Authors: Vanessa Waltz
Tags: #mafia romance, #Contemporary Fiction, #vanessa waltz, #alpha male romance, #Contemporary Romance
He’s on me in a flash. Joe gets up and two strides later, he stands over my chair and I’m fighting to get out. A terrifying look is on his face before he bends slightly and takes hold of my hair. His fingers dig inside painfully and wrench hard. I yelp as pain smarts over my skull, and then he bends my neck over the head of my chair as if he’s about to slit my throat. His breath hisses over my throat like a knife.
“Let’s face it, sweetheart. I
here to tell you what to do, so I’d appreciate it if you toned down the rudeness. I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have to.”
My vision clouds over with tears that I’m too powerless to wipe away. They streak down my face instead.
Why did you do this to me, Dad?
Frustration from my job and grief over Dad’s death mix together in a confusing blur. I can’t tell what’s what anymore, and Joe looks into my eyes without a shred of sympathy.
“I fucking hate all of you.”
“Do your fucking job. All I’m trying to do is mine.”
He lets go of my hair, his fingers sliding through the strands as he turns around briskly and walks back to his chair. My neck is still bent over the head of the chair. I stare at the ceiling as tears leak out of my eyes. My chest shakes with silent sobs as images of when they lowered Dad into the earth flash in front of my eyes.
It’s not fair.
I wipe my face and pull my laptop in front of me so that I don’t have to look at him. I go through the list of accounts I have to reopen and make the necessary phone calls, reopening all of them as Joe listens silently. Then I slam the lid down and glare at the man lounging in the chair.
“There. Will you leave me alone now?”
He merely looks up. “You have a board meeting in five minutes.”
“What?” I open my laptop and look at my calendar. “Fuck!” I stand up abruptly and Joe follows suit as I sprint across the room and yank open the door.
Joe jogs at my side as I walk down the hall at a brisk pace. “Why are you in such a hurry?”
“I’m the goddamn President of the company!”
“Exactly. You can do whatever the fuck you want.”
I make a frustrated sound as I tear around the corner. I yank open the doors to the conference room and catch Nathan’s beady look, and Jessica’s smirk—wait, what? Why is Jessica here? The rest of the board members smile at me when I enter the room.
Chimes of “Good morning!” echo around me and I murmur back in response, still flummoxed by Jessica’s presence. Their eyes zero in on something over my shoulder, and I turn around to come face to face with Joe. Oh, right.
“Um—this is Joe DiFiore. He’s a personal advisor and he’ll be attending board meetings from now on. I apologize; I know that this is unusual.”
I recognize Mr. Blackwell from the funeral. He nods his head. “Not at all.”
It’s much harder to face them when I know now that Dad was deceiving them by providing fraudulent financial reports.
Nathan gives me an icy stare as we take our seats. We still haven’t talked since that disastrous meeting at the attorney’s office. It’s clear from looking at his face that his opinion of me still hasn’t changed. My insides squirm unpleasantly. I didn’t want this.
“Marisa, the board convened today because there has been an offer from Lences Holdings to buy out the company—”
“No,” I say in a loud voice, cutting him off. Jesus, the hair on the back of my neck rises as they all look at me. “I’m not interested in selling the company.”
I’m acutely aware that Joe sits beside me. If there’s an inkling of a sale, I could get in a lot of trouble.
Blackwell raises an eyebrow. “We’ve received a very generous offer. Are you sure you don’t want to hear the details? Your father was considering selling the company before he passed away, that’s why I bring it up.”
“I’m positive,” I say in a firm voice.
“I’d like to put it to a vote.” My brother’s cool voice cuts through mine and the blue eyes seem to stab at me from across the room.
Goddamn it, Nathan. You don
t know what you
Jessica’s face looks puffy and tired, as if she spent the night drinking. She lifts her head, a defiant gleam shining through her eyes. “Yes.”
What the fuck?
My hands balled into fists, I watch as Nathan gives a hissing “yes” without a moment’s hesitation. I glare at both of them and Jessica blushes pink and looks away. The rest of the board votes negatively, and I try to savor my triumph over the bitterness I feel over Nathan.
My hands tremble over the table. “If that’s all, can we adjourn?”
Chairs scrape back as people stand up, and Nathan stands up stiffly, walking past me without a word. I follow him outside, determined to talk. My heart pounds as I chase him in the hall. He seems determined to ignore me forever.
“Nathan, we need to talk. I don’t understand why you’re trying to rope Jessica into this.”
He whirls around finally and I stumble backwards from the wrath radiating from his pores. I can almost smell it—a harsh metallic smell that reminds me of blood. “She has just as much of a stake in this company as I do.”
My stomach hardens. “She’s never had the slightest interest in the company. You’re trying to bend her ear. What kinds of promises have you made her? This is our legacy, and I’m not going to sell!”
His lip shakes. “Correction, it’s
I recoil from the spite in his voice. “It’s not my fault Dad chose me. It hasn’t exactly been a picnic, you know.”
“Oh, next you’re going to say that I should be glad Dad didn’t make me the owner? Fuck him and fuck you!” He yells in my face, flecks of spit spraying me.
I look around. People are gathered down the hall, watching us. My cheeks burn and I tug him into my office.
He slams the door shut and rounds on me, and I have a vivid, visceral recollection of him just like this when we were younger. Nausea creeps up my throat as he approaches me.
“Give me your shares, and I’ll let this go.”
My heart lodges somewhere in my throat, choking me. “N—no! I’m not going to do that!”
“Then we’re going to have a fucking problem. I deserved this, not you. I worked for this, not you! It should have been me!”
The volume of his voice vibrates the walls of my chest. It’s like a force exploding outward, and I flinch from the waves of destruction, but I hold my ground, however shakily. “I am not seven years old anymore. You can’t bully me. Dad found me a better candidate for the job, so
just deal with it
“I will fucking kill you!”
Nothing could have prepared me for the mad look in his eyes, his cool hands suddenly attached to my throat, slamming my body against the wall with a deadly confidence as if he had done it hundreds of times before. I look into his eyes, pleading for him to stop, to remember that I’m his sister, but there’s nothing but hatred inside them.
There’s a loud noise and suddenly Nathan’s hands fly off me as if he was burned. He holds his hands up as Joe stands in the doorway, his eyes wide with shock.
“I didn’t do anything—just—I didn’t mean—” The babble of excuses I’ve heard a million times before rattle from his mouth. Nathan tries to smile at Joe, to win him over like he won so many others, but Joe isn’t buying it.
The door slams and I grasp my neck, rubbing my sore throat. Nathan attempts to leave the room, but Joe grabs him by his blond hair and slams him face-first into the wall.
“What the fuck—ah!”
I’ve never seen this violent side of Joe. His whole face contorts with fury and he looks at Nathan as if he is the lowest form of life on Earth, like he’s subhuman. He grinds Nathan’s face into the wall, pinning his arms behind him.
“You think you’re fucking slick, don’t you?” he growls near Nathan’s ear. “Beating on your own sister?”
“I didn’t beat her! Get the fuck off me!”
“Joe, stop it!”
“Do it again, and you’re dead.”
He lets Nathan go with a shove, who glares at both of us with deep disgust.
“Who the fuck is this?” His voice shakes with betrayal and outrage.
“I’m the guy who just stopped you from strangling your sister.”
Nathan regards him for a moment and then turns his back and leaves out the door. Joe grabs the handle and opens the door to run after him, but I slam it shut.
Joe’s face turns towards me, hissing. “Marisa—”
“Please.” I take his hand and yank him away from the door. “Please, don’t. He’s my brother.”
I don’t know why I’m defending him. Maybe I’m fucking terrified of him, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want to see any violence inflicted on him, even if he’s a prick who deserves it. Already, my mind is making excuses for him. He didn’t mean it—he was upset. Anyone would be upset. I squeeze my eyes shut as tears build up inside them and Joe’s hand turns in mine so that he’s holding my hand.
“I don’t care who he is. He was
out of line.”
“I can’t, all right?” I spit out, my whole body shaking. Tears leak out of my eyes and I almost jump at the feeling of his hand on my cheek. His thumb wipes away my tears and my breaths instantly calm. Why is he doing this?
His widened eyes stare down at me. Surprise and something else that might be pity shines through them. “Listen, I get it. I’m Italian, too. I get that family is important to you, but there are limits.”
“It’ll make things worse. I don’t want him going after anyone else.”
“Marisa, I get that, but not only a minute ago, he had his hands wrapped around your throat. Don’t you care about your own safety?”
“Don’t pretend you care. You would do the same thing if Jack gave you an order.”
His hand falls from my cheek and his comforting warmth disappears. His stare drops to the floor and he clenches his fists. When he looks back up at me, his gaze is filled with that haunted, sad look. I feel it like a sword running through my body.
Joe picks up the duffel bags still lying on the floor and leaves out of my office without another word. What I said must have upset him. Good. He has no right saying that shit, when he probably does the same thing every day.
So why then do I feel so bad about it?
There’s an old park bench in the distance, surrounded by misty white light. There’s no ground, sky, or horizon. I’m in a white box. Where is this?
My footsteps make no noise as I make my way towards the only fixture as a hooded shadow walks beside me. He wears a fedora and a long, dark trench coat. Tufts of dark hair peek out from under his hat, but when I try to see his face, he turns away.
“No, you mustn’t.”
A ringing sound fills my ears. Something isn’t right. “Who are you?”
“Come.” His voice echoes in my ears.
That’s all he says as he strides forward, always at my side, matching my pace exactly. I find myself trusting him, but I don’t know why.
A woman sits on the chipped park bench.
My chest feels like it’s caving in. I sprint towards the bench, my legs heavier than normal. She’s dressed in the clothes she died in. Black skinny jeans and an overlarge t-shirt. Her long brown hair is parted perfectly in the middle. At the sight of me, she smiles. It’s just like how I remember.
This is a dream.
t think that.
“Janice? Where are we?”
She looks around, looking just as oblivious as I am. Her shoulder lifts in a small shrug, but she doesn’t speak.
I bend down as the man stands beside me like a raven. Strangely, I don’t mind his presence. “Janice, are you okay here? Are you happy?”
She beams at me and nods. Why can’t she speak to me?
I look around the place. It’s just white light, endless whiteness. Janice extends a comforting hand to me. I try to touch her, but I can’t. My limbs are too heavy.
“Come back to me. I miss you so much.”
She shakes her head.
Of course she can’t.
The man in the trench coat lays a heavy, warm hand on my shoulder. “Let her go. She can’t ascend to Paradise because you won’t let her go.”
The bench disappears and I’m left alone in the noiseless white. “Janice? JANICE! JANICE, COME BACK!”
But my voice doesn’t make a sound. I’m gasping at the air.
No, I don
t like this. Get me out. OUT! GET ME OUT!
I sit bolt upright in my bed, the yelling from my mouth scaring the shit out of me. A strange sense of vertigo rolls through my head. It’s like I plummeted several stories from the dream back into my bed. The sheets stick to my clammy skin and I peel them away from my warm body, my heart still thumping hard.
It’s not like I haven’t had nightmares about Janice, but this one was one of the worst. I can’t stand it. I can’t take this anymore.
The empty apartment rebounds my screams and I think about the gun hidden in my drawer. How nice would it fucking be to take the easy way out. To blow out these thoughts out of my skull along with my life. I’ve had enough of this empty, hollow nothingness.
Suicide is not regarded kindly by the family. Jack probably wouldn’t give my mother jack shit if I offed myself. They would laugh at my corpse at the funeral. What kind of man kills himself over his dead sister?
My phone rings beside the bed and I snatch it immediately, afraid of where my thoughts are headed. It’s Vince.
s a package I need you to pick up.
I need to collect money from someone.
“Who and where?”
Frank Moretti. It
s on 698 Sunset, in Queens. He may need some persuading.
I’ll need to beat the shit out of him.
“All right. When do you need this?”
Tonight. Meet me at my place.