Calliope lay across my chest, our bodies sweaty and spent. I stroked her hair idly, listening to the sound of our combined breathing.
Just hours ago, I was under the impression that this woman had betrayed me in the worst possible way. I’d almost killed her – even though she never believed I would. Perhaps she was right. I tried to imagine myself pulling the trigger, but my stomach recoiled at the thought.
She traced patterns into my chest with the tip of her finger. “What now?”
What now, indeed. We’d been lost in our own private bubble of intimate bliss, but now it was time to face the music. Santiago was planning to move in on the main warehouse where I kept the majority of the weapons we manufactured as well as their blueprints.
I wasn’t worried because I was always prepared for the worst. It only took a quick phone call to Vinnie, and my men quickly stripped the joint – moving the merchandise to one of the countless buildings I owned in this city. It paid to own real estate, and I made sure none of the properties I owned traced back to me. They were all under fake names, but the paperwork was sound. I had a connection at city hall that made sure of that.
“We wait,” I replied, massaging her scalp with my fingers.
She shifted, resting her chin on her arm so she could meet my gaze. “That’s it? He could attack at any moment.”
“He could,” I said, “but jumping into action is sloppy and irresponsible. It’s also exactly what he wants me to do. It’s safer to wait for him to make the first move. That way, he’ll be forced to come out into the open. And we’ll be ready when that happens.”
She nodded, a slight frown marring her brow.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I’m just trying to understand what he’s up to. It doesn’t make sense. Why would he take me, tell me his plans, and let me go? Do you think maybe he lied about his intentions? That his plans are not what he said they were?”
The thought had crossed my mind. It was likely that he fed Calliope information he wanted her to deliver to me, which meant it could very well be some form of a trap. But I’d received the call from Vinnie less than an hour ago, and the warehouse had been successfully stripped of its assets.
The weapons were moved to another location and Sergio was placed in one of our safe houses until further notice. With two enemies lurking in the night, I couldn’t afford to take any chances. My mother and Carmen were flown out of the country last night. They’d be safe in Sicily until this whole thing blew over.
“It’s possible. We won’t know until he makes a move. There’s no sense rushing into anything without knowing what it is we’re up against.”
My phone rang on the nightstand and I reached for it. It was a New York number I didn’t recognize. A small smile stretched my lips. I let the phone ring three more times on purpose before swiping my finger across the screen and bringing the device to my ear.
“I expected your call sooner,” I said smugly.
“Funny, because my wife was aware that I’d be waiting for yours.” His voice was deeper than I imagined – confident.
“We had a lot of catching up to do,” I retorted, purposely hitting him where it hurt. His heavy breathing was the only response I got. “So, how are we going to play this? You gonna show yourself or keep hiding in the shadows like a pussy?”
He laughed darkly. “Enjoy fucking my wife,” he spat, “because when we finally meet, I’m gonna bend her over and fuck her in the ass while you watch. Then I’ll tie her up and force her to witness your slow, agonizing death.”
Calliope gasped quietly, her body stiffening immediately. It was clear she could hear the other end of my conversation with Santiago by the way the blood drained from her face. I gave her a reassuring look, my thumb stroking her cheek gently.
“It’s a shame you’ll never see her again,” I drawled, the boredom obvious in my tone, “you missed your chance, and you’ll never get another.”
I clenched my jaw, annoyed by this pointless conversation. “Was there an actual reason for your call? If you’re wondering which one of us does it better, the answer is pretty obvious. If you’d like to hear the way she screams my name I’m sure we can work something out.”
Calliope shot me a glare and I smiled – to which she replied with a roll of her eyes and mouthing out the word pervert.
You love it, I mouthed back, making her blush. I nearly forgot about the man on the other end of phone.
“Yes, there is a point.”
“Then get on with it,” I demanded, “because I’m about to be busy in the next few minutes.” My implication wasn’t lost on him.
“I will, but first I have a question for you.”
I rolled my eyes – my patience wearing thin. “Go on.”
I could almost feel him smiling from his end of the call. “Is another man’s wife worth losing someone you love?” I sat up a little, the bed creaking beneath the shift in weight. “I see I finally have your attention.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Calliope’s face fell, concern pouring into her green eyes as she watched me.
“I’ll spell it out for you,” he said, “I have your sister.”
“Impossible,” I growled, “she’s well out of your reach.”
He laughed. “So you thought. My men intercepted yours at the airport. She begged me to spare your mother’s life and offered herself in exchange. I allowed your mother to board your jet, but Carmen is in my custody.”
“You’re lying,” I hissed through clenched teeth.
A rustle could be heard through the line, like someone was moving around.
“L-Luca?” Carmen’s watery voice came through the line. My heart dropped into my stomach.
“Fuck,” I growled, pushing Calliope off me so I could stand and pace the room. “Are you okay? Did that motherfucker touch you?”
She sniffled. “I’m okay. Mamma is safe…I couldn’t let them hurt her, Luca. I’m sorry.”
“Listen to me carefully, Carmen,” I ordered, the desperation now apparent in my voice, “do whatever he says. Don’t be stupid. Stay alive. I’m coming for you.”
I could hear him snatch the phone from her, my heart thundering as I imagined the absolute worst. “Here’s what’s going to happen,” Santiago said.
“I’ll tell you what’s going to happen, asshole,” I spat, “you will release my sister, or I will rip you apart with my bare hands.”
He laughed. “No, I won’t. You took my brother from me. An eye for an eye.” I could feel the blood drain from my face. “Now you have to make a choice. My wife, or your sister?”
“What sort of game are you playing, Santiago? You had your wife just hours ago. You’re the one that tossed her on the streets and told her to find her way to me. Why did you release her just to demand her back?” This guy was a fucking lunatic, that much was abundantly clear.
“I had to see her,” he said simply, “to hear her side of the story.”
I scoffed. “Save the bullshit,” I retorted, “we both know that isn’t the reason. Be a man and tell the fucking truth already.”
“Very well,” he replied. “Seeing her again was only part of the reason I took her. I’m sure you’re aware of the scar on her left shoulder.” I stayed quiet. “Scar tissue is a lot less sensitive because of the damaged nerves.”
“Save me the fucking anatomy lesson and get to the point,” I growled, though by now, I was facing Calliope, running my gaze over the scar put there by my men two months ago. She was sitting up now, a sheet wrapped around her torso and a mortified expression on her face.
“I’ve implanted a remote-controlled capsule just under the surface of her scar. It contains a potent dose of cyanide that will kill her in minutes once activated.”
I rushed to her, my thumb grazing the scar, searching for any sign that he spoke the truth. There, just along the uneven borders of her old injury, I saw the evidence; a tiny incision almost imperceptible to the naked eye. A single stitch held it in place. My eyes met hers, the tears on the cusps of her lower lids lancing at my heart.
“If you try to remove it, it will activate automatically. If you refuse to make the trade, I will activate it remotely. It’s designed to dissolve 48 hours after implantation, and it will activate on its own once the time has expired. Only I have the power to neutralize it so that it can safely be extracted.”
I couldn’t breathe. This couldn’t be happening. “Am I to understand that you abducted her, planted this device, and let her go? Why not keep her once you had her in your clutches?”
He laughed. “Because, this way you have to make the decision to hand her over. This way, her fate is entirely in your hands. If you refuse, she dies and so does your sister. This way, I make you my bitch and everyone will know how the great Luca Moretti fell from grace.”
My mouth went dry. The fucker had me by the balls and he knew it. “You’re insane.”
“Yes,” he agreed, “crazy enough to take your entire operation down. Chicago will be mine, and so will Calliope. You have 38 hours left on the clock. I’ll be expecting your call.”
He hung up.
I dropped the phone, feeling sick to my stomach. Calliope reached for me, but I shrugged away. I couldn’t bear her touch right now. I couldn’t even stand to look at her. There was no way I was about to let Santiago have my sister. But I couldn’t let him have Calliope either.
I paced the room, my fingers digging into my scalp. Think, think, think.
“Luca, it’s okay…”
I turned wild eyes on her. “How the fuck is any of this okay?”
She stood, the sheet falling from her perfect body as she sauntered toward me. I stilled when she pressed her palms flat against my chest. She looked up at me, those beautiful eyes burrowing into my soul.
“I would never ask you to save me if it means Carmen’s life is in danger. Just, give him what he wants. Make the trade.”
“What?” I stepped away from her, unable to believe my ears. “What the fuck are you saying? I should just let him have you? He’ll kill you…or worse.” I didn’t have to elaborate on that last part.
She shrugged, and for the first time since I met her, I saw the light in her eyes go out. “I’m dead anyway if you don’t…you might as well save Carmen while you can.”
There had to be another way. “Cal…I can’t do it. I can’t just let him have you.”
This woman meant so much to me, and I’d been denying that fact until this very moment. The thought of losing her surprisingly hurt more than losing my own sister. I would rather put a bullet in my own head than hand her over to the very monster that destroyed her life.
She blinked, and two small rivers sluiced down her cheeks. “You have to. Carmen is depending on you.” She took my hand and brought it to her face, letting me cup her cheek as she leaned into my palm. “I got away once before. I’ll do it again…somehow.” We both knew she was lying, but neither one of us was about to admit it. She kissed my palm. “Make the trade.”
“Fuck,” I growled, my forehead leaning against hers. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to do this. I can’t lose you…”
She pushed onto her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around my neck. We kissed, the embrace searing through me. I buried one hand in her hair, the other curling around her waist. I held her against me, worshiping her mouth with everything I had in me.
If we only had tonight, I’d make sure it was a night we would both remember.