A/N: Surprise readers! In honor of this week’s holiday and the fact that I finally have my test date to take my boards this month, I’ve decided to release an EXTRA chapter this week! I will release chapter 18 on Sunday as scheduled. Hope you enjoy! Please don’t forget to leave comments and tell me what you’re thinking. How do you like to story? What do you think of the characters, and where do you think the story is going? I love to hear from you guys, reading your comments literally make my day!
I awoke to the clamor of voices coming from downstairs. Sitting up, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and focused my vision on the bedside clock.
Somehow, I’d managed to sleep late into the morning.
Shoving the sheets off my body, I winced at the soreness between my legs. I’d nearly forgotten Luca had crept into my room in the early morning hours to get his rocks off.
I smiled at the memory, biting my lip as I remembered the rough way he took me in my half-asleep state. I had been having the best sleep I’d had in a while. Deep and dreamless – free from nightmares and horrific memories of my past.
I was suddenly startled awake and when my vision adjusted, it was Luca I saw – looming over me with a look of pure lust in his eyes. I thought that maybe I had drifted into some sort of fantasy sex dream until I felt him shove himself deep inside me. I awoke instantly, my body alight with pleasure.
I rose from the bed and dragged myself into the en-suite bathroom. I took care of business and made my way to the sink, washing my hands and face. To my surprise, I found a brand-new toothbrush still in its package, sitting on the counter. Once my teeth were brushed, I combed my hair out with my fingers and placed it in a tight ponytail on top of my head.
When I stepped out of the bathroom, I found a fresh set of clothes folded neatly at the foot of the bed. The staff must have snuck in while I freshened up in the bathroom. I got dressed and made my way downstairs, following the bustle of voices that drifted out of the kitchen.
Mrs. Moretti was ushering the staff out of the kitchen with a wooden broom. It was honestly the funniest thing I’d seen in a while. I cracked a smile as she swatted their legs and feet, screaming in Italian until they exited the vicinity altogether.
Turning to me, her pretty face split into a smile. “Buongiorno, Raven. Come, sit! I was just about to fix breakfast.”
I obliged, taking a seat at one of the stools against the large island counter. “Did the staff do something to upset you?” I gave her a knowing smile.
She chuckled, turning to pull a carton of eggs, package of bacon, and a few more items from the refrigerator. “The family hasn’t been together like this since my husband passed away,” she explained, getting to work on the stove, “I just want to cook for them. Luca insisted that I needed the help, but I’d much rather be the one to take care of the house. Especially when all my children are under one roof.”
I smiled; my heart warmed by her motherly words. “I understand completely. I prefer to do things for myself, too.”
I watched Mrs. Moretti blend flour, butter, milk, cheese, and a few spices and herbs into a large mixing bowl. She pulled the resulting dough out and slapped it onto the counter, kneading it with her hands.
“I can tell just by looking at you,” she said, a hint of a smile in her tone as she continued to work on the lump of dough, “it must drive Luca crazy. He likes to control everything – just like his father.” Her eyes became glassy with emotion as she talked about her late husband.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said, “it must be hard for you without Mr. Moretti.”
She shrugged, breaking the dough off into smaller pieces and laying them on a baking sheet. “The children were already grown when he died,” she explained, preheating the oven before getting to work on the bacon and eggs, “so it wasn’t hard in that sense. He was a wonderful father and an even better husband.”
“Still,” I replied, leaning forward to watch as she added a blend of Italian herbs and spices to her egg mix, “you must miss him dearly.”
She sighed, setting the whisk down and planting her palms flat on the counter surface. “Every day.” She met my gaze, her brown eyes soft and full of affection. “I talk to him every day. Even when he can’t talk back, I know he hears me. He’d be so happy to know Luca found such a smart young woman like you. This brings me great joy.” Her accent came and went – thicker with certain words and emotions and nearly absent with others.
I flushed immediately, my face getting hot. I didn’t want to mislead her in any way. “Mrs. Moretti –”
“Adelina,” she interjected, “I insist.”
“Of course,” I smiled weakly, “Adelina…listen, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about Luca and me.”
“What makes you think I have the wrong idea?”
I folded my hands nervously, pulling at my fingers as I brainstormed the nicest way to get my point across. “Luca and I, we’re just friends. I work for him, that’s all. We’re not a couple.”
She smiled, resuming her earlier task of whisking together the egg mix and pulling bacon out of the package. “You remind me so much of myself,” she began, speaking as though the previous conversation had never occurred. “You’re independent, strong, and stubborn.”
I tried not to take offense.
“And I mean that in the best way possible,” she added, as though sensing my unease. “I see the way my son looks at you. You may both be in denial, or perhaps you truly believe that there’s nothing between you. But I knew it the moment I met you.”
I frowned, canting my head to the side at her statement. “Knew what?”
“That I’d just met my future daughter-in-law.”
A couple hours later, Mrs. Moretti and I had cooked up a storm. Somehow during the course of her cooking and our chatting, I was sucked in by her personality – completely at ease and feeling more at home than I had in a long time.
I learned how to make Italian biscuits from scratch. We made an array of Italian-American classics and set the dining room table for nearly 30 people. I was slightly jealous of this wonderful togetherness Luca’s family shared.
My family was broken beyond repair. I never enjoyed large gatherings or quality time with loved ones. It was just my mother and me. She never explained where or who my father was, and I never asked.
She got married roughly six years ago to her current husband, Benjamin.
It was crazy to think that such a thing had affected my life so deeply. Things were different before he came into our lives – bringing with him his delinquent son Jax. I had been in love with an amazing man at the time – someone I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with. The moment Jax made his acquaintance, I lost everything that mattered to me.
A whole new level of Hell ensued thereafter.
I shook off the dark memories, reminding myself that all of them were a part of the past now. I was never going back there. Nothing would ever change that.
I promised myself if I ever did end up being found and dragged back to New York, I’d end my own life. That’s how serious I was about never reliving that horror again.
Things were finally flipping around for me. I was surrounded by people who cared about one another. Of course, everyone I knew was a criminal, but their sense of family and unity was unbreakable.
I wished I could be part of something like that.
“What’s going on in here?”
Luca’s voice stole my attention and I met his gaze as he leaned casually against the entryway – the slightest hint of a smile in his dark eyes.
He was shirtless – a pair of sweatpants covering his long legs. The pants hung low on his waist, showing a hint of the thick band that supported his boxers. He crossed his arms over his chest casually, flexing all the right muscles that made my core throb with need.
“Good morning, son,” Mrs. Moretti chimed as she poured more wine into her glass.
Luca arched a brow. “Drinking this early, Mamma?”
She waved him off as she downed the glass in seconds. “It’s a special occasion. I’ll do as I please. Where are your brother and sister?”
The doorbell rang and I excused myself to answer, leaving them to their mother-son banter. Chuckling to myself, I reached for the door handle and pulled it open.
My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach and the room began to spin around me. Bile rose in my throat as the realization of who was standing before me sank in.
I pulled the door shut behind me and stepped outside. “What are you doing here, Jax?” I shoved him back instinctually, my hand pressing flat against his chest and forcing him to take a step back.
I wish I’d brought a gun with me.
He smirked, a slow smile spreading across his lips. “I should be asking you the same thing. We’ve been looking everywhere for you, Callie.”
“Don’t fucking call me that,” I snapped, my eyes automatically scanning the street for the real enemy. “How the fuck did you find me? Where is he?”
Jax remained silent a moment, his disgusting gaze raking over the length of my body. “We didn’t find you,” he sneered, his needle-point eyes locking back with mine, “and he isn’t here. I came alone.”
What? That made no sense…
“Don’t fucking lie –”
The door swung open behind me and Carmen’s high-pitched squeal made me jump in my shoes.
She shoved me aside as she leaped into Jax’s arms. My heart thumped loudly and skipped a beat. What the fuck was going on?
I stumbled back into the house with one goal in mind: retreat.
I had to get the fuck out of there. It was over. My freedom had come to an end. I scrambled up the stairs toward my room, intending to dawn my shoes and sneak out the back door. I texted Ricky, requesting that he pull the car around the back and wait for me. I dropped into a chair by the large vanity and found my shoes with my gaze. My high-heeled shoes.
I’d be making my escape in a pair of Louis Vuitton pumps and worn out jeans. Classy.
Slipping the heels onto my feet, I opened a random drawer from the chest in front of me and found a soft, over-sized knit sweater. Pulling it over my head, I grabbed my phone from the counter and slipped it into my back pocket.
I’d have to stop by the penthouse to grab my pocket book and ID. Thankfully, Luca had an official license made out for me – furnished with Raven Moretti’s name and a plain photo of my face he’d taken on his phone my second week staying with him.
Luca would just have to understand. I needed the identity and money he gave me to start over somewhere else. Now that Jax knew where I was, he’d be sure to call Him.
I was never going back to Him.
Adrenaline coursed through my veins, making my skin prickle as the tiny hairs on my body stood on end. I took one last look at the space around me, mentally saying goodbye to the first place that had made me feel at home in years.
Pushing the door open, I walked right into a solid wall. Luca glared down at me – his brows dipping low between his hazel eyes, which were glowing with his rage.
“Going somewhere, Calliope?”
“Luca…” I took a step back, my hands shooting into my hair, fingers digging into my scalp and pulling my ponytail apart.
He followed me into the bedroom and shut the door behind him. “Did you not think that Ricky would check with me before adhering to your demands? What the fuck is going on?”
Tears accumulated on my lower lashes, the frustration building more quickly than I could have imagined. “I don’t have time for this…” the words came out as a whisper.
I could almost see the smoke shoot out of his ears. His jaw ticked and he narrowed his gaze at me, the proverbial daggers cutting me deeply. He took a menacing step toward me and the fury that rolled off him actually scared me.
“You don’t have time? You don’t have time? I’ve given you nothing but my time, Calliope. Nothing but my patience and generosity.” His fingers circled my throat, yet they remained slack against my skin. “You repay me by trying to run off? Need I remind you that a debt is owed to me?”
I blinked the tears away, letting them fall from my lashes and roll down my cheeks. “I wish I could explain it to you, Luca. It’s not that I’m not grateful, I just –”
“Just what?” he interjected, pressing the tips of his fingers firmly, but gently into my neck. “Why don’t you just tell me what it is you’re running from? Who the fuck is looking for you and why are you so afraid of them? Are they here in Chicago? Give me something, dammit.”
I flinched when he raised his voice, my eyes falling to the floor. I couldn’t even look him in the eye. He deserved more than anyone to know the truth about me, yet I couldn’t bring myself to come clean. There was just too much to explain, and I didn’t want to reopen those wounds.
I just wanted to get the hell out of there and away from the potential danger. I couldn’t risk being found despite my growing affection toward Luca. He was the closest thing I had to a friend right now. The closest thing I had to a family.
But it wasn’t enough.
Nothing ever was.
“Luca, I’m sorry…I have to go.” I pushed past him, shocked when he actually let me go.
Rushing down the stairs, I crept around the bannister and made my way down the hall until I found a side entrance that would take me outside without having to face the entire Moretti clan.
“Leaving so soon?”
I whipped around fast, coming face to face with my stepbrother. Instinctively, I reached for the large phone in my back pocket – my fingers wrapping around its width so I could use it as a weapon. It might not have been a knife, but it was the size of a brick and could probably put a nice dent in his skull if I aimed it just right.
“Get away from me.”
Jax chuckled – the sound eerie and filled with malice. Casually, he flipped the right side of his jacket open, flashing me the Glock 19 that sat on his hip. His fingers grazed the handle slightly – a silent threat that he’d shoot me if I resisted.
My hand tightened around my phone and I took a step back – creating as much distance between us as possible. My back was pressed to the door, but I’d never open it and escape before he had time to grab me.
“You know you really had us fooled, Callie. We thought you were long dead.” Jax continued to stroke his gun like a beloved pet, never making a move to remove it from the waist of his pants.
I remained silent. I had nothing to say to this man. For all I knew, he might have already called my husband and alerted him to my presence in this house. Then again, why was Jax here? What was he doing with Carmen Moretti?
And then it hit me.
She had called him baby. Could it be that he…
Oh, my God.
“What are you doing here Jax? What’s your business with Carmen?”
The corner of his mouth lifted ever so slightly. His eyes darkened and he dragged his gaze down the length of my body. My stomach roiled.
“You’re looking as good as ever.”
I resisted the urge to vomit. “What the fuck are you doing here, Jax?”
He flashed me a sinister grin. “I’m getting married. What are you doing here, Cal? Santi’s been a mess without you. He’ll be thrilled to hear you’re in perfect health.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. Hearing that name affected me more than I thought it would. I hadn’t spoken it in so long, just hearing it made my ears buzz uncomfortably.
What’s more, Jax just confirmed my earlier suspicion. He was Carmen’s fiancé. How the fuck did something like that happen? I knew with certainty this man wasn’t capable of loving anyone but himself.
Jax lifted a hand and reached for a strand of hair that had fallen over my left eye. I avoided his touch and smacked him with my free hand – the other still wrapped tightly around my phone as if it would protect me.
“Don’t fucking touch me, asshole.”
He narrowed his gaze, snatching my arm aggressively just above the elbow. “Bitch,” he growled, squeezing me until I winced, “all this time away from home must have you confused.” He pulled me into him, forcing our chests to press together as he whispered against the shell of my ear. My entire body recoiled automatically. “Vacation’s over. Time to come home.”