As we entered my room, Neil sighed and ran his hand through his hair. All I wanted was a hot shower and to get ready for bed.
“So were dating huh?” Neils comment sliced through the tense air as I brushed out my hair. I nodded, eating my impulsive words from earlier.
“I’m sorry. I just knew he wouldn’t let it go. I just wanted to shut him up. We don’t have to label this if that makes you more comfortable.” I tapped the brush against my leg trying to think of what to say. The silence between us was thick.
“Well. I think it’s best if I go now. I have a few things to discuss with Alex and Howie before I leave.” I stood and followed him to my bedroom door and my feet froze at the threshold. My heart picked up its tempo as he approached the staircase. He stopped and turned on a dime to look at me once more before descending. Suddenly coals are under my ass and I take four long strides. His arms wrapped around my waist and our lips were inches apart now. Grey eyes searching mine for permission before he kissed me once more. All my tension and from that day melted away. Hands tangled in my hair and a faint, breathy moan escaped my lips. How am I going to keep my hands off this man in the office? After what felt like an eternity we came up for air. I found it impossible to hide my smile.
“Good night Miss Rossi.” flashing me a smile, his whisper almost inaudible. Footsteps fade down the stairs and he disappears to the living room.
“We need to find somewhere she can be safe so we can hunt that shit bag down. I don’t want her to hurt again.” Howie grinded his teeth together, refraining from shooting Neil a dirty look. He knew that it would have turned out differently if she had decided to stay in some random hotel alone that night. She very well may have died.
After a few moments of silence, Neil cleared his throat. He hesitated knowing they may not trust him anymore to protect the girl he was so fond of.
“I may know somewhere. My grandfather lives alone, secluded actually, in Eden.” Alex’s eyes wandered to the window outside, muling it all over. Howie shook his head without hesitation.
“No, no way. That’s at least eight hours from us,” Alex stood to defend the idea but Howie cut him off, furious. “YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS! FUCKING NEW YORK?! Is that what we do now? We hide our own because some prick wants to taunt our family? No. The Rossi men are better than that. Dad would do better than that!” his hands shook as he took to his feet and bucked up to his older brother. “Don’t- don’t tell me you’re actually considering this?” Alex snapped his head to boar into his eyes. His feet took three calm steps to Howie, forcing him to back down. Alex’s anger at his brother’s comment could be felt in the air. Howie’s hands knotted in his hair and he took a few steps out of the room to cool off. He knew better than to question his older brother. That’s a fight he’d never win.
“I think it’s the best plan we have. Johnathan is so entwined in her life. I could kick myself for letting her go so far and so long with that shithead.” Alex’s hands rested on his waist as he turned to face Neil. “Your grandfather is a legend, our dad spoke fondly of him. I’d appreciate it if you’d ask him. I just want her safe. And that far away seems to be our only play right now.” Neil nodded and held out a hand to shake for Alex. Gray stood and shook Neil’s hand also.
“Your men did a fantastic job protecting her that day. I’d be honored to work with your grandfather.” Neil gave a grateful smile to Gray before he and Alex went to his office to iron out the details.
I woke up the next morning feeling fantastic. I hummed as I made a large pot of coffee. Baby Daniel’s coos could be heard from the living room. They melted my heart. They made my ovaries itch for a baby of my own. I’d love to have kids someday. I shouted to Angelina if she’d like a mug of coffee and brought her one, as requested. She thanked me and took a sip.
“So, I heard a rumor.” I rolled my eyes as she hid her cheeky smirk behind her mug. I knew Alex couldn’t keep his mouth shut!
“Yeah, Neil and I are kind of seeing each other, I guess.” She looked a tad confused.
“Kind of? What’s that supposed to mean?” I shook a laugh away and sat down my steamy cup.
“Well, I agreed to a date before I got hurt. We just haven’t gone on said date yet.” She raised her eyebrows as understanding found her eyes.
“Ah well, that must be exciting!” I shrugged.
“It’s weird considering my ex fiance is the one currently trying to kill me.” I rubbed my warm hands up and down my thighs as I wondered what it would feel like for Neil’s hands to touch me this way. Angelina snapped me back to the living room as she spoke.
“Alex won’t let that happen. Howie has been going nuts these last few days with the other men trying to find him. He didn’t even go to bed last night. He was still awake at four a.m. When Danny needed his bottle and he hadn’t moved a muscle when I got up at seven.” My eyes found the edge of the rug and I reached it with my foot and fidgeted with it using my big toe. I hated that they were losing sleep over me. I stood and kissed them both as I wandered down the hall to the office and found Howie on the phone. His eyes met mine and he held up a finger.
“Uh huh, and how many trucks were there? You are certain? Fantastic! Thanks Gray. I’ll be in touch.” he clapped his hands together loudly and rubbed them vigorously, in victory. The smile on his face met his eyes, ready for a chase it seemed. I laughed and shook my head at him as I reached out for a hug.
“Gray got us some intel from his guys in the state patrol office. We’re getting closer, ya know.” I nodded, not really wanting to hear about that. I didn’t want to think about it at all, actually.
“That’s awesome news. Thanks.” The lack of excitement in my voice made him pull away from our embrace and he sat on the corner of the desk. I knew as soon as the words left my lips they’d sting a little. “I just don’t want to talk about that. Him. It. I just need a rest from it.” He nodded slowly.
“Ok, well then what’s up?” I grinned and sat in the rolling desk chair where Alex usually sat.
“How are things with you and Stephanie?” He blushed. MY brother BLUSHED. I held back a laugh and he held up his hands defensively. I gave him a chance to explain himself.
“Look Lo, you have no room to talk. You had Neil tuck you in last night.” My laugh exploded and my sides hurt.
“He didn’t- what?! Tuck me in??” I wiped a tear from my eye as I tried to take a deep breath to regain composure.
“She’s so great Lo. She’s funny, smart. She loves her patience. It’s all she talks about sometimes. She’s dedicated to her nurse role. I admire that.” His eyes seemed to twinkle talking about her. I’d dare say he loved her. He rubbed his rough overgrown face and shook the thought away.
“She seems so lovely. You should bring her around more.” He was back in an instant with a witty comeback about us being too serious for her. He was probably right. Life had been nothing but serious lately. I missed staying up late with the guys and playing poker, using chips and candy as currency. Cheap wine and whiskey on our breath.
“Hey, up.” Alex laid his laptop bag on his desk and threw back the last of his morning cup of coffee. He’d been out and about already, as told by his to go cup. Another entered the office behind him.
“Neil, hey man. Good to see ya.” Howie held out his hand and they slapped each other’s backs. I stood and walked around the desk. He smiled wide and took my hand, giving it a squeeze. I wondered why he didn’t kiss me until I saw one last man enter the room. My eyes grew wide and confused as I recognized the man as the one I ran into in the hallway as I left the conference room a few weeks ago. Was it weeks? Months? I couldn’t remember, my head was a mess.
“Loreina, I’d like to introduce you to my grandfather. Shamus Flynn.” His grandfather smiled big and held out a large callused hand for mine. I placed mine and it looked miniscule in comparison.
“There’s actually no need. I’ve met her before.” Neil’s eyes met mine.
“Yes, after my first meeting with the staff, I uh, ran into him in the hallway.” Shamus shot me a wink for my quick thinking and gave my hand a little squeeze. Like Daddy used to. My heart melted a little and I swallowed that dull memory away.
“I guess we can have this discussion now, since we’re all here.” Alex’s voice filled the quiet room and we all found a seat.
Neil and I took to the couch and Howie stayed perched on the corner of the desk. Shamus held up the wall, arms folded. Tattoos peeked from his dress shirt that was rolled up. His long dark beard glowed with flecks of white and the same red tone that made me melt for Neil’s own. He was quite attractive for his age, his wisdom and confidence radiated off him and I now saw where Neil got it from. It was like looking into the future.
“Loreina, Gray and the guys along with Neil’s team have found Johnathan. He’s been hiding in the West End. All that property he inherited is out there. Those accounts still receive paper statements that you found and we tracked him down. We plan to go in on Tuesday morning. The men have been watching his pattern of movement and he and a few other rift-raft meet there every week like clock work.” I nodded and took in all these facts wondering where he was going with all of this. Especially with Shamus here. “We think it’s best if you leave the North End when we decide to make the move. His men know we are in bed with the Flynns. There isn’t anywhere safe here for you to hide.” My eyes welled up but I was comforted by Neil’s hand taking mine tighter than ever. I swallowed and willed the tears away with a few blinks.
“Okay, then where do I go? Will I be alone? I don’t want to leave you guys.” I looked around to the three men who had literally been my saviors.
“Hell no! I’d never let you be alone again. Not until this scum is six feet under, little chick.” Howie paused from chewing on his thumb nail and furrowed his brows at me. I felt the warm, safe feeling they gave me fill me.
“You’ll stay with Shamus.” Neil kissed the back of my hand and wrapped it with his other. As if the kiss would fly away. My eyes met Shamus’s, nervousness and reluctance met his. He pushed off the wall and took a knee in front of me. Neil released my hand as Shamus reached for them once again.
“I trust my grandson. He’s told me how fond of you he is and I trust the Rossi men. Your father was a strong, stubborn bastard and I know he raised a strong woman for a daughter. I trust you.” Alex added ‘stubborn’ under his breath to what Shamus had said and I shot him a dart with my eyes.
“See? That right there. You don’t need me. But you do need somewhere you’ve never been before. Somewhere few have been before.” I nodded and wondered if all grandfathers were this way. Hardened yet, protecting and caring.
“Okay. Well, when do I have to go?” I couldn’t stop the crack in my voice and an arm wrapped around my waist. Neil’s cologne making the hairs on my arms stand on end.
“Well, it’s kind of time sensitive…” Alex’s voice trailed off. I looked from his eyes to Howie’s and then to Neil’s.
“Today? I have to leave TODAY? What about my job? I have accounts that are still in limbo because of that damn fiasco!” I couldn’t help my shouting. I was so annoyed. I felt so constricted and under a thumb. I stood and no one said anything. “No, you can’t just lock me away in the tallest tower because the dragon is getting too close. Please don’t force me to go. Alexander answer me!” I was seething. Not because they were telling me I had to leave but, because I knew they were right. I was a small mouse in a clear box with nowhere to hide now. It was just a matter of time before the cat swatted at me again. I may not get lucky. The cat could catch me this time.
Alex’s expression changed. His soft expression turned cold. So cold. He never looked at me like this. I instantly regretted saying his full name. Only Dad called him by his full name. I hit a big sore nerve.
“This again Loreina? Really? DO NOT lecture me on how to keep my family safe. I knew what I was signing up for the night I brought you back from your apartment. Your self destructiveness has fueled this fire. You even snuck out with Howie even though it wasn’t safe. This isn’t just about YOU LOREINA.” he was shouting now. “I HAVE A SON. A WIFE STILL RECOVERING. YOU AREN’T EVEN STRONG ENOUGH TO LIFT A GALLON OF MILK WITH YOUR RIGHT ARM, STILL. BUT YOU’RE GOING TO RAISE THAT TONE WITH ME? I SHOULD-” Howie stood now that tears were threatening to fall from Alex’s eyes. He put his hands on Alex’s chest and pushed some space between us.
“Alex I’m sorry I-” I tried to apologize but he raised a fist and put it directly through the drywall. I flinched at the contact and remembered how Johnathan would do the same thing just before finishing his bottle of whiskey some nights. Shamus stepped out into the hallway.
“Please…” I walked over and tried for his fist to look at the cuts and scrapes left from the wall. I was at a loss for words. His eyes stayed glued to the hole in the wall and I reached to turn his face. He flinched away.
“Go pack Loreina.” my heart was crushed. I had never let anyone down so badly. Neil stood quietly by my side before I ascended up the stairs.
“I don’t know what to pack. How long am I going to be gone?” I knew these were questions he couldn’t answer me. He shot a hair tie at me like a slingshot and it missed me by inches. He chuckled at his aim and leaned back in my office chair. His hands locked fingers behind his head as a shrug wrinkled his suit coat.
“Just some comfortable clothing. I’d dare say it’ll be colder there. So pack warmly.” I pilfered through my closet and drawers, finally finding enough to fill my luggage. “Also, wear something nice. I’m taking you to dinner tonight.” Goosebumps covered my body as he wrapped his arms around me from behind and buried his face into my neck. I couldn’t hide the quivering smile that stretched my lips.
“Oh, finally taking me into public huh?” I tease and his throaty laugh melted my insides. He turned me to face him. His fingers tracing my jawline and his eyes resting on my lips.
“You are so incredibly beautiful. Who wouldn’t want to be seen with you?” My face and neck grew hot from my blush and I shyly looked away. Those same fingers pulled my chin back to his gaze. My eyes prisoners, lost inside his grey orbs.
“I promise someday, this will all be a blur. Trauma like you’ve endured will take time, I won’t lie but you have me now.” His words flowed from his mouth like a mantra. I clung to them. I’d been slipping down a slippery slope for weeks now and that was what I needed to hear to catch myself. To literally get a grip. A nod was all I could muster before he kissed my lips ever so softly.