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EPISODE TWENTY-SIX

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“Keep her close,” I request to the valet while tossing him the key to my sportscar.

Henry and I spent the last several hours seeking a loophole in the stringent UFC rulebook for Jacob. Our plan for a charity match isn’t ideal, but unless the Constrictor’s team announces an objection, it is well within a fighter’s right to compete under the guise of a fundraiser.

When I enter a restaurant I’ve owned for the past six years, I drift my eyes to the swinging kitchen door. My patrons have no clue mafia royalty scrubs their dishes clean each night. Not even Roberto Petretti’s father is aware he’s hiding in plain sight. 

When people hear the Petretti name, they think of tall brutish men with large shoulders and murderous sneers. Roberto has the murderous sneer down pat, but the padding he wears under his uniform each night and the hair he clips every morning rarely awards his mafia royalty a second glance. When viewed from afar, he appears to be an everyday man who’s down on his luck. It’s only when you look deep into his eyes do you realize he’s also void of a soul.

Roberto’s only saving grace five years ago was the discovery that he planned to plead guilty when he blew three times over the legal limit the morning Marjorie Marshall-Hawke, Hugo’s baby sister, was struck down by his motor vehicle. 

Even with evidence later emerging that Marjorie stepped into oncoming traffic without first checking her surroundings, Roberto had planned to face the consequences of his actions head-on. Marjorie and her unborn baby died shortly after the incident. No amount of remorse could wipe the image from Roberto’s head, and despite his father’s numerous dictations that the Petretti’s are untouchable, Roberto knew otherwise. 

It’s unfortunate the DA prosecuting his case was as unethical as he was immoral. Marjorie and her unborn child’s family weren’t in his thoughts when he bartered with the judge for a previously unheard-of plea. Dollar signs were. His dishonest practices left Hugo no choice but to take matters into his own hands. I have no hesitation in saying if I hadn’t interrupted Hugo the night he kidnapped Roberto, he would have killed him. His father raised him as my father had me. 

We protect our own.

I thought I was protecting Hugo the night I stopped him from making a mistake he couldn’t take back. I had no inkling I was also protecting a legacy Ophelia was once a part of. She wasn’t perfect, but considering the environment she was raised in, she far exceeded the expectations placed on her—as will Roberto. 

I’m not saying what he did wasn’t wrong. If he hadn’t been drunk, perhaps he could have decelerated in enough time to avoid colliding with Marjorie. I merely understand what it feels like to make a mistake you can’t take back. 

That’s what happened the morning Marjorie lost her life. Roberto made a mistake, and he’s been fighting to rectify his lapse in judgment ever since. He donates most of the money he earns as a dish hand to charities for victims of crimes, he volunteers at the outreach program his father once recruited from, and he’s not touched a drop of alcohol since I lodged two bullets into the wall behind his skull instead of through it. 

He could do more, but since he’d need to uncloak himself for that, I haven’t given him permission to do that just yet. Although I can’t hide him forever, nothing will change until the man who forced him into his miserably bleak existence is either dead or conceding his reign. Since Col would rather run his family’s name to the ground than hand the reins to one of his three sons, that will be years away. 

I can only hope it won’t extend to decades.

My thought process shifts from the negative to the positive when I spot Isabelle, Cormack, and Harlow at the table Cormack and I frequented in our college days. They don’t notice my approach since Cormack and Harlow are necking like teenagers, and Isabelle is conversing with a waitress Roberto vouched for three months ago. She’s a native Italian with a flair for the arts.

E per il vostro corso principale?” the waitress questions Isabelle, unaware her dark hair has nothing to do with her ethnicity.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian,” Isabelle replies, her voice low like she’s embarrassed.

“She’s asking what you’d like to order for your main course.” The hairs on Isabelle’s arms stand to attention when I slot into the seat next to her. Her body’s inability to act nonchalant to my closeness sees me leaning in to press a kiss on her cheek. “Sorry I’m late,” I apologize while pulling back to take in the flutter of the pulse in her neck. “I had some business I had to take care of.” I glance at the black and gold embossed menu in her hand before asking, “Do you know what you want?” 

Her body responds exactly as hoped when I drag my index finger down her arm, wordlessly announcing what I plan to have for dessert. Henry’s interruption today merely forced an intermission into our exchange. It didn’t entirely upend our plans.

“Umm…” Isabelle slowly breathes out, doubling the tension teeming between us. “A side of salad is fine.”

Positive a salad won’t award her the energy I plan to exert from her tonight, I hand her menu back to the waiter while saying, “She’ll have the 16-ounce steak with a baked potato and a side of salad. I’ll have the same.”

Isabelle’s mouth falls open. “I’m still full from lunch. That’s why I ordered a salad.” 

I arch a brow, calling out her lie without words. “The half a club sandwich and few slices of pear you ate at lunch weren’t adequate enough to skip dinner.” I stop before I disclose just how vigilant my watch can be when my motives are fueled by jealousy. 

Colby maintained distance with Isabelle the remainder of today. It wasn’t via his choice, though. Cormack kept him busy discussing the possibility of him utilizing a piece of land their grandfather purchased years before his death on the west coast for a business he’s endeavoring to get off the ground. 

The instant their meeting was over, he started sniffing around Isabelle again. That’s why Cormack bundled Harlow and Isabelle together and took them out for an early dinner. He knows Colby is tenacious when it comes to winning, but it has nothing on what I am willing to give up to make Isabelle mine.

The reason behind Isabelle’s frugalness is unearthed when she murmurs, “I can’t afford two hundred dollars for a piece of steak.”

Some of the redness on her cheeks shifts from shame to lust when I lean into her side and whisper, “How fast can you run in those heels?” I give her a second to settle her erratic breathing before suggesting, “We either run before the bill arrives or wash dishes with Roberto for the next week.” 

I’m so entranced by Isabelle’s smile, I fail to realize I disclosed Roberto’s true identity until Isabelle mentions him during her reply, “I’ll be sure to kick off these bad boys before our dessert arrives.” As she clicks her black pumps together, her brows furrow. “Hold on, how do you know his name is Roberto?”

I sling my arm around the back of her chair before tugging on a springy curl cascading down her back. “This is pretty. Did you do something different?” 

My endeavor to deflect her attention from Roberto to me has the effect I’m aiming for when she smiles and nods. “Harlow curled the ends.”

While running my eyes over her glossy locks and faultless face, I murmur, “You look beautiful.” 

“Thank you,” she replies sheepishly, her tone a unique mix of yearning and suspicion.

Hating that I’m tainting our rare one-on-one time with lies, I be the most honest I’ve ever been. I share stories of my childhood, Nick’s rise to infamy, and my excitement about becoming an uncle in a few weeks time. 

Decisions I made in haste mean I’ll never have children of my own, so I feel an odd kinship with Nick’s son even with him still growing in the womb. I plan to spoil him as I will Callie once I’ve plucked her from the murky undertones of the Russian Mafia.

***

With words flowing as freely between Isabelle and me as bottles of wine and aromatic food, hours pass as if they’re seconds. After the way we left things, I thought I’d be itching to get her alone, but to my surprise, having her seated across from me fully clothed is as arousing as when she stroked my dick on the back of the wave runner.

Isabelle has an intellect not many women can compete with. She’s empathetic, kind, and her personality is more than intriguing. She’s genuinely interested in what I have to say, and I find myself just as attentive in hearing her opinion on the matters we discuss. 

I’ve never had this type of communication with a woman before. Ophelia and I spoke, but it was juvenile and childish. It was never as in-depth and personal as my conversation with Isabelle the past two hours. Her beauty captivates me, but her intelligence will keep my astuteness enslaved for far longer than her looks. 

I begin to wonder if it will be the same for Isabelle with me when I order our dessert in my family’s native tongue. She squirms in her seat even more than when I ran my index finger up a portion of the silky-smooth skin on her thigh.

The change in dynamics is heard in my voice when I disclose, “My nonna was Italian. She taught me to speak Italian fluently by the time I was eight.”

A glossy sheen forms over Isabelle’s eyes when she asks, “Are you close to your nonna?”

 

I place my hand over the rim of her recently filled wine glass before she can take a sip, then shake my head. “No, she passed away five years ago.” After loosening her rueful clutch on her wine glass, I return it to the table. 

“I’m sorry,” she sympathizes as her confused gaze bounces between her wine glass and me.

 

I endeavor to eliminate her bewilderment by announcing, “You’ve already had three glasses.” 

 

Sparks of a woman who holds herself with pride flares through her eyes when she responds, “Yes, and I told you I don’t have a problem with my drinking.” 

“You don’t have a problem, but I do.” I lean in close to ensure my next set of words are only for her ears. “I don’t converse with drunk women.” The air shifts between us, but Isabelle still appears lost, forcing me to divulge, “I don’t converse sexually with drunk women.” 

As her tempting scent spurs uncontrollable recklessness from me, her eyes shoot between the waitress arriving with our dessert and me. After several long seconds of delay, she accepts the plate the waitress is holding out for her. Her movements are as unpredictable as the fiery warmth that inflates my cock when I place my hand high on her thigh. She is burning up—everywhere.

When Isabelle’s tiramisu remains untouched even with everyone else digging into their dessert, I ask, “Are you not hungry?” 

The thrill of the hunt scorches my veins when she murmurs, “I am hungry…” she locks her lust-hazed eyes with mine, leaving no misgivings to her reply when she adds, “… just not for food.”

As the urge to finally claim her as mine congeals my blood, I toss a bundle of bills onto the table, pluck Isabelle from her seat, farewell Harlow and Cormack with a grunted nod, then race Isabelle to the front of the restaurant. Her pussy has been waiting for my attention most of the day. It would be cruel to make it wait a second longer.

When the valet spots me coming, the urgency on my face undeniable, he tosses me my keys before opening the passenger door of my ride. His impending tip jumps from impressive to exuberant when he shifts his eyes away from the high split in Isabelle’s skirt from her sliding into the low-riding configuration of my car. His respect will see him awarded a generous tip and his name at the top of my recruitment list.

After buckling Isabelle in, I hand the valet my business card and two freshly minted Benjamin Franklin’s. “Call me first thing tomorrow morning. I’ll put you in touch with my recruitment officer. Hard work gets you so far. Respect gets you the rest.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” he stammers out, equally shocked and excited.

I dip my chin in farewell before sliding into the driver’s seat and flooring the gas. My excessive speed could have us arriving at Mummo Koti in under an hour, but my impatience sees me directing my sports car to the closest five-star hotel.

I’ve been waiting for this moment for months. 

I’m not willing to tack another hour onto the already frustrating delay.

We’re two miles from The Plaza when my cell phone shrills through the speakers of my dashboard. I curse under my breath when I spot who my caller is. Hugo better have a good excuse for his interruption or he’ll face more than a public dressing down.

“What?” I bark out after connecting his call.

I hear him swallow his smile before he says, “Sorry for the intrusion, boss, but we have a problem with 57.” 

Although the regret in his low tone seems genuine, I’m not buying it. We have staff to fix ‘issues.’ We never send the top tier of the pyramid on errands. “Send Patrick.” 

“Can’t. He’s away with his kids this weekend.”

While swinging my eyes to Isabelle, I wring the steering wheel. When I notice not an ounce of regret is hardening her alluring features, I ask Hugo, “What kind of problem?” 

My annoyance piques when he mutters, “The manager was vague, but he said he has some issues with a staff member issuing free drinks to his friends.”

“Why the fuck can’t the manager handle this type of situation?” I query, dumbfounded how he’s gone from a go-getting entrepreneur to a lazy and incompetent slob in under six months. 

 

The profits my business pour in every week usually holds the management teams interests for a good twelve to eighteen months. It’s only when they realize it takes more than a good location to get a nightclub off the ground do they become unapt. They want the benefits without the hard work. That isn’t the way life operates, and I’m on the verge of informing them of that. I wouldn’t hesitate if Isabelle’s seductive scent wasn’t occupying every nerve ending in my body. She’s finally let go of her inhibitions, and I’m more than ready to collect the dividends of months of hard work.

Isabelle must sense my hesitation. After drifting her hooded eyes over my white knuckles from my deadly grip on the steering wheel, she murmurs, “It’s okay.” 

I wring the steering wheel even firmer when Hugo jumps back into the conversation. “Oh, hey, Isabelle.” His voice is playful, and it hints that he knew I wasn’t alone when he called.

The pulse in my jaw shifts to my groin when Isabelle smiles, pleased Hugo recognized her voice even with her only speaking two words. After returning his greeting with a brief “hi,” she drags her teeth across her bottom lip. 

Her flirty gesture changes the temperament in an instant. It goes from stuffy and rigid to playful and teasing in under a second and has me recalling our thrilling yet too short jet-ski ride earlier today. It’s also a reminder that I don’t need a bed to bring out Isabelle’s passionate side. I merely need to get her alone, and where better to do that than in an office with an extremely sturdy desk?

“I’ll take care of it,” I inform Hugo before disconnecting our call, stealing his chance to reply. 

 

The rise and fall of Isabelle’s chest when I lean over to free her lip from her menacing teeth assures me my assumption is one hundred percent correct. She’s hot all over, and I’m barely touching her—yet. 

“Five minutes tops,” I mutter through a desire I’m unsure will ever be fully quenched.  “And I’ll be biting that lip.”

As the scent I’m intoxicated with fills the cab of my car, Isabelle nods. I flatten the gas pedal just as fast. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

Whether sweet, bitter, sour, or pungent, I will taste every inch of Isabelle, and I will do it tonight. 

 

xx

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