Authors: Vanessa Waltz
Tags: #mafia romance, #Contemporary Fiction, #vanessa waltz, #alpha male romance, #Contemporary Romance
Keep it together. Don
t fall apart in his arms.
“I’m Joe DiFiore.”
It echoes inside my head. It has a nice ring to it.
He squeezes my hand and then lets it fall gracefully to his side. I’m holding in my breath, still taken aback by everything about him. I’ve been around lots of men and it takes a lot to intimidate me, but I definitely feel like a girl standing next to him. He stands with a shameless confidence, like a man who knows exactly what he wants, and what he wants is to get the hell away from the coffin.
That much is clear.
“You worked with my dad?”
“Yeah. Not directly, but I’m with Black Diamond Entertainment.” Noticing my blank face, he goes on. “We supply the casino with mechanics to fix the machines—”
There must be hundreds of companies on our payroll. I don’t recognize all of them yet. “Oh, I see.”
“My boss, Jack Vittorio, couldn’t be here. He wanted me to come in his place.”
I’m a little deflated.
He talks in a smooth, slow cadence but I notice that his eyes look hard. Anxiety flutters in my stomach as I watch his eyes narrow. I’m supposed to recognize his boss’ name, and I don’t. Shit.
“Right.” Behind him, there are at least twenty more people waiting to shake my hand and offer condolences and all of the energy I’ve managed to muster up from all the coffee I could handle seeps out of my bones. My eyes droop and I wish I could just be spirited away from this place.
I can’t do this. I can’t smile and shake hands when all I want to do is fall apart.
Nathan’s smooth voice punctures my thoughts as the handsome man watches me without a smile or glimmer behind his eyes. Someone leans in the coffin and touches his hand, and my eyes suddenly fill with tears when I think about how they’re going to put him in a hole in the earth and shovel a mound of dirt over him.
I’ll never be able to touch him again. I’ll never hear his voice again.
Turning away from Joe, I try to stifle my tears behind my hands. “I—I’m sorry.” I want to laugh at the ludicrousness of that statement. Why am I apologizing for crying at my own father’s wake?
This man that I hardly know steps in closer and takes my hand between his two cool ones and squeezes hard. At once, I’m consumed with a mixture of grief, surprise and almost—indignation. Who the hell is this guy? Why is he touching me? I’m so used to shaking hands that it feels incredibly confusing to have my personal space violated like this, but at the same time I want more. I want to be comforted with his arms around my waist and I even want his lips on my cheek. My skin burns just thinking about it. His cologne wraps around me in a pleasant cloud. It smells musky and I pick up notes of sandalwood. His face turns to my head.
“It’ll get easier.”
Then he lets me go and that incredible warmth pops like the burst of soap bubbles, and I wrap my arms around myself to try and get it back.
* * *
The door closes behind me, shutting me into my apartment.
Finally. This day is over. Finally.
Mom and Nathan wanted me to stay over Dad’s house for longer, but I had to tear myself away as soon as I could.
I’m just exhausted.
In the middle of my dark apartment, my shoulders slump. I kick off the aching black pumps and walk barefooted into my bathroom, stripping off my clothes as if they’re bandages wrapped around wounds. My whole body feels sore.
It was a horrible day, but at least it’s over.
I kick my pile of black clothes to the side as I open the giant glass door to my shower and yank on the handle. All six showerheads blast water in multiple directions, taking only seconds to heat. My feet curl on the rough surface of the shower floor. I designed the whole apartment when I turned twenty and when Dad’s trusts came through.
Ever since then, I felt like my nose was ground against the cement floor every day. I have all this money, but I don’t feel like I’ve earned it. Every moment was spent preparing to work in Dad's business. I never traveled. I don’t have friends. Boyfriends? Forget about it. Between learning Dad’s business and Nathan’s overbearing nature, I never had time. Oh sure, I had a few in college, but they fizzled out like duds of fireworks.
Frankly, I’ve never been happy.
It feels so stupid to say it out loud. So incredibly selfish. According to the rest of the world, I don’t deserve to be unhappy. I’m an ungrateful, whiny, rich girl.
But when I try to think about what I want, my mind draws a blank.
that hot guy at the funeral. I wouldn’t mind spending more time with him, that’s for sure. He was just so handsome. My skin heats up just thinking about how hot he looked in that suit, and how I felt warm all over when his hands gripped mine.
Jesus, listen to me. Lusting after a guy I met at Dad’s funeral.
After a half-hour waste of water, I shut off the streams and grab the fluffy, white towels hanging around the rack. I sigh as I wrap them around my waist and hair, looking in the mirror at my petite reflection. There’s something about being clean that makes everything feel better.
I’m settled into my pajamas, but there’s a hollow feeling in my stomach that has nothing to do with food. There are photos of him all over my apartment. Every time I see one, it’s like a punch to my stomach. I pick up a photo of all of us: Mom, Dad, Nathan, Jess, and me. They weren’t together for very long. The few memories I have of them together were filled with fights so loud that they shook the walls. When we divorced, Dad got custody of us. I’m not sure whether she really wanted kids. She just wanted the lifestyle.
Anger runs through the photo and up my arm. She just left us—left Jessica and I to fend for ourselves. I played Mom and tried to keep the peace in the house between all the siblings. I’m still doing that.
I slump into my couch in a sort of exhausted, dead haze. The phone sitting on my end table flashes with Nathan’s name. What the hell could he want now?
Picking up the phone, I place it against my ear. “Hi. What is it?”
Translation: What the hell do you want?
Hey, Marisa. Listen, Jess and I were wondering when you wanted to visit Dad
s attorney to read his will.
Not even a day has gone by.
“God, Nathan. Couldn’t this wait a week? His funeral was
Marisa, I know that,
he says in a carefully controlled voice.
But we can
t wait a week. Dad
s company needs our attention now. If you want to take a couple weeks off, fine, but at least come with us to the attorney
s office so we can get this out of the way.
I stand up from the couch and pace back and forth in front of the television, shaking my head. The heat in my chest makes me want to hurl the phone into the brick fireplace.
“There’s something seriously wrong with both of you.”
Nathan sucks in breath and even I’m a little surprised at my tone. I never, ever snap at my brother. I never show him that I’m angry. It’s just easier to shove my feelings aside and try to get along.
You need to get along with your brother, Marisa. He
s your brother.
I shake my head.
What is your problem? I am trying to make this transition as smooth as possible.
“Our dad just died, and all everyone seems to care about is what’ll happen to the goddamn company.”
Once again, I have to swallow my surprise. I’m never this open with people, even my own brother. The more I snap at him, the angrier I get. I’m ready to seize a mug and throw it at the wall. Fuck him. Fuck Jessica.
Yeah, I do care about the company. I
ve only spent half my life invested in it. Dad
s dead, and it sucks, but I
m not going to let his company go to shit because you
re a weakling. Grow up, Marisa. We
re meeting there at four on Friday, with or without you.
There’s the Nathan I remember.
He ends the phone call before I can scream back at him. My arm swings and I throw the phone into the couch’s cushions. Christ, I don’t know why I’m so angry.
My eye catches another framed photo of my dad and my throat thickens with tears.
Yes, you do.
* * *
The bars from the Brooklyn Bridge cast long, narrow black shadows on my younger sister’s face. They scan her face and whip off. I adjust my sunglasses as the sun’s glare beams right into the windshield, blinding us both. I think about all the times my dad and I used to walk Brooklyn Bridge. He was such an active man. All day, he was constantly moving.
“As soon as my money comes through, I’m going to get a bigger apartment.” Jessica offers me a gum-popping, wide smile. “Don’t you think I should?”
I jerk my head to the side as I grip the steering wheel. “I think you’re twenty-three and you should save your money for more important things.”
Despite there being only a few years of difference in age between us, I’ve always felt so much older than her.
Jessica rolls her thickly outlined eyes at me and kicks out her leopard-printed legs. “Ugh, I forgot how boring you are.”
I ignore the sizzle of heat inside my chest. “Jess, you shouldn’t talk to me like that. I’m your sister. Dad would’ve wanted us to get along.”
“Oh, please. Daddy never cared about anything but his stupid work. What good did it do to him, in the end?”
My face flushes suddenly and my fingers whiten on my steering wheel.
“He accomplished a lot in his lifetime. More than you or I ever will.”
“Yeah, he ignored his kids and wife, who he later divorced. He may have been successful at work, but he failed when it came to his family life.”
Her words gall me so fucking much. “That is
“Whatever,” she smirks bitterly, looking out the window. “He never came to one damn soccer practice, or dance recital, or play, or anything.”
“No, he was too busy working hard to make sure that you could participate in all of those things. So you can buy your fucking mansion in the Hamptons or whatever the hell it is you want now.” I shake my head at her. “Speaking ill of a dead person is a new low for you.”
She gives me a malicious look with her overlarge eyes.
Goddamn spoiled brat.
At least I can count my lucky stars that I’m not like either of them.
I pull into the parking lot of the lawyer’s office, a small nondescript building. Nathan’s blond head gleams in the sun as he stands outside, arms crossed, waiting for us.
“You’re late,” he says in greeting as we step out of the car.
I shrug my purse over my shoulder. “Someone couldn’t decide what jacket to wear.”
She tosses her honey-blonde hair over her shoulder and gives me a flippant shrug. “Whatever.”
“Whatever” is her constant refrain.
Our shoes scuff on the cement as we make our way to the doors, my blood rushing to my head. It gets worse when the receptionist greets us cheerily behind the desk and gets up right away.
“Mr. Pierce has been expecting you. Right this way.”
She leads us into a dark, mahogany office with three chairs. Mr. Pierce is a bespectacled old man with a kind, open face. He gets up from behind the desk and shakes all of our hands, giving me a warm smile. It feels genuine, unlike most of dad’s associates.
“Good to meet you.”
My breath is frozen in my lungs and all I can manage is a squeak. Nathan glares at me. He was always so touchy about manners. There are two seats in the front, which Nathan and I take. Jessica takes a seat behind us.
“Right, well. Mr. Toffoli has indicated to me that you all have limited time, so I’ll try to make this as quick and painless as possible.” He sits back down behind the desk and picks up a sheaf of paper. “Your father gave me a letter accompanying the last will and testament to explain why he made his choices.”
Beside me, I hear Nathan straighten in his chair. “Is that so?”
“Yes.” He balls his fist in front of his mouth and gives a mighty cough. “You’ll need to sign here.”
We pass around the document to sign, Nathan squirming in his seat as the old man goes through all the procedures.
He begins reading the will, most of it a chain of legalese that I can barely decipher. “I appoint Marisa Toffoli as the new Chief Executive Officer and majority owner of Worlds Casino with a few conditions. If she performs poorly or violates her contract, the shares will be divided amongst her siblings. I bequeath 60% of my company’s shares to Marisa. For my children, Nathaniel and Jessica Toffoli, I leave them each 20% of my shares.”
Holy fucking hell. He named me CEO. Not my older brother who charms and impresses everyone.
He also gave me most of the shares.
A wave of shock slams into me like a huge tidal wave. This can’t be real.
I feel Nathan’s apoplectic rage next to me and I have a strong, bizarre desire to laugh.
What a steaming pile of shit you gave me, Dad.
I can’t even look at Nathan. My face burns so hot that I’m sure I look like a bright red fruit. I flinch when I hear him speak. His voice is thick with rage.
Poor Mr. Pierce looks flustered under Nathan’s bright glare. “It’s right here in his will. Would you like me to read the letter?”
“Are you sure you read it right? Let me see it!” He leans forward and snatches it out of Mr. Pierce’s hand and reads it. His long, blond eyebrows narrow as he reads further. Jessica leans in and looks behind her shoulder, her normally sallow face twisted in sadistic pleasure.
“Oh, snap. He really did it.”