T W E N T Y - F O U R
“You realize that tough love is also tough on the lover.”~ Julian Barnes
Between Viktor and I, we had our fair share of strong and weak points. He was Machiavelli’s protégé but was also quick to temper. I, on the other hand, could never grasp the concept of scheming and plotting, but I was far cool-headed and sorted, hardly resorting to hot-headedness.
I always knew what I wanted and why I wanted—having complete control of my life. If I had deemed something inapt or incorrect, I made it a point to not indulge myself in it.
Until Lilliana happened.
Even though the self-imposed separation between us battered me more than it did any good, it made me realize my steely determination.
I had set my mind on this girl without even knowing the consequences, and for the first time, I had let the consequences be damned.
I thought of all the good things she has made me feel, aside from the looming suspicions of her being. Time and again, I badgered her to open up her secrets, but I had done nothing to earn her trust.
Breaking into her apartment, threatening her for confession, or luring her into bed would never suffice to gain a woman’s trust in revealing her deepest secrets.
Lilliana, unlike the other women I have slept with in general, were a far cry from even remotely resembling the characteristics.
So this time, I wanted to do things the right way.
To hell with all the vows I’d made to keep a distance from her—for her sake and mine.
Getting into the car, I drove out so quickly, the car skidded. I knew enough about her routine to know that Lilliana would be at the cafe, waiting tables. The place had the shittiest coffee my half-Italian blood refused to accept, but her presence compensated more than adequately.
When I finally reached there in record time, the sight of her, after so long, hit me with a force of a deadly explosion.
Lilliana looked strikingly beautiful and exquisitely alluring. It wasn’t those eyes, or the beautiful form, or even her enticing lips—but the whole being of her captured me in her thrall.
The power with which she enchanted me echoed so deep in my bones that the infinite universe seemed mundane and almost non-existent.
At times, she made me wonder if she was a siren from a faraway mystical land.
If I ached for her before, the abstinence had only made it worse now.
Lilliana lifted her gaze, with no expectation to catch a glimpse of me, but from the moment those brown, dialect irises snagged with my blue ones—our eyes locked together. When the shock finally began to recede, her face broke into a thousand cracks and fissures of pain, anger, longing, and desire.
My feet moved on its own, eager to close the distance between us, but Lilliana quickly spun on her heel to flee. Lucky for her, I lurched and snagged her wrist to tug her closer, but careful enough not to hurt her injured arm.
“Lilliana, don’t.” It wasn’t a command but a request, and that was all I could utter, swallowing past the giant knife lodge in my throat.
“Don’t you dare,” she hissed low, flicking a glance around the cafe. “I did what you told me, and I stayed the fuck out of your way. Now, I am telling you. Stay the fuck away from me, Dominic Romano.”
“I am sorry—I wasn’t in my right state of mind that day,” I explained hastily. “Let’s go somewhere private, and I’d tell you all about it.”
“Why should I? The next thing I know—something happens in your family, and you’d up and blame me for it. Do you realize how absurd it sounds?”
I knew her anger was warranted. “I do know,” I replied calmly. “And I also know how much it had affected me then I would ever allow. Give me a chance to explain.”
Her lips pressed together as I saw her battling with contradicting decisions but didn’t push her hard. I wanted her to come with me willingly and without influence, but I also dreaded the risk of rejection.
“Fine,” she gave in. “But you have to wait until my shift ends and that is, half an hour more.”
“Fuck the thirty-minutes!”
Lilliana glared. “No. If I leave now, I won’t get paid for the day, and I have missed enough pay-days already. And don’t you dare tell me that you’d make up for the money.”
It was my turn to be pissed. “I was going to say that I’d take care of the owner.”
“Not that too, or else, who will pay me?”
For the first time in a long time, her face broke into a smile, so elegant and so refreshing that it could outshine the beauty of beaming sun rays cutting through a cloudy sky after a torrential shower.
I was exceedingly captivated to argue at this point, so I let it pass and achingly watched her carry on. Lilliana, too, wasn’t the same in my presence as her eyes darted my way too many times to be taken as accidental.
When the torturous wait finally came to an end, I helped her into the car and sped out of the god-forbidden place. It wasn’t a long drive, but the silence was heavy until she decided to break it.
“That’s not the way to my apartment.” Her voice sounded confused than panicked. “Where are you taking me, Dominic?”
Placing a hand on hers, I soothed. “You will see in a minute.”
Only when the car rolled up at the Romano mansion, and a guard rushed over to open the door for her did Lilliana exclaim with, “Holy shit! No way!”
She was still seated inside the car, her eyes frantically looking for me. I promptly dismissed the guard with a wave of my hand and extended for her to hold it. “It’s alright; you can come out.” I smiled as she took my offered hand with a scowl and stepped out.
“A little warning beforehand would have been helpful, Dominic,” Lilliana mumbled low for my ears.
“And what would have been different if I had informed you earlier?” I inquired.
Lilliana squeezed my fingers hard, expressing her displeasure. “I don’t know—maybe a nice, polite refusal from my end.”
I laughed, leading her inside the mansion as she wobbled with every step but I was there to steady her. “Jesus, Dominic! You had to embarrass me like this?” She looked around nervously, as servants in the vicinity were vaguely aware of the guest. “I am wearing a bloody waitress uniform!”
“You can relax,” I told her as I ushered her into my room. “You are at least dressed.”
Lilliana rolled her eyes at my comment as I saw her stiffness disappear when we were out of the line of sight of other people. Locking the door, I moved quickly to her.
A desire, as powerful as a potent drug, sluiced over me, but I had to shove it aside—for now.
Lilliana took her time, taking in the lavish decor of my room and noting the details I had never bothered to perceive. And I, on the other hand, was mesmerized by her presence in the room and watched her in awe.
“What?” she demanded when her gaze caught mine.
“Nothing.” I shrugged it off casually with a shake of my head.
“You said you wanted to talk to me,” she reminded.
I nodded slowly, took her hand, and gently led her to the couch. “I believe I owe you an apology for—for everything that had happened between us,” I began as straight-forward as I could make it sound for I wasn’t proficient with words. “I pressurized you to come out with your truth, but I didn’t do anything to deserve your trust.”
“Let me finish.” I put the finger on her lips, quieting her. “It was wrong of me to blame you for my family’s troubles. I have known you for what you are, and that’s all should matter to me.”
Her lips began to part slowly as I watched a myriad of emotions warring with each other, but Lilliana quickly closed her mouth. “I don’t understand this, Dominic,” she stuttered, waving her hand. “I don’t understand you. You behave sweet one day, and the next day, you are someone else.”
That moment, I wished I could tell her in simple terms how frustrated it made me, that the mystery air around her irks my suspicious senses like an alarm. That every skeptical incident in our lives was a warning bell before the calamity strikes.
However, I knew it was no excuse to act on one’s worst fears.
“You don’t understand, Lilliana, because we never attempted to know each other, but I want to remedy our situation now. I am tired of doubting you, and for what it is worth, I want you to show me what you are. I don’t want to know you—or assume something—based on someone else’s opinion.”
She stared vacantly as though she were in a trance but finally found her voice. “Thank you for—your words. I have wanted to tell you all about myself, Dominic, and not because you demanded to know about it but because I wished to. But I am not ready yet. My past is more complicated than you think.”
The pained look on her face riddled me with rage and concern about her well-being. “Is someone threatening you?”
Lilliana instantaneously shook her head, dismissing my apprehension, but it didn’t serve the purpose. “No, no—at least not right now.”
“What do you mean by ’not right now’? Lilliana, I can take care of the situation if—”
“Calm down, Dominic. I know you can, but it doesn’t mean you should.” She bit into her lips, gathering the thoughts in her head even though the indecision was clear from her expression. “I want to keep my past aside for once and live in the present without worrying about the impact.”
There was a wealth of substance in her words, some painful memory, or inexplicable conflict, but I decided to shelf the conversation for some other day.
“Alright, the present then. Let’s see where it takes us.” I smiled, hoping the positive energy in the air would touch her soul the way her presence soothed mine.
Instead, her face lit up like a thousand twinkling stars on a moonless night. “Are you suggesting that we—you and I—”
“I am not suggesting anything, for I am speaking in plain terms that I like you. I haven’t come across anyone who frustrated me as you did, so much so, that I never wanted to let you go away from my sight.”
Lilliana jerked back her head, laughing in full delight. “Wow! That’s not beautifully creepy and obsessive at all. And because I am a bit old-fashioned, I would like to stick to the normal—I like you, too.”
Before those precious, moving words could register with me, Lilliana’s lips were pressed tightly on mine, with her long and feminine fingers stroking the side of my face delicately. Whether it was her embolden move or those sweet words—I wouldn’t know—but it quickly catapulted me over the moon.
Lilliana pulled back only a little as I watched her with muddled haze. “Are you having second thoughts about me?” she asked softly in a concerned tone.
Snapping out of it and ensnaring her waist to press her to my body, I grinned wider than Cheshire cat. “I am having dirty thoughts,” I whispered against her open lips, barely brushing them.
Lilliana slapped my shoulder, squirming to get out of my hold with the half-hearted effort. “You’re an ass! Let me go.” Even though she gave me that narrowed-eye look, I could see that she loved being held by me.
“Ass you say?”I quirked a brow. “I thought good girls like it in the pussy?” My hand found its way beneath her skirt, climbing tantalizingly up the smooth skin of her thighs. And before she could prevent my movement, I blocked her with my wrist.
“Oh, no, no, no–don’t!” I warned with a faux-sternness. “Don’t stop me. I might just show you how bad girls like it in the ass.” I slowly pushed aside the fabric of the panty, lightly skimming my fingers up and down her outer lips.
The small shiver and the strangled moan she bit back told me everything I wanted to know.
“Dom, Dom…please…” she begged and good Lord, such sweetly.
Now, I would have satisfied her thoroughly, and then fulfilled every one of her wanton thoughts and desires, had someone not been banging on my door like a maniacal bastard.
While Lilliana looked panicked, I frowned deeply at the door.
“Stay here, I got this,” I told her as I peeled away from her touch to open the door.
“What?” I snapped at Viktor right away.
“Where the hell have–” He stopped midway when his eyes darted to Lilliana over my shoulder, and then back to mine.
I was ready to be at the end of his firing gun now that he had seen Lilliana in my room, but there was something else on his face that instantly rattled me–it was fear.
The rare of the rarest emotion I have seen on Viktor.
The math didn’t add up until he revealed, “Sammy’s missing for about four hours, and the last person who saw her was Lorenzo,” and I just knew that another hurricane has barrelled into our lives with full force.
The question was—would we ever be the same again?