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Authors: Nikki Winter

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BOOK: The Beauty and the Brawler
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          “Oh, I’m
past a phone call here, Sunny.” He was. He really, honestly, truly was. What was he supposed to say?
“Hey, I heard your radio broadcast and thought you should know I’m completely fine with your hiding our love-child from me. Wanna spend the day on Coney Island?”

No. See, rationality had fled Luciano the moment it sank in that he was just a few short months away from being a father. A
He was going to have some pint-sized troublemaker depending on his every move, every choice. Pressure much? This wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have without being able to look Samara in the face. He needed to
her...them...whatever. Needed to know if she was happy about this or not. Needed to know if
should be happy about this or not.

“What do I look like trying to raise
? I’m still raising
Luciano grimaced as those words—
words—came back as an echo in his skull, his most recent news shitting all
over them. He didn’t have much of a choice but to grow up, and quickly,
now, did he? No. No, he didn’t. Was that why Samara hadn’t told him? Did she think he wasn’t responsible enough to handle a kid?

          His shoulders tensed as another thought occurred to him. What if she didn’t think
responsible enough to handle a kid? What if she didn’t want... Luciano shook his head. He wouldn’t even cross that mental bridge right now. He’d never thought of himself as a father figure—always concluded that by the time he was ready to settle down,
settle down, he’d be too old to try and play Daddy to anyone. The only reason he hadn’t jumped at the chance to adopt Marco was because he knew he didn’t have the necessary stability right now in his lifestyle that would provide what the already jaded little fighter needed. At the moment he had five matches on the table, only one of them catching his interest, but it would mean picking up and going to Brazil on short notice.

          Luciano wasn’t willing to drag a kid all over creation for his career, and he wasn’t exactly ready to give up his career completely, so what did this mean?

Simple, dickhead. You have to make a choice.
He did. He had to make a choice. That choice was to be a father, to be something he never had at a young age—to be there, period. They would take this one step at a time; they’d figure things out. Every minute that ticked by just put him on edge. What the fuck was
he going to say? Should he tell her he obsessed over her? That he got up at the ass-crack of dawn every day just to hear her voice? That it had hurt like a motherfucker when he rolled over after their night together to find her gone? That he questioned if he was good enough for her?

          Would he tell her he was willing to marry her at the drop of a hat if it meant his kid could have his last name and he’d have them both to wake up to every morning? Would he tell her he couldn’t have picked a better person to accidentally knock up? Or would he tell her he was fucking terrified he’d fail? That he’d let her and their future son or daughter down by not being everything they needed? What was he supposed to say? How was he supposed to do this?

          How was he supposed to keep from questioning if this was the best or worst thing to ever happen to him? In the six years he’d known Samara, he couldn’t pinpoint all the small things, like her favorite color or food, but he knew
He knew when she was thinking too hard or if she was frustrated. He knew when her lips twisted she was trying to keep herself from telling someone to fuck off. He knew that when she smiled at him, all those dark little places he still had within him brightened up in a way that was inexplicable. He knew he
to know more. That he
to truly grasp how she ticked.

But what if she didn’t want that? What if his staying away, his not calling or sending flowers or some other romantic gesture took him out of the race? What if she hadn’t answered him because she didn’t want him to know? What if their having a child together turned into a business arrangement?

The sound of laughter and small but quick footsteps caught his attention. As he raised his head he caught sight of a lone man chasing his toddler through the swarms of people heading for their terminals. Luciano’s head cocked as the dude’s diaper bag slid from one shoulder, tripping him up as it came down on one side.

The man’s foot somehow caught the carpet and then he was going
No one stopped; no one even spared him a glance. Well, except for one person. The little girl skidded to a halt, her small legs wiggling as she came to a stop, her body still learning how to slow down and speed up. She turned back and waddled towards her father as fast as she could, and when she reached him, she simply plopped down next to him as he sat up, holding her arms out until he got himself together enough to wrap his arms around her much smaller body and pull her into his lap.

Luciano smirked as he suddenly saw himself and his child in their places; felt a jolt in his chest that left him breathless. “Well played Jesus...well played...”

Chapter Six


“Hi, you’ve reached the only man who can either make you extremely envious of my masculine yet dulcet tone or
crave to hear it asking how you like your eggs in the a.m. That beep noise coming up, put it to good use, eh?”

Samara didn’t know whether to laugh or scream into the phone. She’d been trying since this morning to reach Luciano and he
hadn’t answered. Grabbing a handful of her braids, she tugged, growling in frustration. She then tossed her phone onto the couch and continued pacing, the weight of the small device jostling a sleeping Manfred as he rested on one of the cushions.

          “Sorry, Manny.”

          He glared at her as he left the room. Samara rolled her eyes. “Thanks for the support, you moody little bastard.” Was he the moody one here, or was she just annoyed because stress had a stranglehold on her?

Before she could answer that, the locks on her front door clicked open, and she turned to watch Nyssa come striding across the threshold. “Okay,” her sister started, dropping overstuffed shopping bags onto the floor. “When you said you were going to announce your pregnancy on air, I thought you were

Samara rubbed her temples. “I really need to change my locks.” She stopped. “When’s the last time you talked to Sunny?”

Nyssa shrugged. “The day I called him an asshole before heading to the airport so I could make my drive up and enjoy this much-needed mini-vacation away from him.”

“You ever gonna tell me what it was you two were fighting about

“I’m sensing a tone here,” her sister said, casually looking through those bags. “A tone that says you believe we fight a lot.”

“Your senses tell you right.”

“Ignoring you...” Nyssa sung.

Shoulders dropping, Samara took a seat in a nearby armchair. “I can’t reach Luc. Every time I call it goes straight to voicemail.”

“All right.” The other woman sighed. “I don’t wanna be this person but—”

“How about we don’t even go to the
and you just don’t become that

Nyssa knelt in front of Samara. “—
you should’ve told him days ago.”

“Thank you so much, Super-tell-a-bitch-the-obvious

Eyes narrowing, Nyssa shoved one of Samara’s shoulders. Samara shoved back. They were good and deep into a lovely slap fight when the knocking on her door interrupted it.

Pushing her sibling away, Samara headed toward the hardwood. “I suggest you thank either Paz or Trip for saving your sorry ass from my fists of...” The moment she opened the door, every word on the tip of her tongue died a thousand deaths, revived then died again.

Sansone stood there, Luciano behind him, but instead of Sansone’s eyes focusing on her, they were directed toward Nyssa.

          “And where have
been?” he demanded, stepping past Samara.

          Samara’s eyes never left Luciano’s, but she could hear Nyssa clearly when her sister answered, “Fucking the New York Giants. The linebackers have some really good techniques.”

          Her lids closed and she winced, knowing exactly where this was going. When she reopened them Luciano was still there, still staring, still making every breath nearly impossible. The man did something to her that no one else had ever managed—left her speechless. His lightly tanned, olive skin let her know he’d spent some days in the sun as the weather broke. He’d cut his hair shorter on the sides and back, leaving the wavy top long, but had yet to get rid of the beard surrounding his full lips, cleft chin, and leanly slashed cheeks.

          Heavy brows drew downward as his amber eyes gazed at her unflinchingly, and the moment they slid from her face down to her torso, her stomach dropped. He knew. He knew because he’d heard and he was...

          She couldn’t read his expression, didn’t know exactly what he thought, but when he returned those oh, so familiar irises to her own something ignited inside like her body recognized exactly who was standing in front of it. Samara swallowed to retain moisture in her mouth, the shouting match between Nyssa and Sansone turning into something muffled, sounding almost like the teachers on Charlie Brown.

          “Yo!” Luciano suddenly snapped, causing her to jump as he pointed toward their siblings. “You two shut it.” He looked back to her. “You. Bedroom. Now.” Stepping past her, he strode toward the back as if he owned every square foot not only of her condo but her.

          Samara stood there, watching his powerful steps, staring at the way his shoulders rolled with every step.

          “Now, Sammie,” he demanded again without turning around, his voice casual.

          Chewing her lip, she followed. When she reached her room, he was leaning against the wall near the door, something small in his hand. She sucked in a huge breath when she realized it was the ultrasound picture. Samara had set it out so she could frame it later.

          The door closed with a soft click behind her. His doing. She would’ve kept it open, too terrified to stay anywhere alone with him not knowing what it was he was about to say or how he’d heard about the accidental announcement so fast. Not only that, but how exactly had he managed to drop everything
and come all the way to Manhattan? Why
had he dropped everything to come all the way up to Manhattan?

          Was he here to tell her to her face that he didn’t want anything to do with her or
the baby? Maybe he was. Maybe he resented her. Maybe he’d never had plans for a child. Maybe he’d walk out and never speak to her again. Did it make her weak that she didn’t think she’d be able to handle any of those scenarios? Was she stupid because all she really wanted was to hear him say he’d be here, that he was happy despite the unusual circumstances? Maybe. Or maybe she was human and a little vulnerable and simply wanted him not to regret the one night they’d had, because she’d never regretted it, and she never would. How could she? It had been one of the best times in her life. Point. Blank.

          Samara lifted her chin and folded her arms across her chest, determined to live with whatever was about to leave his mouth. If she had to, she’d do it alone. It would be hard, that much she knew, and she’d probably cry and have to keep Nyssa from nuking all of Philly in a homicidal rage, but so be it.

          Luciano straightened and walked toward her, eyes still on that ultrasound. When he finally lifted them, there was an inexplicable emotion in his gaze that took her breath away. Then his lips curved until they spread into a full-blown smile right before he was laughing. “When I asked if you wanted an Antonelli inside you this isn’t exactly what I meant, but I do believe it’ll do me just as much good.”

          That was when Samara burst into tears.


BOOK: The Beauty and the Brawler
8.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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