Downstairs, I discover a small internet café. I jump on a computer and decide to email Mara. My best friend has probably lost all sense since I’ve disappeared. I write to her that I’m fine and that I’m safe with Judah.
I don’t know how much of it she’ll believe, but at least she’ll see that I’m alive.
I begin to wonder when Judah will decide to bring me back home. With him, nothing is certain. Jumping from hotel to the next is tiresome.
I lift to my feet and head towards the elevator. I press the top floor button and wait for time to elapse. A pair of men in business wear hop onto the elevator. They speak in hush tones, yet I hear something that catches my attention.
“Quest is supposed to sign with Hudson this evening.”
“Do you really think they’ll sign?” the other asks.
“Billions of dollars—why would they refuse?”
“Because the Brag is part of it now, I guess. Maybe they don’t want to taint their image.”
“Quest needs the business deal to stay on top, or else they’ll be undercut.”
The other man sighs, “Let’s hope it’s like that.”
“Hudson’s son is supposed to take over the company, I heard.”
“Oh, that boxer kid?” the man shrugs in disbelief, “He’s not going to do it.”
“We’ll have to wait and see. Frankly, I don’t want a bunch of thugs running the game.”
“Do you think they’ll announce it next month? At the gala?”
“Perhaps,” he answers. Then he lowers his voice even more, “If the Mafia stays quiet before then.”
The door rings and opens the door for them to exit. I didn’t get everything. It looks like a lot of businesses are involved in this world of gang takeover. I press for the doors to close quickly.
If the Mafia stays quiet?
I stare at the delivery guy and take the wide white box. He tips his hat and then leaves. I set the box on the bed and open it. I pull the tissue wrapping paper out of the way, and find a small white card with a black spade in its middle. I turn it open and read Judah’s handwriting.
Be next to me tonight.
My cheeks blush, so I take a deep breath. I run my hand over the black satin fabric, before pulling out a maxi dress. I mentally criticize Judah’s taste, as I stare at the plunging V-neck. I then dig out the high heels. Pearl jewellery and lacy lingerie come with it.
I shower and get dressed, while listening to the news in the background. I stand in front of the mirror and brush my fingers through my hair.
What’s going to happen tonight? Another disastrous masquerade party? Another gang ambush? It gets harder and harder to feel good in this form fitting dress. But I slip it on anyway.
I pause, after putting on my pearl earrings. A thought crosses my mind that makes me question everything. When did I fall in love with him?
The door then opens. I twist around, and my eyes meet Judah’s. I place my hand over my beating heart. He’s dressed in a barely buttoned dress shirt with the sleeves slightly rolled up and matching black pants. I try to look less startled, but nothing works. For some reason, I’m afraid he might read my mind.
“You look good,” he tells me.
I bite my tongue and then say, “Thanks.”
I divert my eyes to the floor, unable to cope with his stare. He walks over closer to me. I watch him from the corner of my eye, as he plants a small kiss on my bare shoulder.
“Where are you taking me?” I say, looking at the two of us through the mirror.
“Just somewhere,” he answers vaguely, taking my hand in his.
I can’t help but grin. I seriously don’t know why I bother to even ask.
He’s silent, but his hand is warm. We descend to his car.
Judah opens the door for me.
“I hope I don’t have to risk my life this time,” I say, looking at him.
“This time?” Judah smirks and raises a provoking brow.
I hop in the car and he closes the door.
As soon as he starts driving, his hand grips my thigh. I don’t stop myself from staring at him and his sacred tattoos. I rub my hands along his arm, feeling the bumps and curve of each vein. Every time our skin touch—it feels like a million currents of electricity firing me up.
It never gets old, and I don’t think it ever will.
I have a hard time breathing, when I glance at his face. If I stare too long at his Adam’s apple, his strong jawline, his plush lips...
We arrive at a brightly lit casino. Valet takes the car. Judah brings us inside, cutting past any line.
Somebody escorts us into a poorly lit private room. There are already guests sitting around a poker table. It’s the usual scene of men in suits and young girls at their fingertips.
“Judah!” they welcome.
We sit with them, as the casino employee shuffles a deck of cards. Judah, without saying anything, purchases a stack of chips.
“We need to plan our next move,” the one in the blue suit addresses.
“We need to wait it out,” Judah counter argues, “If we act up, it might speed up Brag’s business acquisitions.”
Two guys nod, enlightened. My eyes watch Judah’s hands and his cards.
“Rick is in Italy,” the one in the burgundy suit says, throwing a card in the middle of the table.
An employee pours Judah a glass of whiskey.
“So?” he replies.
“He made a deal with Cobalt without boss’ orders. Do we say he’s a traitor?”
“No,” Judah tilts his glass to his lips.
“Why? He even attacked you,” the tall one protests.
“He might have information that could help us.”
The guys don’t seem content with Judah’s rationale, but they accept it.
Judah lays his cards down last. I’m forced to listen to the other men curse, frustrated from their ongoing losses. Judah stands up, swallows the last of his drink, and motions for me to follow him out. We make our back outside, standing on a red carpet.
“That’s it?” I mumble, looking back at the revolving doors. “That was fast.”
Valet timely returns Judah’s expensive car.
Judah texts for the whole ride to the hotel.
“Who’re you texting? Your girlfriend?” I banter.
He smirks and puts the car in park.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” he replies under his breath.
I come out of the car first.
“Then I’ll just go back home on my own,” I lift my chin and pretend to pout.
“You’re not going anywhere, sweet cheeks,” Judah glances up and smirks.
“Not if you can’t catch me!” I run away.
I dash into the hotel lobby with Judah on my tail. I shriek as soon as he sweeps me off my feet with a strong arm and lands me over his shoulder.
“Did you really think you could outrun me?” he grins, picking up my heels that fell off my feet.
I giggle, out of breath, “At least I tried.”
“Tried? You didn’t even get past 5 feet,” he mocks.
“You wouldn’t let me get 5 feet,” I roll my eyes.
I get distracted with the feeling of his firm hand on my butt.
He enters the elevator. I stop minding being carried. My lungs regulate my breathing. His deep voice drowns every single one of my thoughts.
“Because I need you near me.”
I don’t know if it’s the blood rushing into my head or what, but my head heats up.
He walks and pushes through our hotel door. I let his words repeat in my head like a broken record.
He finally sets me down. I have trouble getting my legs to function well. Judah closes the door behind him.
He walks ahead with his eyes on me, stripping off his shirt. I try to hide my smile, as my hand brushes my hair back.
“Come,” he orders lowly, raising a brow.
My body moves up closer to him.
He lowers his head to kiss my lips. I can barely breathe right. His hands graze my body at their will, gripping me in certain areas. He presses his lean body on me and I moan in his mouth. He tastes like he’s passed through hell.
After a minute of tugging lips, he pulls away and sits on the bed. He watches me still. I stand there, breathless and shivering.
“Get naked,” he tells me in a gentle tone.
My face reddens under his gaze, and I pull my dress down. I tuck my hair behind my ears and exhale. My arms reach for my bra clasp. I let that fall too.
Judah bites his lip. That alone makes my heart race in my chest.
I never get used to his full attention. It makes me feel all kinds of ways.
“You’re so beautiful,” he says.
I fold my arms across my chest, unsure whether to believe him or not. But, he pulls me into his lap. He feels my skin and leaves kisses on my neck. My arms slowly wrap around him.
I move my head down, tasting his soft lips. My fingertips press into his hipbone. My body rouses, losing control.
Judah deepens the kiss, impatient to make love to me.
I look out the window the next morning. Judah and another guy with dirty blond hair exchange a few words on the curb of the hotel. They seem around the same age. Judah gives him the USB key. The guy drives away.
I don’t know why it’s so important. My breath fogs up the glass.
Judah looks up and motions me to come down. I let the curtain fall and pull on my windbreaker, before heading out.
I take my time going to the elevator, while thinking about my life thus far. I seem to have lost track of my goals, ever since I’ve crossed roads with Judah. My indifference is starting to worry me, though.
By the time I reach him, he’s already finishing his cigarette. The clouds are heavy, and smog trails above our heads. My eyes squint from the hazy daylight.
“What?” I ask, as Judah stares at me.
He shrugs, “Let’s go for a walk.”
He doesn’t wait for me to reply. He just takes my hand and drags me to his side. It makes me smile a bit. He’s unpredictable.
“Can I ask what was in the USB—”
“No,” he says.
I sigh, and he grins.
“Do you like working... for the Mafia?” I ask, glancing back in the direction the driver went.
He stays silent for a moment, looking forward. I don’t know everything about how his world works, but I wish that someday he could escape it. He shoves our hands in his jacket pocket.
“Let’s not talk about me, sweet cheeks,” he says.
I close my mouth and sigh again. I feel his warm hand give mine a squeeze. We walk a few blocks.
“I just want to know you better—” I pout.
“What you want to know is my past,” Judah glances, “Which isn’t exactly golden.”
“I think I deserve to know... if I’m going to be with you,” I argue, “I want to know how’d you get into it. Being in a gang...”
He exhales and locks his jaw. Is it a crime to have what I ask for?
“My father was a mafia boss. But I use my mother’s last name.”
“So others don’t know who I am,” Judah answers, “The two were like brothers, so only my boss knows. And that’s why he made sure I stayed alive. So, I owe him my life.”
“And you can’t get out of it?”
“No, Rose,” he frowns.
A pair of ravens travel between trees. Questions ambush my mind—I don’t know what to ask first. I don’t want to push too far and have him shut me out either.
“What’s your father’s surname, then?”
He takes a few quiet steps.
My tongue rolls, “Judah Raniero.”
I latch onto Judah’s arm, and smile giddily. He grins and raises a brow, probably thinking that I’m strange.
“It’s not important,” he loosely tells.
I attempt to pinch his cheek, but he’s quicker than me.
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep your secret,” I look at him.
I try my best to understand his situation. He didn’t exactly choose the life he leads, but he wouldn’t protest it. He can’t. He can only cope.
As for me... I chose to be with Judah. I guess I’m in it too deep. I stare at the tattoos below his neck.
“What else do you want to know?” he asks, sounding peevish.
“Do you have any regrets?” I question.
Judah let’s time pass before opening his mouth.
“You know some,” he replies, staring at the fluid traffic.
My mind thinks of the time he broke down. I try to stop thinking.
“We should head back,” Judah says and rubs his forehead.
I nod and stare down at the small puddles on the pavement.
Judah’s fingers push away strands of my hair that the wind has blown in my face. I gaze into his eyes, wondering if he realizes how tender he can be.
And as if the ear-tearing screech of tires skidding across the street couldn’t get any louder... A sudden series of gunshots follow.
I scream in reflex. It passes so quickly. I experience a shock when my body is pushed to the ground.
I suffer trauma when my eyes see Judah pierced with a bullet.