I fumed as I sat at the table in Tortelli's restaurant while Steven was in the bathroom. It was our six month anniversary as a couple, and to most people who knew us, we were ordinary people who lived together, but a select few knew differently. In private, I humiliated the big-time prosecutor by whipping him when he pissed me off, by fucking him in the ass whenever I felt like it, or by torturing his cock and balls just for the fun of it. The longer we were together, the more submissive he became behind closed doors or in the clubs, and the more assertive he became in public. It was a weird combination, but it never failed to arouse me, especially because he knew that if he was discourteous to me when people could see, he would probably be belted when they couldn't, but sometimes he did it anyway. This was one such time. We had just finished eating, and I had asked him if he thought we could take a vacation, perhaps to Maine or even Canada.
"No, Chiara!" he'd hissed at me. "I told you I can't take that much time off work! One of us has to make enough to support us!"
I had lowered my voice to a whisper. "You just earned yourself a punishment, boy! How dare you speak to me like that?"
At that, he had just gotten up from the table and walked away without a word. I stared after him wide-eyed for a moment, and then my eyes had narrowed, and now I was sitting here thinking of the welts he would have by tomorrow morning after I caned him. I sat there for ten minutes and waited for him to return. I knew he was having a rough time at work lately, but nothing excused him taking that tone with me. I still held the key to his cock cage, and I was determined that he wouldn't be released from it for at least a week even if it meant I had to fuck myself for that week. Then I smiled, but it wasn't a nice smile. I would fuck myself and make him watch, helpless to do anything other than watch. Perhaps I'd strap him to the bed first.
When he finally came back, he said nothing as he sat down, but he did keep his head down. Then he reached across the table to take my hand, but I pulled it back and set it in my lap. He released a heavy sigh and folded his hands on the top of the table.
"I'm sorry, agápi mou," he said softly. "It was a very bad day at work today. I didn't mean to take it out on you. Please forgive me." He glanced up at me.
I stared at him for a moment, and then I placed my hands back on the table. "I forgive you, Steven, but that doesn't mean I still won't punish you when we get home. Twice." I gave him a little smile and laid my hand on top of his, and he raised his head. "Tell me about your day, moró mou."
He smiled back and turned his hand over to intertwine our fingers. "I deserve to be punished." Then his smile vanished, and he played with my fingers. "It was horrible, agápi. I caught a case involving a child prostitution ring. The youngest victim was only ten. The oldest was fourteen. Twenty-three children, agapiméni. Scarred for life. And those are only the ones we know of. Techs are going over ten computers to find out if there were more. Four bastards not only pimped the children out to their clients but used them personally. All told, we are prosecuting fifteen clients, four fucking ringleaders, and seven associates. Thank God for the cyber crime division. They are the ones who found out about this. And they weren't just here in New York. They had clients in Jersey and Maryland, too. We're starting the extradition process for them tomorrow."
I squeezed his hand. "That's awful, Steven. What's going to happen now?"
"Now? Now I prosecute the fuckers and send them to prison for the rest of their lives. Which might not be long considering how convicts treat child molesters."
Just then, a waiter came up to the table. "Mr. Katsaraos, there is someone at the front for you. They said it was urgent."
Steven dropped my hand and stood. "Did they give a name?"
"I'll be right back, Chiara." He brushed his fingers over my cheek and then followed the waiter to the front of the restaurant. We were finished eating, and Steven had already paid, so I got up and silently walked behind them. When we reached the front, I frowned.
A woman in jeans and a long tan trench coat was pacing the width of the foyer. The concierge was trying to get her to calm down, but she only stopped walking when she saw Steven. I didn't want to intrude on something confidential, so I stopped several yards behind them and watched.
Steven said something quietly to the woman that I couldn't hear, but just like that day in White Brook, she had no intention of keeping things private.
"He's dead, you fuck! My husband was stabbed in prison tonight, and you put him there!"
I stepped closer, but Steven didn't notice. All of his attention was on the woman.
"Mrs. Harland, I am truly sorry to hear that, but I didn't send your husband to prison. Twelve jurors and the judge did that. I simply told them what he did to that little girl."
She slapped him across the face, and when the force of it whipped his head around, he saw me, and he frowned.
"He would never have done what you said! He was a good man! He didn't belong in prison!"
Steven glared at me for a moment, and then he turned back to Mrs. Harland, and his voice was icy when he spoke. "He was not a good man! He was a rapist and a murderer! He was exactly where he deserved to be! I am sorry he was killed, but he belonged in prison for what he did to that girl!" With that, he turned his back on her and walked to me.
"This was foolish of you, Chiara," he said softly as he took my arm. "You shouldn't have followed me. It could have been dangerous."
"But it wasn't," I replied. "Come on, let's go home."
He had put his arm around me when two loud bangs sounded behind him, and he grunted as his body stiffened. I knew that sound. Having grown up around guns, I knew someone had fired a handgun, probably a 9mm or perhaps a Glock. Several people around us screamed, and the sound of a scuffle became evident, but I heard all that as if it was at a great distance, for at that moment, Steven fell to his knees.
"Steven?" I said frantically as I dropped as well.
He just stared at me with a bewildered look on his face, and then he toppled forward onto his face. Only then did I see the blood seeping through his light gray suit jacket in two places, one near his left shoulder blade and the other lower on his right side.
"No!" I screamed as I looked around desperately. "Someone call 911!"
The waiter who had led Steven to the front knelt by my side. "It's already been done, ma'am," he said, and then he continued, "Mr. Katsaraos, can you hear me?"
Steven groaned and reached out his hand toward me. I grabbed it and held on. He whispered something, but I couldn't hear him, so I moved closer and took his head in my lap.
"What was that, agápi mou?"
"I said it's karma," he mumbled. "I shouldn't have yelled at you. I'm sorry." He tried to take a breath but only managed a shallow one before he cried out and tensed up. "Se agapó, Chiara. Never forget that. I love you." I gasped. It was the first time he'd ever said that to me. His breathing became labored, and when he coughed, blood dribbled out of his mouth, but he did keep breathing.
"Oh, moró," I whispered, holding onto him tightly. "Hold on, moró. Help is coming. Please, Steven, please hold on."
"I'm fine, agápi," he said softly. "Just got the wind knocked out of me somehow." He gasped and coughed up more blood, and then his hand slowly became limp in mine, and I started to cry.
I don't know how long we were there before the paramedics showed up. They easily disengaged him from me and placed him face down on a gurney before loading him into an ambulance.
I looked up and saw one of the paramedics holding his hand out to me.
"We're heading to Elmhurst Hospital. Do you have a way to get there?"
I said nothing but just looked around the restaurant and saw a lot of blue and red lights flashing. Police stood around, apparently doing nothing, and several were watching me. I slowly put my hand in the paramedic's, and he pulled me to my feet.
"I can get there," I said, but I had no idea how. Then I knew. I pulled out my phone and dialed Brenden's number. He answered on the first ring.
"Hey, girlfriend," he drawled. "What's up?"
His voice broke whatever control I had managed to keep, and I burst into tears. "Brenden," I gasped, "I need you."
"Chiara? What's wrong?"
My best friend had met Steven a number of times at the clubs, so I just said, "He's been shot, Brenden."
"What? Who? Steven? When?"
"Please, Brenden," I whispered. "I need you."
"Where are you, baby girl? I'm on my way."
"Tortelli's in Queens."
"We're close. We can be there in fifteen minutes. Stay strong, Chiara," he said, and then I hung up and walked outside. The night air was crisp, and I sat down on the curb behind a police car.
I looked up. A man in a blue suit was standing next to me. "What?"
He sat down by my side. "My name is Detective Glaeser. I have some questions for you."
"How did you know my name?"
He shrugged. "When a high-profile person such as Mr. Katsaraos is shot, we find out as much as we can about his companions."
I sighed and rested my elbows on my knees. It was only then that I saw the blood on my hands. I tried to scrub them clean on my dress, but it wouldn't come off.
"Can you tell me what happened?" the detective asked.
"I'm not sure. We came to dinner, we had a small argument, and then Steven was called to the front of the restaurant. We were done eating, so I followed him. There was a woman who was yelling at him, and when he turned his back on her, she shot him twice."
"How do you know it was her?"
I stared at him as if he were dense. "Who else could it have been, Detective?"
He wrote something down in his notebook and then said, "Did you know who she was?"
"No. Steven called her Mrs. Harland, though, so I assume she was Sebastian Harland's wife."
"Yes, she was. What did she say to him?"
"She said her husband had been stabbed in prison and that it was Steven's fault that he died. Then she shot him." My voice broke at the end.
"Well, your version matches with the other witnesses, so I'll let you go. Do you have a way to the hospital?"
"Yes. My friend is on his way here. He'll take me."
"How long until he gets here?"
I glanced at my phone. "Ten minutes, maybe."
"Call him and have him meet you at the hospital. I'll take you there myself."
I stared at him. "Why?"
"Because I can get you there faster. Call him, Miss Martinelli."
I nodded as I stood and dialed Brenden's number again. When I told him what the detective said, he agreed, and I climbed in the front seat of the detective's car.
I don't remember the ride to the hospital, but when Detective Glaeser pulled up to the emergency entrance, Brenden was standing there waiting for me. I had managed to stop crying, but when I saw him, I started up again. He quickly moved to me and wrapped his arms around me, holding me tightly.
"Shh, baby girl, everything will be all right."
I shook my head against his broad chest as my hands fisted in his jacket. "How can you know that, Brenden? He was unconscious when they took him away. What if he dies?"
"No matter what happens, Chiara, I'm here for you. You know that, right?"
I nodded, and he led me inside. I heard him ask at the triage desk for Steven Katsaraos, but I didn't hear the answer he got. He must not have liked it, for he growled deep in his chest and led me to a line of plastic chairs. After we sat down, he kept his arm around me, and I rested my head on his shoulder. Then I felt someone take my hand, and I glanced that way. Angel was sitting on my other side, and she was softly rubbing my hand. The fact that she was comforting the woman that had tried to break up her marriage had the sobs coming harder, and Brenden tightened his grip.
We sat there for what seemed like days. Eventually, everything that had happened wore me down, and I fell asleep against Brenden. When I woke up, nothing had changed. My best friend still held me securely, Angel still had my hand in both of hers, and no one had come to tell me anything about Steven. Finally, after an interminable wait that was punctuated with more snatches of sleep, several trips to the bathroom, and way too much coffee, a doctor in blue scrubs entered the waiting room and walked to us.
I stood up instantly and wrung my hands together. "Yes? I'm Chiara."
The doctor smiled. "I'm happy to tell you that Mr. Katsaraos came through the surgery just fine. He's asking for you. If you'll follow me, please?"
I smiled back at him and then was spun around into the arms of Brenden. "I'm happy for you, baby girl. Really happy." He squeezed me until I couldn't breathe, and then he let me go. "Do you want us to stay?"
"No, but thank you. He's awake,and he'll be fine." I pulled his head down and kissed his cheek. Then I turned to Angel and pulled her into a hug. "Thank you, Angel." She hesitantly returned the hug, but when I let her go, she was smiling brightly. Then I followed the doctor down the hall.