There was no better word to describe Luca Moretti. He was arrogant, rude, and pretentious.
And so fucking gorgeous it made me sick to my stomach.
I hated the fact that he thought he owned me, just because I agreed to join his ‘family.’ That didn’t seem fair.
I was beginning to realize the price I was paying was much greater than just working for the boss. I was paying with my freedom, too.
It was frustrating because I had escaped one prison and walked right into another. I could admit that my new cage was more glamorous and that in a way I had more freedoms…but it was a cage all the same.
No amount of luxury could conceal that truth.
I wasn’t ignorant to the situation I had placed myself in. I knew exactly what I was doing by agreeing to Luca’s terms. But…it was the lesser of two evils. Winter was fast approaching, and I barely had enough body fat left to keep me warm as it was. I was lucky to still have muscle mass and couldn’t wait to gain a good 15 pounds – getting back to my optimal weight.
I hated the way I looked right now. It was all too obvious that I had been malnourished these past few weeks. The bulk of my weight, in fact, had been lost over the last 14 days, once all the street vendors closed up shop and restaurants packed away their outdoor furniture.
I’d eaten more in the last two days than I had in those two weeks combined.
I was jolted back to the present when we pulled onto a wide street. We seemed to have crossed over from the busy, crowded city and entered a part of Chicago I had never laid eyes on before.
The streets were wide, beautiful Victorian-style mansions lining either side of the road. Each house rested on its own large patch of bright green grass. Some front yards were furnished with beautiful trees that had been obviously planted as décor.
Furrowing my brows, I swallowed my anger and pride and met Luca’s gaze. “I thought we were having lunch…”
The car pulled into the driveway of a gorgeous two-story mansion with white paint, black shutters, and a gravel drive-way that seemed to stretch on for miles.
“We are.” He offered nothing further as Ricky killed the ignition – hopping out to open Luca’s door.
As usual, Luca turned around, extending his hand. I took it, still having the strong urge to deliver a kick to his balls but somehow managing to show restraint. He helped me out and I followed him up the driveway and across the flagstone path in the plush grass.
Reaching the front door, he removed a key from his pocket and entered the house. “Mamma, sono qui.”
“In cucina, Tesoro,” a sweet woman’s voice called from beyond the door, and I followed Luca into the vast home.
It was magnificent. Priceless paintings hung from every wall, bathing the space with beautiful, bright colors. The décor was impeccable, blending perfectly with its surroundings. It was spacious, classy, and yet – so inviting. It felt homey.
Following Luca, I took in my surroundings. We entered a huge kitchen that was too unbelievable to be real. A beautiful woman stood at an island counter chopping potatoes. She looked up, a bright smile on her face when her gaze landed on Luca’s face. I stood off to the side behind him, unsure whether I should make my presence known, or wait for it to be announced.
“My son,” she keened, her light brown eyes warm with affection. “Come, come, give your mamma a kiss.” She stepped around the counter, her arms wide open as she embraced her son.
Luca wrapped her in his arms, his large body engulfing hers, and my heart melted a little. Seeing the ruthless mob boss be so affectionate with his mother pulled at my heart strings. It reminded me that behind all that power and money, he was just a man.
Her eyes met mine when she hugged him, her chin resting on his shoulder as they held one another. I noticed the way they grew wider, as though shocked to see another person with him. Releasing him, she took a step toward me and addressed him.
“Who’s your friend, Tesoro?”
Standing up straighter, I extended my hand and smiled. “Hello, Mrs. Moretti, I’m Raven. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
She stared at my open palm as though it offended her. Ignoring my attempt to shake hands, she pushed past her son and embraced me as though I were her daughter. I didn’t know how to react at first, a little shocked by the unwelcome embrace. My arms remained by my sides, my eyes wide and body rigid as she greeted me like an old friend.
“Luca, lei è bellissima,” she chimed, pulling back to look at me.
I didn’t speak Italian, but I picked up on a few words that were similar in my own native language. She had called me beautiful. Not wanting to give away too much about myself, but also not wanting to seem rude, I replied as carefully as I could – using two of the handful of Italian words I actually knew.
She shrieked, apparently pleased with my attempt to communicate.
“Oh, Luca, she’s perfect. She even speak the Italian!” she beamed, her accent thick but charming.
Not wanting to be misleading, I quickly corrected her. “No, signora, I don’t speak Italian...just a few words I picked up here and there. I understood what you meant, though.” My eyes flitted to Luca’s, his expression giving me pause. He watched me with mild suspicion, a pensive crease to his brow.
“Oh,” she chuckled, her eyes crinkling as she grinned, “so perfect was the –” she paused, looking at Luca, “how you say, Tesoro…l’accento?”
Luca’s eyes never left mine as he answered, “accent, Mamma…and I agree. It was very convincing. Do you speak another language?”
Shit. He was on to me.
“Um, no…I used to watch a lot of old movies…” I fought the urge to close my eyes as the words left my mouth. How weak was that excuse?
He continued to stare me down, the tension in the room growing thicker. “In Italian?”
“Do you mind if I use your restroom?” Pathetic, I know, but it was the only excuse I could come up with at the time.
“Certo, amore,” his mother answered, and I could not for the life of me understand why she continued to speak in her native tongue. It was making things very awkward for me. “Luca, show her to the bathroom, sì?”
His eyes finally shifted back to his mother as he answered, “It would be my pleasure. Raven,” he turned his attention back to me – commanding me without words as he’d been doing from the moment we met.
I followed him out of the kitchen, down the hall, and into a large bathroom. Like the rest of the house, it was amazing. Bigger than my bedroom back home, I felt small standing in the middle of the vast room.
I turned when I heard the door click, catching Luca in the act as he turned the lock. My heart raced as the realization that I was trapped in the room with him hit me hard. Suddenly, the space felt too small, making it hard to breathe.
“Raven,” he said, his tone resembling that of a scolding parent, “what did I say about trusting me?”
“I don’t know what you –”
“Cut the shit,” he interjected, his aggression mounting. “Just be honest with me. You don’t have to give me any details about your past, but if you’re bilingual that could prove to be very useful.”
I held my tongue, still unsure. What if he decided to dig further into my past? He could put together all the little details about me and figure it out. I was still getting to know him – still figuring out what sort of man he was.
To say that my past was difficult to overcome would be the understatement of the century. What I had suffered, the things I’d been through…were unspeakable. Luca was a criminal, so that made it even harder for me.
My entire life, I’d been surrounded by his kind. They may have been small-time criminals, but they were criminals nonetheless. I wasn’t sure how far his influence reached or whether he was in any way connected with the assholes that destroyed my life and nearly ended it.
If he discovered who I really was, would he protect me or betray me? We barely knew each other. So far, there was definitely a mutual sexual attraction. Other than that, he’d mentioned he respected me. But was respect enough?
If he knew there were people looking for me – people I’d spent the last year hiding from – how would he react?
“It’s difficult for me,” I whispered, trying to tamp down my thoughts.
“I know it is,” he replied, the hard edge to his voice softening just a smidge. “But you need to relinquish control. I’m the boss for a reason. I already told you I’d leave your history alone. I might be a ruthless killer but one thing I can say with certainty is that I keep my promises.”
Wrapping my arms around myself, I took a step toward him. “Can I trust you, Luca?”
“I just said –”
“Not to keep your promise,” I interjected. “just…to be on my side.”
“I’ve been trying to tell you,” he rumbled – his voice low, “I am on your side. I never would have dismissed the fact that you robbed me and killed three of my men. If anyone else had pulled that shit, they would have been folded in half in that dumpster. Believe me when I say, I am on your side.”
I cringed at the image he painted. His eyes darted between mine and we stared at each other for several seconds in silence. I steadied my thoughts, knowing he made a great point.
There was absolutely no reason for me to still be alive at that moment, especially given who Luca was. As he so vividly pointed out – anyone else would have been dead on the scene.
I briefly wondered what he got out of this little deal we made. Sure, he mentioned training me and putting me to work…but what was his angle? I was fairly certain he had an ulterior motive.
Swallowing my pride (and fear), I fessed up. “Spanish.”
His eyes widened a bit, his pupils dilating. “Yea?” I nodded, leaving it at that.
A slow grin stretched his perfect mouth. He took a step toward me, staring me down like I was prey.
My heart jumped into my throat as adrenaline rushed through me. Something about the predatory look in his eyes made me wary.
He rushed me. His strong arms wrapped around my waist as he pressed my lower back up against the sink. Before I could react, his mouth had claimed mine.
He kissed me with desperation, a low growl vibrating in his throat. His hands gripped me so tightly, I thought I might bruise.
Working his mouth against mine, his tongue stroked and rubbed against my own. I could taste him, smell his cologne. My rigid body melted into him, and my hands found his broad shoulders.
He seemed to like that, reaching around to cup my ass before lifting me onto the sink and wrapping my legs around his narrow waist. His strong hands stroked my back, eventually coming around to cup my breasts through the jacket I still wore.
He unzipped it, dipping his fingers inside and grabbing my tits through the soft T-shirt. He kissed me harder, forcing me to tilt my head and change angles just to accommodate his hunger for me.
He suddenly broke away, his forehead resting against mine as he caught his breath.
“Shit,” he mumbled, his eyelids fluttering open and those big hazel irises landing on mine. “You’re incredible.”
I smiled, flattered by his compliment even when I had no clue why he’d issued it. He seemed to sense my question because he elaborated further.
“I’ve been enjoying this little game of cat and mouse. Whenever you disclose another hint of the woman you are, I’m that much closer to unraveling the mystery. I can’t lie…it excites me. You excite me.”
I frowned, uncertainty making me hesitant. “It’s not supposed to be a game, Luca. I told you I want to leave my past right where it is.”
His brows were drawn closely together as he listened, somehow making him more handsome. “I just want to know you.”
The statement was unexpected, especially coming from him.
“Why? I’m nothing to you…just some homeless girl that stole from you, remember?”
His gaze darkened, and he clenched his jaw. “Don’t ever talk about yourself like that again. You’re not nothing, you’re part of this family.”
I rolled my eyes. “Luca we’re not family. It doesn’t matter how many times you say it. You offered me an out and I took it. That’s all this is.”
He glared at me, and I could actually feel his fury as it flowed out of him. The room was full of his anger, making goosebumps erupt along my skin. My heart beat a little faster, but I stood my ground – keeping my face serious as he burned holes through it.
Our position was still compromising – my legs still wrapped around his waist and his hands gripping my hips painfully. A vein jumped near his temple and his jaw ticked before he spoke again.
“What this is,” he growled, the violence in his voice giving me pause, “is ownership. You signed your life over to me the second you agreed to my terms. When I say you are part of this family, that’s exactly what I mean. I gave you a chance to walk away, but you chose to stay. There is no walking away now. You’re mine, Raven. Don’t ever think otherwise.”
I shoved him in the chest, forcing his weight off me. His fists clenched by his sides and he stared as I hopped down from the counter. I was constantly balancing on the edge of fear and fury with this man. Right now, I was fucking pissed.
“Nobody owns me, Luca. I risked my life to get away from exactly what you just described. If that’s what this is, then you’d better kill me now. Because if you don’t, I’m walking right out the front door and you’ll never see me again.” I challenged him with my gaze, not even caring if he called my bluff and shot me in the chest.
If this was what I had to look forward to – another domineering piece of shit telling me how to live my life – then I would gladly choose death.
When he didn’t protest or kill me like I told him to, I pushed past him and walked right out of the bathroom. He didn’t follow, and I felt a pang in my chest. I didn’t understand why, but I was disappointed when he didn’t come after me. I’d only just met the man but everything he did for me thus far suggested that I meant something to him. He had even said that I was valuable to him.
So, why did he let me walk away?
It didn’t matter. I should have been glad that he let me go instead of slitting my throat in his mother’s bathroom. Somehow, the image didn’t seem far fetched when it came to a man like Luca.
I had found my way to the front door and had my fingers wrapped around the doorknob when I heard him.
Shit. Did he change his mind? Was he going to murder me after all? Bracing myself, I took a deep breath and turned around to face him.
He looked…broken. His eyes were downcast, a shadow passing over his face. He seemed genuinely upset. “Wait.”
My eyes widened, showing my surprise. “Luca –”
“I apologize,” he interjected, and those words alone gave me whiplash, “You’re right, I don’t own you. But I’ll be honest…” he stepped into my personal space and grabbed my chin between his fingers, forcing me to meet his dark gaze, “I fully intend to.”
A loud pounding nearly made me jump. Was someone banging on the door? He lowered his face to mine, barely leaving a centimeter between us. The sound grew louder, more urgent.
Oh, my God, I thought to myself. My fucking heart was making all that racket. It was working overtime, the sound audible right in my ears. He grabbed my nape and pulled my face against his, kissing me softer than he ever had. It was slow and sweet – such a contrast to his cold, dark demeanor.
“You’re not going anywhere,” he whispered against my lips, “I spared your life and took you in. I expect that debt to be repaid in full.”
My eyes slipped shut and I enjoyed the way his warm breath fanned over my mouth as he spoke. Even his breath smelled delicious – like mint and sugar. How was that even possible? Was there anything unattractive about this man?
“Why?” I managed to ask.
He drew back, tilting his head to look at me. “Because you’re the most incredible woman I’ve ever met. Your fearless, fucking beautiful, and so strong. I won’t let you go. I think I’m obsessed.”
I suppressed a smile. His admission was almost cute.
“Obsessions aren’t healthy,” I teased. His lips quirked, and he gave me a lopsided smile that was so charming, I think my panties dropped all on their own.
“You should let me get you out of my system then.” His eyes were bright with mischief, making his intentions clear.
I swallowed, my throat suddenly dry and a sticky lump forming in the back. “I don’t know, Luca…sex just makes things complicated. I can’t get involved with anyone that way. Not yet, at least.”
“What are you so afraid of? I’m not asking you to fall in love with me. As a matter of fact, the last thing I’m looking for is love. We’re both consenting adults…I can keep my emotions in check if you can.” He bit his bottom lip, making my eyes want to roll back because he looked so sexy.
Goddammit. My resolve was slipping.
“I don’t know…”
“One time,” he said suddenly, not giving me a chance to think, “just be with me once. If you hate it, we’ll never do it again. But if you love it…” his pupils blew wide as his words trailed off.
I furrowed my brows, considering his request. “I thought you said I didn’t need to sleep with you…”
“You don’t. The identity, the money…it’s all yours. You’ll have my protection no matter what you decide. It wouldn’t be repayment for my help. I want you to do it because you want to.”
I still wasn’t sure. What if I had sex with him and he changed his mind, deciding to make me his prisoner? I’d already been someone’s fuck-toy – had already been treated like an object rather than a woman. I wasn’t in a hurry to return to that lifestyle.
When he saw the hesitation in my eyes, he wrapped his fist around my ponytail and tugged, forcing my face upward. “I told you I always get what I want,” he whispered, rubbing his nose against mine. “I’ve never had to work this hard for anything. If I want something, it’s brought to me on a silver platter. By resisting, you’re only prolonging the inevitable.” He pressed our bodies together, his free hand slipping around my waist.
“Luca…” I couldn’t even form a coherent thought. His words were chipping away at my walls – crumbling my defenses.
“One time,” he asserted, pecking me on the lips briefly, “I swear I’ll never bring it up again if you decide it isn’t what you want.”
I felt surrounded. With his fist in my hair and his arm around my waist…his mouth just inches away from mine and the delectable scent he always seemed to carry, I was a goner.