Walking towards Stella’s apartment my eyes checked the security cameras and motion sensors my men installed.
My body was coiled from not seeing her for so long. Plus her carrying my child has me on edge and checking with her guards constantly to ensure they are safe.
I withheld a groan thinking of my impulsive buy yesterday. I was giving Stella time to come to me but in doing so I was driving myself insane which led me to buying a ring and then mail her that ring…
Who in their right mind mails an engagement ring?
And to a woman who is anything but materialistic… she wouldn’t have seen it as a proposal or a be blown away with the large diamonds, instead, she would have been insulted.
Arriving at Stella’s apartment, I nodded into her camera to the security watching and knocked.
“Coming!!! Ow shit!” I heard Stella bang into something before she flung the door open, her cheeks flushed. “Sorry, knocked down my mannequin. Uh, come in.”
Stepping into the apartment, Stella moved to pick up a torso mannequin with different fabric pinned to it. “Designing something new?”
“Yeah, couldn’t sleep so I stayed up last night trying to come up with a new dress.” She said, my eyes ran over her noticing the dark circles under her eyes.
“Have you been sleeping?” I asked softly. I want her to come to me when she is ready to talk about the kidnapping but at the same time I need to know if she is taking care of herself.
“No.” She replied softly. “But that’s my fault, I’ve been on a new Netflix binge.”
“Anything good?” I didn’t believe that it’s a simple Netflix binge that’s keeping her from sleeping. The fact that she has barely looked at me since letting me into her apartment is telling me she is deeply affected by what happened to her.
And she has every right to be.
“A show called ‘Arrow’, just started it.”
I hummed leaning against the counter, waiting for the moment her eyes will meet mine. She picked up her purse and put her phone and wallet in it, still avoiding my contact. “Never seen it.”
“Its good.” She replied with a shrug.
Putting her bag over her shoulder she reached down to put her sneakers. I was no longer able to handle her avoiding me. “You going to look at me Stella?”
Stella jumped, a light blush spread over her cheeks. “Sorry a little nervous is all. Never been in something like this so not sure how to act…”
“Neither have I.” I said softly trying to get her calm and carefree like she used to be around me.
“Then how are you relaxed right now?” She asked fidgeting.
I smiled warmly. “I’m in the mafia, trained to handle everything calmly.”
Finally, I got one of those small smiles from her before she grabbed something off the counter. “Before we go I need to give you this.” She nervously passed me a ring box, her lips rubbing together slowly. Before I could say anything, she put her hand on my arm. “I want to take this as it comes. And if by the end you give me this ring I will say no, because we need to know each other and that ring isn’t me.”
Clearing my throat, I nodded and she smiled at me, that smile hitting me right in my chest. “You are saying no because the ring is too much?”
She shrugged now biting her lip, the movement driving me crazy since I now need to kiss her. “It’s not me.”
Instead of feeling upset that she wouldn’t marry me, to let me make her mine I found myself smiling. Many women I’ve known would have complained the ring is too small but Stella finds it too fancy. She certainty is a different woman. “Okay. What is the plan for tonight?”
“No plan, keeping it natural.”
Stella turned, excitement in her eyes lightening up her whole face and she reached over grabbing her car keys. Grabbing my hand, she led us out of her apartment. My lips fought to curl up at how she can be a nervous little kitten and the next second pulling me out of the room.
Once we got outside she went to her car making me pull her back. “I’ll drive.”
Stella scoffed, her eyes narrowing to say ‘I dare you’. “Maximus, you may be a mafia boss but you don’t boss me around. I’m driving.” She let go of my hand opening her car door and gave me an expected look.
“My car, it’s safer.” I stated not moving.
Stella gave a sly smile. “My date, my rules.”
I took out my phone telling her guards to follow us and then got into her passenger seat. A smug Stella turning over the car making me chuckle. “Your trouble.”
Stella scoffed. “Says the underboss.”
“Where we going?” I asked when we drove off.
Her lips pulled up into a smirk. “You’ll find out.”
Chuckling I looked around to figure it out. “Are you taking me to the woods to kill me.” I teased, looking to her I instantly regretted it seeing her flinch. “I didn’t mean…”
“It’s fine.” She interrupted. “But I will say we are going to a view and great food. Let’s see if your high-class self can live like a regular person for the day.”
I shook my head. “I’m not that bad.”
“How would you know?” She teased back.
We rode in comfortable silence, the only sound the soft music that was playing. The ride passed by and soon enough we ended up at a nature preserve overlooking the city.
Stepping out I glanced around. “Gorgeous up here, didn’t see you bring a basket of food. We fishing?”
She laughed stepping out of the car, locking it. My eyes quickly noticed the men parking a few cars down. “Our restaurant is right there.”
Quirking my brow, I followed her gaze. “Fuck no.”
Stella laughed again and walked us towards the food truck. “Oh yes, best food in the city.”
“Do they have health codes?” I mumbled, Stella rolling her eyes.
We walked up to the truck, Stella bouncing excited for food.
“Long time, no see.” A woman with a pink pixie called from inside the truck.
“Sorry, been busy. My usual if you please.” Stella said leaning against the tuck, my eyes running over the menu not wanting any food from a truck.
“And your arm candy?” The woman asked looking to me.
Stella laughed. “He’ll have what I’m having.”
I fought against denying all food. I want to win Stella over, who knew it will be by eating at a food truck.
I let the two women talk while the food was made, Stella paying before I could argue and by the look she gave me she would have fought against me.
Her date, her rules.
“Two ginger, sweat and sour cauliflower tacos right up.” The woman passed Stella and I our food.
I looked at the meal, it didn’t look that bad and at least it’s not meat. Not sure I would be able to eat meat cooked in a truck. Stella led us over to a park bench that overlook the city, we sat down and she dug into her food.
“Does it bother you?” She asked glancing to the SUV. “Being watched all the time?”
I picked up one of the tacos, Stella already onto her second. “Not really, I’ve had guards around me since I was born. They don’t pay attention to what you do or say, only watch for enemies.”
“Yet I have guards who call you when I have lunch with guy.” Stella took a bite of her taco, mine still in my hand. “Are you going to eat that or keep staring?”
I cracked my neck. “Do they have health codes?”
Stella took another bite. “Maybe, maybe not. Come on mafia, eat the truck food.”
Growling at her tease I took a bite of the taco. I slowly began to chew and was surprised it didn’t taste so bad.
“See, you should have trusted me from the start.” Stella said smugly looking over the city.
“I didn’t say anything.” I took another bite.
She picked up her last taco. “Your facial expression did. It spoke, pleasantly surprised.”
Chuckling I picked up my next taco. “Alright fine, I shouldn’t have doubted you. This isn’t that bad but, in the future, I could cook this for you and not risk food poisoning.”
Her elbow dug into my side. “They have health codes! And you cook? I would have thought you had a private chef.”
“Well I need to eat to survive but you are right, we have a family chef named Anastasia. She does all the meals at the estate.” Playing with the taco in my hand I wondered when it’s the right time to talk about the family.
Getting used to the mafia is one step, but making it real by giving her names and identities is another. It may help her process and humanize my family yet one the other side the family may not like me talking about them until they trust her.
“What is your family like?” Stella stressed the word, most likely fighting against wanting to say ‘mafia’.
Turning I see her gaze on my last taco, chuckling I give it to her. “My family is pretty big, doesn’t matter where you’re from or your past, anyone is welcome to be a part of the family. We help make each other better people and follow a code. Yes, we are focused on business but we support each other and would sacrifice ourselves for each other… unless it’s Sunday football then you’re on your own.”
Stella gave me a look. “I ask about your family and sounds like you gave me an elevator pitch on them.”
I took a deep breath. “It’s a hard question, there are a range of personalities. Take Anastasia, looks after everyone but if you come in hurt she yells at you for bleeding on her floor. Then you have my cousin Esperenza who would tell you your bleeding. Or Vinzo who will patch you up with a staple gun and no painkillers.”
Stella’s face went blank. “Elevator pitch to oddly specific example.”
“My family are people you have to learn about yourself, they are private and would rather you get to know them then have me tell you. But I can tell you they are good people. What is your family like?”
“Well I grew up with my mother and her multiple husbands until high school when I went to go live with my Nanna. My family is her, Anthony and Cody.” Stella relaxed looking over the city. “It’s my Nanna who used to bring me up here, said it makes life seem small and helps put problems in perspective.”
“Problems. Like us.”
She snapped her head to me. “I didn’t mean that in a bad way. I meant that here our life seems simpler, two people who accidently got pregnant. The mafia part is back in the city.”
Or in the SUV down the street.
“Stella, I know the Mafia is-”
“Don’t give me a ‘I’m still me’ talk.” Stella blanked her face. “We didn’t know each other before.”
I wiped my hands with a napkin. “Didn’t we? I know that you hate sleeping on your stomach. You hate horror movies and say if you wanted to watch something scary you would turn on the news. You hate the colour yellow with a passion. You don’t like big meals instead you like multiple meals over the day. I know your Nanna is your most important person in your life and that you are scared to let her down when running the shop. I also know that as much as Anthony pisses you off when dragging you to the club, you love him like a brother. I may not know everything about you Stella, but I know who you are.”
“And who is that? Those are random facts.” She whispered, clearly taken a back at how much I remember.
I narrowed my eyes. “Nothing is random about you. Your someone with a big heart who sees beauty in the dark, a survivor and someone who wants to live life with no regrets.”
Her cheeks went bright red. “And yourself?”
I shrugged. “I view myself as someone who fights for what I believe in, for those I love and look good doing it.”
“Please don’t look for reasons to not give me a chance.” I whispered using the back of my hand to brush over her cheek.
Stella took a deep breath. “We’re here, aren’t we?”
“We are and tomorrow is my night.” I stated. “I’m fighting for you Stella; no way I’m losing time.”
“Okay.” She whispered.
I draped my arm over the bench. “What’s ‘Arrow’ about?”
Stella tilted her head. “You want to talk about TV, not us?”
“You said natural, forcing us to talk about each other doesn’t seem like it.”
Relief flooded her face and she went into talking about the show. I didn’t pay attention to what she was talking about, I was too busy watching her look happy and natural.
She was right to ask about not talking about ‘us’, but how can we talk about us when we aren’t used to each other. Stella needs to feel comfortable with me and the best way for me to learn more about her, is learning about her day.
“Max?” Stella asked bring me back. “You paying attention?”
Chuckling I adjusted myself to face her. “Sorry, too busy watching you. What did you say?”
Stella blushed. “What is your view on vigilant justice?”
Smiling I went into my thoughts, conversation flowing easily and the rest of the night went with us talking about the show.
Up on this hill, we were two people on a date.