darien. A part of me hated him for sneaking Adriana away that night. A part of me fucking hated him for keeping her hidden, although I understood why it was done. Ironically, I respected him for the very same reasons I hated him.
Because he'd taken her away. Because he'd kept her safe.
What better person to keep you safe from death than a man who'd delivered it to so many?
“She trusts you,” he said hoarsely. He slowly looked up and dropped his hands, and his dark eyes pierced mine. “And I think she's a fool, blinded by the past.”
“Maybe she is,” I agreed. “But that doesn't mean she's the only one.”
“I understand your role in the family. I was you, once.” He scratched his jaw. “I think you'd kill her tomorrow if a gun was put to your head. You're playing a dangerous game, Carlo. Russian Roulette isn't for the faint of heart.”
“Then it's a good thing my heart is made of stone.”
“Is it? She's alive. How can you say it's stone when you've had two chances to kill her and haven't?”
“Then why don't you trust me, Darien? You just said it yourself. Two chances, and I didn't.” I stood without breaking our gaze.
“Third. Time. Lucky.” He almost spat each word, slowly coming to stand himself. He leaned forward and grasped the edge of his desk with one hand. With the other, he opened a desk drawer and pulled out a 9mm pistol. He cocked the safety and pointed it at my head.
Reflexively, I pulled my own from my hip, took off the safety and aimed it at his forehead.
His lips twitched on one side. “What if I said to you right now that you had to kill her? That this gun would be pointed at you until you put a bullet between her eyes? And if you didn't, I'd put one between yours?”
“I'd shoot you first.” My grip on the gun, like my gaze, was steady. “Because I'd rather kill you and have her hate me, than die and offer her up to her father on a silver platter.”
Darien's eyes flitted across my face, intense in their scrutiny of me. I didn't move a muscle as he studied my expression. I refused to. He didn't trust me as far as he could throw me, I could see it, and I'd bet he couldn't throw me very fucking far.
He raised his thumb and replaced the safety. He slowly lowered the gun and replaced it in the drawer, slamming it shut. “Put it down, Carlo. No one is shooting anyone today. Unless that motherfucker sends his lackeys over here.”
“He already did,” I remarked smartly, putting the safety on my gun before settling it back in my holster. “Why'd you put it back?”
“Because you're a killer, but you're no liar.” He dipped his head slightly. “I believe you. The Pontarellis are a different matter, but much to Armo's annoyance, he does what Addy says.”
“When she decides she's a princess, right?”
His lips tugged up on one side. “You got it. Sometimes she's princess, sometimes she's queen, sometimes she's nothing more than a twenty-three year old girl, but she's always in control. She assumed that role the day her mamma walked into the hospital for chemotherapy.” His smile dropped. “She used her against me, you know that? Spun me the guilt trip, and I'm not even mad, because everything she said was fucking true.”
“Sounds about right.” I perched on the edge of the sofa. “She guilt-tripped me into baking brownies once, not long before you left. I was told to look after her, and in her mind, that meant chocolate brownies because she was on her period.” I sighed, but my lips fought to smile. “Two trays later and she finally gave up the trip.”
“Like I said, always in control.” Darien's smile returned briefly and he sat back down. “Now I'm worried about her. Her plan is crazy, Carlo. She can't take Enzio down.”
“Unfortunately, if she doesn't, he's going to send someone else here to get her. I bought a couple more days, but I wouldn't be shocked if he already had someone in the air to come keep an eye on me.”
“Who would he send?”
“Isaiah, probably. He's the only one he trusts.”
“This could work in our favor.” Darien touched his fingertips together in front of him.
I cocked an eyebrow. “Really? Because I can't see any situation in which Enzio'sconsiglierecoming to Los Angeles, where Adriana is, working in our favor. Unless we're trying to get her killed, which defies the whole point of this conversation.”
He laughed. Loudly. Even threw his head back for a moment before he sobered. His amusement still shone in his eyes, though. “Isaiah is my cousin.”
“Does he know his cousin didn't crash a car because he was lovesick over Alexandria? Because that's Enzio's story.”
“Of course it is. Enzio Romano has a God-like complex with a terrifying need to be the innocent party. I expected nothing less. But yes, to answer your question.” Darien stands and opens his office window. “He knows I'm alive. You don't honestly think that the Pontarellis alone protected Adriana for this long, do you?” He turned, his eyebrows raised. “Come on, Carlo. You're smarter than that. Enzio may trust Isaiah, but trust is easily misplaced.”
“Wait. Are you telling me Isaiah's been hiding Adriana?” I couldn't wrap my head around that. “Then why did he allow Enzio to send me here? Did you know I was coming?”
“I don't know, and no. I had no idea you were coming. Neither did she.” He sighed. “I guess Isaia trusted you not to kill her.”
I'm glad someone did. Fuck knows I didn't trust myself not to.
Sometimes I wonder if I even do now.
“Darien, where's the—oh.” Adriana stops dead in the doorway. “Crap. Sorry.”
“Don't worry.” Darien laughs quietly. “Where's the what,bambina?”
My eyes slid toward her and I smiled at the nickname. Baby girl. Of course.
“I... Shit. I forgot,” she muttered, her cheeks flushing pink. “Never mind.” She turned around and walked out the door.
I felt Darien's eyes on me, so I looked at back at him. “What?”
“The way you look at her. It's the same way you looked at her when you were kids.” He tilted his head to the side. “Maybe Isaiah was right to trust you on this job.”
“Doesn't matter how I look at her.” I bit down the annoyance, along with the emotion I could feel rising. I didn't want to feel. “She pretty much hates me, even if she hides it well.”
“Sure she does.” He snorted and stood. “I have to go to work. Stay with her just in case Carlo two-point-oh doesn't make assassination attempt number two, will you?”
When he put it like that, it was hard for me to argue. Even if I knew all she'd want to do is talk about how to get to New York and overthrow her father. “Sure. But she might kill me first.”
“I doubt that very much.” He picked a tie up off his desk and tucked it beneath the collar of his button-down shirt. “She looks at you the same way you look at her. Don't like it much myself, but hey.”
And with that, he walked out, knotting his tie, leaving me staring after him.
Adriana groaned as I found her out in the yard. She was wearing a plain black bikini, and she tugged up the top. “What are you doing here? I thought you went with Darien.”
I shook my head and sat on a sun lounger. Thank fuck she was under the water. My cock was already twitching at the knowledge she was in nothing more than two tiny bits of fabric.Focus, Carlo. Fuck.“He's worried your father will send someone to come check up on me... and you.”
“Great. So you're babysitting me? That's just what every girl wants—an trained killer to babysit her.”
One of my eyebrows quirked upward. “Doesn't that make me the perfect babysitter? Who's gonna hurt you?”
Her lips parted, then she flattened them into a thin line. She splashed some water in my direction, but all that did was make me grin.
“Shut up,” she said, swimming over to the edge of the pool and resting her arms on the side. “I don't need to be looked after, Hunter. I'm a grown woman.”
The top of her cleavage was just visible over the edge of the pool. “I noticed.”
“Are you staring at my boobs?”
“Should I be?”
“You're supposed to be looking after me, not dreaming about me naked.”
I snapped my eyes up to hers. Did she honestly think it was the first time I'd thought about her naked? Fucking hell—I'd thought about a shit load more than just her naked. It was like a goddamn reflex now. Every time I was alone and thought about her, my cock stood to attention and there was only one way to get rid of the erection.
“You are,” she accused, narrowing her eyes. “You're thinking about me naked.”
“You want me to lie,Principessa?I can.”
“You can try to lie, but we both know you won't.” She swam to the other side of the pool and reached for a towel. She wiped her face and then looked back at me. “Admit it,” she called. “You were.”
“I was,” I begrudgingly told her. “Still am.”
She grinned. It was the kind of grin that made her bright blue eyes dance with laughter. “How are you supposed to protect me if all you can think about is me without any clothes on?”
Oh, man. I so badly wanted to reach down and adjust my pants. My cock was fucking throbbing against the zipper. “If you think that's all I'm thinking about...” I clenched my jaw.
She slapped her hand over her mouth, and her cheeks blazed a bright red, screaming of her embarrassment. For some reason, it made me want to laugh. She'd just spent a good few minutes forcing me to admit I was picturing her naked, and then when I was honest, she was suddenly shy.
“What's up,bella?” Now I grinned. “Am I putting ideas in your head?”
Adriana shook her head. Fiercely, like she was trying to convince herself of that fact. “Like what?” She came back over to my side of the pool, but this time, she walked, carried the bundled up towel over her head. Her tits raised above the water level, and her pebbled nipples pressed against the wet fabric of her bikini top.
I swallowed hard. Fuck. I couldn't fight the urge anymore, so I adjusted my pants so the zipper wasn't completely against my dick.
Her eyes laughed at me.
She knew what she was doing.
“What's up,Cacciatore?” she teased. “AmIputting ideas inyourhead?”
“Like what?” I fired her words back at her the way she did me.
“You tell me. You're the one who started with the ideas.” She threw her towel at me.
I caught it, and she motioned for me to open it, so I stood and held it out. She pulled herself up and sat on the edge of the pool, grabbing her hair. She wrung it out before she stood up and came to me.
I loved it when she looked at me with those eyes. Bright, happy, playful. They were the eyes I remembered.
She snatched the towel out of my hands and pushed me toward the pool. I laughed, sweeping my arm around her waist. She screamed as I tugged her against me and her shove took us both into the water.
“Oh my God!” She gasped, emerging from the water. “Hunter!”
I pushed my hair from my eyes, still laughing. Thank fuck I'd left my gun and wallet in the kitchen before I came outside. “You pushed me!”
“You weren't supposed to take me with you,idiota!” She slammed her hands against my chest.
I caught her wrists before she could back away. She stilled as I wrapped one arm around her back and held her to me. “You pushed me,” I said quietly, my lips twitching to one side. My pinkie finger brushed the waistband of her bottoms, and my hand twitched with the desire to slide down and cup her pert ass cheek. “You should have known I'd take you with me.”
She pursed her lips, looking more mischievous than I'd ever seen her. All it made me want to do was kiss her. I didn't give a shit that we were soaking wet or that I had no dry clothes here. I just wanted to take her mouth with mine and consume her, breathe her in until all there was, was her.
“You're right,” she whispered. Her fingers jerked against my chest, and she glanced at them before meeting my eyes. “I should have.”
“You should have.” My eyes dropped to her mouth.
She parted her lips. My heart thundered in my chest, and fuck—there I was again. Wrong. I shouldn't have been thinking about kissing her. No matter how much I wanted to. Nothing good would come of that.
As cliché as it fucking was, she needed someone who was better than me.
She jerked back from me at the sound of a guy's voice. I didn't want to let her go, but she pushed herself away from me like I was on fire and she was getting burned.
“Gaige.” She sounded shocked. “What are you doing here?”
Gaige.That answered the Pontarelli question. I turned in the direction of him and saw him standing on the path that lead to the pool area, his hands tucked into his pocket.
“I tried calling you.” He said the words to her, but he was staring at me—and he didn't look fucking happy. “I wanted to make sure you were all right. Given the circumstances.”
I was a circumstance, was I?
Adriana got out of the pool and quickly wrapped herself in the towel. “Sorry. I had school work earlier and then I got given a babysitter.” She motioned to me. “Gaige, this is Carlo Rosso,” she hesitantly introduced us as I followed her out of the pool.
Fuck, I was soaked.
“Hunter, this is Gaige Pontarelli.” She awkwardly waved her arm between us.
Gaige held his hand out toward me, and I accepted the shake. “You didn't kill her yet, then.”
“Gaige!” Adriana hit his other arm. “Don't be a dick!”
“Nope,” I responded. He tightened his grip on my hand, so I returned the favor. “That means there's still a bullet in my gun for anyone who pisses me off.”
“Hunter!” Now she whacked me. “Don't be a dick, either!”
Gaige smirked. “There's two in mine.”
“Yeah?” I raised an eyebrow. “I don't need two.”
“Enough!” Adriana snapped.
I dropped Gaige's hand.
“I am not in the mood for you two to have a pissing contest!” She looked between us both. “Now there's no chance I'm getting rid of you,” she paused to glance at me, “So, Gaige, I'm fine, I'm alive, I don't plan on dying anytime soon, and I promise to call you tonight, but I'm not putting up with this testosterone fueled bullshit.”
I bit my tongue so I wouldn't laugh. Not even Gaige Pontarelli's glare bothered me.
Bossy Adriana was hot.
It wasn't helping my cock calm down.
“You're trusting him over me?” Gaige snorted. “Jesus, Addy.”
“He's here on Darien's orders.” She sighed. “He knows if I get hurt Darien will hurthim. Please, Gaige?”
“Fine.” He clenched his jaw. “But I don't fucking like it, and I don't trust him.”
“I'm not asking you to.” She rubbed her forehead and tugged her towel up higher on her chest. “You just have to trust me. I don't particularly trust him either.”
“Thanks,” I muttered.
She cut me a dark look.
Gaige gave me a look along the same vein. It lasted for all of two seconds before he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pressed his lips against her cheek.
My chest burned as the muscles in my arms tightened. I wanted to ball my hand into a fist and slam it into his perfect fucking nose. I rolled my shoulders back, swallowing down the tinge of jealousy, and tried to block out the image of blood pouring out his nose as he lay on the floor.
I was so fucked.
I almost wanted to kill him for touching her like that.
I glared after him as he left. The smugness practically radiated off of him. I didn't trust myself not to follow him, so I folded my arms, pressing my hands against my ribs, and headed for the back door. I could feel Adriana's eyes burning into my back, but I ignored her and kept walking.
If I didn't get inside, I'd follow the smug son of a bitch and cut his lip so badly he couldn't do it again.
The feeling was alien. I knew jealousy. I knew protectiveness. I knew what it was like to shield someone, to want them to be safe no matter what... but this wasn't danger. This was good old fucking envy.
Never mind that her face had been millimeters from mine just minutes before and that he was the one she'd sent away. The fact that she had some kind of close relationship with Gaige fucking Pontarelli had my stomach coiling in rage.
She doesn't belong to you, asshole.
I cricked my neck and took a seat at the kitchen island. She didn't belong to me. I had to keep telling myself that. It didn't matter about the past or that I was supposed to protect her.
She wasn't mine. Mine to protect, sure. But not mine.
Chapter Nine – Adriana
Hunter looked like he was ready to kill.
It was strange. I'd never seen him like that before, but I was sure that when he stalked past me, murder shone in his eyes.
I should have been scared.
I didn't know why. Maybe it was because I knew he wouldn't hurt me. His anger wasn't directed to me—it was at Gaige, and I couldn't help but think he was right in being annoyed. Gaige had kissed my cheek for no reason other than to piss Hunter off, and I think Hunter knew it.
I hoped Hunter knew it.
Honestly, I was annoyed at Gaige myself. There was no need to kiss my cheek so blatantly.
But then he always kissed me when I left—so why did I have a problem with it now? Was it because it obviously pissed Hunter off?
Why was I so bothered about the guy who'd tried to kill me two days ago?
I wiped my hand down my face and made my way toward the house. Why did Darien have to have Hunter babysit me? Jesus—the biggest threat to my life was the one protecting me.
I was starting to think that maybe it wasn't just my life he was a threat to. Maybe he threatened my very existence just by being around me. Lord only knew I couldn't fucking think straight when he was around me.
It was his eyes, I reasoned, closing the back door behind me and locking it. It was definitely his eyes. One day, that mixture of steely gray and molten silver would be my undoing. He'd unravel me like a loose string on a scarf, unwillingly caught.
I grabbed two dry towels from the cupboard in the hall and ran into the bathroom. My heart burned, and I didn't know why. Gaige was pissed off, Hunter was pissed off, and Darien was in turmoil.
I would have killed for a girlfriend I could spill everything to. But I didn't have one.
Not one that would understand. All I really had was Gaige... until Hunter appeared.
Now I didn't think I had anyone at all.
I stripped off and stepped into the shower. I turned the water right up as hot as I could bear it, then leaned against the tiles. The water pounded down on me like a deep massage, and I closed my eyes as the droplets trailed over my skin.
Hot liquid streamed down my cheeks, but I couldn't tell if it was the water or my tears. The past few days had been fraught with uncertainty and surprises, and despite my resolve to overthrow my father, I was overwhelmed by the possibility of everything and the knowledge of absolutely nothing.
My life felt like it was falling apart at the seams, and I briefly wondered if I had the strength to sew it back together.
Jesus—what was happening to me? I wasn't a teenage girl whose life was falling into disarray.
I was a motherfucking mafia princess who owned an empire.
I wiped at my cheeks and grabbed my shampoo. I had to formulate a plan to deal with the immediate issue; the testosterone fueled bitching between Hunter and Gaige. I wasn't going to deal with it. I wasn't the kind of woman who found it thrilling.
I found it annoying. You wanna fight? Okay, sure. Get the fuck outside and deal with it your fists. You're not teenagers. Settle the score once and for all and get over yourselves.
My tolerance for that petty bitchiness they'd exhibited earlier was at a firm zero.
I stepped out of the shower and wrapped my body and hair in the towels, then killed the water. I hoped Hunter wasn't still mad—I wanted to talk to him about Gaige. I didn't know why I felt the need to explain myself. I didn'tneedto explain myself, not to him, to Gaige, to anyone. But I wanted to.
It worried me. I didn't want to want to want to explain. I didn't want to want anything except for revenge on my father, and I certainly didn't want to want anything to do with Hunter.
Once I was dressed and had braided my wet hair, I went downstairs and in search of him. I found him at the back of the house, the room Darien dubbed his 'man cave.' It was different to the rest of the house in the sense it had his personal style in everything from the dark wooden floors to the striped curtains. In it lived the largest television screen I'd ever seen, plus a pool table right in the middle.
Hunter was at the pool table, smashing the balls around it. I paused in the doorway and watched him. His wet t-shirt clung to his body like a second skin, his muscles hinting through the thin material, from his shoulders right down to where I could see at the top of his stomach. His biceps stretched against the arms of it, and he bent down, seemingly unaware of my presence, and potted a spotted ball perfectly.
“Here.” He held out the pool cue. “Wanna play?”
Well that was strange. “Uh, I'm good. Do you want some dry clothes? You're probably the same size as Darien, right?”
“Probably.” He bent down again and hit a striped ball. It bounced out of the mouth of the pocket, coming to rest in the center of the table. “Crap.”
“Let me go see what I can find.”
“No underwear.” He looked up and smirked as he got in position behind the white ball.
“Got it.” I grimaced and walked through the house to the laundry room.
There was nothing weirder than going to find him clothes while he played pool. How did he even know where that room was? Or that it existed? Maybe he just needed something to do before he left and killed Gaige.
I found a t-shirt and a pair of jeans in Darien's clean laundry pile. For the first time ever, I wasn't mad about his failure to put away his clean clothes. I smiled to myself as I took them back to the man cave and handed them to Hunter.
I didn't know what I expected, but it wasn't for him to put down the pool cue and whip his shirt over his head. I blinked several times before turning away. His laughter echoed through the room, but I bit down on the inside of my lower lip and kept my eyes on the floor.
It wasn't like I'd never seen a guy without clothes on, and I wasn't afraid to see a guy without clothes on.
He was just... different.
He was Hunter.
“You can turn around now,” he said in a low voice, laughter hinting at each word.
I let out a sigh of relief and turned. “Thank y—” I sucked in a sharp breath as my breasts brushed against his chest.
His. Bare. Chest.
“Where's your shirt?” I breathed out.
“On the floor. Wet.” He smirked.
“I meant Darien's. That shirt. Not yours. I know yours is wet.”
Oh God, he was hot.
This was wrong.
“On the chair. I need to dry off before I put it on.”
Sure you do.I swallowed hard and took a step back. That didn't help, because all it did was put his whole body in my line of view, and Jesus fucking Christ, it was one hell of a body.
All perfectly chiseled muscle, from the sharply defined abs that ran down the center of his stomach, to the teasing lines that swept above his hips beneath the waistband of the jeans. And right between those lines of sex god muscle, just peeking over the button of his pants, was a black tattoo. I couldn't make it out fully, but it looked like some kind of mythical creature.
I forced myself to look up at his face. I failed. Miserably. My eyes fell on his right arm and the ink tattooed onto his bicep. I'd never been able to see it fully before, but it was an angel, kneeling, her wings spread out behind her. My fingers itched to reach forward and trace the feathers that made up her wings.
It seemed out of character for him, but yet... fittingly perfect. Killer, assassin... Angel of death.
Was that what it signified? That he was theangelo della morte?
“Are you done staring at me yet?”
My eyes snapped upwards and locked onto his. “Screw you.”Mature, Adriana. Nice.
He chuckled quietly. “The option is there,Principessa.”
That pissed me off. “Listen here,stronzo.” I jabbed my finger against his solid chest. Asshole. “We're not kids anymore. We're not goddamn soulmates. We're not even friends. We're strangers, Hunter, and you're a prize fucking prick.” I took a step closer to him and tilted my head back to hold out gaze. “I don't give a fuck if you're here on my father's orders. Remember who has the Romano blood. Remember who you belong to.”
The amusement disappeared from his eyes, and they went cold. Chills cascaded across my skin from the iciness of his gaze, but inside, a fire roared. His flip-flopping attitude from killer to friend to suggestive piece of shit pissed me the hell off. I wasn't going to take it, no matter how attracted to him I was.
“Who I belong to?” he said in a deathly low voice that was almost threatening. “Is that you, Adriana?”
“Funny, isn't it?” I responded in the same tone. “I'm Princess when you're cocky, but Adriana when I call you out. Your respect needs some goddamn work, Rosso.”
No sooner had I turned away than he'd grabbed my upper arm and had me pinned against the wall. His body was hot despite his cold, steel gaze, and he held me in place. I couldn't move, and it wasn't for a lack of trying. He was simply too strong with his hands wrapped around my arms and one of his legs between mine.
“My respect?” He dipped his head down so his warm breath skated over my lips. “Myrespect? How about your own, Adriana? You're pretty fucking short on it yourself. Just because I won't kill you doesn't mean I can't. I could put my hands around your neck right now and you'd be dead in five minutes.”
Defiance flared through my veins. “So fuckingdo it.”
He laughed, each sound as cold as the soul I was sure he didn't have. “I already told you won't.” He let go of my arms and moved backward. “You might be princess, but you're not fucking queen yet.”
I wanted to laugh in his face, but I couldn't. My mother was dead. The queen was dead. That meant one thing—her crown was mine, whether his punk ass liked it or not. Instead of reacting, I acted.
My arm shot out, my hand connecting with his cheek. The sharp slap rung out through the room, echoing off the walls and the ceiling, bouncing back and forth until all it rang in my ears.
Hunter clenched his jaw and a raised a fist to his cheek. His knuckles brushed across it, and for the first time, the tiniest pinch of fear flickered in the pit of my belly. But I didn't move. I stood my ground.
He deserved it. He deserved more.
Then, like a predator waiting to strike, he pounced on me.
His solid body collided with mine against the wall. He grabbed my thighs and lifted me, sliding one leg between mine, and his mouth found mine. I wound my fingers in his hair as he kissed me harshly. His tongue slid across my lips, forcing me to part my lips, and when I did, he kissed me so deeply my head started to spin.
His fingers dug into my ass as I wrapped my legs around his waist, pulling him into me. His hard cock pressed against my pussy through my cotton shorts, and my hips involuntarily flexed against him. A groan rumbled low in his throat, but the move only spurred him on.
He held me tighter, kissed me deeper, drove me wilder.
He was everywhere. All over my skin, under it, around it. I knew this was wrong but I couldn't make it stop. I couldn't stop my heart pounding against my ribs or my stomach fluttering or my pussy clenching. It was all anticipation, all revered wonder, waiting to see if one of us would stop this craziness.
“Don't let me do this,” Hunter rasped against my mouth, gently biting my lower lip. “Fuck,bella. Don't let me ruin you.”
“You can't ruin something that isn't perfect,” I whispered back to him, my blood thundering through my body.
“Make me stop,” he murmured, kissing down my neck.
I gasped when his tongue circled my pulse point. “My bedroom is the first door on the right.”
“Fuck.” He pulled me away from the wall, his grip never wavering on me. Thrill shot down my spine like a bolt of lightning, and my whole body tingled with the promise of what was to come.
This was wrong, too. So, so wrong.
But at the same time... It felt perfectly right.
Hunter pushed open my bedroom door with my back, making me smile, and then kicked it shut behind him. The slam echoed around his room as he carried me across the floor and dropped me on the bed. My tight grip on his neck and waist pulled him down on top of me, and he steadied himself by releasing his hold on my ass.
He grabbed my hands from around his neck and pinned them above my head, his eyes on mine. “I mean it,” he said quietly. “Make me stop, Addy.”
I shook my head and tightened my legs around his waist, lifting my hips at the same time. “Kill me or fuck me. Your choice.”
He stared at me for a long moment. He looked like he wanted to argue, but then whatever reservations he must have had disappeared, because he took my mouth in a searing kiss once more.
He tugged me up to sit and broke the kiss to pull my tank top over my head. I cupped his face as he wrapped an arm around my back and moved me further up the bed. His solid body was right against mine, and he freed any hold he had on me so he could explore my body. His hands slipped up and down my thighs, over my hips, gripped my waist, cupped my breasts.
He fiddled with the clasp holding my bra in place before undoing it in one swift movement. He grasped my tits tightly and dropped his mouth, taking one of my nipples between his lips. His teeth grazed the sensitive tip before he flicked his tongue over it, soothing the slight sting, and he did it over and over, finally sucking hard, making me arch my back, before he turned his attention to the other. He did the same there while he rolled my other nipple between his finger and thumb, pinching lightly.
My hips bucked as one of his hands grabbed hold of my shorts and pulled. He released my nipple from his mouth and stood up, his large hands wrapped around the waistband of my shorts. My chest heaved as I looked down and met his eyes.
He smirked, tugged, and removed my panties with the shorts. My breathing was harsh, and my cheeks flushed when he grabbed my ankles and pulled my legs open.
He leaned forward and rested his mouth by my ear. “You still have time to make me stop. I meant it, Addy.” Two of his fingers trailed up the inside of my thigh, coming dangerously close to my wet pussy. “I don't want to ruin you. I don't play nice, but the second my mouth is on your cunt, I won't be fucking playing at all.”
I turned my face toward his, and my lips brushed his jaw when I spoke. “Then don't play.”
He pushed two fingers inside me, and I gasped at the sudden intrusion of my body. Heat rushed over me as he pumped them inside me and gripped the back of my neck. “You have until I reach 'one' to make me stop. Five.” He dragged his mouth down my neck. “Four.” His tongue circled my nipple, and he pressed his thumb against my clit. “Three.” He released my neck, licking down my stomach and dipping his tongue into my naval, falling back onto his knees, still bending forward. “Two.” His mouth hovered over my pussy, and he pulled his fingers from my me. “One and a half...”
I half-laughed, half-gasped as he dipped his fingers back inside me.
He grasped my ass with both hands and lifted my hips. “Fucking. One.” He slowly ran his tongue up the length of my pussy, from my ass to my clit.
I threw my arm over my eyes as he zoned in on my clit. Pleasure rocketed through me like waves as he worshipped that tiny spot, rolling his tongue over it again and again. I writhed against him as he fucked me with his mouth, bringing me close the edge before he pulled back and stretched his tongue inside my pussy inside.
I was mumbling incoherently. I didn't know if I was begging for more, for the end, or if I was just pleading his name. The only thing I was sure I knew was that I didn't want him to stop but he needed to stop right now.
“Please tell me you have a condom,” he rasped, his fingers tightening on my thighs like all his retraint was being channeled through his touch.
I nodded and waved toward my nightstand. I was the kind of girl who was prepared for every situation, and apparently having sex with my assassin was one of those.
The drawer slammed open and shut within seconds, and I propped myself up on my elbows to look at him. Hunter dropped his pants, and my throat went dry as he pulled down his boxers. The tip of his cock was just free when he noticed me watching him. His lips tugged up on one side, and the look in his eyes was heated and predatory, but amusement glinted, too.
“I thought you didn't play.”
My words were a challenge, one that sobered him.
The smirk dropped, along with his boxers, and his cock sprung free from the constraints of the fabric. Desire hit me like a tidal wave as he ripped open the packet and pulled out the condom. He grabbed his long, hard cock in a firm grip and rolled on the protection.
I was never surer that a guy touching his own cock was the hottest fucking thing ever.
The second the condom was on fully, Hunter climbed back onto the bed over me and grabbed my hips. I half-laughed as he dragged me down to him, but he swallowed my giggle as he closed his mouth over mine.
He was inside me seconds later.
He had one arm around my lower back, the other fisting my hair, and he gently rocked his hips against mine. My pussy clenched around him as each thrust stoked a fire deep inside me.
But it wasn't enough.
After before, it wasn't enough. I knew he was more. And I was crazy, I knew it. I wanted more of him. All of him. I wanted every single inch of his predatory, black, animalistic soul.
I wanted it to invade mine, so I could understand him. Breathe him. Feel him. Know him. I wanted to know the Hunter he was now instead of remember him as the Hunter he was, and the only way to do that was to taunt him into losing control.
I tilted my head back and to the side, trying to ignore the pleasure that shuddered down my spine. “You're still playing,” I whispered, my mouth at his ear. “I'm not china, Hunter. I won't break if you fuck me hard.”
He chuckled darkly. “Bella,” he rumbled in my ear. “My hard would break you.”
“You're playing with fire, Adriana.”
“I like the burn.”
Another low laugh. He pulled me up so I was sitting on him and his cock was buried deep inside me. He tugged my head back, gripping tighter on my hair. “I'll do more than burn you.” He lifted me, only to drop me back down on him.
I cried out as the first real wave of orgasm flooded over me.
“I will fucking ruin you, Adriana. You don't want me to lose control,Principessa.Trust me.” He slammed me back down onto my back and kissed me before I could respond. He lifted one of my legs so high that he could thrust his cock inside me completely every time he moved his hips.
I gave up on my attempt to make him lose that control as he fucked me harder than I'd ever been before. If this was him holding onto control...
My orgasm shattered through my body like a bullet through a glass window. I was a mess of heat and pleasure and sweat as Hunter kept up his pace. My pussy clenched and tightened around him, working him as I drew every bit of heaven out of him that I could.
Mine disappeared at the moment his hit.
I forced my eyes open as he groaned my name in a tortured tone and leaned down over me. He relinquished his grip on my hair to cup the back of my neck and pressed a kiss to the tender spot beneath my ear. I shivered, and he rolled to the side. He took me with him, his cock still inside me, and breathed in deeply.
I hooked my leg over his hip and my arm over his waist. He pulled me right against him, like we could get closer than we already were, and I closed my eyes. My face was buried in the curve of his neck, and I inhaled the scent of... us.
Coffee mixed with candy. Whiskey and cookies. Sweat and... satiation.
I trailed my nails down his back lightly. It amazed me that something so wrong could feel so right.
But hadn't that always been it? Me and Hunter. We'd always been wrong but right.
He dipped his head and brushed his lips across mine. The tender touch contradicted his roughness of moments ago, even if it was controlled, and I found I liked the soft as well as the hard.
Until he pulled out of me, kissed me once more, and stood. He turned toward my en suite, grabbing his still-wet underwear as he did so.
I rolled over onto my front as my cheeks burned.Shit.What did I just do?
Chapter Ten – Hunter
I closed the bathroom door behind me and leaned against it, clutching my wet boxers tightly.
I was a fucking idiot.
That shouldn't have happened. And if it should have, it sure as hell shouldn't have happened like that. Out of nowhere after we'd fought and she'd slapped me. I could still feel the ache in my jaw where she'd hit me so hard.
Hell, my jaw still ached from the first damn time she hit me.
I felt the ache as it radiated through my bloodstream. It twisted into something gut-wrenching as my heart pumped it through my veins. I was all too familiar with the emotion. Self-loathing. I hated myself for what I just did.
She was all over me now. Her scent was embedded into my skin, and the feeling of her cunt clenching my dick as she came would never leave me. Neither would the sound of her voice trembling as she cried my name. The marks her nails left in my back would linger far longer than the indents from her touch.
I'd never been so fucked in my whole life.
I needed her to stop me. She was supposed to stop me. Once I tasted her mouth, all my restraint had disappeared and nothing mattered more than having all of her.
Why didn't she stop me?
Now I had all of her, I didn't want it, because I was wrong.
I didn't ruin her. It backfired.
Adriana Romano had ruined me. And that little glimpse of my soul that had been hers was no longer a flickering candle flame. It was a roaring bush fire that was already consuming me.
My hands shook with the desire to go back in there and do it all over again. Being inside her was the only time my mind was quiet, when I forgot all the bad shit I'd done in my life. She was the eye of a storm that canceled out everything in my existence except for the right now.
It was dangerous.
She would kill me long before I'd ever be able to hurt her.
Maybe she'd already killed me in a way. Maybe she'd been killing me slowly for her entire life. Maybe she was bringing me back to life slowly.
Maybe was fucking shit. I didn't want maybes. I wanted to forget what just happened as much as I hated myself for thinking that.
I rolled off the condom, slammed it into the trash can, then pulled my wet underwear on and turned back into the bedroom. Adriana had gone, and the only reminder of what we'd just done was the crumpled sheets on the bed and her clothes in a heap on the floor. I rubbed my hand across my forehead and picked up Darien's pants. It felt strange to wear them now, but I had no choice, because my own were still soaked from my dip in the pool.
My lips twitched upward for a second. Jesus... She was crazy. It was that very mischievous streak that had made me so protective of her when we were young. I knew that if I didn't keep an eye on her, she'd wind up in trouble somehow.
She had a way of finding it. Call it a knack, a skill, a highly troubling hobby... She always did. She always managed to walk right past people from rival families that wanted to hurt her. She always found the people I'd ultimately end up beating the shit out of.
If she weren't a mafia princess, she'd have been a goddamn good cop.
I grabbed my clothes from the floor next to the pool table and the shirt she'd handed me. I rolled the remaining balls into the pockets and walked down the hall to the kitchen.
Adriana was standing by the sink, her hip rested against the counter, holding a steaming mug of what smelled like coffee. Her cotton shorts barely covered her ass, and she'd re-braided her hair. She glanced over at me as I entered, but sipped her coffee instead of saying anything.
Awkwardness hung in the air, and it tasted like a thousand unsaid words. I hesitated after putting my clothes and Darien's shirt on the island, next to my gun and wallet. I didn't know what I was supposed to say to her. Was I supposed to lie and say I was sorry for not stopping, although she was the one who told me to carry on? I wasn't sorry.
I only regretted that clearly fucking her made her feel like shit, if the look on her face was anything to go by. Her normally bright blue eyes were dull, like the light had gone out, and it only made the downturn of her pretty pink lips seem sadder.
“You don't have to stay,” she said softly, looking out of the window. “I don't need to go anywhere today. There's an alarm system, and I have a choice of three different police officers on speed dial, not to mention Darien, Armo, Angelo, and Gaige.”
Gaige. Even the mention of his name made the hairs on my arms prickle. Fuck no was he protecting her instead of me.
“I don't have to go,” I said back to her, leaning forward on the island. “It's not like I have a place to be.”
“Really?” She looked at me, one dark eyebrow raised in question. “You're going to stay? What a fucking gentleman you are.”
“No, Addy. If I was a gentleman, I wouldn't have just fucked your brains out. I'd have bought you dinner first, at least.” I smirked. I couldn't help it.
She put down her coffee mug and opened a drawer. She pulled out a flier and threw it in my direction. “That's my favorite Italian pizza place. It's fifteen minutes away and they deliver. Try and rebuild your reputation by buying me dinner now.”
I picked up the flier and looked at the menu. “And let me guess—you get the meat pizza, but you have them take off the spicy beef and add extra cheese and ham.”
She pursed her lips.
“And then you have them make the crust extra crispy without burning the cheese, and ask them to bring you extra garlic mayo because eating crusts without it is simply barbaric, and anyone who doesn't should be shot.”
“You think you're so smart,” she fired at me.
“I don't think,Principessa.I know.”
“Shut up and order my pizza, Rosso. I'm hungry.”
“I love it when you tell me what to do.”
“Yeah? Then do it or I'll be telling you to get the fuck out of my house.”
“Why don't you?”
She looked at me like I was stupid. “Because I'm not going to pass up my favorite pizza for free. Don't forget the extra garlic mayonnaise, okay?”
I picked up my phone and dialed the number on the front, then ordered her damn pizza. I smiled and watched her the whole time I made the call, even though all she did was sip from her cup of coffee. She was obviously trying not to look at me, so I put extra effort into keeping my eyes on her.
I knew I was pissing her off. Her jaw twitched every now and then, and after each drink of coffee, her lips pursed a little tighter. I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd been thinking of all the ways to hurt me. I would have gladly taken every single one if it meant it killed the awkwardness that was lingering between us.
I didn't usually stay this long after sex, and I got the feeling Adriana had been having the same fuck and fly relationships I'd been having.
“You can stop staring at me now. I'm hardly a Van Gogh painting.”
“Nah, you're right. You're closer to Picasso.”
Her jaw dropped. “You pig.”
“You walked right into that.” I grinned. “Maybe you're not a Picasso... Probably the Mona Lisa, judging by the look on your face right now.”
“Are you saying I'm grumpy?”
She put down her mug and turned to face me, her arms folded across her chest. “You're starting to piss me off, Rosso.”
“Good. Great things happen when you're pissed off.” I winked.
She didn't find me funny. “Yeah? Are you gonna think its so great when I finally tire of your bullshit and twist your balls up your asshole and into your gut?”
“Feisty.” I waggled my eyebrows, goading her further.
“I'm not even responding to you anymore.” She pushed off the side. “You're just doing this to annoy me deliberately. I'm wasting oxygen here.”
I laughed and darted in front of her before she could leave the room. She glared at me and put her hands on her hips.
“What do you want now?” she demanded of me, her eyebrows shooting up.
“Nothing,” I answered, lying through my teeth. My eyes dropped to her mouth, and I traced the curve of her plump lower lip with my gaze. They parted and she sucked in a breath when she realized where my eyes were.
I figured I was already going to Hell when I died, so kissing her was only going to get me a first class ticket down there.
I stepped forward and gave in to temptation. My hands curved around the sides of her neck, my thumbs resting along her jaw, and I tilted her head back as I pressed my lips to hers. It was nothing like earlier, that fast, hurried, desperate sensation. This was closer to the way she'd kissed me on the beach.
Slow. Easy. Gentle. Savored.
Adriana's hands rested against my sides, and she leaned into me. She was so small compared to me, and I moved closer without taking my mouth from hers. I wanted to enjoy this moment, just breathe her in and surround myself in her while I could.
Every second our lips touched, a foreign, protective instinct roared to life inside me until it became more than just protective. It turned obsessive, possessive... Dangerous. And it wanted one thing.
Iwanted one thing.
I wanted Adriana Romano to be mine, and I knew in that moment that I'd go to the very edge of the universe and fight my way back if that's what it took.
I broke the kiss and rested my forehead against hers. She breathed deeply, keeping her eyes shut, and a few loose hairs tickled my cheek. She didn't speak or try to move away from me. I didn't want to do either things myself, but I had to.
She wasn't going to walk out of this kitchen, away from me, without knowing that I wasn't playing.
If she had any doubt that I wanted her, I was going to erase that shit quicker than she would know what was happening.
I moved my mouth to her ear, wrapping one of my arms around her tiny waist. “I have no idea how you feel about Gaige Pontarelli, but I'm not a fool, Addy. He wants you, but that's tough shit. You were mine before he even knew your name, and you're still mine now. You never stopped being mine.”
“That's a bold statement for someone sent to kill me,” she whispered.
“It's a pathetic statement for someone who'd take the bullet for you.”
“You're losing your mind, Carlo Rosso.”
“You always made me do stupid shit. Why would now be any different?”
She shuffled back half a step and looked into my eyes. “You're not a dog, Hunter. You don't have to piss on me to mark your territory.”
My lips twitched to one side. “You're right. The bite mark on your tit does that well enough.”
She jerked her head from side to side until she saw the light purple bruise flowering on her right boob. “Shitting hell, Hunter!” She pushed me away and slapped her hand over it. “What did you do that for?”
“You told me not to play.” I moved her hand away from it and gently touched it with a fingertip. “I told you to tell me to stop. You didn't. I wasn't playing, and I told you that. And I don't care if I have to cover your whole damn body in bite marks, from your neck right down your stomach to your sweet, tight cunt.” I pulled her against me and squeezed her ass, and she inhaled sharply. “I belong to you, Adriana. Absolutely. More ways than you know. But you sure as fuck belong to me, because you always have, and because you know that if you have to belong to anyone, it's to me.”
She stayed against me for a moment before she flattened her hands against my chest and stared up at me. Resilience shone in her eyes, and she swallowed hard before she spoke. “If that's true, then you'll do what I want you to.”
“If I haven't already made that clear, then I should probably fuck you again, because I'm running out of words.”
She pressed one finger against my mouth. “Take me to New York.”
My shoulders tightened. “And?”
“Take me tomyhouse so I can kill my father. I wantmyempire back.”
Fuck—she really wanted to do it. I thought before that she was joking, or that it was nothing more than a pipeline dream. But now... I believed her. The determination that colored her irises bright blue was practically screaming out for revenge.
She looked exactly like her mother, I realized, looking at her then.
There wasn't a single bit of Enzio inside her body. She was all Alexandria. From the fiery temper to the stone-cold manner she could adopt at the drop of a hat. Both of them mixed sometimes, and when that happened, you didn't fuck with her.
I had no intention of fucking with Adriana right in that moment.
She looked as though she'd truly make good on her threat to my balls.
My phone rang on the island, and I glanced at it. It rang four times before cutting off, then it immediately started back up.
I let go of Adriana and grabbed my phone. “Talk of the devil, and he'll call. Don't make a sound.” I answered the phone with her eyes hot on me. “Boss.”
“Is she dead yet?” Enzio snapped. “I'm losing my patience, Carlo.”
“I'll get it done,” I responded firmly. “She's more social than Kim fucking Kardashian. She's like a human magnet. I can't get her alone—even at night she has company.”
“Excellent. She's alive and she's a slut.”
I clenched my jaw.
“Isaiah is getting on a plane tonight. He'll meet you at your hotel at eleven. If you don't have the job done tomorrow, he's going to do it, and then he's bringing me back your fucking head.” Something slammed, probably a door. “So it's her, or both of you. Get a fucking move on,assassino.I'm not paying you to get your dick wet with some Californian wannabe sluts.”
The line cut out. I pinched the bridge of my nose and put the phone down. I guessed I had to be thankful for him sending Isaiah and not someone else. If what Darien had said earlier was true, then Isaiah would be an asset to us, and Adriana would be safe. Enzio might question me—and he was—but he wouldn't question Isaiah.
Like Darien told me; he trusted Isaiah implicitly.
Maybe that would work in our favor.
“What did he want?” Adriana asked, breaking through my inner thoughts.
I met her eyes. “The usual. Are you dead yet?”
She rolled her eyes. “Great. Let me guess, he's getting angry?”
“He's sending Isaiah to Los Angeles tonight.”
She stilled, and worry skated over her features. “He's sending... Oh, no.”
I crossed back over to her and took her face in my hands. “Trust me,” I said softly, locking my gaze onto hers. “I'll greet Isaiah at my hotel. You need to call Darien. But trust me.”
“What about Armo? He was pissed about you being here—never mind my father'sconsigliere.”
“It isn't about Armo. The man's on an ego trip longer than Route 66.” My lips curved into a small smile. “This is about you.”
She slowly nodded. “But you didn't answer my question.”
“I'll take you to New York. But I won't let you kill him.”
Adriana stepped back from me, forcing my hands to drop. “Why?”
“Because I won't let you lose that innocence.” I noticed a strand of hair had worked itself free from her braid, so I reached forward and tucked it behind her ear. “I don't think you'd be able to live with yourself if you took someone's life, no matter what they'd done to you. I'll take you to New York, but I'll kill him.”
She sighed heavily, but she clearly saw my resolve, so she shrugged and let it go.
Three loud knocks rattled my hotel room door.
I'd left Adriana as soon as Darien had returned from work. I filled him in on my conversation with Enzio, but the responsibility to explain to Adriana that he'd been secretly communicating with Isaiah for the last ten years was on him.
I didn't want to be around when she found out, if I was honest. She was gonna lose her shit.
I put the TV on mute and went to open the door.
“Hurry up, Carlo. They're gonna mistake me for a fuckin' housekeeper soon.” Isaiah's voice echoed through the door.
I forced myself not to roll my eyes. That would never happen. “Yes,” I drawled as I opened the door and stepped to let him into my room. “A six foot five Italian wearing all black, with a shaved head, looks exactly like a fucking housekeeper.”
Isaiah pulled off his black sunglasses and glared at me. “I've got two bullets in my gun,ragazzo.The Boss says one has your name on it. I can use it early.”
I kicked the door shut and opened my mouth to respond. Isaiah held up one hand, indicating for me to be quiet, then dumped his black duffel bag on my bed. I frowned as he opened it and pulled out a small device. A little light flashed on it, and he moved to the far corner of the room.
He swept the device over the curtains, chairs, plant... Everything. No spot in the room was left untouched by the tiny rectangle he was holding. He leaned over the bed, moving it over the lamp, and then, it beeped.
He shook his head and put the detector down, then grabbed the lamp. He ran a finger around the rims of the lampshade, then over every part. He smirked as he lifted it up and pulled a tiny metal spot from the bottom of the stand.
His eyebrows raised as he held his thumb out to me, showing me what was presumably an electronic bug. He chuckled silently as he turned to the balcony doors, opened one, and then flicked it out off the balcony.
“There,” Isaiah said. “You fucking dumb fuck.”
“Nice to see you, too, old man.”
He shot me a dark look. “Enzio has been privy to all your fucking conversations you've had in this room. You're lucky you didn't speak to Adriana on the phone, or you'd be dead right now.”
“And you didn't think it'd be a good idea to tell me?”
“Not really. I thought you'd be smart enough to check and find the bug.”
“Yeah, I carry a detector as a matter of necessity,” I drawled, grabbing a bottle of water from the side. “What are you gonna tell him now? Won't he be suspicious that it disappears as soon as you get here?”
“I'm gonna tell him I checked the line and found someone else transmitting on the same frequency. I'll blame it on the Pontarellis. Thanks.” Isaiah swiped the bottle of water from my hand and unscrewed it. “So she's still alive.”
“Clearly. That's why you're here.”
“I might be thirty years older than you, Carlo, but I rank above you. Watch your damn mouth.”
I rolled my shoulders. “Yes,sir.”
Isaiah smirked. “I'd beat your fuckin' ass for that if I didn't like you so much.”
I returned the quirk of the lips. “What are you doing here, Double Agent?”
He laughed, almost choking on the water. “Securing the future of the Romano family. You think the dumb fuck in New York knows what he's doing? No. Before Alexandria ran with Adriana, she ran the family. Enzio did as he was told. Why do you think he got himself in five million dollars worth of debt and tried to sell his daughter? He's as useless as a slug in a sprint.”
I tried not to laugh at that. But five million dollars? Fuck. That was pocket change to the Romano empire. I knew that much. “And let me guess: you're the brains behind the last ten years.”
“Near enough,” he agreed. “Let's just say my contact with Darien wasn't entirely limited to just him. Alexandria may have helped every now and then.”
“Is Adriana the only person who didn't know?”
“Probably.” He swung out the chair from the desk and sat down, then put his booted feet on my bed. “The Pontarellis didn't know. Still don't. Dumb fucks.”
“You're fond of that expression tonight.”
“What can I say? I'm surrounded by dumb fucks.” He grinned and swigged from the water bottle while I grabbed a second and sat on the bed. “The money to pay off Armo Pontarelli didn't come off a fuckin' tree, Carlo. Enzio thinks he's the boss, but he was Alexandria's pawn until the day he died. She left the funds to Adriana, with Darien and myself as the guardians of the business until such a time she could take control.”
“Until Enzio died, you mean.”
“Died... Was killed... Either one. She wasn't fussed.” He waved his hand dismissively and slicked some dark hair back from his face. “Although, truth be told, she probably hoped he'd be killed.”
Now that I could see. Easily, if she was anything like Adriana.
Isaiah stood and pulled a packet of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. He'd barely opened the balcony door when he had a match lit in front of it. He waved the match out as he stepped outside and dropped it the way he had the bug. “I made sure Adriana was taken care of,” he said on an exhale, blowing out a thick cloud of smoke. “Alexandria had accounts Enzio didn't—and doesn't—know about.”
I rubbed my hand across my forehead. “Here's what I don't understand.” I joined him at the door and shook my head when he offered me the cig. “Why have you been doing this for so long?”
“I told you.” He took a drag. “Enzio Romano is a dumb fuck. Who do you think finds everythin' out, huh?” He raised an eyebrow, smoke billowing from his nose. He looked like a fucking dragon. “He's too afraid to leave the sanctuary of the Hamptons, because he knows that as soon as he does, he's a dog's dinner. He's the biggest pussy I've ever met. Why do you think he has a twenty-five year old boy doing his dirty work?”
That made me snort. “I'm hardly a boy, Isaiah.”
“True.” He inclined his head in my direction. “But you're the youngest he's got. Why do you do the most risky jobs? Why, out of everyone, did he send you to kill Adriana?”
“Because I'm the best.”
He winked, and the tip of the cigarette glowed bright orange in the darkness. It illuminated his face, showing every shadowy line and wrinkle around his dark eyes. “Partly, yes. But partly because you're the one who'd get the blame for killing the princess. He's not stupid, Carlo.” Isaiah blew out the smoke and stubbed the cigarette out on the banister before carelessly dropping it on the floor. “The truth would have come out sooner or later, and you'd take the shit for her death. Not him. He never would have ordered you to kill his preciousbambina.”
“Then it's a good fucking thing I can't kill her, isn't it?” I turned back inside.
“Yeah.” He laughed, following me in. He slammed the door shut behind him and threw the matches on the nightstand. “There are five people in the Romano family who know where you are, Carlo, and four of them are in this city.” He turned on the other lamp next to the second bed and unbuttoned his shirt.
“I guess you're sleeping here tonight.”
“Of course I am. I'm babysitting you, you dumb fuck.”
“Sleep with one eye open, Isaiah.”
He grinned, the silvery whiskers on his chin glinting in the low light. “Tomorrow we'll go Calabasas and put together a plan. And then I might just drop in on my old friend Armo and see if he's grown a pair yet.”
I shoved my bed sheets aside, thankful I was already in sweats, and sat down. I looked over at Isaiah. “He takes his orders from a twenty-three year old chick who's studying for a Masters degree and has no social life, despite what I told Enzio. Of course Armo doesn't have a pair of fucking balls. And neither does his son,” I added as an afterthought, lying down.
Isaiah chuckled darkly. “Gaige? Yeah. He was born with marbles in the place of testicles. Little prick.”
Chapter Eleven – Adriana
I batted Rossi away from my cereal bowl, even though I'd finished. The cat was crazy enough without being hopped up on Fruit Loop infested milk. He meowed in protest, so I reached forward, picked him up, and threw him on the floor. He hissed his frustration before he leaped up onto the sill and out of the window.
He even knocked over a picture frame for good measure.
I picked up the frame and put it back in its rightful place. The sound it made as it hit the sill echoed through the house, despite its size. It didn't seem to matter how big this place was. I could hear everything. Especially today.
I was hyper-sensitive to everything, almost.
Every gust of wind. Every shutting of a door. Every single sound, no matter how quiet it was, seemed like the most deafening slam.
And I knew why.
I wasn't staring at the doorway for no reason.
Isaiah was here. My father'sconsigliere. His best friend. Adviser. Confidante.
The man that was the cousin of my keeper but the most trusted ally of the man who wanted me dead.
I didn't know who to believe. It seemed as though the last ten years of my life had been a lie. Like every second, minute, hour, had been nothing more than a tactical ploy to keep me alive.
Maybe it had been. Did it bother me? Yes. I'd rather have died honestly than stayed alive deceitfully.
What was life, really? It sure as hell wasn't a mixture of love and honesty. It was closer to a clusterfuck of bullshit and lies.
I wondered what my true purpose was. To lead the Romano family? To die? To live in a state of existence that was neither dead nor alive?
Where was my hero to sweep me off of my motherfucking feet? Cinderella? Snow White?
I stared at the pistol Darien had set on the coffee table. Loaded. Safety removed. Ready to fire, he'd said. Pull the trigger, and if the aim is right, the target is minced meat. Nothing more than dinner.
It was shiny. I had a despicably bad knowledge of firearms for who I was, but he'd never complained. I knew how to fire many guns, even if I didn't know what they were or what they were capable of, but he didn't mind.
If I knew how to shoot it, I knew how to hurt someone. If I knew how to aim it and then shoot someone, I knew how to kill someone. I knew how to protect myself.
That's all that mattered to him.
I guess it was all that really mattered.
Never mind that he'd only gone to the grocery store to get some milk. You'd think he was leaving me for a week the way he'd gone on. Maybe he didn't trust Isaiah as much as he'd assured me he did.
It wasn't exactly a reassuring thought.
I sighed and picked up my bowl. It'd been sitting on the table for two hours, so no wonder Rossi wanted the milk. He'd probably watched from the start and had a kitty ticker in his head for when it'd be fair game.
I put my bowl in the sink then went upstairs to get dressed. I was aware of the real ticking of the Grandfather clock in Darien's office as I passed it. The time for Hunter and Isaiah to get here was drawing closer, and I was still wearing tiny cotton shorts and no bra. I really needed to get a move on and get ready, even if a part of me was certain I was inviting death into my house.
Then again, I'd slept with death not twenty-four hours earlier, so what did I know?
I kicked my door shut behind me. Damn it, no. I didn't want to think about being with Hunter. I didn't want to think about fucking him again. It made me... well, it turned me on. Not to mention that I didn't want to have to see him with the memory of what we did still newly fresh in my mind.
I shook my head and pulled some clothes out of the dresser. Jeans and a shirt—and a bra.
Once I was dressed properly, I brushed my hair and applied a couple of licks of mascara to my eyelashes. I looked somewhat human again, although I felt sick.
I was terrified about Isaiah's arrival, and I knew that if he was going to kill me, he was going to do it within seconds of coming face to face with me. I also had no idea how Hunter would change with theconsiglierearound. Would he still be Hunter, or would he be the guy who walked in my house wearing a balaclava days ago?
I didn't know.
I was afraid to find out.
I heard the buzzing of my phone as it vibrated on the kitchen island. I knew it would be Gaige calling to check on me. I didn't want to answer it—I was afraid that if I did, he'd know that I was hiding something from him.
Like my father'sconsigliere.
God, I was such a bad friend. And person, really. I'd barely even apologized for his pissing contest with Hunter in the back yard. Not that I had anything to apologize for. I wasn't the one who'd flexed my muscles and spread out my peacock feathers to express my sexual prowess.
Men. And I wondered why I was single.
I checked my phone and saw I was right. The missed call was from Gaige. I felt guilty when I cleared the notification without even texting him, but he knew me too well. Ten words in and he'd know something was up, so it was easier to ignore it.
I'd deal with it later. Or ask Darien to. I wasn't afraid to admit I was a bit of a wimp. And a terrible, terrible person.
The front door opened. “Addy?”
“In the kitchen,” I called back to Darien. I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge as he came in carrying a brown paper grocery bag. “I thought you were only buying milk.”
He put the bag down on the island and met my eyes. A smile teased his lips. “The candy was on sale.”
I shook my head and pulled the bag toward me. “You're a grown man, Darien,” I scolded him. “You don't need—oooh, Nerds!” I pulled the bright colored box out of the bag and opened it.
“You're a grown woman, Adriana. You don't need Nerds for breakfast,” Darien said playfully, reaching for the candy.
I stepped back and clutched the box to my chest. “If I'm a grown up, I can eat candy for breakfast. There's no one to stop me. That's the fun part about being an adult. I get to do what I want.”
He stared at me for a moment before he realized arguing wasn't the best idea. Instead he just shook his head, smiled, and pulled the bottle of milk out of the bag.
I put a handful of Nerds in my mouth and pulled out a stool. I sat on it as my phone rang again. Gaige. Again.
“He's gonna keep calling you,” Darien said, closing the fridge. “You know it.”
“I know, but I don't want to lie to him about Isaiah being here.” I waited for the call to end, then changed the setting to 'silent.'
God, I felt awful.
“So you're ignoring him altogether?” He raised an eyebrow and flattened his hands on the island to lean forward. “Adriana...”
I sighed and put down the box of Nerds. He wasn't going to let this go. “Look... Since Hunter showed up with the finesse of a rhinoceros, it's just been... awkward. Gaige hates him on default, and he was here yesterday when you made Hunter babysit me. They both got their hackles up. I don't think it's a good idea to tell Gaige that another guy who could potentially want me dead is about to come over for coffee and cake.”
“Isaiah doesn't like cake. Unlikely you'll be sharing one.”
“Can we please focus on the issue here, Dar? I know he's your cousin but that doesn't mean anything. For all I know, Hunter has decided to kill me after all. We have no idea what's going to happen and we need a plan in case it doesn't work out the way we're expecting.”
“All right, then let's think of a plan.” He stood up straight and reached for his water bottle. “What are you thinking?”
What would Mamma do?I knew exactly what she'd suggest if she were here. We'd escaped once before, and being prepared for all situations was necessary. “Pack a bag and take the alternative identity documents out of the safe.” I got up before Darien could respond and walked down the hall.
I remembered the day we picked out the picture that would cover the wall safe. I hated it then and I hated it now. I didn't even know what it was of—it was an abstract mix of color and shapes that Mamma had loved but I thought had been puked up by a newborn. Still, it was an unassuming place to hide a safe.
I pulled the picture down from the wall, revealing the shiny, black door of the safe. I twisted the code in and opened it. There was a small rucksack folded up at the front, and the first thing I did was pull it out and give it a good shake.
There was no use having a shit ton of cash and documents in a safe if there was nowhere to put them in a pinch. And there was no way I could fit a thousand bucks in my bra.
I took the rolls of cash and dropped them in the bottom of the bag, then slid in the brown manila envelope. It had drivers licenses, birth certificates, and passports for both me and Darien. If we ever needed them, I'd be Penelope Dawson and he'd be my father, Andrew Dawson.
Satisfied I had some kind of safeguarding, I shut the safe and replaced the picture before grabbing the bag and taking it into my room. I packed nothing but the basics, then went to the laundry room and did the same for Darien.
The second safe was hidden in here. One of many. Mamma was never paranoid, but she was always aware of the fact that my father would find us one day, so she insisted on being prepared.
In that moment, as I climbed on top of the dryer to get to the cupboard, I was thankful for it.
I opened the cupboard and removed the dud box of soap. It was full of sand to give the impression that it was new, and once upon a time, I'd laughed when she'd done it. “Who'd hide a safe in a laundry room cupboard?” I'd asked her, and she'd responded with a wink and an, “Exactly.”
My lips twitched into a sad smile at the memory, and I paused for a moment. Sometimes, I missed her badly. Times like this was one of them. I wanted nothing more than her to walk in here, roll up her sleeves, and take control.
But she couldn't. She never would again. So it was down to me.
I opened the safe and pulled out the loaded 9mm pistol.
This wasn't paranoia.
I double-checked the barrel. Yep—loaded. Enough to kill if I had to.
This was preparation.
I closed the safe, replaced the soap, and jumped down from the dryer. I wrapped the gun in one of my shirts in the bag and zipped it up.
There. Now I felt like I was prepared.
Well. I looked down at my bare feet. Almost prepared. I wouldn't get very far without any shoes.
I carried the bag back through to my room, put on some shoes, and then went back into the kitchen. Darien didn't look like he'd moved—he was still leaning against the island, his eyes fixed on the hallway. He had a tiny smile teasing the corners of his mouth, and his eyes glimmered when they met mine.
“There.” I put the bag on the countertop in front of him. “Clothes, money, documents, gun. If Isaiah tries to kill me, I can run.”
“And if he tries and he hits you?”
I shrugged. “Then I die.”
He paused for a moment before he smiled softly. “You're just like your mamma.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out, because I didn't know what to say. I didn't think I was. Mamma was brave and in control. She was strong and fought for what she believed in, no matter what the consequences were. She'd argued many corners that should have cost her her life.
“Maybe your idea about killing Enzio isn't so crazy after all,” Darien added, pushing off the island as three knocks sounded at the door. He disappeared before I could say anything then, too.
Ironically, I was starting to wonder if itwascrazy. But then again, he was sending the fight to me...
“Well fuck me. Alexandria, you haven't aged a bit.”
I knew the voice.
I turned my head slowly toward the door. My eyes fell on Isaiah. Like Darien, he didn't look like he was in his fifties. He looked closer to thirty, and the only hint of his age was in the small lines at the corners of his eyes, and the silvery wisps of hair above his ears.
“You know damn well I'm not Alexandria, Isaiah,” I said slowly, watching him as he walked toward me. “So cut the bullshit.”
He grinned. It was an easy grin that spread across his face. “I know. I just like fuckin' with ya, Adriana. Look exactly like her, and it doesn't get much better than that.”
My tongue ran over my bottom lip. “What are you doing here? Finishing Hunter's job?”
“Why? You ordered him to kill your father, Princess? Because if so, sign me the fuck up.” He slapped his hand against the kitchen island. “That dumb fuck.”
“Give it a goddamn rest with the dumb fuck, Isaiah,” Hunter sighed, walking in behind him. “Enzio's a dumb fuck. We know. Everyone is a dumb fuck.”
“Shut up, dumb fuck.” Isaiah turned and clipped him around the back of the head. “He's lucky to be alive this morning,” he directed to me. “Snores like a pig.”
Hunter laughed. “Yeah, I'm the one who snores. You almost took out a window.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You had a sleepover? What did you do—strip down to your underwear and have a pillow fight? Eat raw cookie dough? Watch Bridget Jones' Diary?”
“She's got sass,” Isaiah observes, cocking a thumb toward me. “I like it.”
I glared at him.I could safely say that this wasn't exactly how I imagined this conversation going. Nope, I didn't imagine Isaiah bringing the sass and swearing like a fifteen year old boy, and I didn't imagine Hunter heading straight for the coffee machine and the cookie tin.
What kind of parallel universe was I in?
“You look confused, Addy.” Hunter turned around, holding an empty coffee mug.
“Do I? I can't imagine why.”
“Probably 'cause you though I was gonna kill you, sweetheart,” Isaiah answered.
“No,” I responded flatly. “I thought we were going to bake fairy cakes together.”
He shuddered. “Fuckin' cake.”
Hunter laughed and put down the mug. His eyes found the bag on the island, and his smile twisted into a smirk. “Going somewhere?”
“I'm prepared to,” I answered, pulling the bag closer to me. “How did I know you two were coming in like you're best friends? I thought you were going to kill me.”
“Well, given that I've already tried and I failed miserably, there wasn't much of a chance of me trying to kill you a second time.” Hunter grinned.
“I can try and kill you if it'd make you feel better,” Isaiah offered. “I don't mind.”
“Uh... I think I'll pass, thanks.” I perched on the stool. “Once in a week is more than enough for me. Are you alone?”
“Did I come alone?” he questioned, and I nodded. “Yes. Your father trusts me entirely and is counting on me to kill not just you, but this shitfuck over here.” He jerked his head in Hunter's direction. “And let me tell you something, Adriana, your father is stupid.”
“Really, Isaiah, I didn't need you to tell me that. I figured that out ten years ago.”
“Yeah, that was a shit move. Cost him ten million, if you'd believe it. They gave him a week to find you, and when he couldn't, they doubled what he owed and made him pay in cash.” Isaiah pulled out a box of cigarettes from his jacket pocket. “Do you mind?”
“Uh, a little. We can go outside.” Armo smoked, so we kept an ashtray outside for whenever he was here. I stood and carried the bag to the back door. I wasn't going anywhere without the bag. It was my safety blanket in that moment.
Isaiah and Hunter followed me out, and we were joined by Darien just as Isaiah sparked a match.
“Rossi tried bringing you a dead bird,” Darien explained. “It was quite the feat to get it away from him and convince him you didn't need a crow.”
“He caught a crow?”
“Yeah, just a little one. He's probably trying to find you something else.” Darien sat down. “What are we talking about?”
“Them.” Isaiah blew out a long cloud of gray-blue smoke and tapped ash into a small tray in the middle of the table. “As I was saying, they made him pay up in cash, and that's when he expanded the family business into the darker sides that your mamma refused to. He needed to make back the money and quick, and re-establish the Romano family as something to be feared.”
“Darker sides?” I asked. “Like what?”
“Human trafficking, for one. Extortion. Blackmail. He's intercepted more than enough drug smuggling rings and paid them off. Made a shit ton that way.” He dragged on the cigarette. “Helped a cartel or two get their shit in and out for a good price. He's got a finger in every pie, but he lacks the brain cells to realize those pies are hot.”
I looked down. I wasn't surprised by that, but the human trafficking gave me chills. I knew the mafia world was full of lies and blood and darkness, but that was the one thing Mamma always refused to do. She said she'd rather die than help sick motherfuckers get their kicks out of vulnerable girls. She said that as a woman, it was her duty to protect them, not condemn them.
I shouldn't have been surprised. Not really. The man had tried to sell his own daughter to pay off his gambling debts.
“What about the finances?” I asked quietly. “Did he gamble them all away?”
“Ah-ha. No.” Isaiah stubbed out his cig. “He directed me to control the movement of the money, and I did. Right into a secure bank account in your name.”
“And he didn't know?”
“Why would he know? He doesn't like getting his hands dirty, Adriana. Whereas your mother was sure to double check every document, every dollar—hell, the woman questioned a fucking missing quarter once, only to find out you'd borrowed it—your father doesn't do a thing. He's lazy. He asks everyone else to do everything for him. He doesn't even leave the Hamptons. He's too afraid of death for that.”
“Ironic that his most trusted friend is the one who wants him dead,” Hunter snorted.
“I don't want him dead. I wouldn't mind it,” Isaiah admitted.
Darien shook his head.
I was getting more and more confused by the minute. I didn't entirely understand why Isaiah was actually here, except to convince my father that he'd take care of me. And not in a good way. Everyone was too relaxed, too chilled over the whole situation, and that made me more uncomfortable than if everyone was waiting for something to happen.
I felt like I was the only one waiting for it. I didn't like it.
“I'll be right back,” I said, standing and hugging the bag to my front. Three pairs of eyes watched me as I walked into the house.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was paranoid.
Maybe there was no 'maybe' about it. I felt a little paranoid. Like every corner I turned someone was waiting to kill me.
See. This was why I wanted to go to New York before now. But no. Wait, they said. It's a silly idea, they said. Even Hunter, who agreed to take me, said to wait. I didn't want to wait. I was tired of waiting. I wanted to do something.
I wanted to watch a bullet pierce my father's skin and the light leave his eyes.
I wanted to punish him for trying to sell me, then kill me, and for stealing everything that belonged to me. It was a dark desire, morally wrong, but I didn't care. There was no such thing as morals in this world. If you had morals, you had a target on your back. It was that simple.
“I just... I need a minute, okay?” I turned to Hunter.
His piercing silver eyes locked onto mine. “What's wrong?”
“This whole situation. Don't you think it's incredibly fucked?” I tightened my grip on the bag strap. “Twoof my father's men have just decided to switch sides? Am I expected to believe it's this cut and dry? This fucking simple, huh?”
“Maybe it is.” He shrugged. “Enzio isn't well liked. I can't say I'm surprised.”
“Well I am.” My fingers hurt, I was holding the bag so tightly. “I don't think it's this simple. I don't trust Isaiah. I don't think he's telling the truth.”
“Really? The getaway bag didn't clue me into that,” he said. Sarcasm dripped from every word, and he half-smirked.
“Fuck you, Hunter. This isn't a joke. You don't know that he came alone. For all you know, he's lying, and just because he said he's alone doesn't mean he is.”
“I know, I know. I'm not sure he is lying, though. I think he genuinely hates your father.”
“That doesn't mean he's not here to kill me,” I argued.
Hunter closed the distance between us and cupped my chin. “Do you really think I'd let him?”
“You wouldn't have a choice if he killed you first.”
“You've really thought this through, haven't you?”
I nodded. “I'm not much use to myself if I haven't. If he's going to kill me, he's going to kill you first because he knows you'll protect me. And if he didn't come alone, then, well. We're both fucked, aren't we?”
He tilted his head to the side, dropping his hand. “If you're really worried about this, why aren't you at the Pontarelli house? You'd be much safer there.”
Because I know you can protect me alone better than all of them put together.
“Gaige,” he said, half-correctly. “You don't want us near each other.”
I shrugged one shoulder. “I guess.”
“Because you'll probably kill each other, and then you're no good to me?”
“Right. Like he'd get the first shot in.”
“And that right there is exactly why you're not there.”
Hunter reached forward and took hold of the bag. He gently pried my fingers off of it, took it, and set it on the coffee table. “Adriana.” He rested his hands against my cheeks.
He wanted me to listen. He always did that. Always had. Except now I was getting too used to the roughness of his palms against my skin, too used to how his fingers would brush my hairline and the way his thumb would ghost over my mouth every now and then.
Too used to how he made my skin tingle each and every time he touched me.
“I don't like Gaige Pontarelli. I'm not going to lie to you about that. But if being at the Pontarelli house means you'll be safer until we can figure out how to get rid of your dad, then that's where you need to be.” His eyes searched mine. “Even if it means I have to stay away from you.”
My heart, the fickle bitch, clenched at the thought. I didn't want him to stay away. I'd missed him so badly it was as though I'd left a piece of my soul behind when we left. I'd just gotten him back, even if he was different than I remembered, but he was still my Hunter deep down.
“Maybe that's the reason I'm not at the Pontarelli house,” I said quietly. “Because then you don't have to stay away.”
“Adriana,” he whispered, drawing me closer to him. “You have to put your safety first. I'm replaceable. You're not.”
I threw his arms off of my face and stepped back, bumping into the windowsill. “Maybe you are in your mind, but in my mind, you're not. Don't you get that, Hunter? You're irreplaceable to me. You always have been and you always will be. No one could ever take your place in my life, and I don't give a flying, monkey-screwing fuck what you say. I would rather put my life at risk to spend an hour with you than be safe and never see your smug goddamn face again!”
His inhale was sharp. “You're emotional. You're not listening to reason.”
“Just like yesterday then, huh? When I was too emotional to stop you from screwing my fucking brains out?”
“Stop!” he yelled harshly, diving his hand into his hair. He met my eyes with his, and I shivered as the intensity of his gaze swept over me with the force of a category five hurricane. “I would rather live the rest of my life knowing you're alive and never seeing you again. You never stopped being everything to me, Addy. Fuckingnever.You just stopped being there, but you never stopped being here.” He punches his chest. “You were always there, and you always will be. Stop being so fucking stubborn and keep yourself hidden from that piece of shit, for the love of fucking God!”
My heart thundered in my own chest, and annoyance bundled deep in my stomach. Call me stupid, and maybe I was, but there was no way I was going to live without him any longer. Above everything, he was my best friend, and I loved him unconditionally. Even when he was being a giant, sexy prick.
“No.” I stood tall and stared him right in the eye. Determination flooded my veins as reality sunk deep into my body.
It hit me then.
My mother was the queen.
That was my destiny.
I was forever intended to be the head of this family. She knew somehow—I knew it in that moment. Like a whisper she'd given me beyond all doubt.
“No.” Two letters, so small. “I won't hide from him anymore. I have nothing to hide from. Everything he has belongs to me. It's my fucking empire. My fucking business. My. Fucking. Family. It never will be his. EnzioCostellawill never be a fucking Romano.They're my blood, and blood doesn't lie. The Romanos aremine.”
Hunter walked toward me, but before he could touch me, I grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him against me.
“And youwillrespect that choice,Carlo.I don't want to say it again, and I'll be fucked if I'm going to. You will respect my choice and you will do what I want you to. You say you don't play, well I'm done with the game, too. My life is not motherfucking Monopoly. Is that clear enough for you?”
I didn't know where the words came from. They exploded out of me with the force of a bomb. They were uncontrollable and harsh, but I knew deep inside me that they were true.
My life wasn't a game.
My family wasn't a game.
I wasn't going to be a pawn anymore.
I was done playing. The fucking waltz my father had me playing was going to end—and the final one-two-three would be mine.
Hunter reached up, his eyes hardening, and grasped my hand. The one that had wound itself inside the fabric of his shirt. “Understood.Boss.”
I tugged him toward me, my lips curving up. “That'sPrincipessato you,Cacciatore.”
His hand wrapped around the back of my neck. “In that case, doubly understood,Principessa.”
I glanced up and met his eyes. “Good.”
Our lips were dangerously close when I heard, “Fucking hell. She's Alexandria two-point-oh.”
I jerked back from Hunter and looked at Isaiah. I looked at his hands, but he wasn't holding any kind of weapon. In fact, he looked relieved. “I don't understand.”
He grinned. “Dar.”
Darien appeared from behind him, and in that moment, they looked like twins. He sighed and sadness glinted in his gaze. “Twenty-two years ago, when you were no more than a baby, your mother's reign over the family was questioned. She couldn't perform her full duties as head of the family with a baby. She needed to marry your father, and you know what she did,bambina?” He smiled. “She pinned your father to the wall, a gun to his neck, and demanded he married her.”
“And he did,” Isaiah continued. “He had no choice. He married her in that moment, or she swore she'd shoot him. And despite this one's skills,” he cocked a thumb toward Hunter, “if you wanted to kill him, I'd have no doubt you'd have that gun out of that bag and to his head quicker than he could draw his.”
I snapped my eyes from Isaiah to Hunter. His hand was at his hip, and I elbowed him before snatching the very same pistol he'd just tried to grip. I aimed it at his breastbone, and he held his arms up to the sound of both Darien and Isaiah's raucous laughter.
“You won't shoot it,” Hunter says with a quiet laugh.
“Won't I?” My words were like stone, and he stilled as my finger tightened over the trigger. “Maybe I'm not like you. Maybe I'm stronger.”
Hunter reached out and wrapped his fingers around the barrel of the gun. “So do it.”
A gunshot fired.
My heart stopped.
My world shattered like a glass.
Blood and tears streamed.
Hunter knocked the gun from my hand and pulled me to the ground. I gasped as my chest hit the carpet, but he reached forward and pressed a finger to his lips as several other shots rang out.
“Get up and run,” he ordered, tugging at me. He snatched up the pistol and tugged me behind me. “Fuck, Is, run!” he yelled, shoving me.
I grabbed the bag and ran.
I ran like fucking hell down the hall.
Hunter followed, his arm outstretched, bullets firing from his gun.
“Dar—Isaiah,” I breathed.
“I don't know. Just fucking run!” his voice was so loud it echoed, louder than the shots that echoed off the walls.
I whimpered as I saw a bullet ricochet off the hallway wall, millimeters from where I'd just been standing. Hunter's arm flew out and slammed into me. I barely stayed on my feet long enough to pull the 9mm out of my bag and shoot it.
I watched as the bullet pierced the chest of a man in black and he dropped to the floor.
“Addy,” Hunter rasped, “Can we get out?”
I looked around. We'd backed into my room. “Yes.”
“Then get us the fuck out.”
I grabbed his arm and pulled him to the window. I shot at the door when I heard Darien yell, followed by a gunshot. My heart tightened, but Hunter shoved the glass pane open before I could yell my annoyance.
He jumped out onto the garage roof and held his hand out for me. I had no choice, so I grasped the rucksack tightly and followed him out. I stopped to shut the window after me, and he said nothing as he jumped off the rood and tucked his gun into his hip.
I put my own pistol back inside the bag, clicking the safety on before I did, and jumped into his arms.
He caught me, lowering me to the ground softer than I would have expected, and placed a helmet on top of my head quickly.
Oh fuck me.
Chapter Twelve - Hunter
She looked terrified.
The bravado and determination she'd shown just minutes ago had quickly morphed into a 'fucking run' instinct that radiated from her with her fear. Her bright blue eyes were wide with shock, as though she couldn't believe what was happening.
I gripped her hand tightly. I'd parked my bike just away from the house for a reason, and this was it.
I didn't trust Isaiah either.
“He'll be fine,” I said to her, taking the bag she'd been holding so tightly for so long and hooking the straps over her arms. I hoped I wasn't lying to her. “Get on behind me.”
A noise that resembled a tortured cat eeked out of her mouth.
“No offense, Adriana, but the bike is less likely to kill you than the fuckers in there.” I got on and patted the seat behind me.
“Fine.” She wasn't happy about it, but when another gunshot shattered a window somewhere, she leaped onto the back and wrapped her arms around my waist. “A car is safer!” she yelled when I kick-started the bike.
“And slower! Hold on tight.”
She screamed as I revved the bike to full power and we took off. Her grip around my waist was almost suffocating, and if this weren't a life or fucking death situation, I'd be thinking about the way her tits were pressing against my back.
Fuck, maybe I was. A little. Even in the face of potential death, I was still a guy, and she was still insanely fucking sexy.
The gates were open when we reached the edge of the community, and although I couldn't hear anyone following us, I wasn't dumb enough to think we were anywhere near safe. The bike wasn't exactly the quietest or most inconspicuous vehicle. They'd know instantly who'd taken her and what to look for.
I needed to get us to a rental place and switch for a car.
The only problem was getting to the rental place.
Adriana pressed her face into my back as we sped through the city, weaving in and out of traffic. I glanced in my mirror and saw another bike behind us. It looked to be following the same path I was, and red flags popped up instantly in my mind.
I clenched my jaw. Shit. I really didn't want to risk shooting blindly—especially not with Addy behind me, and it wasn't like I could get her in front of me to drive.
She was right. We should have gotten a car.
Too late now.
“Don't panic, okay?” I said back to her, reaching inside my jacket.
“For what?” she shrieked, clearly panicking.
“This.” I reached behind me, used the mirror to aim, and shot.
I didn't hit the guy on the bike, but I was close enough that he swerved and almost lost control of his bike. Too many cars got between us for me to take another shot, so I tucked the gun into Adriana's hand at my stomach and focused on driving.
I needed to get us somewhere safe. And quickly.
Unfortunately, I couldn't go much quicker than I was, and there was a red light coming up.
Fuck it. It was probably the best law I was gonna break today. In my life, if I was honest with myself.
I had no idea where we were going. I wasn't familiar with California at all, and I couldn't exactly pull out my phone and map a route to somewhere safe, mostly because I had no fucking idea where 'safe' was.
Where the fuckwas'safe?'
I drove. I didn't know where I was going or what was going to happen, but I knew I needed to get as far as away from Calabasas as possible. Somewhere busy. Somewhere we could hide out for the shortest amount of time—where even Enzio's fuckhead idiots wouldn't dare touch her.
We whizzed past a sign that told me we'd traveled so far that we were only five miles outside of downtown Los Angeles.
That answered my question.
I got into the right lane and turned off. When we came to stop at a light, I took the gun from Adriana and tucked it back into my jacket. Driving around downtown L.A with a gun in her hand struck me as a pretty stupid idea, and I wasn't in the habit of stupid ideas. Unless you counted not shooting the girl currently on the back of my bike—and I didn't.
“Look out for a rental place,” I said behind her as the lights changed.
I vaguely heard her “Okay,” as I revved the bike and wound in and out of the cars. The traffic was so insane it made New York City seem like an empty highway to nowhere. This was both good and bad for us. Bad because we seemed to stop more than we moved, but good because there were so many bikes that we'd be hard to pick out.
Thank god for the plain black bag Adriana had.
It felt like an hour had passed by the time we finally made it into the center and drove past a rental store. I pulled up outside it, but I hadn't even killed the engine when I heard Adriana protest.
“No. Three blocks away, on Century Boulevard,” she said, her hands twitching on my abs. “The Pontarelli's run it. I need to get a message to them if they don't already know.”
My stomach clenched at the name—or maybe it was just the way she gripped my t-shirt and her nails lightly scratched me—but I nodded and pushed off again, seamlessly flowing back into the traffic. I understood, but I didn't like it.
At least I understood, I reasoned with myself. I didn't have to. I could have refused until she ordered me to, but I wasn't going to take orders from her.
I didn't care if her blood outranked mine.
I didn't take orders from a woman.
Unless that order was to bend her over and fuck her mercilessly.
I was all aboutthatkind of order.
I pulled up outside the Pontarelli rental place a few minutes later, and Adriana could barely wait to step off the bike. She practically jumped off it and wrenched the helmet from her head. My lips twitched at the birds nest it had almost become, and she glared at me with her gorgeous eyes as she patted it down.
I climbed off the bike, pulled the keys, and stepped in front of her. She had one crazy lock of hair she'd missed, so I ran my fingers through the dark strands, calming them until they fell in line with the rest of her hair.
I loved it when she had her hair free like this. She looked powerful, almost. Beautiful—undoubtedly. But powerful. Her hair framed her face so loosely and softly that it lent a special kind of shine to her eyes.
A special kind of shine that could cut you down without another thought.
“You should wear your hair down more often,” I said quietly, my fingers running through it.
She smacked my hand away and quirked a sleek eyebrow. “Really? There're probably ten guys trying to kill me and you want to stand on a sidewalk and tell me how to wear my hair?”
“No, Carlo.” She shoved the helmet at my gut and pointed at the building. “Get your ass into that goddamn building, rent a car, and get me the fuck out of California before I tear you so many new assholes you'll be shitting out of your armpits.”
There was my cut down.
One day, she'd pay for shooting me so much attitude.
She'd sure as hell enjoy it, but she'd pay.
I did as she said, still. I still refused to believe I was taking an order. I would have done it... eventually. When I was done complimenting her, which she totally didn't appreciate. Bad timing, I knew, but a compliment was a fucking compliment.
“Santo!” Adriana demanded, making the guy behind the counter sit up with a jerk. “Is Angelo here?”
“No. Gaige is.”
“Get him. Now.” She slapped her hands onto the counter and stared him down until he moved.
He looked like he was even younger than she was, not old enough to be leasing rental cars, but what the fuck did I know? The Pontarellis ran this city. They probably had the LAPD in their ass pockets for all I knew.
“Addy? What's wrong?” Gaige Pontarelli emerged from the back, dressed in a white shirt and long, thin black tie. “You haven't returned my call.”
“Gaige, I need the car. Me and Hunter need to get out of here.”
His eyes flicked over to me, hardening as soon as they found mine. “You do, huh?” His tone was dry, sarcasm dripping from every word.
“Damn it, Gaige!” Adriana snapped, running her hand through her hair. “I don't give a fuck if you two hate each other for the rest of your lives, but right now, there are probably at least three people who have my name etched into their bullets, so get me the fucking keys before they find me!”
“What?” His eyes jerked back to her. “What the hell do you mean?”
I clenched my jaw. “The house was stormed,” I ground out. “We have no idea how many people followed us here. We need to get out of the state, and we need to do it now.”
I had no idea how I held my temper as he stared between us in disbelief. Every second he stood there like a fucking human totem pole was a second Enzio's minions could get closer to us. I wanted to grab hold of his stupid fucking creaseless white shirt and shake the fuck outta the guy.
“Gaige.” Adriana snapped her fingers. “The keys.”
“Right.” He shook his head as though he'd just rejoined this world. He pulled a large ring of keys from his pocket and fumbled through them until he found a much smaller one, then disappeared behind the counter. Moments later, after some clanging, he stood back up and handed Adriana two keys, one electronic and one normal.
She took them from him and separated them. I found the normal metal one shoved into my hand while she gripped the black, electronic one in her palm.
“I'll call you when we're safe, okay? I promise.” She leaned over the counter and kissed his cheek.
“Where are you going?” His shoulders tensed as she pulled back and headed for the door.