Authors: Vanessa Waltz
Tags: #mafia romance, #Contemporary Fiction, #vanessa waltz, #alpha male romance, #Contemporary Romance
The man in the back, the one with a handsome smile, laughs. “Is she for real?”
Jack’s whole face darkens. “I don’t have time for this shit. You can google my name later. Your dad might have prepared you for your fucking job. He never explained anything about our arrangement, did he?”
“I tried to tell you,” Joe says in my ear. “You wouldn’t listen.”
I’m confused and I feel stifled in Joe’s suffocating grip. I shift my arms, but Joe’s arm pins them against my body in a vice grip. “There’s no need to hold me captive. I’m not going anywhere.”
Jack looks over my shoulder and nods, and his arms unwind from my body. I step away from him. The absence of his heat around me makes me tremble where I stand.
I look at Jack square in the face. “My dad never mentioned anything about you. His death was very sudden.” The air feels sharp; it cuts my lungs. “Listen, I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“I just told you who I am.”
“I know.” My tongue darts out to moisten my lips. “That doesn’t mean I believe you.”
Impatience narrows Jack’s face even further and he steps forward. “Why don’t you shut up and just listen.”
I back up, acutely aware of the gun strapped to his waist and I back into Joe’s solid body. I bounce from his chest like he’s a brick wall.
“Your father and I had an arrangement. I use the casino to turn my cash into a legitimate business, and we skim a little off the top. That’s what all of those companies are for. In return, I help you cook the books and offer you protection.”
Cook the books?
This snide bastard has no idea what he’s talking about. My hollow laughter rings in my apartment.
“My dad does not—didn’t falsify financial information about the casino. He’s not a criminal.”
The guys behind Jack laugh at me, the hallway echoes with their mirth. My body heats like a furnace.
Even Jack’s face lights up with a grin. “I’m sorry, hon, but he was. The Worlds Casino has been in the red for years now; why do you think your old man asked me for help?”
This must be a scam. I don’t buy it.
“In the red? That’s impossible! I’ve seen the financial statements!”
“Are you even listening to me? We cooked the books.”
If this is true, everything I’ve known was a lie. My dad misled shareholders. No wonder he was so stressed all the time.
“Then—then I’ll sell the company.”
“No, you won’t.” The old man’s face looks troubled, but the threat is implicit in his voice. “Or the man behind you will break your legs.”
I turn around and stare at Joe’s impassive face, and I feel a rush of corrosive hatred. His eyes meet mine and quickly look away.
“Joe’s going to be watching you for the next few months until we decide you’re trustworthy. Drop the fucking charges against him. I’ll let this one time slide because you didn’t know who we were, but now you do and there’s no excuse. The next time you call the cops on one of my associates, I’ll knock your fucking teeth out. I don’t care if you’re a woman.”
My chest feels uncomfortably tight. Somehow, the threat of violence against me scares me less than the reality of my company. “But how am I supposed to keep this up? What if I’m audited by the IRS? They’ll find out eventually.”
“Don’t worry about that. We have professionals to keep that from happening, and I’ll let you file for bankruptcy when I decide to pull out of the casino. If that ever happens.”
My whole life—my dream—it’s shattered at my feet. Jack Vittorio took a shotgun and blasted it into oblivion. I want nothing to do with this. Everything I’ve worked for was a sham. I don’t want it anymore. It’s toxic. They’re toxic.
“Are we clear about what needs to be done? Drop the charges against Joe and set up the accounts. If you don’t, we’ll go after your brother and sister first.”
I’m too shocked to take it in. There’s a hollow feeling in my chest that only gets worse as they stare at me. To my horror, I feel a lump rising in my throat. Oh, Jesus. I really don’t want to cry in front of these people.
He rolls his eyes at me as he motions to the guys in the back to leave.
“Chin up, kid. It’ll get easier,” he says as he breezes past me.
The man with spectacles moves past me without a word and another one gives me an apologetic smirk before leaving. I seem to stand there for ages, my eyeballs fixed somewhere at the end of the hallway. Then I turn around and Joe’s standing a foot away from me.
I yelp and jump backwards, clutching my chest as my heart beats painfully against my ribs. What the fuck is he still doing here? He looks at me with that same irritating, emotionless expression he carries around all the time. I want to slap him, to hurt him, to make him feel a tiny bit of the horror inside me.
“I’ll be there early tomorrow to help you.”
Bile rises in my throat. “Are you going to break my legs if I do something you don’t like?”
He takes a step forward and he towers over me. He must be at least six feet and I’m only 5’4”. Dark eyes blaze down at me. “Why, are you planning to do something stupid?” he asks in a toneless voice.
Fuck him and his indifference. If it weren’t for his eyes, I would think he was dead inside. “Fuck you.”
His eyes harden. “You’re not mad at me,” he says in a low voice. “You’re mad at your old man.”
I flinch from those words. Mad at my father? How could I be mad at a dead man?
“No, I’m definitely mad at you.”
I swing my arm before I can stop myself, aiming for his face. A loud smack echoes in the foyer as my palm rips across his stubbled cheek. His head whips to the side, his handsome face already blossoming with an angry, red mark. Joe reels his head back and looks at me with murder in his eyes. A slow, deadly smile spreads across his face.
What the fuck did you just do?
What an incredibly
thing to do to someone who has license to do whatever he wants with me if I don’t deliver on my promises. My breath hitches and I snatch back my hand, backing away.
He grabs my wrist and squeezes hard enough for me to yelp. “Do you just go around hitting people when you don’t have your way?”
My back hits the wall, but I refuse to be intimidated by this man. “Don’t you?”
The edge of his mouth lifts slightly into an involuntary smile.
feel human emotions. I was starting to wonder.”
Lord, Marisa. There
s a time and place for a smart mouth.
I know that I’m supposed to be scared of him, but I don’t feel on edge when I’m around him. His eyes are too passive, even if his body is not.
“You’re in denial,” he says suddenly, unaffected by my insult. “Jack will make good on his promise, believe me.”
It cuts me to my core. Yeah, maybe I’m a little in denial. I never knew the mafia existed until tonight—never knew that my dad was a crook. A fraud. He went into business with these sharks and then he died and dumped the mess onto me.
I’m allowed to be in denial.
“Maybe you’re in denial about your line of work.”
Joe lunges at me, grabbing my wrists as his body moves into mine. My back slams into the wall and I gasp from the pain, and then his lips crush against mine.
I go limp against the wall, stunned. I expected him to hit me, for his fists to batter against my body. Instead, he’s kissing me.
I don’t care about why when his lips are against mine and the most intense heat I’ve ever felt passes through them into my face and neck. Jesus. Even his hands wrapped around my wrists feel like hot brands against my skin.
“What are you—?”
His ragged voice cuts me deep and makes me shiver all over, but at the same time I feel a ripple of anger. No one talks to me like that. Then he leans forward and takes my lips again, and I taste something sweet from his tongue, something like scotch. An unexpected thrill shoots up my abdomen as he plants stunning kiss after kiss on my mouth. I tremble as heat chases away the paralyzing cold in my body and I respond back without thinking, addicted to it. I sigh when his thumbs caress the sensitive skin over the inside of my wrists, a feeling that makes me arch against him.
God, I need this. I need to feel wanted by somebody. Even if it’s fake, I need to feel like someone cares about me.
His hands finally let go of my wrists and I gasp into his mouth as he traces my neck and shoulders. Then his face pulls back suddenly and we break apart, breathing heavily. He has his palm against my neck, and my vein throbs against his hand. He holds me against the wall, looking dazed. My whole body glows with warmth and my skin feels oddly sensitive. I want more of him. I’m flying high, and the small smile on his face brings me back down to Earth.
The fuck am I doing? He’s a monster.
He ruined my dream.
“Get the fuck out of my house,” I breathe in his face.
Still smiling, he gives my shoulder a squeeze and leaves out the open door.
* * *
Prominent casino mogul dies.
Millionaire Dominic Toffoli
s will passes on torch to daughter.
Vittorio family not suspected in deadly Rizzo shooting.
Jack Vittorio: monster or philanthropist?
He’s definitely a monster.
The black text bleeds into the white screen and I blink my raw eyes. After scourging a hundred different news articles, I’m forced to accept that the mafia exists.
I sigh angrily, shoving the laptop away as thoughts of Joe burst into my head, unhindered. The scrape of his rough cheek against mine and the musky scent that clung to me after he left the apartment, and the way his lips took mine—it was as though he
me. He felt free to do whatever he wanted with me, no matter what it was. I stalk into the bathroom and my eyes narrow at my flushed face. I attack my hair angrily with my brush, smoothing it out violently.
Why do I care if I look nice? He shouldn’t have kissed me and I shouldn’t have let him. What’s wrong with me? He’s obviously a violent man, filled with the kind of trouble I want nothing to do with.
I’m stuck with him, whether I like it or not.
And I have to get to work. I need to find evidence about everything Jack said, and I’ve just spent a ton of money renovating the casino. I absentmindedly rip off my fingernails, wincing when I tear off too much. Work. Just the thought of it makes my stomach roil. I don’t want to cooperate with these horrible men. I never wanted this.
My legs shake as I walk out my apartment and lock the door, wondering for the thousandth time how they managed to get inside my place without damaging the lock. I called a locksmith first thing in the morning right after I dropped the charges against Joe, for all the good that’ll do.
Nathan might know something about all this. Then again, he might not. If he knew, he would have told me. Warned me.
I’m on my own, just like Dad.
I barely pay attention to the road on the way to work. Somehow I manage to drive there safely in my foggy state, eyes barely staying open. I didn’t get much sleep last night. Slipping into the executive entrance, I climb up the stairs to my dark office and flip on the light.
A man sitting on the chair in front of my desk turns his head and blinks at me. I jerk violently, tossing my purse aside. It lands with a loud thump and my back flattens against the wall.
His lips thin. “It’s Joe, actually.”
. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why are you in my office?”
He raises a beautifully carved eyebrow. “To make sure you fulfill your end of the deal.”
Irritated and heart still racing, I bend down and snatch the purse off the ground. “Did you have to scare the bejesus out of me?”
He lifts one of his shoulders in a shrug. “You scare easily. Thanks for dropping the charges against me, by the way.”
I glower at him as I walk around my desk and sit down shakily. It strikes me as strange how I remember his lips on my face more than I remember his hand wrapped around my mouth to shut me up. Joe looks slightly more at ease, but he still wears that scowl he carries around everywhere. Haunted eyes stare at me from across the desk until I shiver and look away.
“I brought you some coffee.”
It sits in front of me in a cup. Starbucks. Seized by a sudden rush of indignation, I take the hot cup of coffee and immediately dump it in the trash.
His face darkens. “What the hell is your problem?”
The anger in his voice makes my rage falter for a moment. “Let’s get one thing straight,
. You are not here to tell me what to do. You’re here to help, and what happened last night
will not happen again
A small smirk pulls at the edge of his mouth. “You kissed me back.”
My teeth grind together so loudly that I’m sure he can hear it. “It will not happen again.”
“Whatever you say, hon
” He grins at me again to let me know that he doesn’t take anything I say seriously.
This is going to be a fucking problem. I don’t know what he sees in me and why, but I’m definitely not interested in him. He’s just a thug. A mobster. I don’t associate with fucking mobsters.
It doesn’t help that he keeps staring at me with that blank face. He’s a fucking robot. No emotion whatsoever.
Then I notice two duffel bags sitting on either side of his feet. They’re huge, black bags.
“Do I even want to know what’s inside those?”
He kicks one with his foot. “Cash. Jack needs to put this money through the casino.” Suddenly, his voice rises in volume. “Which is why we need those fucking accounts opened as soon as possible.”
I can’t speak. There’s a noise outside my office, the sound of someone laughing, and I flinch horribly.
“This is why you have to listen to what I say.”
“I don’t have to do anything you say,” I explode.