I’d taken a moment to get my rage under control but make no mistake; I was livid.
After having spent the morning interrogating my enemy’s firstborn, I had been eager to feast my eyes on Calliope and share the morning with her. Imagine my surprise when Ricky called to inform me that Raven had just asked him to take her back to the pent house. I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t go through me – being that it was my house and she was my guest.
It didn’t matter if she’d already made it out to the street, because the car wouldn’t be there. Ricky was under orders from me – the only individual whose word held any value around here. Calliope obviously needed to be reminded of that. I expected her to march back up here with that same fiery attitude she loved to test my patience with.
When several minutes passed and she still hadn’t returned, I became concerned. I knew without question that Ricardo would never go against my commands, so that wasn’t an issue.
I exited the room and made my way down the stairs in search of her. My family congregated in the kitchen, circling around the large island bar to devour the meal my mother prepared with Calliope’s help.
I searched for her face – my eyes scanning the room with the intention of finding her sleek black hair pulled into the high ponytail she was sporting. She wasn’t there.
I slipped out unnoticed, making my way down the east wing toward the bathroom to see if she had locked herself away. I could feel myself frown when I passed my destination and found the door ajar, the room empty.
A sense of urgency overcame me. It was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. I was riddled with worry – afraid she might have run off on foot because she was too stubborn and prideful to come to me for help.
I doubled back, making my way down the west hall in search of her. I hardly passed through this wing. There were a few guest bedrooms and a sunroom that my mother used mostly during holidays and the summer. Aside from that, there was a side door that led to the yard.
My eyes widened.
The side door.
I hurried down the long hall, already pulling my phone from my pocket to dial Ricky.
“Hey, Boss,” he answered – his voice bored with a hint of exhaustion.
He had been up all night with the members of my security detail, scouring the area for threats. I didn’t take chances when it came to my family’s welfare.
“Search the grounds for Raven.” I didn’t wait for his reply before I hung up and broke into a jog.
Knowing there was no one on this side of the estate, I called out to her. “Calliope?” I pushed doors open at random as I passed, not wanting to miss her if she was indeed hiding away in one of the guest rooms.
My worry only increased when she didn’t answer, my search coming up empty. The estate was massive, and even though I knew there was an exit at the end of this winding hall, I couldn’t see it because I was entirely too far. I still had a few more rooms left to search before I reached the turn up ahead that would lead me to the side entrance.
The sound of voices echoed down the hall, reaching my ears and making me freeze on the spot. There were two: a male and a female. I immediately recognized the husky tones of Calliope’s whisper – having heard similar muffled sounds in my ear when we fucked.
Conscious that there was someone else with her, I addressed her by her alias. “Raven.” The command was obvious in my tone. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she’d heard me because the whispers quieted almost immediately.
I turned the corner, finding her pressed against the door with tears in her eyes. She was alone.
“Who were you talking to?” I was too angry to care about her tears. The moment my eyes landed on her; my fear melted away – only to be replaced by fury. I was angry she had walked away from me – my pride still wounded by her earlier actions.
She sniffled, making a weak attempt to hide her devastation. Without answering my question, she pushed off the door and ran into me. Her arms circled my waist and she buried her face in my chest. I remained still, my arms hanging limply by my sides. I didn’t want to show her affection when I was so furious with her.
But she made me weak.
I circled my arms around her, holding her against me tightly. Her body melted into mine – soft curves pressing into my hard physique.
“What happened?” She was clearly distressed, though I had no idea why. And I still suspected she had been speaking with someone.
My eyes automatically scanned the area, knowing there was another connecting hallway on the opposite side and that anyone could have slipped through. The family estate was an endless labyrinth of halls and rooms. I used to get lost as a child all the time, never knowing where these halls or doorways would lead.
“I don’t want to leave,” she whispered against my still-bare chest, her tears smearing into my skin.
“Then don’t.” I didn’t know what else to say. If she didn’t want to leave, the answer seemed simple to me – she should stay. I would never admit I wanted her to stay, too.
But the truth was, I did.
I lifted my hand to her chin and tilted her face so I could see her. Tears streamed down her cheeks like tiny rivers. I’d only seen this woman cry on one other occasion, so I knew how rare of an occurrence it was. I hated it now as much as I did then.
I loved Calliope’s natural flare, her fire and the way she demanded my respect. Seeing her weak and vulnerable made me want to tear things apart. I couldn’t explain the emotion, but I wouldn’t question it. The need to protect her was irrefutable.
I wiped the tears from her eyes, nearly feeling myself fall into those endless green pools. They were so easy to get lost in. She had the most expressive eyes, despite her defensive attitude. Even when she was holding back, I could see the truth in those emerald orbs.
Right now, she looked terrified.
“Tell me what happened.” If someone had hurt her, I’d tear them apart with my bare hands. I’d do anything to make her feel safe, secure. She deserved to live a life free of the horrors she experienced in her past.
I knew very little about what she’d been through, but she’d told me enough. Her past was dark, and she had been horribly abused. She wouldn’t reveal the name of her abuser, but I’d find out soon enough – and when I did, he would have me to answer to.
And I would make sure he suffered her pain tenfold.
“I can’t tell you,” she replied, bringing my mind back to the present.
I frowned. “Yes, you can, Calliope. Why are you upset? Who were you talking to before I got here?”
Her eyes shifted between mine, the furrow in her brow deepening as she considered her answer. “It’s not your problem.”
“I beg to differ. Tell me.”
She sighed, her irritation beginning to show. “No, Luca. It has nothing to do with you.”
I growled under my breath, tightening my grip on her jaw so she couldn’t look away. “Yes, Calliope, it does. You are my business because you’re my woman; therefore, what concerns you concerns me, too. Now cut the shit and tell me.”
Her eyes widened to the size of saucers, her lips parting in surprise. “Your woman?”
I hadn’t really considered my words before I spoke them, but it was too late now. “Is that an issue?” She tried to pull her face away, but I held her firm. “Answer me.”
“What happened to keeping your emotions in check? You promised me this would never be anything more than sex, Luca. When did I become your girlfriend?” I could see the panic rising on her face. If there was one thing I knew about Calliope, it was that she tended to run away when she got scared. I wasn’t letting her go that easily.
“You’re not my girlfriend,” I said harshly, “but you’re the woman I’m sleeping with, which makes you my business – my responsibility. I take care of mine, Calliope. You’re one of mine – a member of this organization and the woman in my bed for the foreseeable future. So, yes – it is my business and it is my problem. Don’t make me ask you again.”
“You won’t look at me the same,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion, “you’ll judge me...I know you will.”
I nearly laughed. “Baby,” I loosened my grip on her jaw so I could caress her face with the tips of my fingers, “I would never judge you. Whatever it is, I’m sure I’ve done and seen worse. You can trust me. I may not be your boyfriend, but I am your friend. Talk to me, Bella.”
She exhaled audibly, my persistence breaking down her defenses. As stubborn as she was, I was worse. I didn’t back down without a fight and I never took no for an answer. I’d allowed Calliope an exceptional amount of privacy when it came to her past, but whatever or whomever was bothering her was beginning to interfere with the plans I had in store for her. That was simply unacceptable, and so, I expected to be in the know.
“I’ve spent so much time trying to get away from my past, but it seems to follow me everywhere I go.” She released her grip on me, instead wrapping her arms around her own torso as she continued. “Despite the brave face I put on, I’m terrified. I never want to go back to that life, yet it keeps finding its way back to me.”
I hung on every word, not wanting to miss a single detail since she had never been so open with me before. This was the exact moment I had been waiting for since the day I set eyes on her.
“I left a few people behind when I ran away…and one of them is here with us today.” She met my gaze, her eyes heavy with emotion as she finally revealed a shred of the truth to me.
“My stepbrother Jacoby.”
I arched a brow. I’d never heard the name before in my life. How long had this individual been under my mother’s roof?
“You’re going to have to be more specific than that, Calliope.”
She sighed as she held my gaze. “Carmen’s fiancé, Luca. He’s my stepbrother…”
It took me a moment to register just what she was saying. There was a man in my family home…a man that knew the woman before me probably better than I did. Someone from her past who had somehow weaseled his way into my sister’s life.
Furthermore, he had somehow made his way past my security, which meant one of two things: either Carmen was overstepping her bounds and giving orders to my men without checking in with me first, or one of my men allowed him to pass.
I knew my sister’s fiancé was arriving this morning, but my orders were clear. No one made it past the end of the driveway without my immediate knowledge and a full security check.
This morning was not going well at all.
“Did he recognize you?”
She met my gaze and I saw the fear clearly written on her face. “Of course, he did.”
My jaw clenched automatically – my first instinct telling me she was in imminent danger. “Is he the one you’re running from? The one who hurt you?” I knew there was murder in my eyes from the way hers widened to twice their original size.
Not good enough. “It’s a simple yes or no, Calliope. Is he the one who hurt you?”
Her eyes slid shut and she inhaled an unsteady breath. “No.”
Relief washed through me. I didn’t want to kill my sister’s future husband, but I wouldn’t hesitate to end his life.
“But he’s part of the reason I got hurt to begin with.”
My entire body stiffened at once. I didn’t need to hear the details because it sounded like he was responsible for the past she suffered. Whether it was direct or indirect was irrelevant to me.
“Then he must die.”
“No, Luca! I don’t want his blood on your hands. I’m a big girl, and I’m okay now. I’m still working through some issues, but I’ll be okay. I promise.”
Still not good enough. “I didn’t ask your permission; I was simply letting you know.”
Those hypnotic green eyes doubled in size and she flung herself against me – her fingers digging into my bare chest. “Please,” she whispered, a sheen of moisture coating her eyes, “I can’t be responsible for any more deaths. I’m barely hanging on to my sanity as is.”
I held her gaze, my eyes flitting between hers. She was asking me to overlook something monumental. It wasn’t in my nature to show mercy to those who had crossed me or my family. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t blood related. She was the woman on my arm and in my bed and I had sworn to protect her.
“Were you ever shown mercy?”
I could tell my question confused her. She furrowed her brows and canted her head to the side in question. “What do you mean?”
“When you were suffering at the hands of the one who abused you...were you ever shown mercy?”
She laughed bitterly, shaking her head in the negative. “No...”
Precisely what I suspected. “So why should I show mercy to this asshole if he’s the one responsible for what happened to you?”
She pressed her lips together in a mulish line, a small wrinkle forming on her forehead. “Because I’m asking you to. Despite your violent nature and need to control everything, I know you care about me, Luca. I’m asking as a friend...please don’t do this.”
I nearly laughed at her stupidity. “Just because I look out for you doesn’t mean I care about your opinion. I’ll decide what’s wrong and what’s right. I call the shots – not you. That piece of shit allowed harm to come to you, and you expect me to let him live? To marry my sister and subject her to the same fate you suffered?” I gave her an incredulous look, waiting to hear what sort of answer she’d cook up this time.
I saw the emotion pass over her face – the hurt from the harsh way I’d dismissed her request. The surge of emotion I felt upon seeing her distress only pissed me off more. I had no time to worry about people’s feelings – least of all hers.
She finally broke eye contact, lowering her gaze and dropping her hands to her sides. “I know you’re better than this, Luca.”
I laughed sardonically. “I’m really not.”
“You have a good heart, I’ve seen it.”
I grabbed her jaw, needing to feel in control again. “Stop trying to paint this pretty picture of me. I’m not a good person, I’ve never pretended to be, so I don’t know why you think I am. I’m a fucking mob boss. I launder counterfeit money and sell drugs. I protect smalltime criminals in exchange for a percentage of their profits. I pay cops to look the other way and I dispose of bodies through the waste management company I hold stock in. I’m a murderer, Calliope. I’m a fucking criminal. Get it through your thick skull – I’m. Not. Going. To. Change.”
I shoved her face back harshly and quickly retreated down the hall. I couldn’t look at her anymore. She was infuriating.
The woman kept finding ways to get under my skin. I couldn’t allow that to continue. It seemed like we were constantly butting heads. She kept trying to gain the upper hand and take control of her surroundings.
But I was in charge.
So, why did I keep letting her get away with this sort of behavior? Why did she have such a strong hold one me? I’d never been affected by a woman this way. Women were nothing more than pieces of ass for me to use to get my rocks off. Once the sex was over, their purpose was served, and I moved on.
With Calliope, things were different.
I could never seem to get enough of her attitude and smartass remarks. I enjoyed her fire and independence. I was obsessed with her body and burying myself in that pussy. We’d barely been fucking for the past 18 hours and I was already hooked.
But I couldn’t let her get to me this way. As head of this family, I needed to keep a level head. She was right to say sex only complicated things. A month ago, I was so hard up for her that it didn’t seem to matter, but now it was clear that she was right.
The lines were getting blurred, meaning she would continue to cross them unless I set her straight.
The only issue was, I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to.
After brunch, Calliope retired to her room. Her behavior was noticeably different.
Her eyes were vacant – their usual fire gone.
My mother, aunts, and cousins all decided to take Carmen shopping downtown in celebration of her birthday and recently announced engagement. It was the perfect opportunity for an interrogation, if you asked me.
In light of the information Calliope had provided me with, I obtained some background information on our guest. The results did not disappoint.
I’d kept my eye on the newcomer while we ate – observing every move he made, each person he addressed. I suspected there was a mole among my men, but I wasn’t one hundred percent sure.
I’d had Sergio relocated before ascending to the kitchen, so the basement was now available for our visitor.
My men likely seized the asshole the moment the women vacated the house, so I stopped by Calliope’s room before heading down. Her door was cracked, and I found her under the covers, fast asleep.
Brushing the hair from her face, I admired her features while she slumbered. Even when I was irritated with her, I found her to be breathtaking. It was strange to have such strong emotions toward a woman, even if they were purely physical.
As much as I wanted to allow her to rest, it was about time I introduced her to the underworld. Since coming to work for me, we’d barely scratched the surface of my world. While healing from her gunshot wound, she had spent the majority of her time with Vince in the warehouse doing quality checks for my arms dealing business.
That was only a fraction of the empire I owned.
Leaning forward, I pressed a kiss to her parted lips and tickled the nape of her neck. She stirred and awoke instantly.
“I need you downstairs,” I said, letting the ends of her hair slip through my fingertips as I withdrew my hand.
She sat upright and tugged on her ponytail until it was tight again. A few bumps formed on the top of her head and there were still loose strands framing her face but somehow, she was as attractive as ever.
I turned toward the door. “Ricky will be waiting at the stairs. Five minutes.”
I left without another word.