Calliope avoided me like the plague.
Several days passed and she had barely looked in my direction. She didn’t come down for breakfast anymore, taking all her meals in her room.
We carpooled to work as usual but there were no pleasantries or small talk. She flinched at my touch and recoiled when I was near.
Had I gone too far?
I’d discovered my family had been infiltrated by one of Santiago’s men. I couldn’t overlook that. The man had only recently gone into power and ran New York’s largest drug cartel. We hadn’t crossed paths since our territories were thousands of miles apart, but I was no fool.
An operation that large was an automatic threat to my family and I considered anyone outside of this family either an enemy or an ally. I had no ties with the cartel as of yet, but having a man pose as a decent human being to use my sister as a ticket into the folds of my business was definitely a declaration of war.
Santiago was on my radar now, and despite the cartel’s ruthless reputation, I’d been doing this much longer than he had. He was practically a child playing a man’s game. His attempt to infiltrate me was sloppy at best. It took me no time to catch on, so it was clear he was new at this.
After witnessing the way Calliope had heaved in the corner when I took her stepbrother’s eye, I decided to spare him. I figured I’d find some use for him and keeping him alive seemed to be in my best interest.
I didn’t want a war on my front steps, but I knew it was coming regardless.
I allowed Jax to check in with his superiors under the supervision of my men as well as the threat of death with a barrel pressed against his temple. He wasn’t as stupid as I’d originally thought because he gave nothing away.
Carmen was under the impression that he had gone home for an emergency. I figured it was best to spare her the agony of knowing her fiancé’s days were numbered. She’d be returning home in a few weeks and would soon realize he had disappeared off the face of the earth.
He wasn’t a rat, that was obvious.
When another week of torture passed and he still hadn’t revealed his superior’s intentions, I knew I had to up the stakes. I needed Calliope to tell me what she knew, which meant her little game of silence was about to end. Two weeks was long enough.
I was a patient man, but her dismissal was beginning to wear me down.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss her attention, her affection...her body. But I missed our conversations more. She was finally opening up to me and I somehow fucked that up. She was sealed tight like a clam. I felt helpless, and that was something I wasn’t used to.
This woman caused me to feel a whirlwind of emotions and I was tired of it; tired of the control she somehow had over me. I considered no one’s feelings, but I valued hers. I felt no obligation to give anyone space or allow them the time they needed to recover, but I did for her.
After nearly two months, I had become an expert at gauging her moods.
Enough was enough. I allowed her ample time to herself but now, I was over it. It was Saturday and I decided to stay home this morning. Knowing she wouldn’t come down for breakfast, I dismissed the maid and brought the tray to her myself.
“Just a minute,” she chimed from beyond the door when I rapped my knuckles against the cherry wood.
The door swung open and I witnessed the immediate shock on her face. “Where’s Celine?” she asked, referring to the housekeeper that normally brought her meals to her.
“I sent her home early.”
She arched a brow, immediately suspicious. “Is she alright?”
“Are you going to invite me in? I brought breakfast.” I presented the tray to her, filled with fresh fruit, pancakes, and thick slices of bacon. I’d never normally eat all these carbs, but I understood these were her favorite breakfast items so, I took the liberty of making them for her. I even went so far as to make her coffee; strong and black – the way she preferred.
She eyed the tray with conjecture, her guard all the way up. “Did Celine make this before she left?”
I huffed, my patience wearing thin. “I’m happy to answer your questions over breakfast, but I’m getting tired of standing here with this heavy tray.”
She furrowed her brow and stepped to the side, finally allowing me entrance.
The first thing I noticed was how much the room smelled of her. I don’t know if it was her shampoo or lotion, but she constantly carried with her the scent of berries and coconuts. It was overwhelming in here, but somehow the smell of her soothed my darkening mood.
I set the tray down on the coffee table and took a seat on the chaise lounge. Roaming my eyes over her, I realized for the first time that she was dressed only in a robe. I had to bite my tongue to keep my dick from getting hard. I’d gone weeks without her, and I was absolutely starved for her body.
“Are you going to join me?” I asked, patting the space beside me.
With an irritated sigh, she combed her fingers through her long hair and sauntered over. I watched the sway of her hips as she closed the distance between us and took a seat beside me. The seat barely dipped with her slight weight, and I stared as she crossed those long, smooth legs at the knee and helped herself to a strawberry.
Leaning back against the armrest, I watched her profile as she wrapped her juicy lips around the piece of fruit – tempting me without even trying.
“So, are you just going to ignore me forever? I’m not even sure I know why you’re upset.”
She froze at my statement, her entire body tensing visibly before me.
She swallowed her bite of fruit and faced me. “I’m not upset.”
I leaned forward just to prove my point. The moment I was close, she flinched and backed away. “Then why are you afraid of my proximity? Why haven’t you spoken to me or let me touch you?” I grabbed the nape of her neck, squeezing her gently as I pulled her face to mine. “I miss you,” I admitted, brushing my lips against hers, “so it’s time to stop avoiding me and tell me how we can move forward.”
Her eyes slipped shut when I kissed her, and her lips quivered as my breath fanned across her face. She shivered when a chill shot through her. Massaging the back of her head and neck, I held her face against mine and kissed her again.
She welcomed the embrace, melting into the kiss and pressing her chest against mine. I wanted to rip the robe off her body and take her right then and there. I wanted to, but I didn’t. My insufferable conscience wouldn’t allow it. Calliope was a fighter, but she was fragile. As strong as she was, I knew when it came to matters of the flesh, she needed time to be eased into it.
Breaking our kiss, I held her gaze and awaited my answer.
“I miss you, too,” she confessed, and my chest nearly puffed up with pride. “I guess I just don’t know what to say. You tortured Jax even though I asked you to leave him alone.”
“You asked me not to kill him and I didn’t. You never said anything about torture.”
“It was disgusting, Luca.”
I frowned. “Torture isn’t meant to be pretty.”
She rolled her eyes and slumped back against the seat. “I know that...”
“Calliope, I don’t understand what you want from me. He works for a powerful man who declared himself my enemy the moment he sent your stepbrother to infiltrate my mother’s home. I take my family’s safety seriously. He was armed, slipped past my security, and sat at the kitchen table with my aunts and cousins surrounding him. He could have killed someone. I have no idea what his intentions were, but I couldn’t sit around and wait to find out.”
She faced me, holding my gaze as she considered my words. I had already become so familiar with her expressions. She furrowed her brows when she was deep in thought and wrinkled her nose when she disapproved of something. She rolled her eyes to convey her irritation and huffed whenever she was angry.
My favorite tell was when she bit her lip, because it meant she was about to come. It was automatic but didn’t usually last very long before she dropped her jaw to scream out her pleasure. Now that I was thinking about it my dick was hard, and I didn’t want to wait another second before burying myself in that pussy.
My arousal wouldn’t be easy to hide, so I didn’t bother. With sweatpants and a T-shirt on, she’d probably notice the tent I’d just pitched in the next few seconds.
“I understand what you’re saying,” she began, her moss-green eyes darting between mine, “it was just...overwhelming.”
“I gathered as much when you lost your breakfast.” I meant to lighten the mood with that teasing statement, but she seemed even more distressed.
“How do you do it?” she asked, her arms curling around her torso in that defensive way she had about her.
“Do what?” I asked.
“Sleep at night,” was her response, “how do you manage it? I’ve done nothing but toss and turn these past few weeks. I can’t get the faces of the men I’ve killed out of my head. I used to have nightmares about –”
She cut herself off quickly, remembering she hadn’t yet revealed the full extent of her past trauma.
“– my past,” she continued, “but now I can’t sleep because of what I’ve become. I’m responsible for the deaths of four men and the torture of my stepbrother. So, tell me; how do you sleep?”
“I don’t sleep,” I admitted, “not unless I’m so full of booze I can’t keep my eyes open. And you’re not responsible for what’s happening to Jacoby because whether he was your stepbrother or not, this would have been his fate. He was still a spy for the enemy so it’s pointless to blame yourself for his misfortune. Besides,” I reached for her waist and pulled her into my lap,” you said he was the reason you got hurt. You shouldn’t feel bad for him. He’s paying for the atrocities he’s committed – as he should.”
She brought her knees to her chest and let me cradle her to me. “I know, but it’s not your fight...it’s mine.”
Here we go again.
“I already told you, your fights are my fights. Your problems are my problems. That’s what it means to be part of this family.”
“But I’m not,” she retorted.
“You’re not what?”
“Part of this family. I’m not part of any family. I don’t belong...no matter where I go.”
I didn’t like that at all. If she didn’t belong anywhere, I saw no reason why she couldn’t belong here – with me. I’d never be the prince charming every woman dreamed of. I’d probably never be the man she deserved, but I could be a friend to her. Her confidant and protector. I couldn’t explain why I was compelled to be those things for her, but I was.
“Yes, you do,” I said, pulling her hair away from her face and cupping her jaw. “You belong here and you’re welcome to stay as long as you want. Forever, even.”
“I’m welcome?” she asked, lifting her gaze to mine.
“Isn’t that what I said?”
She smirked. “I thought I was just repaying my debt. It sounds like you’re giving me a choice all of a sudden.”
Dammit. She was right. There wasn’t any use in denying it because I was caught.
“You always had a choice, Calliope. You know that.”
The corner of her full mouth lifted in a smile. “I figured, but you’ve never said it before now.”
“If you figured as much, then why haven’t you left?” Did she feel obligated? For some reason, the thought troubled me.
“Where else would I go?”
“Anywhere you want,” I said. “You have access to the funds I gave you, an identity that comes with a clean slate. I see no reason why you couldn’t start over somewhere else.”
She was quiet for a moment, pondering her thoughts. “Somewhere else wouldn’t include you, Luca.”
That was surprising. I felt my brows touch my hairline, unable to hide my shock. “You stayed for me?”
She chuckled. “Not for you, because of you. You saved my life and gave me this amazing life...I consider you a friend.”
I was glad to hear it. “I am your friend,” I replied, “but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy each other.”
She slapped my chest. “God, you’re still such a pervert.”
I laughed, which was rare. She seemed to be the only person who could bring that out in me. “I mean, have you seen yourself? I’m only a man, Calliope.”
“Is that all?” she teased, “and here I thought you were invincible. Weren’t those your exact words?”
She was doing it again; making me eat my words. And I loved it.
“Even powerful men fall prey to the charms of beautiful women.”
She fisted my T-shirt in her palm. “Are you saying I make you weak?”
I grabbed her hips and wrapped her legs around my waist, running my hands up the curve of her spine. “I’m anything but weak,” I grated, untying the sash around her waist and pushing the silk robe off her shoulders. Her bare tits stared back at me and I clenched my jaw against the raging desires coursing through me. “I just know what I like.”
“So, you like me now?”
I kissed the valley between her tits, my fingers digging into her tiny waist. “You already know the answer to that.”
She tunneled her fingers into my hair, and I had to fight against the urge to close my eyes. It’d been so long since I felt her do that, I almost forgot how much I enjoyed it.
“I want to hear you say it anyway,” she whispered, pressing her forehead against mine.
“And I want to hear you scream my name. Perhaps we can reach some sort of compromise?”
She scrunched up her nose and I couldn’t help but laugh. She was adorable when she did that.
“You make everything sound like a transaction.”
I shrugged. “I’m a businessman.”
“But still just a man,” she whispered, trailing her lips to my ear and down my neck.
“I’d feel like more of a man if I were buried between your legs.”
She leaned forward and pecked me on the mouth. “I’m happy to help.”
I stepped out of the bathroom, a towel around my waist as I ran another through my wet strands. My eyes automatically sought Calliope out – finding her in the center of the massive bed, sleeping soundly.
I’d exhausted her with our earlier trysts – fucking her thoroughly for several hours. My appetite was insatiable when it came to this woman. The only reason I stopped was because I could see the fatigue in her eyes. She slipped into unconsciousness less than a minute after her fifth orgasm. I hadn’t even pulled out of her yet when I heard her heavy breathing and soft snores.
I had work to do anyway. Just because it was the weekend didn’t mean my job ever ended. I now had two prisoners at the warehouse; Sergio and Jax. Two enemies – one old and one new.
I had no clue how I was going to move forward, but I needed to form a solution fast. My men were standing by, awaiting my next command.
Much to my surprise, Salvatore didn’t respond the way I expected him to upon discovering that his firstborn was now my captive. He made no moves to retrieve him nor had he attempted to strike a deal with me in exchange for his son’s release.
I couldn’t release Sergio because he was the only playing chip I had at the moment. I’d need to find some other way to lure his father out into the open, but there was a more pressing matter that demanded my attention first.
Pulling the covers over her naked body, I leaned down and pressed a kiss to her forehead. She barely responded, stirring only for a moment before descending back into a deep slumber. I appreciated her effortless beauty a moment longer, brushing my fingers across her hairline and tracing it along her cheek and jaw.
What are you doing to me?
I’d never given a woman this much attention before. My mind had never been preoccupied with anything but money and violence. But this tiny woman managed to steal my focus entirely.
Reluctantly, I left her to her rest and dressed in my room. We were well into the afternoon now, so I’d be playing catch-up the rest of the day. It had been worth it, though. She was worth every minute of my time, though I had no reason to feel that way.
Ricky awaited me on the curb, his massive frame leaning against the passenger door. He wore the biggest smirk on his face – the mirth obvious in his eyes.
“What?” I barked.
He pushed off the vehicle, shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly as he opened the back door for me. “Didn’t say anything.”
I narrowed my eyes and glared. “You didn’t have to. What’s that face about?”
He chuckled, nodding toward the open door as though silently commanding me to get in. Rolling my eyes, I conceded, sliding into the seat. When he came around and took his place behind the wheel, I questioned him again.
“Is there something you’d like to say?” I pulled out my phone as I waited for his response, scrolling through my emails and texts to see what I’d missed that morning.
“Nope. Just enjoying the show, is all.”
I set the phone down. “Show?”
He pulled away from the curb and met my gaze in the rearview. “Yep. You and your lady make up?”
My threatening glare was the only response I offered.
He laughed. “Thought so. You’re off to a late start this morning. Can’t think of any other reason why you’d stay in on a Saturday.”
“Because I was tired.”
He smirked, flashing me another look through the mirror. “I would be too if I had a woman like that in my bed. I’m surprised you’re going in at all.”
“Watch it,” I warned, my jaw clenched tightly. Calliope’s beauty was no secret, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear about it from other men. She was mine, exclusively.
“Wow,” Ricky said, ignoring the threat in my tone, “so I guess things are getting pretty serious then.”
“Shut up, Ricardo.” He was really beginning to piss me off.
“Touchy.” I suppressed a growl. “Come on,” he continued, “don’t leave me hanging here. I’m only teasing because I’ve never seen you this hung up on a woman before, but if she means something to you, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make it clear to the men. She’d be at the top of our priority list when it comes to safety. Just say the word, Boss.”
“Gio has my orders. She’s already under our protection.”
Pulling into the warehouse lot, Ricky shifted the car into park and turned around in his seat to face me. “Do I have to spell it out for you?”
“Apparently.” I gave him an expectant look, wishing he’d just make his point already.
“Is she your plus one?”
I was surprised by the question. By our laws, a plus one referred to the person you’d leave everything to should you die. For many of my men it was their wives, for some it was a parent or child. As the Don, my family was automatically protected. They were royalty because I was their king.
But I didn’t have a plus one. I’d never met anyone that important and I had no children. That wasn’t going to change any time soon.
“Let me make this perfectly clear,” I growled, “Raven is to be treated as a member of this organization. Her security will be no more or less than the security I provide to any of you. Just because I’m fucking her doesn’t make her special. I suggest you keep your nose out of my business and get back to work.”
I exited the SUV, my mood dangerously dark. I didn’t appreciate what Ricky was suggesting, but I knew if he felt that way then others must, too. I had to nip it in the bud. I couldn’t have my men thinking I was distracted by a woman – even if it was the truth.
I passed through the main building on my way to my office, stopping by the gym. A few men were there working out, others training in the ring. I scanned the area in search of my underboss. When I didn’t find him, my fury only mounted.
I was in a rage and searching for a fight.
Danny strolled toward me as I made my way to the main warehouse in search of Vincent.
“What’s eating you?” he asked cautiously. As my brother, he was better at gauging my anger than most of my men. Since we grew up together, he could spot my shifting moods from a mile away.
He fell into step beside me, obviously intending to see the conversation through.
“Fuck off, Daniel.”
He scoffed. “What the hell did I do to you?”
I was being irrational, but I didn’t care. “Nothing, you’re just annoying me.”
“Because I asked why you’re upset? I can’t be concerned for my brother?”
“If you want to be concerned, do it on your own time. I have work to do.” My cold dismissal wasn’t enough to shake him. He continued to walk beside me, following me to the warehouse until I reached Vinnie’s side near the latest shipment.
“I’ll just wait until you’re ready to talk, then.”
“Talk about what?” Vinnie asked, lifting his head up from the clipboard he held.
“Nothing,” I snapped, shooting daggers in Danny’s direction. “Vincent,” I turned to my second-in-command, “why the fuck was Ricardo grilling me about my personal life this morning?”
He arched a brow in question. “How the hell would I know?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose as a migraine began to set in. “He asked if Cal –” I had to stop myself, nearly revealing her true identity in my fit of rage, “– Raven was my plus one. Where the fuck would he get an idea like that?”
Beside me, Danny chuckled. “Are you kidding me? It’s not like you’ve kept your affection toward her a secret. I was beginning to wonder the same thing myself.”
Fuck. This was worse than I thought.
“I don’t know, Boss...with everything else going on I haven’t had time to kick back with the boys. Who knows why Ricky said that, but I agree with Danny. It’s pretty clear she means something to you.” I didn’t miss the bitter tone he took with me when he finished that statement.
I had suspected a while back that Vince might’ve had a crush on Calliope. I didn’t act on it because it didn’t matter. Technically, it still didn’t. She was with me – she chose me. But I didn’t want any bad blood between my cousin and me. La Famiglia first. That was the code we lived by.
“Well, she doesn’t. She’s a friend and a member of this crew. I expect her to be treated with the same respect I require from all of you but make no mistake; she’s nothing to me. So, you’d better get the men in line before I’m forced to step in. I don’t need these bullshit rumors spreading. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. Fix it. Now.”
“Alright, geez,” Vinnie replied. “I don’t see the big deal. If the guys think she’s important to you that only makes her important to us. You know you can count on them to keep her safe.”
“I need to count on them – and you – to do your fucking jobs. Stay out of my personal business.”
Danny shook his head at me, the disappointment heavy in his eyes. “Harsh, bro. You say she’s nothing to you, but I don’t buy that for a second.”
My hand was circled around his throat in an instant, and I pushed him up against the shelves behind him. “I don’t pay you to dissect the meaning behind what I say – I pay you to follow orders and treat my men. Get your ass to the clinic and back to work. I mean it.”
Shoving him against the shelves, I turned and walked away. My mood had only soured more. The need to rip something apart was overwhelming. Rather than head for my office, I went to the stockade where Jax and Sergio each dwelled in their own cells.
Scanning my palm against the panel, I entered Jax’s cell and pulled him to his feet. He was limp when I pushed him against the wall, barely reacting to my violence.
“Wake up, bitch,” I growled, needing to pick a fight.
He lifted his head and regarded me with disinterest. There were bruises all over his face and neck – each in a different stage of healing. His remaining eye was swollen, the other nothing but a crusty socket.
“What do you want?” he rasped.
“For you to talk. You’re less valuable to me with each day that passes, and that isn’t good for you.”
The bastard laughed – the sound devoid of emotion. “I’m not afraid to die. Whether I talk or not, you’ll kill me. The way I see it, it only makes things harder for you if I don’t squeal.”
I punched him in the gut, holding him up against the wall so he couldn’t recoil or escape from the pain. “Then I’ll never kill you. I’ll torture you endlessly every single day and have my brother nurse you back to health just to start all over again. I will take you within an inch of your life every time, until you beg me for the mercy of death. I’ll never release you, so you’ll be forced to suffer at the hands of my men for the rest of your pathetic existence. You’d be surprised what you can live through.”
He laughed again, the sound weak and barely there.
“What’s so funny?” I growled, shoving him up against the dank cement wall.
“You have no idea,” he sneered, “and I’m gonna love watching from the sidelines as your entire operation is dismantled – brick by brick.”
I backhanded him across the face and tossed him onto the ground. “The only thing you’ll be watching is the inside of this cell as my men break your body – one bone at a time.”
“You really have no idea,” he grated, pushing himself into a sitting position with his back against the grimy wall, “and that’s gonna make it all the more satisfying to watch.”
He managed to pique my interest. I lowered myself to the ground, my elbows resting on my thighs as I squatted before him. “Why do you keep saying that?”
He replied with a hollow chuckle.
I grabbed his throat and gave him a threatening squeeze. “Tell me, and I’ll make it worth your while.”
That got his attention. “How?”
“Name your price.”
“Let me go,” he said.
I laughed. “I can’t do that. You’ve seen and know too much.”
“Then forget it,” he spat.
“How about this,” I offered, releasing his neck, “you tell me what it is I don’t know, and not only will I spare your life...I’ll give you a position among my ranks.”
He stared at me for a moment, considering the generous offer I’d just made. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
I shrugged. “You don’t. But, what do you have to lose?”
He narrowed his one eye at me, his lips pressed into a thin line.
“Or,” I added, “you can rot in this cell until you die of old age or some hideous infection. Whichever comes first.”
“Fine,” he acquiesced, “we have a deal.”
I smiled victoriously. “Excellent. Now, speak.”