The Gun Runner By Scott Hildreth Tripp Once, I took down terrorists on the front lines as a marine. Now I’m in the business of bad. I’ve sold guns to people others might not approve of. I’ve eliminated the criminals, the lowlifes and the thugs who’ve tread on my turf. And I looked the Sicilian Mafia boss in the eye and told him to f*** off. No one tells me no, unless it’s their last word. I didn’t just act the part of bad—I lived it. Then she stumbled into my life. I tried to stay away from her. Tried focusing on moving my merchandise. But one smile from Terra was like a shot to the heart. She’s mine now. And no one threatens what’s mine. Terra I’ve seen a lot of terrible things in my life. I grew up around lies and deception, and I ran away from all of them. Until I met him. I knew he was corrupt. I knew he was dangerous. I should have stayed away, but my attraction to him, my need for him, overrode my logic. Now I love him. If he finds out who I am, we’re done and I’ll be nothing. I never wanted to be the Mafia princess they tried to make me, but mia familia had other plans. And what mia familia wants...it gets. Only Michael Tripp can save me. This book is approximately 70,000 words
Dear Reader, I like August because it’s my birthday month. And I’m a firm believer in celebrating more than once. Since my birthday falls at the end of the month, I start early with lunches with friends, happy hour with my husband, and by gifting myself a few things I love but know that no one will gift me. Books definitely fall into that category of things I gift myself. But the truth is, I give myself books year round and I’m betting a lot of you are my reading soul mates. Books should be the one thing we never deny ourselves. So in honor of my birthday—or just because you love a good book, go ahead and gift yourself one of these new releases. And then maybe gift one to someone in your life! Bestselling indie author Scott Hildreth joins Carina Press with his sexy, sexy Mafia Made trilogy featuring the dangerous and mysterious Michael Tripp. In book one, The Gun Runner, she’s a mafia princess concealing her true identity while trying to win his love. He’s a former US Marine turned gunrunner at war with her father. When the truth is revealed, they’ll both have the fight of their lives on their hands. Fan favorite author K.A. Mitchell is back with the second part of Ethan and Wyatt’s story. They’ve accepted their love for each other but now comes the hard part—the rest of their lives. Don’t miss Boyfriend Material and be sure to pick up book one, Getting Him Back. Also joining us this month is another author coming to us from the world of indie publishing. Kerry Adrienne brought us this previously self-published book, and we said, “Let’s expand the heck out of this, re-edit it and turn it into an awesome series full of shifters, clan politics and sexy times.” We’re happy to say Kerry was definitely on board and the Shifter Wars series was born. In book one, Waking the Bear, sexy bear shifter Griff Martin is protector of his clan’s territory—but now a crazy lion is on the prowl and his stubborn Goldilocks, Amy Francis, shows up and won’t listen to his warnings to stay out of the forest and he can’t decide whether to bed her or send her packing. (Of course, we all know what he chooses, don’t we?) Ex-military pilot Seth Erickson is fighting his own demons, but when he finds Summer Silva, a beautiful, warmth-loving Miami woman stranded in the frozen wilderness, he’ll do everything in his power to keep Summer safe from murder, treason and the ruthless Alaskan winter in Anna del Mar’s newest sexy romantic suspense, The Stranger. Do you love the contemporary romance of Jill Shalvis and Shannon Stacey? Make sure you check out the debut romance from Jen Doyle, Calling It, as well as her newest contemporary romance, Called Up. There’s one thing Max “Deke” Deacon can always count on besides his old high school teammates: Angelica “Fitz” Hawkins. But no matter how much Deke might secretly fantasize otherwise, a relationship with his best friend’s sister is off-limits. Until one unexpectedly smoldering encounter has Deke and Fitz giving in to the feelings they’ve both been fighting for far too long. And last, this month in mystery we welcome Emery Harper to Carina Press! In Person of Interest, Celeste Eagan, a prep school theater teacher, gets caught up in mystery and mayhem while trying to clear first her ex’s name then her own in not one but two murders.
For those on my side of the globe, if you’re looking for something to read next to the pool or on the beach in this last month of summer, make sure to check out Didn’t I Warn You and Didn’t You Promise by Amber Bardan. Dark, smoldering, mysterious and totally in love with his woman, Haithem will rock your world! For those on the other side of the globe, if you’re looking for a book to heat up your cold, drizzly days, make sure to pick up the Vengeful Love trilogy by Laura Carter. From the very first page to the heartstopping conclusion, from London to Rome to Dubai, these sinfully addictive novels will have you ignoring your dishes and calling in sick to life in order to read just one...more...page. Coming next month: We’re doing it up different. One author, one story, two books, in back-to-back weeks. No excruciating wait to find out what happens next. And like any good trainwreck, you won’t be able to look away from this Hollywood Hot Mess. As always, until next month, my fellow book lovers, here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love, remember and recommend. Happy reading! ~Angela James Executive Editor, Carina Press
Dedication To Michelle
Contents Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter One Terra When a relationship fails, it seems one person is always more accepting of the change than the other. I was that person. The accepting one. “I told you about coming here,” he seethed. “Grab your stuff. You’re leaving.” “Leave me alone, Vincent. Jesus. It’s over. Go away. People are staring.” His lips went thin. “Do I look like I give a fuck if people stare?” I pulled away, yanking my wrist free from his grasp. “Go. Away.” “Stand up,” he demanded. “I don’t want to make a scene.” “Testa di cazzo. You already have. Go away.” “You little bitch. Stand up,” he growled. As far as I was concerned, the coffee shop was my place of refuge. Although we had been apart for almost six months, there were times when Vincent didn’t seem to quite understand that our separation was permanent. Italian men were extremely prideful, and my ending the relationship against his will made it far more difficult for him to accept. The muscles in his jaw went tight. “I mean it. Get up. You’re fuckin’ leaving.” I turned away. Seeing him turned my stomach and having him touch me was worse. His abusive behavior and his size were the two biggest problems facing me, and my size—or lack thereof—was another. I reached for my cup of coffee. My shaking hand was a reminder of my fear of his violent temper. I wrapped my fingers around the cup of coffee and tried to convince myself I wasn’t as scared as I really was. I raised the cup to my lips. “No. Leave me alone.” One hand firmly grabbed my jacket, and the other got a fistful of my hair. Before I had a chance to object, my cup of coffee was on the floor and I was being dragged through the door and toward the parking lot. Fear shot through me like an electric shock. This type of thing had happened with Vincent enough that I knew what was next. During our entire relationship I used makeup and scarves to hide the bruises left on me by his fits of anger. He dragged me along the sidewalk. “You wanna disrespect me in public?” I fought to free myself from his grasp. “Let me go. My purse. My purse is...” His grip on my hair tightened. “Shut up.” I tried to dig my heels into the pavement and pull free of his grasp. Instead of making any progress on escaping, I simply lost one of my beloved Louboutins. Through all of the commotion and my feeble attempts to get away, my eyes caught a glimpse of the coffee shop’s glass entrance, only to see the two dozen patrons watching us wide-eyed. No one seemed willing to do anything to help. I had no interest in being beaten by him again. Two years of it was enough. As he dragged me off of the sidewalk and into the parking lot, a shrill whistle caused me to shift my attention toward the sound. Vincent stopped and did the same. An extremely handsome man in a well-
fitted gray suit stood twenty feet away. Very methodically, he approached us. His gait included a distinct element of confidence. He had an undeniable swagger. And steel-blue eyes that I couldn’t seem to pry mine away from. It seemed he could speak with his eyes, and if I was understanding him correctly—and I hoped I was—he was telling me not to worry. The stranger continued to walk toward us, each step expressing his confidence. My mouth fell open. Not out of surprise. Or hope for that matter. It was more a strange out-of-place lustful desire. He was so good-looking that Vincent’s abduction of me became secondary. The handsome stranger took another step toward us, stopped, and spread his feet apart slightly. “Let. Her. Go.” His voice was distinct and commanding. Vincent released my hair and slid his arm around my waist. “Mind your own business.” The stranger reached up and loosened his tie. “I watched you drag her across the parking lot. Hell, one of her shoes is over there on the sidewalk. It is my business. I’m not going to tell you again. Let. Her. Go.” Vincent loosened his grip slightly and cleared his throat. “Do you know who I am?” The stranger chuckled. “I don’t give a thimbleful of fucks who you are. But you damned well need to understand who I am.” Vincent’s Philadelphia Italian accent was thick. “Who the fuck are you?” The man’s eyes thinned to slits. “I’m that guy. The one you’re going to wish later that you listened to.” Oh my. All he had done was speak, and I was already melted into a puddle of desire. With his eyes locked on Vincent, the stranger took a few steps to the side and removed his jacket and tie. Apparently he wasn’t joking. I may have been afraid of Vincent, but it was obvious the stranger wasn’t. He tossed the clothes on the trunk of what I assumed was his car and reached for his collar. He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and walked toward us. The distance between us vanished, and Vincent’s grip on me tightened. It was so like him to attempt to use me for a shield. He was the type of person who wouldn’t hesitate to abuse a woman, but when it came to standing up for one—or challenging a man—he was all tongue and no tactics. At least that was what my father said about him. When the stranger was so close that I could smell him, he lowered his chin. The muscles in his jaw flared. I had no idea of what he had planned, but his focus was unquestionable. His chiseled facial features, strong jaw and high cheekbones only added to the intensity of his narrow-eyed stare. He stood close enough to reach out and touch me. A lump rose in my throat. I pressed my tongue against the roof of my mouth and attempted to swallow, but a combination of fear and the unknown prevented it. Vincent held me so close I could feel his heart beating against my back. I desperately wanted to be free of his clutch, but at that moment I saw no way this could, or would, end. And then it happened. I didn’t see it. At least not immediately. A few seconds later, I realized what took place. The stranger’s hands were that fast. I was in front of Vincent, with my back against his chest. Being six inches shorter than him left enough of an opening between my shoulder and his neck for the stranger to throat-punch him, causing him to release me in reflex. The instant he let me go, another lightning-fast hand shot past me and smashed into Vincent’s face. After it happened, I realized he didn’t do it with closed fists. He had done it with his flattened hands. He stood in front of Vincent in a fighting stance that would scare any reasonable man away. Vincent fought to breathe.
I stood in awe. Who are you? Instead of running or screaming, I stood and stared with my mouth agape. “Uhhm...” He gestured toward the coffee shop. “You better go get your shoe.” I hobbled across the parking lot and picked up my shoe, checking over my shoulder every few steps. I then retrieved my purse and gave the coffee-drinking yuppies a fine-tuned fuck-you glare. I turned toward the parking lot. The stranger’s raised hands, bent knees, and laser-sharp glare made his objective clear. He was ready to continue the fight. Vincent, on the other hand, appeared to be having a difficult time breathing. I probably shouldn’t have, but I hoped the fabled throat-punch crushed Vincent’s windpipe or something more permanently damaging. If he collapsed dead right then and there, it would have been the beginning of a very good day. Not knowing what to do next, but feeling drawn to my handsome new protector, I held my head high and walked to his side. Vincent was bent over with his hands pressed to his knees, fighting to catch his breath. Be it genuine or an act to keep the stranger from continuing, I had no idea, and it really didn’t matter. Feeling confident that the well-dressed street fighter would keep me from harm, I reached down and removed my shoes. “Che cavolo?” I raised my right foot and swung it into Vincent’s crotch with all my might. A muffled grunt passed his lips. “Don’t you ever.” I inhaled a deep breath and kicked him again. “Come near me again. I’ll have my father cut you in pieces and throw you in the Missouri River.” Vincent fell forward, groaning and holding his crotch. I glared down at him and shook my head. “Testa di cazzo!” The stranger stepped back and coughed out a laugh. “You done?” “I am now.” I slipped on my shoes and turned toward my new friend “I can’t thank you enough. I’m Terra.” “No worries,” he said with a lighthearted shrug. “My name’s Michael.” No worries? Maybe not for you. We shook hands. He looked at Vincent, scoffed, and retrieved his tie and jacket. His grayish-blue eyes commanded my focus. His handsome looks kept it. “You know him?” I hated to admit it, but I nodded anyway. “Angry ex.” I glanced at his car. The license plate said TRIPP. I made a mental note of it and smiled to myself. I motioned toward the car. “Your last name?” “Yeah, long story. Listen,” he said. “You better get going.” My eyes fell to Vincent, who was either being theatrical or still in pain. “You’re right. I can’t thank you enough.” He grinned. Two slight dimples and a mouthful of white teeth were all I saw. “I’ll stick around and make sure he gets up,” he said. “You come here often?” After I said it, I felt like a fool. It sounded so cliché. “I will. Just moved to the neighborhood, so this is my new place,” he said. “It’s on my way to the office.” “Again, thank you.” I didn’t want to, but I tore my eyes from him and turned away.
Well, Michael, my handsome ass-kicking friend, this won’t be the last you see of me. If my father thought for an instant that I was interested in someone who wasn’t both Italian and Catholic, he would come apart at the seams. Italian fathers are known to be protective of their daughters, but mine was even worse. He was much more than my father. He was the Godfather.
Chapter Two Michael I didn’t need to look up from my desk to know it was Cap who was coming down the hallway, I could tell by the distinct sound of his footsteps. He stepped into my office and stopped ten feet in front of my desk. I wanted his stay to be short and his concerns to be about anything but business. He didn’t need to know it, but my mind was still focused on the girl from the coffee shop. Her attitude, spunk and gorgeous looks made her difficult to dismiss as just another woman. Without shifting my eyes up from my mountain of paperwork, I acknowledged his presence. “Good evening, Cap,” I said flatly. “Alarm wasn’t set.” “Door sensors are broken. I need to call it in.” He cleared his throat. “Might wanna do that. Hope your day went good.” I met his gaze. “What?” “I hope your day went good.” “It’s still going, and what the hell does that mean? You hope it went good?” “Means I hope your day went good. Mine’s been a shit sandwich.” I waved my hand over the top of my desk. Typically organized, it was covered in piles of paperwork. “Sorry yours was hell, but I’m nowhere near done, so it’s too early to call it. Delivery went well?” “Kind of.” “Kind of? Did you drop off the weapons?” He nodded. “Yep.” “Were they pleased with the quality?” “Yep.” His “shit sandwich” remark made me feel slightly uneasy. Knowing all of my customers paid in advance prior to receiving a shipment of weapons left very little to go wrong. “I’m not interested in playing guessing games, Cap. The AK-47s we were supposed to get from Virginia are coming in late, and when they get here, we’ll be fifty short. I’m going to have some mad Bulgarians on my hands if I can’t find out a way to fix it.” I pushed my chair away from the desk. “So, enlighten me on why you’re here telling me about your shit day.” “I was plannin’ on it.” He drew a long deep breath and folded his arms in front of his chest. “Some fucker came up to the truck and knocked on the window. After I figured out what was goin’ on, I rolled down the window, and he starts sayin’ how we’re done sellin’ weapons in Kansas City. Said somethin’ about makin’ money, too.” Anyone attempting to interfere with my business would be met by force, and Cap’s words fell on wary ears and a retaliatory mind. I glared back at him. “Done selling weapons? What?” “He said you’re done sellin’ guns in Kansas City. I couldn’t really hear him over the music, so I got out. Then he started lookin’ at me all crazy and talkin’ shit, so I just started smackin’ him.” “Who the hell was he? And what did he say about money?” “Dunno who he was, and I couldn’t really tell what all he was sayin’, I was too busy hittin’ him while he was tryin’ to talk.”
“Goddamn it, Cap. What else did he say?” “I don’t remember what all he said, I was pretty fuckin’ mad.” “You don’t remember?” I walked around the corner of my desk. “Why don’t you give it a good goddamned try? Where, specifically, were you? And who was she? A fed? A cop? Did you get a name?” He shot back a look of confusion. “She? He was a him, not a her.” “What?” I no more than spoke, and realized I had said she instead of he. It seemed odd during all of the excitement and confusion, thoughts of Terra were still lingering. “Goddamn it; you know what I meant. Answer the question.” “I was at I-435 and Metcalf at the gas station gettin’ gas,” he said. “And he wasn’t a cop or a fed, that much I know. He just got out his Cadillac and walked up to me and started bumpin’ his gums and talkin’ shit, so I busted him in the mouth.” I clenched my teeth and attempted to maintain my composure. “Where is he now?” He shrugged. “I stomped the hell out of him and left him in the parkin’ lot beside his car. Figured someone was bound to call the cops or start askin’ questions, so I just beat feet. You know, came right here to tell you what happened.” I wondered how the problem could be solved if I had no idea who the mystery man was. I believed Cap would have found his ID if he had one, but felt compelled to ask anyway. “He have an ID on him?” “Nope,” he said. “No nothin’. Well, nothing but a piece stuck in the waist of his pants. Oh, and the fucker was dressed like you.” I narrowed my eyes. “Like me?” “Yep. Had on a suit. Looked expensive. No tie though. Had his shirt unbuttoned and was wearin’ a big gold chain around his neck. Oh, yeah, and a gold bracelet.” “I’m guessing you took his weapon?” “Yep. Cheap fucker. Ruger P-85. It’s in the truck.” I recognized the weapon to be an inexpensive 9mm recalled for safety issues in the mid-1980s. I was surprised that anyone wearing an expensive suit and gold chains would have such an unreliable weapon. I began to attempt assembling the pieces to the puzzle. “Think, Cap. Did anything stand out about this guy?” After a moment’s thought, his shoulders raised slowly, all but dismissing his final bit of information as unnecessary or possibly useless. “Sounded like he was from New York or something. You know, he had that east coast accent thing going on. Maybe Boston. Definitely from somewhere back east.” “Go get the Ruger. I’ll have Trace run the numbers on it.” “Got it, Boss.” In a short moment, Cap walked in with the weapon, using a rag to prevent his fingerprints from coming in contact with the gun. Holding it at arm’s length pinched between his thumb and forefinger as if it were a disease, he carefully placed it at the corner of my desk. “Jesus, Cap. It’s not a fucking bomb.” “I ain’t lookin’ to leave my fingerprints on some throwaway piece. And, you never know with these junk fuckers. They’ll go off if you drop ’em.” He was right. They were that cheap. I reached for the gun. Covered in scratches and with half the finish worn off, it appeared to have been run over by a truck. “Was it like this when you got it?” “Yep.” I studied the weapon and pieced together what I knew for sure. Kansas side of the river. Expensive suit. East coast accent. Cadillac. Gold chains. Inexpensive
throwaway pistol. No identification. I sighed heavily. “Fuck.” “What?” “I think I’ve got an idea of who this might be. Or who they might be.” “Who?” “Agrioli,” I said. “Sooner or later I knew he’d stick his nose in my business. We’re moving too damned many weapons.” After spending ten years in the US Marine Corps, I’d opted for a discharge as soon as they were no longer able to deploy me into combat. Immediately following my release, I started a gray-market weapons business in Kansas City of all places. The gun laws in Kansas allowed me to distribute as many used guns as I wanted without any of the normal formalities associated with new gun sales. I walked along a razor’s edge regarding legality, but had the freedom to sell what I wanted to whoever I wanted without intervention. The lack of involvement from any faction of the government was nice, but it caused me to be a prime target of the mafia and their system of paying taxes. So far, I had been fortunate. His eyes grew wide. “The godfather of the fuckin’ mafia? That Agrioli?” “Think about it. Expensive suit. Carrying a throwaway. Driving a Cadillac. Wearing gold chains. East coast accent.” I shrugged. “Who else wears gold chains?” He laughed. “Pimps and Italians.” Pimps and Italians. It wasn’t that funny. I chuckled nonetheless. “So what now?” he asked. “How bad did you tune this guy up?” His mouth twisted into a guilty smirk. “Beat him like he owed me money.” I winced at the response. If it was one of Agrioli’s men, he’d undoubtedly try to get payback for what happened. Although I wouldn’t change how Cap reacted if I was able, being at war with the Italian mafia definitely wasn’t on my bucket list. “Bad?” I asked. “Pretty damned bad. Hadn’t had my coffee yet, and I was up late watchin’ Netflix, so I wasn’t in the mood for someone to be all up in my face.” Cap was a former Force RECON marine and a trained assassin. With the body of a weight lifter and a face that appeared to be chiseled of stone, he was an intimidating man. His comedic behavior and random ridiculous comments often made it difficult for me to take him seriously. I fought against my urge to laugh, and wrote down the serial number of the pistol. After removing $2,000 from the drawer, I tossed the money on top of my desk and shook my head. “You and that fucking Netflix.” “New Girl. You seen that shit?” Mentally, I rolled my eyes. “No.” “Try it. That guy Schmidt is funnier than fuck.” “I work until eight, get coffee, eat and work out until eleven. When do you suggest I watch Netflix?” He reached for the money. “That’s the good thing about Netflix. You can watch that fucker whenever you want. You can watch a whole year of shit in one weekend. Start, stop, pause, fast-forward, rewind, you got it all right there at your fuckin’ fingertips.” “Don’t think so.” He ran his thumb along the edge of the bills. “Hey, there’s two here.”
It was the least I could do considering the trouble he went through. “One for the delivery, and one for defending my best interests. Keep this between you and me. I’ll try to look into it without raising too many eyebrows.” “Appreciate the extra,” he said. “I appreciate your devotion, Cap.” He turned toward the door. The moment he reached the threshold, he stopped. “I ain’t likin’ the thought of the fuckin’ mob messin’ with us. You sure you’re okay?” “I’m golden. Why?” “Just surprised you didn’t snap.” I had a reputation for having a quick temper, something Cap had seen firsthand on many occasions. I thought of my altercation in the parking lot of the Starbucks and laughed to myself. I felt it best I keep the incident to myself. “I’m turning over a new leaf.” “Good to hear,” he said over his shoulder with a laugh. “But I ain’t buyin’ it.” As soon as he exited my office, my mind went not to my work, worries of the mob, or Cap’s beating a man and leaving him in the parking lot of a gas station. It drifted to where it had been almost all day. Terra. Considering the possibility that Agrioli and his men may be attempting to infiltrate my organization, the last thing I needed to be thinking about was a woman. Dismissing her, however, had proven close to impossible. She was gorgeous and she had courage. The combination was undeniably attractive. I glanced at my watch. It was an hour before I normally left, but since my day had quickly turned into a shit sandwich, staying and maintaining focus would be difficult at best. I looked around the office, decided my ability to continue was nil, and called it a day. A cup of coffee would relax me, and a two-hour-long workout would exhaust me. A good night’s sleep should follow, and then I could simply begin a new day. A cup of coffee, meal and the exercise would allow me to forget about Agrioli for a night. But I had no idea what I was going to have to do to clear my mind of Terra. And I didn’t really know that I wanted to.
Chapter Three Terra Based on my limited experience, I believed all men to be inconsiderate assholes. If there was a socially and morally acceptable way to have sex without the annoyance of a boyfriend, I sure would have given it a try. Following Michael’s display of gallantry, I changed my mind. Now filled with a newfound belief that only Italian men were assholes, I sat at the coffee shop in hope of seeing him again. Only to come up with nothing. Two consecutive unsuccessful mornings later, and I decided to try the night shift. He said the coffee shop was his new place, so I didn’t believe my wide-eyed stares out the window were all for naught. Several hours and six double lattes into the night, and I’d already spent close to $4,000 in a caffeineinduced NET-A-PORTER online shopping spree. With my heart beating a hundred times a second and every hair on my body feeling as if it were standing on end, I released a heavy sigh and closed my laptop. I walked to the trash can and dropped my half-full cup into it. One more sip of coffee and I would undoubtedly die of a heart attack at twenty-four years old. As I walked back to my seat, the headlights of an approaching car caught my attention. A hopeful glance out the window as it turned into a parking stall caused my heart to race and my palms to go sweaty. A black BMW sedan with a personalized plate. TRIPP. I ran to my seat and frantically opened my laptop. After fumbling with the on button for an inordinate amount of time, I peered through the window and into the parking lot. Dear God. I could easily get lost in simply watching him walk. Dressed similarly to the day we met, the only real change was the color of his clothes. Now wearing a navy-colored suit and no tie—but with the same confident swagger—he walked up to the door and pulled it open. I stared straight ahead and tried to get the computer past Starbuck’s product page and to a website of some sort. I wanted to appear preoccupied, but I needed it to at least seem real. As NET-A-PORTER’s website came into view, his calming voice made me tingle all over. “Terra?” I flipped my hair over my shoulder and turned toward him. “Oh, wow. Michael, right?” “Yeah. Any more problems with your ex?” He seemed taller than before. I stood from my seat and grinned. “No, I haven’t heard from him since.” He tossed his head toward the register. “Can I get you a drink?” Another cup of coffee would surely be the death of me, but I didn’t dare refuse. “Sure. A double latte.” He nodded, grinned and turned toward the register. I sat down and tried not to stare. A few over-theshoulder glances while he ordered and waited for the coffee went unnoticed, but provided all of the reassurance I needed to convince me he was well worth waiting for. He handed me the latte and sat down beside me. “I’ve looked for you in here since the day we met.” You what? Instinctively, I raised the cup to my lips. “Oh really?” The smell almost made me vomit.
He took a sip of his coffee. “I thought I might catch you here.” “I come in here from time to time.” I forced myself to take a drink. “If you want, I can give you my phone number, and the next time you’re coming up, maybe I can meet you.” “Sounds good.” I did an imaginary fist pump. Yes! “What’s your number,” I asked. “I’ll just send you a text.” He gave me his number and I sent him a text with my first name as the message. When his phone beeped, he pulled it from his inner jacket pocket and peered down at the screen. “Terra what? It just says Terra. What’s your last name?” “Wilson,” I lied. When people found out my last name, things ended before they ever got started. An odd glare, an oh really, or, the inevitable are you related to Anthony Agrioli question seemed to always follow. With Michael, I wanted him to give me a chance to show him who I really was, and not categorize me for what my family was involved in. “Terra Wilson,” he said. “Got it.” “And yours is Tripp. You said that was a long story. So, have you got time to tell it?” He chuckled as he considered his response. “I went in to get plates for the car, and the lady gave me the next tag in the drawer. It said USN 666. I’m a former marine, and although we’re technically under the Department of the Navy, we look at the navy as being beneath us. The letters USN stand for the US Navy, and I didn’t want them on my car. I knew I didn’t want 666 on it either, so I asked if I could get a different plate. She said ‘not unless you get back in line and go to a different station.’ It took me three hours to get to where I was, so I just ordered a personalized plate. I tossed USN 666 in the trunk, and drove on the expired dealer plate until the new one showed up.” His fighting skills had led me to believe he was something, but a marine wouldn’t have been my first guess. “So, you were a marine?” “Ten years.” “Oh wow. Well, that explains the, uhhm. Yeah.” I stared back at him in admiration. “But not anymore?” “Not for a year.” “So what do you do now?” “Investor,” he said flatly. “What do you invest in?” “Opportunities. I invest in opportunities.” He seemed to convince himself of it as he spoke. I waved my open hand toward him. “Well, it looks like a rewarding career.” “So far, it’s been pretty lucrative. With any luck, it’ll continue. I plan on retiring in a few years and moving to Belize.” “Really?” “Hopefully. I mean, if everything continues. It’s beautiful down there.” I buried my fingers in my hair and tossed it frantically. Not to be cute, or to bring attention to myself, but because I felt like I had bugs in my hair. My evening’s diet of almost seven double lattes and no food was wreaking havoc on me. I shook my hair and let it drape down over my shoulders. He leaned back and watched observantly. I lowered my hands into my lap and grinned, satisfied my little fit was over. “I’ve never been down there, but I’d sure like to one day.” “You are...” His mouth twisted into a smirk and he shook his head lightly. “Fucking gorgeous.” Excuse me?
I wasn’t sure if he actually said what I thought I heard, or if the caffeine-induced state of delirium I was slipping into had my mind playing tricks on me. “Excuse me?” “Sorry, but I’m blunt.” I really wanted to hear him say it again. “What did you say?” “Sorry, but I’m blunt?” “No, before that.” “Before that? I said you were gorgeous.” I felt like I did in fifth grade when Salvadore Tarrucci passed me my first note in class. When I opened it, will you be my girlfriend stared back at me, causing my heart to go aflutter and my mind to fill with a combination of pride and self-confidence. Michael was making me feel like I was in fifth grade again. My face felt like it was on fire. A tingling sensation ran from my pussy to my nipples. The six months of abstinence was apparent. I crossed my legs nervously and grinned. “Thank you.” It seemed too good to be true. A well-dressed handsome investor who was protective of me and wanted to retire on a remote island south of Mexico. And, it just so happened that he thought I was gorgeous and he wasn’t afraid to say so. He was a far cry from the men I was used to, the majority of which made profit from their criminal activities and shady behavior. “So, other than kick guys in the nuts, what do you do?” he asked. “Huh?” I was still wallowing in the compliment. He had just gone from a handsome ass-kicker to irresistibly adorable. He tilted his head toward my computer. “What do you do?” I wrinkled my nose. “With what?” He coughed out a laugh. “Are you flustered? I guess I could have waited until I left to tell you that, but when you did that thing with your hair, it was just, I don’t know. You looked gorgeous.” I was far from a teenager, and although prior to meeting him I would have described myself as confident, mature and fairly established in life, he was making me feel like a little girl again. And I liked it. “Sorry, I might have got all starry-eyed there for a minute.” I fanned my hand in front of my face. “So, you asked what I do?” “You know,” he said. “For work.” I did nothing. It sounded terrible to admit, but since my twenty-first birthday, I received an annual allotment from my trust fund. My family was wealthy, therefore, I was wealthy. I didn’t work, and if I hinted at getting a job, my father would throw a fit. “I uhhm. I. Well...” I murmured. I felt terrible for telling him my last name was Wilson, and decided to keep my little white lies limited to that and just one more. I couldn’t dare tell him the truth about my being rich and not having an actual job. I sighed heavily in anticipation of telling him a lie. “I’m in the shoe business,” I blurted. “I inherited a store on Long Island. I kind of run it from here.” Jesus, Terra. Where the fuck did that come from? I had no idea where the response came from, other than I loved shoes and everything about shoe shopping. And, although it was a lie, it wasn’t. I was in the shoe business. The business of buying them. He offered a slight smirk. “Shoes, huh?” I narrowed my eyes. Maybe I wasn’t convincing enough. “Yeah, why?” “Nothing.” “You had a shitty grin on your face.”
“It wasn’t shitty. It was just a smile. Like, that’s nice. Nothing more than that. I was just thinking, shoes. It explains the red bottom you dropped at the door the other day.” I found it hard to believe he knew what a red bottom was. “You noticed.” “I tend to.” I sat with my lips pursed and a slight grin on my face and stared. I felt tremendous comfort in his presence. It was a nice change to talk to someone without having them sending a text message or updating their Facebook status every ten minutes. I also liked it that he was observant, protective and didn’t hesitate to step in when Vincent was trying to drag me away against my will. Considering how we met, I decided to pry a little further. “So, what did you think I did?” “I don’t know.” “I’m sure you thought something,” I said. “You seem like an observant person.” “You really want to know?” I didn’t see the harm in it. I shrugged. “Sure.” “Actually, I was wondering what your father did.” What? My mouth went dry. “Why uhhm. Huh?” “You told your ex you’d have your father cut him into little pieces and toss him in the Missouri River. So I wondered what he did for a living.” He reached for his coffee and cocked an eyebrow playfully. “Obviously not shoes.” If my father found out what Vincent had done to me, he would cut him up and toss him in the Missouri River. I’d painted myself into a corner with my lies, so I had to continue. “He’s not crazy protective of me or anything, but he’d be really protective of me if he thought someone was abusing me.” “As he should be.” I decided to change the subject back to me, or at least attempt it. “So what did you think I did? We were talking about that. Your sixth sense or whatever.” “My guess was a trust-fund baby, or something similar,” he said. “You’re obviously wealthy.” Holy shit. I stared back at him. I took slight exception to what he said. Well, as much as I could, considering it was all true. “Oh really? Based on what?” He leaned forward and locked eyes with me. “Well, you drive a Mercedes S550 Coupe. The shoe you lost by the door the other day was a Louboutin, and you’re sitting in Starbucks shopping at NET-APORTER on a Wednesday night. You’re single—or at least you do a damned good job of acting like it— and you’re wearing, oh, I’d say that’s about a one-and-three-quarter carat diamond on your wedding finger.” I nervously covered my ring with my right hand and stared back at him in shock. Or maybe I was impressed. Whichever it was, I sat in my seat and glared at him with wide eyes and an open mouth. He leaned away from the table and gestured toward my lap. “My guess is it’s to keep guys from trying to hit on you.” I continued my openmouthed stare. He paused and cocked an eyebrow. “How am I doing so far?” Wow. “How...” I shook my head in disbelief. “How’d you know what I drove?” “You drove off in it the other day, remember?” He was right. About everything. In spite of his observations, he still felt I was worthy of his time, and I appreciated it. With him driving a $100,000 BMW and dressing the way he did, it was obvious he wasn’t
after me for my money, and I sure wasn’t after him for his. I was after him for other reasons. And it appeared the list was growing. “My dad bought me the ring. He said it would keep the creeps away. And, you were right about everything. That’s crazy that you caught all that.” “I stay pretty conscious of my surroundings. Sometimes I think it keeps me from living a normal life,” he said. “How so?” “I develop opinions based on what I think, and not necessarily what I know to be fact. As far as I’m concerned, if I believe it, it is fact. So, I walk into a room, survey the people and the situation, and then make decisions based on what I see. Some might call it arrogance. I say it’s confidence. There’s only a hair that separates the two, you know.” He was becoming more interesting with each passing minute. The woman in me needed to know more. “So, what decisions or opinions or whatever did you make based on what you’ve seen with me? The other day when we met, and tonight?” “Really?” “Yeah, really.” “You sure?” “Yeah,” I said. “I’m positive.” “Remember, I’m blunt.” There was nothing he could say to scare me. I wanted to hear it, even if he was direct in his response. “I’m a big girl,” I assured him. He smiled. I relaxed and waited for him to express his opinion. “First. Let me say this. I’ve never had much interest in being in a relationship. With anyone. In combat, it’s believed having a woman in your life will cause you to lose focus, and that lack of focus will get you killed. I realize I’m not in combat, but old habits die hard.” My heart sank. I swallowed what little self-pride I had developed over the course of our conversation and slumped in my seat. He studied me for a short moment, then grinned a guilty grin. “But. After I saw you the other day, I couldn’t get you out of my mind. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t. That night I drove back here hoping to see you. Then, I did the same thing the next few mornings. Hell, tonight I came here hoping to find you. There was something about you. I didn’t know what it was for sure at first, but I decided it was because you were an adventurous little bitch. And I liked thinking that. That’s what I thought on the day we met.” He locked eyes with me, leaned against the edge of the table, and moved so close that I could taste his breath. “Tonight? Tonight I decided I want to devote a portion of the time and effort needed to eventually earn the right to watch you get dressed in the morning. And when that time comes—when I’ve finally earned that right—I want to sit back and enjoy watching you pull your panties over your thighs and up on your hips until you get them situated just right. Then, I want to watch you wrap your bra around your perfectly shaped breasts and reach around to clasp it while you’re watching me watch you.” I may or may not have licked my lips. The temperature instantly rose thirty degrees. I pressed my knees together. It made matters worse. I blinked. He drew a shallow breath. “And then I want to watch you button your shirt, pull your pants over those long legs of yours, and reach down for your heels. And then, Terra-I’m-sexy-as-absolute-fuck-Wilson, after you put on your heels...”
My mouth was dry, my throat was tight, and my pussy was a soaking-wet mess. I fought to swallow and attempted to speak. Nothing happened. I wagged my knees back and forth and nodded. It did little to resolve the pussy issue. “...I want to get up, slowly walk up to you, and take everything right back off.” I was a horny mess. He had me so turned on that I couldn’t do anything but beg for more. I really needed him to tell me what was next. Still positioned so close I could feel his breath on my face, I gazed into his hypnotic eyes and parted my lips slightly. “Why?” The word puffed past my lips in an almost silent whisper. His mouth twisted into a smirk. “Because if I’ve earned the right to do all of that, I’ve damned sure earned the right to stick my tongue in your little wet pussy. The bottom line? I want you to come in my mouth. I want to taste you, Terra Wilson. And tonight? Tonight I decided I’ll do what I have to do to make that happen.” He leaned back and calmly took a sip of his coffee. He looked different. His short dark brown hair, strong jaw, and piercing blue eyes gave him a more menacing look than before. I pressed my tongue against the roof of my mouth and swallowed hard. I was really beginning to like this guy. “You decided all that, tonight?” “I did.” My face went flush. “You want...you want to uhhm...you want to earn that right?” “I do.” Well, Michael Tripp, I’m afraid you’re closer than you think.
Chapter Four Michael The unfamiliar footsteps approaching could have been anyone. Considering Cap’s recent issue with who I suspected was the mob, I stood, slipped my pistol into my waistband and anxiously waited. In less than thirty seconds, they made their appearance. One wore a 1980s-style dark blue zip-up tracksuit complete with white stripes along the arms and legs, and the other a dark gray pinstriped suit. They were undoubtedly two of Agrioli’s thugs. The brawn and the brains. The one wearing the tracksuit was a few inches taller than his companion, standing roughly six feet tall. The white wifebeater he wore underneath the unzipped jacket made his massive chest apparent, but the rather large stomach hanging over his waistband told me he liked pasta much more than working out at the gym. His dark hair was greased back and pressed flat against his scalp. His sagging cheeks and multiple chins led me to believe he was in his late forties or early fifties. I nodded toward Tracksuit as I walked around the corner of my desk. “I thought Adidas quit making that tracksuit in the 1980s. Where’d you get that thing? eBay?” Tracksuit glanced at his partner, apparently seeking approval to launch a comeback to my snide remark. Pinstripe cocked his head to the side and shrugged. While they continued to exchange glances, I looked for signs of either of them carrying a weapon. Pinstripe met my gaze. His black hair had flecks of gray that didn’t seem to match his age, which I guessed at thirty. “Mr. Tripp, we’re associates of Mr. Agrioli’s. The aforementioned Mr. Agrioli would like to set up a meeting regarding a shipment of military rifles. It’s been brought to his attention you’ll be receiving these pretty soon, and he’d like to form a partnership before they’re shipped out to the end user.” My response was immediate. “Sorry, you fellas must have stumbled into the wrong office. This is Don’t Tripp, LLC. We’re a solutions-based company that specializes in resolving problems with uneven walking surfaces.” Pinstripe chuckled. His shoulders did the up-and-down thing again. Convinced it was more of a nervous twitch than an actual shrug, I shook my head and impatiently waited for his response. Tracksuit reached inside his jacket. I reacted in accordance with my military training and ten years of combat experience. I pulled the pistol from my waistband and leveled it at his head. “Keep those hands where I can see them or I’ll drop both you motherfuckers where you stand.” My eyes darted back and forth between them. I was in survival mode. “I’m not fucking around, if either of you two pricks move, it’ll be the last time you do.” Pinstripe’s eyes grew wide and his hands slowly raised to chest height. Tracksuit’s hands followed. “You fuckin’ kiddin’ me? This is a peaceful meeting, neither of us are armed,” Pinstripe explained, clearly irritated by my reaction. “And, you’re kinda quick with your hands to be a sidewalk repairman.” I tossed my head toward Tracksuit. “He reached for something.” Tracksuit pinched the chest of his jacket between his thumb and index finger and lifted it slowly, exposing the waistband of his pants. Pinstripe was correct, it appeared he wasn’t armed. I lowered the
pistol. It didn’t matter if they were armed or not. I had far more experience at killing people than they did, there was no doubt about it. If either of them reached for a weapon, they’d be shipped back to Agrioli in a steel drum. “I’m an arms dealer, and you know it. And I’m not looking to add a fucking partner. So, tell Agrioli I’m flattered, but no thanks.” It bothered me that Agrioli was aware of the AR-15 rifles I was scheduled to receive. For him to find out anything about my operation would mean he either had my office wiretapped or one of my employees was an Agrioli snitch. Both possibilities made my asshole pucker. Pinstripe shrugged. “He’ll be sorry to hear that.” I glared back at him. “Sorry to hear it, huh? You know, what it gets down to from here on out is who’s got the bigger dick. Him or me? So tell Agrioli I’m—” I paused and cleared my throat. “No, I’ll fucking tell him myself.” Pinstripe shrugged. Again. “I need to give Mr. Agrioli a response.” I shrugged in response. Not because of a lack of certainty, but because I’m naturally an asshole when pushed into a corner. “I gave you my response. Tell Agrioli I’ll be in touch.” Pinstripe glanced at Tracksuit. Tracksuit shrugged and grinned. I wondered if he was able to speak. Pinstripe raised his index finger. “I need to get a business card.” “Just make it slow.” He reached into his jacket and after a few seconds of digging, produced a business card. “Drop it on the floor. And you fellas can let yourself out, can’t you?” Pinstripe dropped the card at his feet, shrugged and nodded. Tracksuit grinned. Together, they turned away and walked through the door. I watched them get into a black Cadillac and wondered if either of the men were Cap’s victim from the gas station. Quickly I decided not, as neither of them were covered in bruises. It was possible, I guessed, that all Agrioli’s men drove Cadillacs. After they drove away I retrieved the business card and sat down at my desk. Having the mafia involved in my business in any manner wouldn’t end well, at least not for me. I wasn’t Italian, and they were greedy. Inevitably, the partnership would end. And, when Italian mafia business partnerships ended, it always included someone dying. The deaths, however, were never on the side of the mob. I gazed down at the business card. Anthony Agrioli. I lifted the receiver from my desk phone and pressed the telephone number into the keypad. “Anthony Agrioli’s office,” the receptionist said in a nasal tone. My mind filled with visions of a twenty-something blonde sitting at a desk in a tight skirt, painting her nails and popping her gum while she waited on the next phone call to come in. I sighed into the receiver. “Michael Tripp to speak to Anthony, please.” “That’s Mr. Agrioli.” Mistah Agrioli. Her accent was annoying. She cleared her throat as if to add more emphasis to her response. “Is he expecting your call?” “Why don’t you ask Anthony?” “Hold please,” she snapped back. I rested the receiver between my shoulder and ear as I waited. After a few seconds, he picked up the phone. “Mr. Tripp. It’s been brought to my attention we need to meet.” The voice was distinct and thick with a
Philadelphia accent. “One way and one way only I’ll agree to do this. My office in one hour. Come alone.” “Your office?” He chuckled. “You think I know where your office is?” “One hour,” I responded flatly. I tilted my head away from my shoulder and dropped the receiver into my left hand. As he began to speak in response to my demand, I pressed the phone into the cradle and ended the call. My eyes fell to the business card. I had far too much invested in my freedom to give up easily. In my ten years at war I had been shot at by thousands and hit by two. Nothing could stop me from fighting for what I believed to be right, Anthony Agrioli included. If he was going to stop me from trafficking firearms, he would have to either bring an army of men, or kill me. There were two problems. He didn’t have an army of men. And, as far as I was concerned, I had seven lives to go. * * * Agrioli was younger than I expected. A dark-skinned man roughly fifty years of age, he was calm, softspoken, and polite. Dressed in an olive-colored suit with a powder-blue shirt and gray tie, he appeared to be an aging Italian model, not the heartless killer he certainly was. Nevertheless, I wasn’t impressed. In fact, I was annoyed. Our meeting was brief, to the point, and almost over. He crossed his legs and rested his hands on his upper thigh. “A partnership. I like to think of it as a partnership.” “That’s nice to know, but I’m not in need of a partner.” With his hands still resting in his lap, he turned his palms up and raised both eyebrows. “Maybe you should. Things happen. Shipments get hijacked. Robberies. Protecting your interest. Look at it as protecting your interest.” I thought of Cap’s incident at the gas station and laughed to myself. “I protect my interest with war veterans. They’re trained in reacting to such situations.” He sighed and lowered his head. After a long moment, he raised his chin and met my gaze. “Consider it. Our strength is our reputation. There are benefits. We’d insure your shipments against loss.” I laughed. “You’d insure my shipments?” He shrugged. “How’s that for confidence?” I stood and extended my hand. “Well, that’s nice to know, but I haven’t had a problem yet, and I don’t anticipate one in the future. I appreciate the offer. If things change, maybe we’ll talk again in the future.” I had no intention of meeting with him again, but was trying to be as considerate as possible. He stood, shook my hand and glanced around the office. “Nice office. And what a great location.” “I appreciate it,” I said with a slight nod. “And thanks for taking time to meet.” “Minimizing your loss is maximizing profit,” he said. “Again, I appreciate it, but I haven’t got loss issues.” He brushed the wrinkles from his pants. “The future. You never know what the future holds. Have a nice evening, Mr. Tripp.” It wasn’t a threat, but I perceived it as one. The Italian who confronted Cap, the two Italians meandering into my office, and the Italian mafia boss’s
visit left me with a desire to get even with the Italian race for their having disrupted my life. Fucking Terra was the first thing that came to mind as a means to resolve the issue. I wasn’t there yet, but in time I hoped to be. And when that time came, all I could do was pray she was prepared for what I was sure to unleash.
Chapter Five Terra I wasn’t in the habit of going on dates, but the change was more than welcomed. The differences between the personalities of Michael and Vincent were vast, and although I hated comparing Michael to anyone, doing so seemed to happen nonetheless. Tucked away a few miles from the well-known and overpopulated eateries of downtown, the restaurant we were in was an upscale establishment with a lower-level dining area that included a jazz bar. Me being somewhere my father would never go was important, and as I had no previous knowledge of the restaurant’s existence, I doubted my father did either. After our meal we sat and drank wine while soft jazz filled the air. A far cry from the Netflix and blow jobs I was used to, I savored each minute as it passed, hoping the night would last forever. Three glasses of wine into the evening, and I was half-drunk, horny and appreciative of Michael’s existence in my life. “So this isn’t something you normally do?” I asked. Our eyes met, and he chuckled as he reached for his wine. “I haven’t been on a date in over ten years.” His response was surprising and I found more comfort in it than I probably should have. “Ten years? Really?” “Maybe eleven.” His eyes drifted off to the side. “Yeah, it’s been eleven.” “Wow. That’s a long time. Why so long?” I raised my glass of wine and took a drink while I waited for his response. “Well, I was fighting in a war for ten of those years. And, I don’t know. Like I told you that night in the coffee shop, I never found much value in being in a relationship. I knew I’d never last in one, so there was no sense in lying to anyone by going out on a date.” I lowered my glass. The effects of the wine were apparent. “Casual sex?” He pushed his glass to the side and grinned. “Is there such a thing?” His calm demeanor, handsome looks and the bravado he naturally exhibited made it difficult to be in his presence and act like a complete adult. I wanted to reach under the table with my foot and rub his cock. I licked my lips. “I think so. You know, sex without a relationship. Friends with benefits, or just a casual hookup or whatever.” His face contorted as if I’d suggested he commit murder. “Don’t believe in it. If I stick my dick in someone, regardless of the arrangement, feelings follow. To think two people can fuck and not have at least one of them eventually develop feelings for the other isn’t wishful thinking, it’s foolish.” I agreed totally with what he said. It came as a surprise to hear a man say it, though. I finished my wine and wished I had more. “So, you’ve never had casual sex? No hookups? Not once?” He shook his head. “Never have, never will.” “So you haven’t had sex in eleven years?” I couldn’t comprehend it. In fact, it seemed impossible for anyone but an invalid or maybe a quadriplegic. “I didn’t say that. I said I hadn’t been on a date. And, I said I’ve never had a hookup or casual sex. I’ve had sex during that span, just not the meaningless variety.” “Oh, sorry.”
He reached for his glass. “There was a nurse I thought I was in a relationship with, but it ended up that she was fucking every enlisted man who came in contact with her.” “That sucks.” “It is what it is,” he said. “So, what about you? You do the casual sex thing?” I wanted to say no, but I’d had casual sex on a few occasions. It wasn’t something I did frequently, but I had participated in a one-night stand or three. I loved having sex and I felt trying to deny it may send the wrong message. “I don’t do it, but I’ve done it. When I was younger.” With his eyes fixed on his glass of wine, he nodded slowly as if in deep thought. Michael wore a suit to work, and from what he said, it was his typical attire for the office. Sitting three feet from me dressed in dark jeans and a button-down with the top two buttons unbuttoned, he looked more inviting than usual. Maybe he seemed more approachable. And, it could have been the wine. “You said the other day you wanted to earn the right to watch me get dressed.” He looked up. “I did.” “What if I told you that you’ve earned the right?” “Have I?” My eyes found his hands. Wrapped around his glass of wine, they were lean with veins visible on the back sides. His long fingers made them seem remarkably sexy, if hands could be considered sexy. I imagined them underneath my shirt, squeezing my boobs. Although we hadn’t spent time together—and it was technically our first date—enough time had passed that I was beyond ready. I sighed. “It’s been a few weeks. I think I’m ready.” “For?” “Can I see your palms?” He cocked an eyebrow. “Say again.” “Your palms, the underside of your hands. Can I see them?” It was definitely the wine. He released the glass and turned his hands over. The surface of his palms was smooth and without wrinkles. “How do you keep them so soft looking?” “Lotion. And I get manicures,” he said as he pulled them away. “What’s wrong with you?” “I want to suck your cock.” He coughed reflexively. “You want to suck my cock? Just like that?” My face felt hot, and although a small part of me wished I wouldn’t have said it, the largest part of me was glad I did. Regardless, I felt the need to try and recover from my blunder. “Not just like anything. We’re two adults, and we’re attracted to each other. You’ve told me so. I’ve told you so. You said two weeks ago you wanted to earn the right to see me naked. Tonight, I’m telling you I want to suck your cock. It’s what girls do to get guys to put out.” He pointed at my empty wineglass. “You’re drunk.” “I’m Italian,” I said. “We speak our mind.” “And you want—” “To suck your cock,” I interrupted. He chuckled. “And you’re not drunk?” “You’ve heard people say that they have no filter? That expression?”
“I’ve heard it, yes.” “Well, Italians have no filter. I’m Italian.” I shrugged and reached for my glass. It was still empty. Shit. He pressed his forearms onto the edge of the table and leaned forward. “You start down this road and you might end up in trouble. You’ve heard people say that they got more than they bargained for? The expression?” I leaned forward slightly. “I’ve heard it, yeah.” He gripped the back of my neck in his right hand and turned my head to the side. As his mouth met my ear, he whispered into it. “Well, I’m good at two things. Defending what I love, and fucking. You sure you’re ready to do this?” I could feel my heartbeat in my pussy. Wine or no wine, I was ready. My mouth instantly went dry. I tried to swallow. With my boobs pressed down onto the top of the table and his mouth still against my ear, I noticed the waiter approaching. I pushed my tongue to the roof of my mouth and swallowed, then raised my right index finger. With his back to the aisle, Michael remained exactly where he was, unaware of the waiter’s approach. His hand cupped around the back of my neck and his mouth at my ear, I really doubted he would have moved regardless. “Well?” Michael whispered. The waiter raised his eyebrows. I held my extended index finger in the air and turned my mouth against Michael’s ear. “You don’t scare me,” I whispered. I tilted my head to the side and locked eyes with the smiling waiter. “Can you bring us the check?” The waiter nodded and turned away. “Are you ready to go already?” Michael asked. I folded my arms under my boobs and huffed out an exaggerated sigh. “Really?” He grinned. “I’ve still got half a glass of wine.” “Well,” I said. “I’m ready.” He drank half the remaining wine. “You sure?” I shook my head. “If you could feel my pussy, you wouldn’t ask me that.” He turned his hand over and curled his index finger into his palm. “Come here.” I knew what he wanted. At least I thought I did. I glanced left. I glanced right. “Huh?” “Come. Here.” His voice was stern. I stood, walked around the edge of the table, and stopped at his side. I fought to cure my overly dry mouth. The simple three-letter word didn’t come easy. “Yes,” I murmured. With his eyes fixed on mine, he grinned and reached into his right pocket. A pronounced click caused me to shift my focus to his right hand. My eyes widened at the sight of a folding knife cupped in the palm of his hand. I held my breath as he slipped it beneath my dress. My eyes nervously scanned the aisle for onlookers. I felt his hand against my inner thigh. Slowly, he raised it up my leg until it came to rest against my hip. With his eyes still locked on mine, he pressed the back of his hand against my hip, then I felt slight pressure as he tugged against my panties. The blade cut through the material with little effort. He slid his hand to the other side, dragging his free fingers against my wet pussy in the process. Again, the knife cut through the material effortlessly. My jaw and my panties hit the floor at the same
time. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I started to bend down and pick them up. “Leave. Them. Lay,” he breathed. The tip of his finger circled my swollen clit. My eyes darted around the half-filled establishment. The waiter walked toward us, his face covered in a grin. Michael slipped a finger inside of me. I gasped. My face went flush. His mouth twisted into a smirk. I bit down on my lip. He forced another finger inside. I closed my eyes and gulped a breath. “My apologies, sir. I’ll come back.” Shit, the waiter. I held my eyes closed tight. Michael forced his fingers a little deeper into my eager pussy. “You’re just fine. Leave it on the table.” I bit down on my lower lip. Oh God. “You appear,” the waiter cleared his throat. “Rather busy, sir.” “Just leave it lay, I’ll get to it when I’m done here.” “Very well, sir.” Michael pushed his fingers in deep, slid them out fully, and then poked them back in. He curled the tip of one finger against my G-spot. A tingling sensation shot through me like a lightning bolt. My legs wobbled. I fought to remain standing. The tingling continued for a few seconds, rushing through me from head to toe. “Thank you,” I heard Michael say. “No hurry,” the waiter responded, his voice fading as he obviously turned away. “Take your time.” Michael worked his fingers in and out of my throbbing pussy twice, teasing my G-spot each time. “I certainly will.” I heard the waiter walk away. I didn’t bother opening my eyes. I wanted to bask in the feeling of him fingering me in the open restaurant. It was the sexiest thing I had ever been involved in, and as much as I wanted to leave and see what was next, I didn’t want it to end. “Open your eyes,” he said. I complied. His fingers slid free of my soaking-wet pussy. I fully expected he’d wipe them on my thigh or maybe the hem of my dress. He didn’t. With trembling legs and a quivering lip, I watched as he pulled his hand free of my dress, held his glistening fingers in front of his face, and then sucked my juices from them. Oh. My. God. He opened the leather check holder, placed three $100 bills inside, and flipped it closed with the tips of his fingers. He then stood up and leaned forward, pressing his cheek against mine lightly as he moved his mouth to my ear. My legs went weak. I closed my eyes, held my breath and waited. His warm breath against my ear caused goose bumps to rise along my upper arm. “You better hope you’re ready,” he whispered. I nodded to assure him, but it did nothing to assure me. “I am.” I wasn’t. His little finger bang trick beside the table had me feeling like he owned me. Maybe he did. “Grab your purse,” he said.
I did. And I walked at his side to the door, still in somewhat of a trance. When we got to the car, he reached for the door handle and leaned toward me. His lips pressed against my ear. I raised my shoulder instinctively, but by no means wanted him to stop. “I’m going to tongue fuck you until you can’t walk,” he breathed into my ear. Dear God. The car door opened. My legs buckled and I fell into my seat. I was sure I wasn’t ready for the sexual voyage he was prepared to take me on, but I was more than willing to give it an honest try. * * * He pressed his hands against my inner thighs, spreading my legs apart a little more. With my mouth agape and my eyes afraid to observe—but incapable of turning away—I gazed past my bunched-up dress at the top of his head until I couldn’t watch any longer. I closed my eyes. We hadn’t even made it into my bedroom yet. Lying on the floor in the entry hall of my condo, I reached for the backs of my thighs and raised my ass from the floor slightly, forcing myself against his mouth. His tongue circled my clit a few times and then licked me from bottom to top. He then worked his tongue in and out of me relentlessly. He hadn’t stretched the truth; he was going to tongue fuck me to an early death, and this was only the beginning. I held my eyes closed, and although I made no conscious effort to hold my breath, I’m certain I didn’t inhale once the entire time his tongue worked its magic. I couldn’t. While my body went into a series of convulsions, he pulled his tongue from inside me and licked my pussy—expertly. The tip of his tongue flicked against my sensitive nub each time, sending a shock through me like it was the last I’d ever have the opportunity to feel. Darkness enveloped me. My ears rang. He inserted a finger. Then another. And a third. Holy. Fuck. I arched my back and opened my mouth wide. A few spastic gulps of air later, and I was on the verge of climactic bliss. He sucked my clit like a true trained professional. I wanted him to never stop, but I knew if he continued, I’d surely die right there in my entry hall. I released my thighs, relaxed against his mouth, and allowed him to continue with his talented tongue. The simultaneous finger and tongue routine that followed sent me into an all-out state of orgasmic ecstasy. I lasted all of five more seconds before bursting against his mouth. “I’m. Going. To come,” I wailed. I felt like it was the first time. In many respects, it was. Everything felt different. New. More climactic. He raised his head. I opened my eyes. With his lower face glistening from my appreciation of his talent, he grinned. “Do it.” His fingers continued to stretch me wide and his mouth fell to my clit. As soon as I felt him begin to suck my swollen button, everything within me involuntarily released and I cried out into the room. My hips bucked against his face one last time. A tingling echoed between my clit and my nipples, causing my entire body to shake. At some point, everything stopped. Confused and flat on my back, I
gazed up at the ceiling and wondered if I would ever be the same. Ever. Eventually, he raised his head and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. I did all that I was able. I spread my arms wide and my legs slightly, just like when I made snow angels on Christmas as a child. Michael collapsed beside me. “What are you doing?” I turned my head to the side. He did the same. Flat on our backs facing one another, we gazed in each other’s eyes and grinned. “When I was a kid I used to make snow angels,” I explained. “I don’t know why everyone else makes them, but for me it was my way of showing God I was appreciative of everything he had provided me.” His eyes shifted to my waist and slowly raised to meet mine again. “So what about now? What is this?” I began to sweep my arms and legs back and forth. “Sex angel?” “Because you’re appreciative?” he asked. “Uh-huh.” As Michael’s arms and legs followed suit, I turned my head to face the ceiling and closed my eyes. Thank you.
Chapter Six Michael During the ten years I spent at war, I felt very little emotion short of fear, frustration and occasionally, anger. Since returning to the United States my feelings hadn’t changed much—until I met Terra. I had no real way of knowing why I felt the way I felt about her, at least not in a complete sense. For whatever reason, I felt comfortable in her presence. And, that comfort allowed me to accept her where I had rejected so many others. I motioned toward the chair in front of my desk. “Have a seat, Cap.” He sauntered toward it and sat down. I picked a pencil up from my desk and began to twirl it between my fingers. “Are you still single?” He threw his arms over the sides of the chair and rocked it onto the rear legs. “You know I am. Probably always will be, ‘least as long as I’m doing this, anyway. Why?” I gazed at the rotating pencil and considered my response. Before I had an opportunity to speak, he continued. “You don’t really think I’d compromise our security by bein’ in a relationship, do ya?” And just like that, he answered my question without me taking the risk associated with asking it. His belief was not much different than mine used to be; having my focus shift from work to a woman— depending on my clients and current list of subcontractors—could compromise security. I glanced up. “I doubted it, I was just asking.” He wrinkled his brow, lowered the chair down onto all four legs and cocked his head slightly. “You called me over here to ask me if I was single?” I stopped twirling the pencil. “That is correct.” I held the pencil firm between my thumb and forefinger, hoping to capture his attention or divert his train of thought from where I suspected he may go. When he spoke, it was apparent my little trick didn’t work well. “What the fuck’s goin’ on, Tripp?” I shook my head and tossed the pencil onto my desk. “Nothing, just making conversation.” “Oh really? Is that how we’re doing it now? Just sittin’ around the office shootin’ the shit?” He kicked the heels of his boots onto the edge of my desk, slumped in the chair, and folded his massive arms in front of his chest. He was trying to piss me off. I had no intention of falling prey to his trap. I shrugged and reached for the pencil. He leaned forward slightly. “The girl you had coffee with that night a few weeks ago. The one you told me kicked her ex in the nuts, but then you never said another fuckin’ word about her. It’s her, ain’t it?” I had completely forgotten mentioning her to Cap. At the time, I doubted anything would develop between us. He shook his head. “Never thought I’d see the day.” I stood from my seat and began to twirl the pencil. He stood, pointed at my hand, and nodded once. “Put the pencil down, Tripp. You fuck with it when you’re thinkin’. Stop thinkin’ and answer me.”
I stopped. “I’m not in a relationship.” He cocked his right eyebrow slightly. “You fuckin’ her?” I shook my head and began to twirl the pencil again. A few seconds later I tossed it onto my desk. “No.” “Have you fucked her?” “No.” “You wanna fuck her?” “Nobody’s going to fuck anybody, let’s drop it.” He laughed. “You didn’t answer the question.” “I’m done talking about it,” I said flatly. “Well, that answers it,” he said. “One more.” I crossed my arms in front of my chest and flexed my biceps, hoping to discourage him from prying any further. “One more what?” “Question,” he said. I sighed and tossed my hands in the air. “You seen her since that night?” I studied Cap for a moment before answering. Dressed in a black pair of military-style trousers and an olive-green T-shirt and combat boots, he resembled a mercenary. Beneath the right sleeve of his shirt, the USMC tattoo on his arm acted as a deterrent to those who would be foolish enough to challenge his 220pound muscular frame. I didn’t need a reminder of who he was, I knew better than to try to tell him anything but the exact truth—out of respect. I met his gaze. “I have, yes. We’ve had coffee and we’ve gone out to eat a few times. That’s it. We’re not in a relationship if that’s what you’re asking.” It had only been a little more than two weeks since we met, but I knew with each day that passed I was closer to wanting more from Terra. But I didn’t dare tell Cap how I felt. His eyes dropped to the floor and he cleared his throat. “Dinner, coffee, fuckin’, suckin’, goin’ to a movie, or skippin’ your happy asses through the park on your way to the merry-go-fuckin’-round, it’s all the same. She’s a woman, Tripp. She’s a distraction. And with those fuckin’ Italians on us, we don’t need a distraction.” I was done talking about reasons not to be with Terra. I cleared my throat and narrowed my eyes. “Noted.” “Noted?” he repeated sarcastically. I nodded. “Noted.” “All fuckin’ right, then.” He rubbed his palms together. “Guess that’s the end of that. So, where am I headed?” I sat down and sighed. “I bought five hundred used AR-15 receivers, and I need to get them picked up, brought in and assembled into weapons.” “Location?” he asked. I picked the work order up from my desk and studied the address. “You’ve been there before. Trident Enterprises.” “And they’re used?” I handed him the work order. “As new and still in the wrapper, but formerly owned.” The law allowed me to purchase used AR-15 receivers without filing any paperwork, and in a matter of fifteen minutes, I could have one assembled into a complete firearm. The receiver was a piece of
aluminum the size of a cell phone, and although regulated and traced by the government in new purchases, used purchases fell into a legal loophole. All of the remaining parts necessary to build the rifles were available to be purchased by anyone, and there was no regulation on buying them, nor was there any legal structure in place to monitor such purchases. A form of identification wasn’t even required. This allowed a civilian version of the military M4 to be built for roughly $350 using the AR-15 receivers. On the gray market, the rifles brought between $1,500 and $2,500 each, netting me a considerable profit. If the rifles were sold on the high end of the scale, I would profit over a million dollars and do so in a matter of weeks. It was no wonder Agrioli wanted to get his hands in my business. He gazed down at the work order and chuckled. “Used. But new. Just the way we like ‘em.” “Roger that.” He nodded and turned away. “All right. I’ll get out of here, then.” At the threshold of the door, he paused and turned to face me. “But we’re not done talking about the girl.” And, as much as I hated to admit it, I knew he was right.
Chapter Seven Terra Michael’s home was overly neat, and organized in a manner that made me feel like touching or moving anything was out of the question. The large living room was decorated with nice white leather furniture, but the entire room was symmetrical and everything was perfectly placed. The bare wooden floors and off-white painted walls only added to the already neat appearance. The room seemed clinical. The house had an open floor plan, and he was in the kitchen. I was standing at the edge of the living room taking everything into view. I gawked at the magazines perfectly situated atop the coffee table. GQ. Vanity Fair. Men’s Health. Kiplinger’s. Traveler. I glanced around the huge room. The walls were decorated with abstract oil paintings and various pieces of art, but no photographs. It was almost eerie. The absence of any family photographs whatsoever took me by surprise. “You don’t have a single picture of your family.” “I don’t have any.” I turned toward the kitchen. “You should get some.” He walked up to my side and handed me a mimosa. “Drink this, you’ll feel better.” I had been out with my girlfriends the night before and got ridiculously drunk. Being away from Michael on Friday night wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be, and being drunk seemed to dull my desire to be with him. After I shared with him that I was dying of a hangover, he invited me over for mimosas. When I arrived, I interrupted him from his midday workout. He looked so much different in his T-shirt and sweats. His shirt clung to his well-defined chest, and accentuated his broad shoulders. The sweatpants did little to show off his athletic body, but were cute nonetheless. I took a sip of the drink and glanced around the room. “I bet your mom would give you some if you asked nicely.” “Let me rephrase that,” he said. “I don’t have any family.” All of a sudden I felt empty. I was afraid I didn’t want to know any more of what he was more than likely going to say. I drank half the drink and turned toward the living room. The void inside of me quickly filled with sadness. “When I was six, my parents were killed in a car wreck. I lived.” My eyes felt swollen. “See this scar?” He lifted his shirt, exposing his upper body fully. My eyes were immediately drawn beyond his well-defined abs, and focused on a six-inch scar on the left side of his upper chest. I took another drink, fighting the urge to cry. “Yeah.” “That’s my reminder. I don’t remember any of it. Hell, I don’t even remember them. I try to, and sometimes I tell myself I do, but I think all my memories are false. Just shit I’ve made up in my head over the years.” He released the hem of his shirt and took a drink of the mimosa. “Brothers and sisters?”
He shook his head. “Only child.” “Grandparents, aunts, uncles?” He tilted his glass toward me as if making a toast. “How about foster care?” I felt sick. Regardless of my family’s involvement in organized crime, I was raised in a home filled with compassion, kindness, and most of all, love. For me to completely understand a child living in an environment without those crucial elements was impossible. Michael’s military career made perfect sense. The Marine Corps was his family and the war was his home. When the war ended, he probably felt that his family dissolved. “I’m sorry.” The words seemed insufficient and shallow. It was all I could offer. He sat down on the couch. “Don’t be.” I sat down beside him, feeling like dismissing the subject was insensitive. On the other hand, talking about it would have made me an emotional mess and I was sure I couldn’t offer him anything he hadn’t already heard. “Well, I am,” I said. “And I’ll leave it at that.” “What about your parents? You never mention them.” I needed to tell him something that would support my not having introduced him to them, and the fact that I never really discussed them. “I don’t get along with either of them, really. I just do my own thing.” It was true. Kind of. My mother always nagged at me for not being married, and my father was a gangster and never wanted to talk about anything for fear of revealing a secret. “I see,” he said. “So, how was your night?” I laughed lightly though I still felt like crying. “It was interesting.” “How so?” “I went out with the girls, and I thought I was going to have fun, but I spent the entire night wishing I was with you.” “If it makes you feel any better, I sat in the office getting caught up on paperwork, and thought of you the entire time. It’s weird. I’ve never really been this way.” I turned toward him and cocked my head to the side. “Which is?” He stared back at me, seemingly confused. “Huh?” “You said you’ve never really been this way. What way are you talking about?” “You know, obsessed or whatever you want to call it.” “With me?” “Yes, with you. Who else would we be talking about?” The feelings of sorrow all but vanished. Suddenly, I was filled with a warmth and something that resembled hope. I finished my drink, couldn’t decide what to do with the glass, and eventually placed it between my legs. “So, what is it that we have? I know it’s only been three weeks, but what would you call this?” He crossed his legs and offered me a shitty grin before taking a sip of his mimosa. “Call what?” I exhaled sharply. It sounded almost like a cough. “Our situation? You and me.” My father would kill me if he found out what I was doing, but Michael was so much more than a novelty to me. He was everything I wanted in a man, but he wasn’t Italian and I didn’t think he was Catholic—and my father would settle for nothing short of both. Convinced I didn’t care what my father thought, I wanted Michael to put a label on what it was we had between us. “Oh. I don’t know. A discovery phase?” I sat up in my seat. “A what?” “Discovery phase.”
I steadied the glass between my legs and sat up straight. “What the fuck is that?” The Italian girl in me had been unleashed. A discovery phase sounded like something curious teenagers did nervously in the basement while the rest of the family was upstairs watching television. He leaned away as if I’d insulted him. He shrugged. “Trying to decide just what it is we want from each other. You know, discovery.” “What do you want from me?” I snapped back. “Fuck, I don’t know, but I think you either need another drink or a fucking nap. Somebody’s got an attitude.” I stood up and spun around to face him. “Damned right I’ve got an attitude. Discovery phase? Sounds like a teenager giving out hand jobs in the basement to me. I discovered you in the parking lot of Starbucks one day. That was the discovery phase.” My lips were pursed. I was breathing through my nose, and sounded like a bull preparing to charge the matador. “Settle down, Terra. Jesus. Okay, same question to you. Where are we? What have we got between us?” We had met for coffee twice, lunch once, and then went on our first date. After the date, he sucked my pussy until I collapsed on the floor. Afterward, he was enough of a gentleman not to try and fuck my stupid drunken self. In fact, I never got a chance to suck his cock on that night, and I didn’t get a chance to see him naked. At least not yet. In the week that followed our first date, we had met for coffee twice in the middle of his workday. It was a good question. Maybe I simply wanted more than what I was entitled to. I certainly didn’t want to make him angry and give him reason to end something that had barely started. I clenched the empty glass in my hand, stared down at him, and realized I was being nothing short of a bitch. “I’m sorry, I think I just missed seeing you last night.” “You didn’t answer the question.” He pointed to the couch cushion beside him. “Sit down. I don’t like people looming over me.” I sat down. He was right. I hadn’t answered the question. He drank the rest of his mimosa and reached for my glass. “So, what do you want this to be? If you got to pick?” I blurted out my response without hesitation. “A relationship.” He took my glass and disappeared without responding. In a few minutes, he returned with two fresh drinks. He handed me one of them. “Here, drink this.” He chuckled. “Maybe it’ll calm your nerves.” I wondered if he heard me. Maybe, I guessed, he did hear me, but he just chose not to respond. It was quite possible that he didn’t want a relationship. I took a sip of the drink and wondered if I had made him angry with my theatrics. “What’s a relationship to you?” he asked. Hallelujah! I carefully formulated my response in my head before speaking. After half the mimosa and what seemed like all of eternity to decide exactly what to say, I responded. “It’s two people agreeing that they’re attached in a particular way. It could be a polygamous relationship. A monogamous one. Open. Committed. Whatever.” “And what type of relationship do you want? Again, if you got to pick?” “Uhhm. Well, I’d say one where we would commit to each other that we’re not going to see other people, and then we just see what happens. You know, the no big deal kind. Nobody’s in love, we’re not saying that, we’d just be saying we’re going to see how well we, you know, how well we fit together. See
if things work out between us. It’s just tough to know for sure if two people aren’t committed to each other. If they’re seeing other people, it isn’t fair to the relationship.” He stood up. “You want the no big deal kind of relationship?” It sounded ridiculous hearing him say it. I took another sip of my drink. “Uh-huh.” He motioned toward me with his glass. “Well, stand up.” I scrunched my nose. “Stand up?” “Yes, Terra. Stand up. Get off the couch and stand on your feet.” He placed his drink on the coffee table. I stood and did the same. I turned to face him, slightly confused on what was going on, but relieved we were at least talking about a relationship, even if it was slightly one-sided. The corner of one side of his mouth curled up. “How good are you at walking backward?” I wrinkled my nose. “What?” “The opposite of frontward. Backward. Are you talented enough to walk backward?” “I suppose so.” He rushed into me, pressing his body fully against mine. While I stumbled to keep my footing, he raised his hand to my neck and continued to push me backward until I slammed into the far wall. Confused, disoriented and wondering just what the fuck was going on, I opened my mouth to voice my complaint. He clenched my jaw in his hand, held it firmly, and gazed into my eyes. After a slight hesitation, he came in for the kiss. Our lips met, and a wave of emotion rushed through me. He kissed me fully, passionately and without reservation. Eagerly, I returned the kiss, my tongue dancing with his in the space our combined mouths created. His free hand seemed to be touching me everywhere while his other held my face firmly, providing me with an odd reassurance that he was in control of much more than the kiss. His entire body became entangled with mine, grinding against me almost as if we were making love. I had been kissed many times, but I had never experienced anything quite as passionate as what he was doing to me. It was so much more than a kiss. It was an experience. A sexual experience. Our lips parted. I opened my eyes and returned his gaze. His eyes seemed more gray than normal. I sighed and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. I inhaled a quick breath. “Holy shit. What was that about?” “I damned sure wasn’t going to commit to be in a relationship with you if I hadn’t kissed you.” He released his grip on my face. “I really like kissing, and you might not have kissed worth a fuck.” I swallowed heavily. “So, what did you think?” He met my gaze, leaned forward, and bit my bottom lip between his teeth. With his eyes locked on mine, he clenched my lip in his teeth and seemed to stare into my soul for some time. It was painful, but in a good way. I didn’t want him to stop. Not really. He released my lip and kept his eyes locked on mine. “I think I’m in a no big deal relationship with you. That’s what I think.” Oh my God. “So, we’re not going to see other people?” He shook his head. “Nope.” “And we’re going to see if we can make this work and just see what happens?”
“That is correct.” My back was still against the wall, and his eyes remained fixed on mine. His height made me feel small, protected and very much like a lady. I tried not to act too excited, but I was quite sure hiding anything from him completely would be impossible. I shrugged, trying to act like it was no big deal, although to me it was. “I guess we’ll just see how it goes and go from there.” He cocked an eyebrow and grabbed my wrist. Holding it firmly in the palm of his hand, he pressed my hand against his crotch. My eyes shot wide. He broke my gaze and pressed his lips to my ear. “Get ahold of it. Squeeze it.” I did. It was rigid and as thick as my wrist. My face went flush and I swallowed heavily. “Okay,” I squeaked. “That, Terra, is seeing how it goes. That right there. Your cock-filled hand. That eliminates all doubt. I can say whatever I want, but a stiff cock never lies. My cock likes you. There’s your fucking proof,” he whispered into my ear. When he pulled away, I almost collapsed onto the floor. My pussy was soaked, my head was spinning, and my lip was swollen. To sum it up, I was in heaven. He turned around and began walking toward the hallway. I wanted more, but I didn’t dare ask. It was apparent he was in charge, and I actually preferred it that way. “You ever want to know how our relationship’s progressing? Grab my cock, it’ll remove all doubt.” “Where, uhhm. Where are you going?” “To finish my workout. I’m frustrated,” he said over his shoulder. He disappeared down the hallway. “Frustrated,” I said, skipping across the wooden floor to catch up with him. “Why?” He stepped into his exercise room. “Because I want to fuck, and I can’t. I have a thirty-day rule, and I never break my rules.” I followed him into the room. “What’s a thirty-day rule?” He tore off his shirt and tossed it over the weight bench. “I’ll never have sex before thirty days is up. You know, no penetration.” I gawked at the magnificence of his body’s muscular structure. It was as symmetrical as his living room, only I found it far more inviting. “Ever?” I asked. He reached up to the chin-up bar, gripping it firmly in his hands. “Nope.” Oh fuck. It seemed ridiculous. It was ridiculous. I needed to understand why, but was quite sure I never would. For the sake of entertainment, I asked. “Why not?” “It’s a discipline thing.” “What’s a discipline thing?” “The thirty-day rule.” I was right. It made no sense. “You’re doing it just to do it? Or not doing it?” “I need to remind myself that sex isn’t important. I need to remain disciplined to do so.” I hated to be the bearer of bad news, but sex was important. “Sex is important.” “If I’m still interested after thirty days, I know my interest is coming from the right place.” “What day are we on?” I asked. He pulled himself toward the horizontal bar, his arms and chest flaring as his body raised each inch of height until his chin cleared the bar. After he exhaled, he lowered himself until his arms were locked
straight. “Twenty.” I studied his shirtless torso. His body was incredible. Covered in muscles and rippled with proof of his devotion. It was difficult not to drool as I admired him. The promise of sex tossed out the window didn’t matter, I was still soaked. I couldn’t help it. The whirlwind of having him pin me against the wall and kiss me had me instantly aroused. Wrapping my delicate hand around his huge cock sent me over the edge. Sex or no sex, I felt I needed some relief. Somehow. “Ten days, huh?” I asked, studying him for imperfections, and finding only one large scar on his left bicep. He pulled himself up to the bar again. “Yep.” “Well,” I said. “I guess I’m frustrated too.” He hoisted himself up to the bar again. “Join in. Exercise helps with frustration. I know that much.” “Are blow jobs considered sex?” I asked. “Depends,” he said dryly. “On?” “Who’s offering.” It seemed pretty obvious. “Me?” “Yes, it’d be sex.” “Why?” “Because I want it.” “The discipline thing again?” Still hoisted high in the bar, he nodded. I forced a sigh, then pulled my shirt over my head. He lowered himself until his arms were locked. I removed my bra and tossed it on the floor beside my shirt. With his eyes still glued to me, he dangled from the bar. I kicked off my flats, unbuttoned my pants, and pushed them down my thighs. He stared. I pulled them past my feet and tossed them into the pile. He hung from the bar, still staring in my direction. I slowly removed my panties. His eyes went wide. I lowered my right hand between my legs. The crotch of his sweats began to rise. I slid my finger in my pussy, closed my eyes, and moaned out into the room. I opened my eyes. He hung from the bar, the fabric of his sweats stretched to its limit. I acted uninterested, turned away, and got on the treadmill. A few strides into what I expected would be a five-mile naked run, and I tilted my head toward him. Still hanging from the bar with his cock poking straight out, he looked frustrated. I hope you choke on your thirty-day rule, mister. “Yeah, I think you’re right. Exercise makes it all better,” I lied. Nothing could be further from the truth. He released his grip from the bar, dropped to the floor and pressed against his stiff dick with the heel of his palm. “What’s wrong?” I asked. With his face clearly showing his discomfort, he tossed his head toward the door. “I’ll be back in a minute.” “Where you going?”
“I’ve got something I need to take care of.” I continued my naked sprint. “Okay.” With both hands pressing into the crotch of his sweats, he turned away. In a few steps, he disappeared down the hallway. My mouth curled into a smile. If I couldn’t have sex for ten more days, at least I could have fun.
Chapter Eight Michael We were six days away from having sex, and both of us seemed to be enjoying teasing the other about the limitations of my self-imposed thirty-day restriction. Initially, I thought it would be easy for me. After all, I had gone years without sex. In a relationship with Terra, however, things were different. It was difficult. My desire to be with her sexually was greater than my desire to do anything else. I attributed the longing to have sex with her to my knowing I couldn’t. Naturally, I wanted what I couldn’t have. At least that’s what I told myself. Standing on the retail side of the entrance to the dressing rooms staring at her, I began to believe my yearning was more a result of her natural beauty. She pressed the balls of her feet to the floor, lifted her heels, and spun in a circle. “What do you think?” The little black dress. A staple in every girl’s wardrobe. Sleeveless with a neckline that exposed the cleavage of her shapely breasts, the dress she chose was revealing enough to provoke tremendous temptation. The knee-high length made it almost elegant. She did the rest. I wiped my sweaty palms against the thighs of my jeans. “I love it.” “Love it, or just kind of like it?” I shook my head in disbelief at what stood before me. “Love, love, love it. You look stunning.” She cocked her hip. “Should I get it?” “If you don’t, I will.” “Oh, I’d love to see you in this.” “Not for me, you weirdo. For you. It’s perfect.” Her eyes dropped to my feet and slowly raised until she met my gaze. She pressed her biceps against the sides of her boobs, forcing more of them to burst out of the plunging neck of the dress. “Okay, I’ll get it.” I felt my dick go stiff until the denim fabric of my jeans prevented any further progression. “Uhhm.” She cocked her hip, pressed her elbow to her side, and wagged her index finger toward me. “Your uhhm. You’ve got that stiff cock thing going on again.” I glanced over my shoulder before pressing the heel of my palm against it. “I’m well aware.” With her eyes glued to my crotch, she raised one of her perfectly arched eyebrows. “Shame.” I checked over my shoulder again, did what I could to adjust myself, and pointed toward the long row of dressing rooms. “Go change.” Obviously making a conscious effort to destroy my sexual reservations, she turned and sashayed toward her dressing room. Watching the cheeks of her perfectly shaped ass rise and fall with each exaggerated step without acting on my desires was sheer torture. With a perfect combination of beauty, charm and elegance, she made her way to the doorway at the end of the corridor. Thirty seconds later, and she was calling out to me for help. “Michael, can you come here for a minute?” Being at Saks Fifth Avenue on a Wednesday night was a far different shopping experience than what I
was used to. In complete contrast to my midday runs to the hardware store for duct tape or makeshift firearms parts, it was actually enjoyable. Not only was there a lack of patrons in the store, there seemed to be far fewer employees, which made me feel much less guilty about walking to her dressing room and seeing exactly what it was she thought she needed. “What?” I asked, the tone of my voice expressing a nonexistent annoyance. “I need help.” “With what?” “It’s stuck?” “What’s stuck?” “Just open the door.” “Shoppers, Saks Fifth Avenue will be closing in fifteen minutes. At this time, we ask that you bring your selected items directly to the closest sales associate, and make your purchase. Thank you for shopping with Saks.” “You heard that, right? They close in a few minutes. What do you want?” “Just open the door, Michael.” I turned and peered down the forty-foot-long corridor I had just walked down. With the exception of hers, none of the dressing rooms were occupied. The one she had chosen was at the end of the string of identical rooms. “What’s the problem?” “It’s stuck. Just come help me.” A quick glance over my shoulder confirmed what I already suspected. The hallway remained empty. I pushed the door ajar just enough to speak through the opening. “What’s stuck?” “Just open it.” I opened the door slightly. Bent over the small bench in the corner of the room, Terra stood with the little black dress bunched up around her waist. With her bare ass pointed directly at me, and her equally bare pussy free for the taking, she shifted her weight from side to side, causing the muscles in her long lean legs to flare each time she did so. “What the fuck are you doing?” I whispered. I stepped inside and pulled the door shut behind me. “You little fucker, nothing’s stuck.” “It’s my mind,” she said over her shoulder. “It’s stuck on you.” She was adorable. There was no denying it. But. She was equally mischievous. “Cover that thing up,” I whispered. Bent over the bench with her back arched and her head buried in the corner of the small dressing room, she turned and peered over her shoulder. “What? My tight little pussy?” My throbbing hard-on reminded me of the six days I had yet to wait. I waved my hand toward her and fought to adjust myself. “Get dressed, you little shit.” “Did you call me a slut? I love it. I want to be your little slut. Fuck me in here. Get that big dick of yours out and fuck me.” My tight jeans reminded me there was nowhere near enough room for my rapidly growing cock. While struggling with the mental urge to fuck her right there in the dressing room, I fought against the physical urge by painfully pressing my hands down against my overeager manhood. “I said you little shit, not you little slut,” I snapped back in the form of a whisper. “Oh,” she said innocently. “I still want to be your little slut.”
My eyes focused on her glistening mound. Perfectly shaped, and swollen from her desires, the lips were exposed and wet as if she’d been playing with herself prior to my entering the room. A few seconds later, and my mind, just like hers, was stuck. I unzipped my pants and pulled my cock free of its restraints. “Are you going to fuck me?” she whispered excitedly. I stood with my cock in my hand, staring down at her irresistible pussy, and considered breaking one of the rules I had given myself when I became an adult. I decided the thirty-day rule would prevent me from becoming a man-whore, and would further force me to be certain of whether or not I wanted to have sex before having it. With her long brown hair hanging down past her shoulders, she stared back at me over her shoulder, waiting patiently for me to decide what my next step was. Her high cheekbones and slender nose accentuated her eyes, which were normally a very deep brown in color. Now seeming as black as the dress that was bunched up around her waist, they were a perfect match for her evil desires. I gripped my cock firm in my hand and guided it into her without so much as a warning. She lowered her head toward the bench and exhaled a muffled grunt as I pushed the first few inches of my length into her wetness. “Are you going to fuck me? That’s what you asked me, right?” I gripped her waist in my hands and pulled her ass against my hips, forcing a little more of my swollen shaft into her. “Does that answer your question?” Her breaths came in gulps. “Holy. Fuck.” “Holy fuck is right, Terra.” Her pussy was so tight I almost came on the in stroke. I clenched my teeth and gazed down at my shaft as I pulled it from her slippery confines. I pushed myself back in, this time almost giving her all of it. “I like that tight little pussy of yours, Terra.” A low rumble of a groan into the pile of clothes that were once neatly folded on the bench was her only response. I held myself deep inside of her and closed my eyes, trying to memorize the feeling of finally being with her in a sexual sense. A few seconds later I opened my eyes, satisfied I would never forget anything about what I was experiencing. I gazed down at her shaking legs. “You ready?” “I uhhm...I’m...” she stammered. “I haven’t got time to wait for an answer, this place is closing in about ten minutes. I’m going to give you six strokes, that’s it. You count ‘em. Ready?” She lifted her head, paused, and lowered it into the top of her purse. “Oh God.” I gripped her waist firm. “Oh God’s right. Now, count ’em for me.” I pushed myself into her fully. “One.” The sound was muffled by the Louis Vuitton bag her face was buried in. I pulled myself out and immediately pushed my entire length right back into her tight folds. “Two,” she breathed. A combination of having sex in the dressing room, her extremely tight pussy, and her muffled counting was almost too much. I felt my balls tighten. I arched my back and stared up at the ceiling, hoping I could at least last longer than she did. I needed her to remember it, no differently than I was sure I would. I wanted her to recall the event each and every time she grabbed her purse, saw the black dress, or heard someone mention Saks. I desperately wanted her to feel the exact same way about me that I felt about her.
I gave her another powerful stroke. “Holy...three,” she muttered. I released her waist, reached under her right shoulder, and lifted against her until she was standing erect. Wanting more of her than I was getting, I pressed my chest into her back, buried my face in her hair, and inhaled a long deep breath. Lilacs, jasmine, and sunshine. I pushed her toward the flimsy wall separating our booth from the adjoining room. With her potential purchase wadded up around her torso and her bare ass smashed against my hips, I held her to the wall and slid myself out until the head of my dick was resting against her pussy lips. I pressed my mouth to her ear. “Where were we?” “You were...fucking...me.” “Three? Four? Five? Where were we?” “Two,” she lied. I grinned. “Ready?” “Uh-huh.” I dragged my teeth lightly along her neck—from her ear to her shoulder—forcing my throbbing cock into her at the same time. My mouth came to a rest, and I reached into the dress and cupped her breasts in my hands. As I nibbled on her neck and shoulder, I continued fucking her at a steady pace—each stroke penetrating her fully. Her tightness gripped my cock like a vise. Each thrust became fractionally easier, inviting me to continue my exploration of her sexual stamina. “Two...” “Three...” I pounded against her forcefully. “Fuck. Yes,” she grunted. “Four.” “Yes.” She inhaled sharply. “Oh...God...Yes...” Her legs began to quiver. She moaned, this time much louder. With her boobs cupped in my hands, I pinched her nipples firmly and began to give her all I had. She blubbered until she reached eleven, and finally gave up. The grunting continued until the lights began to dim around us. As the dressing room went completely dark, I felt her tighten around my shaft. “I’m going to come inside you,” I moaned into her ear. “Oh God. Do it,” she begged. I felt my cock swell inside of her at the same time the inner walls of her vagina began to clench against me. Together, as if it were all part of some sexual master plan, we reached climax. Immediately following, her legs gave out and she collapsed onto the bench. “Holy shit,” she gasped. “So much for a candlelit room and roses for the first time, huh?” “Is that what you wanted?” “Hell no. This...” she waved her shaking arm toward me “...this is what I wanted. It’s what I need. Believe me. Good Lord. You’re going to have to carry me out of here. My legs are jelly.” All of the lights in the corridor with the exception of two were off, leaving the dressing room with an almost eerie glow. “Just wear that dress out. If we don’t hurry, we’re going to be locked in here.” “I don’t think I could figure out how to get it off anyway. You fucked me stupid.” I chuckled. “What?” “I’m stupid. Like a dumbass. You fucked me senseless.” “Maybe that’s what they mean by getting your brains fucked out.”
“Obviously.” She straightened her makeup in her compact mirror and tossed her hair. After gathering her things and removing the tag from the dress, we did our best to straighten ourselves up and look like we had simply missed the announcement that the store was closing. We wandered around the store for ten minutes, eventually finding a clerk close to the exit. She appeared to be fifty years old, and had apparently spent her entire income on reconstructive surgery. Her hair hung straight down from her head like strings of white silk. As she noticed us approach, she cocked a hip, tossed her platinum-blond hair to the side, and stared. “We got stuck trying on clothes, and all of a sudden the lights went out. Can we pay for the dress and then you let us out?” She glared at us like we were insane. “My till is closed.” I tilted my head toward Terra. “She’s wearing the dress.” “My till is closed. We’re closed. It’s ten minutes after. How did you not hear us announce that we were closing? We made two announcements.” I’d never been one to lie, and I didn’t think it was a good time to start. “I heard the announcement. We just didn’t get out of the dressing room in time. Can we pay for the dress and go?” “My till is closed.” “I got that. Your till is closed. But I don’t know what that means.” Obviously unamused, she glared. “I guess we’ll go back, change out of the dress and then we’ll need you to let us out of here.” “Push on the door and it’ll open,” she snapped. “You’ve got twenty minutes and then the alarm will sound. I suggest you hurry.” “I really want this dress,” Terra whispered. I shrugged and tilted my head toward the blonde monster. “I guess we’ll have to come back.” “Both of us?” she asked. “Both of us.” “Tomorrow?” “Sounds perfect.” Terra cleared her throat. “How long until the alarm sounds?” “She said twenty minutes.” Her brown eyes fell to my waist and slowly raised up my frame until she met my gaze. The corners of her mouth curled into a smile. I stared back at her. “What?” “Ready to go again?” she whispered. I stared back at her in disbelief. She turned toward the dressing rooms and began to sashay again, driving me wild with nothing more than her walk. I realized it was quite possible I met my sexual match with Terra, but it was far too early for me to tell. I knew one thing for sure. I was willing to do whatever I must to find out, but so far everything told me this was going to be far from a no big deal relationship. And I was completely fine with that.
Chapter Nine Terra I leaned over the edge of the table and put on my bitch face. “And I mean it. One word, just one, and I’ll hate you forever.” She took a sip of her drink. “I said I wouldn’t.” “Swear it. I mean it, Michelle. You have to swear.” “Okay, I swear.” She sighed. “Just tell me.” “You’re acting like it’s no big deal. But it’s a big deal. You need to understand that.” “It’s a big deal. If I tell anyone, you’ll hate me. I swear not to say anything to any-fuckin’-body.” She spoke like a Philadelphia Italian man. Michelle was my best friend since we were kids. We went to school together, her father and my father were very close, and although I didn’t know for sure, I believed he was a made man. If anyone would understand the problems I might face with having Michael in my life, it would be her. “I met a guy.” “Oh my God, that’s crazy, Tee,” she said in a sarcastic tone. “Just shut up and listen. I met this guy. He’s so fucking hot.” I rubbed my palms together frantically. It was exciting to finally tell someone. “So, I was in Starbucks, and Vincent came in. You know how he hated me going there, right?” “Uh-huh.” “Well, Vincent comes in and starts his bullshit, screaming for me to leave. I was like, ‘get the fuck away from me, you douche.’ And then he just grabbed me. Then, the fucker, he pulled me out into the parking lot like he was going to beat me up right there. Fucking people inside were all just staring at us like they didn’t give a shit. Anyway, I’m fighting him and kicking, and all of a sudden...” She leaned forward and stared with wide eyes. “All of a sudden what? What fuckin’ happened?” “There’s this whistle. Loud. Real loud. Vincent stopped. We both look over and there’s this guy. He’s dressed in a suit. A fucking suit, Michelle. He’s wearing a suit. So he says ‘let her go’ and Vincent says ‘you don’t know who I am’ and the guy in the suit says ‘I don’t give a fuck who you are, but you need to know who I am’ and Vincent says ‘who are you’ and the guy just fucking smiles. Then, he says ‘I’m the guy that’s going to kick your fucking ass.’ And he did. It was so hot.” She reached for her drink. “What? What happened?” “The guy takes off his jacket, pulls off his tie, and unbuttons his shirt. Then, he gets in this karate pose like some Chinese kung fu guy or something. And I was just like. I was like oh my God. And he hit Vincent so fast I didn’t even see it. Neither did Vincent.” She gulped down half her drink. “Holy shit. What’d Vinnie do?” “Nothing,” I said. “The guy throat-punched him.” Her hands shot to her neck. “He hit him in the throat?” I wished he would have hit him harder, but I didn’t tell her that. I simply nodded. “Hard.” “Surprised it didn’t fuckin’ kill him.” “Me too.” “So then what happened?”
“The guy told me to go get my shoe. Oh, I didn’t tell you that part. One of my heels fell off by the door while he was dragging me outside. So, anyway, I got my shoe, walked up to Vincent, and kicked him in the balls. Twice. And then I left.” “You kicked Vinnie in the nuts?” I chuckled. “I knew he wouldn’t do shit with that guy there.” “So what about the guy?” “I saw him again a few days later. At Starbucks.” “And?” “Well, he was a marine. He fought in the war. He’s an investor. He drives a BMW. He’s smoking hot, and now we’re dating.” “Get the fuck outta here,” she snapped back. “Dating? Shut up!” “I swear. And, guess what?” She shrugged. “What?” I extended each of my index fingers, placed them on the edge of the table several inches apart, and tilted my head toward my hands. “What?” She looked at my fingers and then at me. “What? I don’t get it.” I dropped my eyes to my fingers and grinned. “His dick.” “What? That? That’s his dick? Holy shit. You’ve seen it?” “He fucked me in the Saks dressing room.” “You had sex in the dressing room? At Saks?” She gulped the rest of her drink and waved at the waitress. “Sure did.” “With the guy that beat the crap out of Vinnie at Starbucks? You went and fucked him at Saks? What? Like thank you for saving me from my ex, let’s bone?” She laughed a playful laugh. “You slut.” “No. He beat up Vincent a month ago. I guess it’s been more like five weeks. We’ve been going out ever since. We had sex in Saks last Wednesday night. Well, that was the first time, anyway.” “The first time. That’s funny. Is he nice?” “Super nice.” “What can I get for you?” the waitress asked. “Two more,” Michelle said. “Vodka cranberry and whatever fruity shit she’s drinking.” “Mimosa,” I said. “No food?” she asked. Michelle laughed. “No, thank you.” The waitress turned away. Michelle faced me and tossed her hands in the air. “So what’s the big secret? Dressing room sex is hot, but really? I’m telling everyone. This is no secret.” “No, there’s more.” I inhaled a deep breath. “He’s white. And he’s not Catholic.” “What?” she screeched. “Your dad will fuckin’ kill you. And him.” I slumped in my seat. “Do you really think he will?” “I know he will. You know it too, Tee. Oh my God, really?” “But he’s perfect.” “Seriously? What are you going to do?” I had been trying not to think about it, but when I did, I told myself my father would understand if given enough time. Looking at the expression on Michelle’s face told me otherwise. Of the two of us, she was the most sensible, making arguing with her difficult. I slumped in my seat. “I don’t know.”
She leaned to the center of the table and met my gaze. Her face was washed with concern. “You can’t get serious with him, that’s for sure.” The thought of ending my relationship with Michael made me feel sick. It wasn’t an option. “I think I already am. I mean, I really like him. A lot. He’s protective of me, he’s really sexy, and he’s funny.” She shook her head. “And your dad will kill him. The dead kind. Think about it.” I thought of some of the things I heard my father had done. I didn’t know if all of the stories were true, but he was believed to be a very vicious man when pushed to the point of being angry. I shrugged to make myself feel better about the situation. “Maybe not if he knows how I feel.” She coughed out a laugh. “Especially if he knows how you feel.” As I saw the waitress approaching, I sat up in my seat. “This really sucks.” “Sucks? If you really like him, yeah, it does.” She seemed to realize something, and chuckled. “Does he know you’re a mafia princess?” I shook my head emphatically. “No.” Her eyes shot wide. “He doesn’t know?” There was no doubt in my mind if Michael found out my last name was Agrioli, he’d react no differently than everyone else. At best, I’d immediately be labeled off-limits for being the mafia boss’s daughter. At worst, he’d think I was an extension of mia familia. Either way, telling him the truth was a losing proposition. “No,” I said. “And I’m not going to tell him. Not yet. I don’t want to, you know, cloud his judgment.” The waitress dropped off the drinks. “Still no food?” “No,” Michelle snapped. “We’re fuckin’ drinking.” She gave Michelle the stink eye and spun around abruptly. I often wondered what people actually thought about us when we were out together. We both had attitudes, but hers was much worse than mine. Rich bitches, spoiled brats, cunts, I’d heard it all when we were in school. I tried to tell myself as an adult I was better, but I wondered if I really was. She wasn’t any different than when she was in school, that much was clear. I took a sip of my mimosa. “Do you think I’m a bitch?” “What?” She reached for her drink. “A bitch? No, why? Did he tell you that?” “No,” I said. “I was just wondering. I mean, you know how they talked about us in school.” “We went to school with bitches,” she hissed. “They were stupid and they said stupid shit.” I didn’t totally agree, but I agreed with her nonetheless. “Yeah, I suppose so.” “This guy with the big dick and the kung fu moves. He’s hot?” “Way hot.” “And he’s an investor?” “Uh-huh.” “In what?” I shrugged. “I dunno. Opportunities. That’s what he said.” “That’s funny. What kind of opportunities? Maybe he’s a sex trafficker or something gross. Ever think about that?” “He’s not gross. And he’s not a pimp or something nasty. He wears a suit to work and drives a BMW.” “Just sayin’. You never know.” “I know,” I said. “I’ve been to his house. He’s a neat freak. Everything’s spotless.” “So, because he’s got a BMW and a clean house, you trust him?” “No, I trust him because he’s given me no reason not to.” “Well,” she said. “Sooner or later your dad’s going to find out. And when he does, you’re going to be in
a fuckin’ mess. So, if you really like this guy—” She cocked an eyebrow and raised her drink. “Figure out how you’re going to handle that before your dad finds out.” Michelle was right. At whatever point my father found out about Michael, if I hadn’t already addressed it with him, he would simply go ballistic. He would send one of his underlings to try and hurt Michael, and that wouldn’t end well. The last thing I needed was for my father and Michael to be at war with one another. “Maybe I’ll just tell my father about Michael and set something up for them to meet. Not like right away, but pretty soon,” I said, knowing I would wait as long as possible. “You need to talk to him first,” she said. “He’s going to shit when he finds out who you are.” “I know,” I said. “And, I know, he is.” “And your dad’s gonna shit too.” She took a drink and coughed as she swallowed. “Big bricks.” My father may be able to easily dismiss Michael as substandard because he wasn’t Italian, but I sure couldn’t. As far as I was concerned, he was perfect for me. I just needed to get my father to agree.
Chapter Ten Michael I motioned toward the road ahead of us. “Don’t turn here, turn on 23rd. Fredrick is one-way the other direction. It’ll let us pull up right behind the parking lot, and you can see everything from the street.” Cap turned off the turn signal and stepped on the gas pedal. “You got it, Boss.” Halfway down 23rd, he asked the inevitable. “You thinkin’ these Bulgarians are going to give us some trouble?” “I hope not.” “Why you got Lucky posted up across the street with eyes on the drop-off?” “Just being cautious.” He laughed a dry laugh. “When was the last time you went on a run?” I peered down Fredrick Avenue toward the scheduled drop-off point. “Don’t know.” “I do,” he said as he turned the corner. “You haven’t. Now, before I pull in here, what’re you thinkin’?” “I’m thinking these guys are unpredictable, we’ve got $200,000 in weapons, and they’re one of only a few of my customers who demand that they don’t pay in advance. So, we’re doing a $200,000 cash deal in a parking lot at night. You do the math. There’s no room for error. That’s what I think.” He slowed down as we approached the lot. “Sounds reasonable.” “It’s just...” I paused and grabbed my buzzing phone. “What’s it looking like, Lucky?” “Three Slavs in a Mercedes G wagon. Place is clean.” The parking lot where we were scheduled to do the drop-off was chosen by the customer. Based on the location and being under the cover of darkness, I believed we were exposed to minimal risk. In an old warehouse district with virtually no traffic on any of the side streets, the area minimized the possibility of being hijacked or surprised. An empty lot across the street was the perfect place for one of my employees to sit and observe the transaction. One could never be too careful on a $200,000 cash deal in the parking lot of an abandoned warehouse—especially at night. “Roger that. We’re turning in. You stand tight until the money changes hands.” “Roger that,” he said. “Standing by to stand by.” I hung up. “Lucky says the place is clean. Pull up beside the Mercedes.” As with most of my larger deliveries, I had rented a box truck and loaded it with the firearms. Typically used as residential moving vans, the vehicles received very little attention from onlookers, and the customer could simply take the vehicle and return it to the rental agency when they were finished unloading it. The parking lot was illuminated by overhead light poles, and the Mercedes SUV was parked directly under one of them. As the van came to a stop, I gave my instructions to Cap. “Stay in the vehicle, locked and loaded, until Lucky pulls in to extract us.” “Roger that.” I stepped out of the vehicle and approached the Mercedes. My point of contact, sitting in the rear seat, got out and gave a nod. A square-jawed six-foot-four Bulgarian, Svetli rarely laughed or cracked a smile
for that matter. I nodded in return. “Svetli.” “Good evening, Tripp.” I patted my hand against the side of the van. “We’ve got all two hundred, in crates of ten. There’s two magazines for each weapon in the bottom of each crate.” He motioned for the passenger to get out. “We appreciate for you finding missing fifty.” Svetli had lived in the United States for one year, and communicating with him reminded me of the many scenes I had seen in action movies where the Russian played the bad guy. Always stone-faced and speaking with a distinct Slavic accent, mistaking him for a Russian would be easy. “You’re the customer,” I said. “It’s my job to keep you happy.” The passenger handed me a small leather satchel. Out of respect, I didn’t look inside. A simple nod on my part was affirmation enough of receiving payment in full. I opened the passenger door and tossed the satchel toward Cap. Svetli motioned toward the rear of the truck. “You mind if look inside?” I reached in my pocket and removed the key to the padlock. “Let’s have a look.” Svetli and his passenger followed me to the rear of the van. After unlocking the padlock and handing him the key, I opened the rear door. Twenty handcrafted wooden crates filled the storage area completely. I pointed at the crate closest to the door. “The top isn’t nailed down on this one. I thought you may want to have a look.” The passenger jumped inside, removed the top of the crate, and nodded in approval upon seeing the contents. Svetli turned to face me. “We’re good for go.” I love it when a plan comes together. My buzzing phone caused a tingling to run the length of my spine. I removed my Bluetooth headset from my jacket pocket, unfolded it, and placed it over my ear. The two odd glances I received in return were the least of my worries. I knew if Lucky was calling in the middle of the transaction, there must be a serious potential threat. Lucky’s statement was concise. “Black SUV. Stealth mode. Your nine o’clock. Headlights off.” Fuck. I pulled the pistol from my holster. “We’ve got company.” Svetli’s face contorted and his eyes narrowed. “What for you mean company?” In our remote location, the distant sound of the SUV rapidly accelerating was in complete contrast to the silence. I had no time to explain matters further. My military training took over. I glanced over my left shoulder. “Cap, we’ve got tangos. Your nine o’ clock,” I shouted. “Got ‘em.” Lucky’s voice came over the earpiece. “Tangos are coming in hot. ROE?” “Stand down,” I said. “Only on my command.” “Roger on your command,” he responded. I turned toward Svetli and tilted my head at the sound of the approaching SUV. “There’s an SUV coming this direction.” Svetli pulled a pistol from his waistband and barked something to his comrade in Bulgarian. Immediately following, they both disappeared around the side of the van. “I’ve got a sniper with eyes on them,” I shouted. “Let me handle this.” Lucky was armed with a sniper rifle, and was capable of providing us with protection from his remote location in the adjoining parking lot. I was well aware that we weren’t filming an action movie, and I
wasn’t at war. Regardless of my chosen profession, I fully realized living in the civilian world limited my ability to react with deadly force. If the level of threat was deadly, I would have Lucky react appropriately. If it wasn’t, I would respond with a lesser force—more than likely my fists and feet. The black SUV came into the lot at a high rate of speed, screeched to a stop at the front of the van, and three men jumped out. Fucking amateurs. “You got a clear shot?” I asked. “Roger that.” Svetli and his partner stood on the right-hand side of the van, both armed with pistols. Their driver, who was still seated in the Mercedes, glared at the new arrivals through the windshield. I was standing at the right rear corner of the van, intending to use the vehicle as a shield if necessary. “Get out of the fuckin’ truck!” a voice called out. The mixture of Philadelphia and Italian accents made hiding Agrioli’s involvement in the little fiasco nothing short of impossible. While Svetli and his Bulgarian partner whispered, I stepped to the side of the van with my pistol pointed at the man on my left. “I’ve got bad news, fellas,” I said flatly, studying each of them. “This cargo isn’t going anywhere.” One of the three men was armed with a shotgun and the other two with pistols. All three were dressed in tracksuits similar to the silent thug who made an appearance at my office. “We’re taking the fuckin’ truck,” the one with the shotgun announced. “Clear shot on the mouthy fucker with the shotgun?” I whispered. “Affirmative on shotgun,” Lucky responded. “His right thigh on my five count,” I whispered. “Roger, on your five.” I alternated glances between the three men. “I’m going to give you one chance to leave, and that chance is now. You, with the shotgun. A sniper has you in his sights right now. Toss the shotgun on the ground in front of you by my count of five, or you will be shot. That is not a threat, it is a promise.” He shook his head and raised the shotgun slightly. “Fuck you. Have your driver get out of the fuckin’ truck.” I shook my head. “One. Two. Three.” He waved the shotgun toward Cap. “Get out of the fuckin’ truck.” He didn’t deserve a four. “Five.” From where we stood, there was no indication of the silenced rifle being fired. The distinct sound of the bullet whistling—at least to my trained ears—was the only warning of what had happened. At the same instant the word five was spoken, the bullet tore through the man’s leg. He howled out a high-pitched scream and fell to the parking lot. The shotgun clanked to the pavement a few feet beside him. Immune to the screams of wounded, I turned toward the two remaining would-be villains and gave my command. The man who had been shot wailed in pain and reached for his leg. The other two men stood with their pistols held at their sides, nervously scouring the lot for a glimpse of who may have shot their partner. Having been in a similar situation on many occasions while at war, I realized it was quite possible the other two men had no idea of the complexity of their companion’s wound. Not hearing the gunshot seemed to take away some of the severity of what the human mind registered. “Drop your weapons in front of you, get on your knees, and place your hands behind your heads.”
“Fuck you,” the one in the center barked. “Clear shot on center target?” I asked. “Roger the center,” Lucky responded. “Shoot the thigh.” Instantly, the same whistling sound ripped through the air, and the man in the center dropped to the ground. Still holding his pistol, he bellowed out what I expected were Italian expletives. “Toss the gun,” I demanded. “Or I’ll have him shoot you in the chest.” He threw the gun to the side. “Now,” I said, pointing my pistol at the last man standing. “Toss your weapon, get on your knees, and place your hands behind your head. This is your only warning.” He tossed his weapon on the ground. “Cap,” I shouted. “Search him and secure him.” “Roger that.” Cap exited the van with his pistol held at the ready. After kicking the three weapons to his rear, he searched the last man, secured his hands with zip ties, and then searched the two wounded men. “Cut their sleeves off and use ’em for tourniquets. Secure their phones, and search the vehicle.” “Got it, Boss.” “Keep eyes on the lot until the van is gone,” I said into the mouthpiece. “Roger that,” Lucky responded. I turned toward Svetli. My mouth twisted into a prideful smirk. “Sorry for the delay.” He tossed his head toward the three men. “For fucking sake. Who are these fucks?” I didn’t dare tell him of the problems I’d been having with Agrioli. “Italian mafia is my guess, at least they sounded Italian. Looks like they were trying to rob us of your weapons.” “Agrioli?” I shrugged, surprised he was knowledgeable of the mafia’s presence in Kansas City. “That’s my guess.” He shot me a stern glare. “What you do with these fucks?” “I’ll have him strip the vehicle of cell phones and weapons, and let the uninjured one drive them to the hospital. They can send a message to their boss that I’m not some half-assed wannabe weapons dealer.” He cracked a smile. “No half-ass nothing. You are fucking gun runner, Tripp. The Gun Runner.” “That, I am.” I liked the sound of it, especially rolling off of his Slav tongue. “We’ll have you out of here in no time.” He tilted his head toward where Cap was standing guard over the Italians. “I want to take man with me. The one with no bleeding. Maybe for Svetli Slavonovich send his own message to Agrioli. Son of bitch.” I saw no harm in it, especially knowing the other two men would return a message to Agrioli that the Russians took one of their partners. It was quite possible allowing Svetli to take one of the Italians as a hostage would divert some of Agrioli’s attention away from me. “Fine with me.” Cap approached us. “Found an ID in the vehicle. The two wounded don’t have any ID. But number three does. You’re going to love this.” I shrugged. “What?” “He’s an Agrioli. Name’s Peter.” I chuckled at the thought of Agrioli’s butthole puckering when he found out one of his blood had been taken hostage. “Perfect.” “Looks like he’s exactly who you want. Take him,” I said with a nod toward Svetli. “After you’re long gone, we’ll let the other two leave.”
“You are man of honor,” Svetli said. I grinned as I holstered my pistol. “I do my best.” I tossed my head toward the van. “Cap, secure the van. They’re taking it.” “Roger that.” I glanced toward the three men. Cap had duct tape across their mouths and their hands and feet bound with zip ties. “Lucky, you still with me?” “Affirmative.” “Van’s heading out. After the Mercedes and van are out of sight, we need extraction.” “Roger that.” Svetli loaded Peter Agrioli in the rear compartment of his SUV, shook my hand, and then drove away with the van, his Mercedes following right behind him. A few moments later, Lucky pulled in the lot in his SUV. “They gonna live?” he asked. “They’ll be fine,” I said. “Nice shooting.” “Semper fi,” he said. “Do or die.” “Load the cash, their weapons and phones, and grab the ditty bag. I’m going to let them get medical attention. Fucking idiots.” While Cap and Lucky loaded the SUV, I approached the two wounded men. “I’m going to let you two drive wherever you think you need to go to get medical attention, but not until we’re long gone. That’s a .22-250 round that tore through your leg, it feels much worse than it is. Ninety days of therapy, and you’ll be walking again. Now, listen up.” Both men had obviously reached a point where they understood moaning and groaning wasn’t going to change things. As with most men who I had seen shot in the leg, myself included, after the initial shock, dealing with the discomfort became much easier with each passing minute. With their eyes locked on me, I continued. “I realize you’re going to tell Agrioli whatever you want to, and expect that. But this is my promise to you, and you need to think about what I’m going to tell you. Really think about it. If either of you two make an effort to approach me again, for any reason, you’ll be killed. No questions, no options, and no counting to fucking five. Is that understood?” A nod in the affirmative from each man provided me with reassurance that they at least realized what their fate would be if they made an effort to fuck with me again. “I see you’ve got a watch,” I said to the first man who had been shot. “After we pull out, wait five minutes before you leave. The keys are in your vehicle. If you leave before five minutes is up, my sniper will put a bullet through your left eye socket. Understood?” With a clenched jaw and narrow eyes, he responded. “Five minutes.” There wasn’t a second sniper, but he didn’t need to know it. The five-minute head start would give me peace of mind that they weren’t going to try to do anything to save their reputations or their pride. “Tell Agrioli he’s not fucking with a bunch of amateurs. We’re trained professionals. Anyone else fucks with me—or my men—and they’ll meet the same fate as you two dumb fucks.” I shook my head and turned away. I had been home from the war for a little more than a year. Now, it seemed I had my own war to fight. One of a more personal nature. I walked toward Lucky’s SUV confident if anyone was born to fight, it was me. And, after making it through the threat of Agrioli’s men trying to hijack my shipment of weapons without being harmed, seeing Terra was the only thing that came to my mind.
Chapter Eleven Terra I rested my elbow on the edge of the table and held my hand between us so he could observe my chopstick expertise. “No, you just let the bottom one rest on your middle finger, and use the top one like this.” He watched intently. After studying me for a moment, he picked up his chopsticks and pressed the tips together no differently than if he’d been doing it for years. “It’s actually simple once someone shows you how,” he admitted. “Most people don’t get the hang of it so soon.” I wasn’t frustrated, I was envious. It had taken me a good six months to figure it out, and he had it mastered in thirty seconds. It didn’t surprise me. “I can’t believe you’ve never tried.” He stared at the tips of the sticks as they clicked together. “Never really had a chance.” “How can you say you never have a chance to eat sushi?” He looked right at me and spoke in a voice that was almost prideful. “When I was eighteen, I volunteered to go fight in the war. Out of the last eleven years, I spent ten of them eating meals out of a plastic bag. And, in the last year, I’ve been busy building my empire.” Seeing him now, it was easy to forget that he was once a marine. Dodging bullets and shooting at people seemed out of place for Michael, especially considering his mode of transportation and manner of dressing. I shrugged and coughed out a laugh. “I forgot.” He laughed. “That last part was a joke. What? No sense of humor?” “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. That was inconsiderate of me.” “No it wasn’t. My childhood’s over. I don’t need you lamenting over what happened to me. Christ, it brought me here, didn’t it?” I admired Michael’s ability to accept the life he had been forced to live. Despite all of his hardships, he somehow found a way to overcome them and maintain an impartial outlook on life. “I think it’s great that you can look at life the way you do.” “And, what? Not be a statistic? Not become a product of my environment? How else would I look at it? If a man is incapable of accepting his past, his future becomes a predestined failure.” “But not everyone is able to accept their past. At least not entirely. And I mean people far more fortunate than you,” I explained. He stopped the stick from spinning, catching it in his palm without shifting his focus away from me. “It’s about being prideful.” “What do you mean?” “I have no regrets in how I’ve lived my life. I have no shame. None whatsoever. Everything I’ve done, I done to the best of my ability and with the best intentions.” He shrugged. “That’s all I can do.” “So you wouldn’t change anything in your past? I mean, if you could?” “Not really. Like I said, it brought me here.” He waved his open hand toward me. “I’ve never been happier. I would have never guessed having a woman in my life would make things better, but to be honest, it has.” I dismissed compliments from friends and family members as being nothing more than kind offhanded remarks. From Michael, I found them heartfelt and far more meaningful. “Thank you. That means a lot to
me.” “No need to thank me. It’s true.” “Well, I appreciate compliments from you. So, thank you.” “You don’t appreciate them from everyone?” I felt like an inconsiderate bitch, but I wanted to be truthful with him. “Not always,” I admitted. His face contorted. “Why?” “I have a big family, and not everyone is as fortunate as my immediate family. I don’t know, it’s just...” I looked at him for reassurance, only to realize he had no idea what it felt like to have a relative look at him with disdain without so much as trying. “When they say things, it’s almost like they say them because they feel they have to. They look down their noses and say ‘your dress looks nice, Terra.’ Or one of them might say ‘I like your hair, did you get it cut?’ and they really don’t give a fuck. They’ll say it as they’re walking past me, and not even wait to hear my response. So, no, I don’t always appreciate compliments. But, with you? You don’t say things you don’t mean. At least it doesn’t seem like it.” “If I despise someone, they’ll know it,” he said with a laugh. “And if I give a compliment, it’s from the heart.” “I like that about you.” The waiter walked up to the table, his hands filled with two large platters. “Here you are. One number eleven, and one number six. Who gets what?” “We’re going to share,” I said. I provided instructions on the soy sauce, use of ginger for cleaning the palate, and the wasabi—which I personally detested—and we began to eat. “Well?” I asked. “I like it. A lot. It seems.” He picked up a piece of ginger, ate it, and continued. “Clean. It seems clean. Fresh. Healthy. I like it.” He reached for another piece. “The fish is raw tuna?” I nodded. “Is it okay?” “I’ve had tuna before,” he said. “I like it.” I returned a smile, pleased I was able to make a suggestion that was something new and would be memorable. “I just thought of something,” I said. “What’s that?” “You were a sushi virgin.” He laughed. “I was.” “And now, every time you eat it, you’ll think of me.” He laughed again, this time carefully placing his chopsticks on the edge of his plate. “I don’t need to eat sushi to think of you.” I started to respond, telling him how much I appreciated his kindness, but he continued before I had a chance to speak. “I can’t do a damned thing anymore without thinking of you, Terra. Nothing. Some of the things I’m involved in with work are, well, let me just say they’re thought-consuming. And right in the middle of work, I think of you.” I was flattered. I felt the same way, but I didn’t dare share my thoughts with him for fear of scaring him away. I met his gaze and chewed my lip anxiously. “Thank you.” “I wasn’t done,” he said. “I think of you when I drive to my office. When I eat. When I take a shower.
When I...” He grinned until his dimples showed. “When I anything.” I admired his dimples, pleased that he’d revealed them. It was a rarity. “Is that bad?” I asked. “At first, I thought it was. Now? I’ve just learned to accept it.” “How could it be bad?” “It leads me to believe I’m dependent upon you. Or, if I’m not, I’m quickly becoming so.” “And that’s bad how?” “What if you decide to leave me?” He hesitated and extended his index finger. “What if you decide the no big deal relationship is too big of a deal for you?” “I won’t.” He shook his head and reached for the chopsticks. “You can’t make that promise.” I did my best to look stern. “I just did.” He looked surprised for a moment, and then reached inside his jacket. After fumbling around for a moment, he produced a small square envelope. He reached over the table and handed it to me. “Here.” “What is it?” “What’s it look like?” “A card.” “Well, that’s what it is. I got it for you and forgot about it. Well, until now, anyway. You just made me remember it.” I eagerly pulled the card from the envelope. The front was covered in various colored polka dots, but no script. Confused and curious, I opened it. The inside of the card was free of any commercially printed notes or sayings, and only contained a few very neatly crafted hand-written sentences. He had purchased a blank card and made it himself. I glanced at Michael, and then back at the card. Terra, When I’m with you, nothing else matters. When nothing else matters, the world around me dissolves, leaving only you. And. Nothing. Else. Matters. Michael My eyes welled with tears. I read it again. My throat constricted. A tear escaped me and I turned my head to the side, hoping he didn’t see. I carefully wiped it away and clutched the card in my hand, not wanting to turn loose of it. I turned to face Michael, and had every intention of expressing my thanks, but the words didn’t come. He smiled, revealing two slight dimples. And nothing else mattered.
Chapter Twelve Michael Cap and I solved many a problem in my kitchen over a bottle of beer, and although I was sure we weren’t going to resolve this issue completely, talking about it eased my mind considerably. “So, you think these pricks are just going to give up? I sure as fuck don’t. We haven’t seen the last of ’em, I’m sure of it.” The beer bottle dangled loosely from between his thumb and forefinger while he waited on my response, but I didn’t have one I could provide—at least not immediately. There were many possibilities, none of which made perfect sense to me. It was conceivable Agrioli realized he couldn’t strong-arm me or my men into complying with his wishes, but I found it doubtful. “He’s got too much pride to just give up,” I said. “If he decides to release us from his grip, he’s going to make a big deal of it. It’s how pretentious pricks like him operate.” Cap tossed the empty bottle in the trash and opened the refrigerator door. “Another?” I raised my half-full bottle and shook my head. “Not yet.” “You’re probably right.” He grabbed another bottle of beer and closed the door. “I bet that fucker’s a real prick. Last fall they say he killed one of his own. Found him with a bullet in his forehead and his fuckin’ tongue missin’.” I recalled what little I heard about it on the news. The name of the deceased stood out to me at the time. “Yeah, I remember,” I said. “Paulie Pinchface.” He choked on his beer as he laughed. “It was Pinchface Paul. And, I’m just sayin’, we need to keep our shit wired tight until this is over.” “Agreed.” I took a drink of beer, and my mind soon drifted off to thoughts of Terra. I should have been far more concerned with Agrioli than I actually was, but my mind was elsewhere. It troubled me slightly that I wasn’t completely focused on business. It wasn’t like me. Like an MMA fighter preparing for a match, Cap rolled his shoulders and popped his neck. “So, here’s the part that’s gonna piss you off.” I tilted my head back and looked down my nose at him. “Say again?” “The girl. You’ve been quiet about her for a few weeks, maybe longer. Where’s that deal stand?” I wondered if he could tell. If he could see the differences in me. “What do you mean?” “Where’s it fuckin’ stand?” I swelled with pride in anticipation of responding, and instantly felt a twinge of guilt for my prideful thoughts. The pride quickly returned. “I’ve been seeing her regularly.” “Seeing her how? Eatin’ ice cream sundaes and laughin’ it up at Baskin-Robbins like a couple of prepubescent teens, or seein’ her? You know, seein’ her?” “You know I don’t fuck with ice cream.” “You fucked her, didn’t ya?” “You know,” I said. “I was the perfect marine. I took the biggest risks, because I didn’t have a fucking thing to lose. I’ve spent my entire life without, Cap.”
I’d never been one to complain about life or anything in it, and I wasn’t really complaining. Justifying my actions was more like it. The more I spoke, the more convinced I became that I was doing what was best for me. “I’ve never known what it’s like to have someone look forward to seeing me. To have a person smile when they think about me. To believe—and I mean really believe—there’s a person who might give a fuck if I died. You know, when I was a kid, probably fifteen or so, the one thing that used to bother me more than anything? You know what that was?” Standing at the bar with his elbows resting on the edge and his hands clasped together, he simply turned his palms up and shook his head. “My funeral,” I said. “I used to sit and think about it. That there wouldn’t be anyone there. There wasn’t a person on earth, not one single fucking person, who gave a damn if I lived or died. I used to think about it almost every night.” He inhaled a deep breath, and I was sure he intended to speak, but I wasn’t done yet. I raised my index finger and continued. “You know; I’ve known her about six weeks. One thing I really like about it— probably more than anything else—is that I know if Agrioli killed me, she’d be at my funeral. She’d be there.” “I’d be there,” he said. “I appreciate it,” I said with a nod. He took a drink of beer, made eye contact with me, and then quickly dropped his gaze to the floor. “What?” I asked. “Nothin’.” “You were going to say something.” “Naw. It ain’t important.” “You thought it was. So, say it.” “You have Trace check her out?” My tone of voice made my disappointment in his question clear. “You know, I’m kind of new to this relationship thing. Is that how it’s done? You run a background check on whoever it is you decide to see?” He shrugged. “Cops do it.” “Well, cops are pricks, and I’m not a fucking cop.” He cleared his throat, took another drink of beer and gazed around the room. After a moment of thought, he met my gaze. “So, you actually like this chick.” “I sure as fuck do.” “I want to meet her.” “You will,” I said. He raised his bottle of beer to the light and studied it. “I’ve drank a ton of these fuckers thinkin’ I’m gonna find the answers to whatever it is I’m wantin’ to know at the bottom of ’em. But it never happens.” “What is it you’re wanting to know?” “Hell, lots of stuff. How come a starfish can regenerate a new leg but I can’t grow a new finger? And stuff like why that fucker in North Korea hasn’t been assassinated yet. Or where Netflix keeps all those movies. I wanna know that. But right now I’m wonderin’ what it is that makes a man decide when the time’s right. I never thought you’d fall for a girl, but I ain’t about to condemn you for doin’ it. Just don’t let her cloud your judgment.” It wasn’t much of an endorsement, but it was all I could expect to receive from Cap. “Being focused is part of who I am. I won’t lose it,” I said. “Here’s to stayin’ focused.” He raised his bottle of beer. “And starfish.”
I raised my bottle and tapped it against his. “To starfish.” He took a drink of beer and cocked an eyebrow. “Now. What are we gonna do about that fuckin’ Italian?” “For now, nothing. We just need to be conscious of his existence.” “I agree,” he said. “What do you think his objective is? You know, after the deal the other night?” “Getting his guy back from the Bulgarians in one piece is my guess.” “You’re probably right. You think those crazy pricks are asking for ransom money?” “I’m sure of it. They’ll make him pay for disrespecting them. As far as they’re concerned, those men didn’t come to rob us, they came to rob them. Couldn’t have worked out any better, him being an Agrioli. They’ll demand a ransom, Agrioli will pay it, and it’ll be between them.” “At least his focus is off us.” I finished my beer and glanced at my watch. “I agree.” Cap looked at his watch, shook his head, and drank his remaining beer. “Well,” he said. “It’s gettin’ late. I better get to gettin’. I meant what I said about the girl.” “So did I,” I said. “What’s her name?” “Terra,” I responded. “Terra Wilson.” He paused and seemed to absorb the name for a moment. “See ya in the mornin’.” “I suppose so.” After he left I cleaned the kitchen, took out the trash, and prepared for bed. A few minutes into my attempt at falling asleep, something seemed out of place. I fumbled for my phone, pulled it from the nightstand, and typed Terra a text message. Thinking of you. Almost immediately, my phone beeped. I opened the message. I never stop thinking of you. I typed a response. Then I’m doing something right for once. Goodnight. Her reply was immediate. Yes, you sure are. Goodnight. I read her response, grinned, and reread it. And I fell asleep.
Chapter Thirteen Terra We were on our way out of my house, but hadn’t quite made it to the door. I slid my hand along my thigh and flipped my hair over my shoulder, striking my best seductive pose. “Over what?” “What do you mean?” Michael asked. “What do you mean? I asked you if you liked them. You said you preferred them. And, I’m asking. Over what?” His eyes dropped to my four-inch heels and slowly raised the length of my legs, stopping at my waist. I playfully twisted my hips to the side, making sure his decision was a well-thought-out one. A few seconds passed. “Everything. Over everything. Well, everything except the little black dress, I’m partial to it, but for other reasons.” Jeggings. They seemed ridiculous at first, but after a year or so of seeing everyone wear them, I broke down and bought a pair. Now, if I was in a mood to wear jeans, jeggings were my only option. “I’ve tossed my jeans, and this is all I’ve got now,” I said. “I like them.” “That makes two of us.” He said to dress comfortably, but I had no idea what his plans were. “So what are we going to do?” He walked toward me, slowly. Even his casual walk screamed confidence. “We were going to go to Worlds of Fun and ride the roller coaster. Now? I’m not sure, but we’re not doing that. At least not just yet.” The roller coaster sounded like fun. I hadn’t ridden one since I was a little girl. I felt like jumping up and down and clapping my hands, but I didn’t. “Why not?” I asked. He placed his hands around my waist, several inches above my jeans. When he touched me I tingled all over, and it didn’t seem to matter where he chose to touch me, or why. It just happened. “I decided to do something else,” he said. I’d already forgotten what we were talking about. When he spoke, the topic returned to my mind, but with his hands on me, it no longer mattered. I didn’t care about the roller coaster. Or anything, for that matter. Not even a little bit. I sighed. Not because I wanted to. Just because. It sounded like a fluttering breeze. “Never mind,” I murmured. His hands moved down my waist until his thumbs were beneath my jeans and resting in the depressions beside my hip bones. “I like touching you.” It tickled. I flinched. It seemed to fuel him to continue. My lips parted. “I...” The tips of his thumbs moved in small circles against the skin of my hips. He leaned toward me. His warm breath against my neck caused me to knock my knees together. Instantly, my pussy ached. I gazed along my entry hall and wondered at what point I turned to face the interior of my home, and not the door. We were so close to leaving when he began to admire me, and then everything stopped. We were so close. Mere feet from departure. I closed my eyes. His thumbs softly slid down along my hips, taking my perfect mixture of leggings and jeans with them. I
remembered I wasn’t wearing panties, and grinned to myself at the thought of my choosing not to. My legs felt weak, and from the fear of falling alone, I kicked off my heels. In an instant, I was naked from the waist down. I opened my eyes. Michael was a magnificent man to look at. The perfect combination of innocent good looks and strikingly handsome features, coupled with my knowledge of his abilities, made watching him do anything a pleasure. He removed his shirt and tossed it beside my pants. His upper body resembled a wedge in shape—his broad chest tapering into his upper torso, and his washboard abs leading to the muscles at each flank that formed a perfect V shape just above the waist of his jeans. “Don’t move,” he whispered. I chewed on my quivering lip and waited. He shoved two fingers into me, forcing me to draw an unscheduled breath and close my eyes again. As he tickled my G-spot with the tips, a tingling sensation shook me to my core. With his chest against me, he nibbled on my earlobe, his breath sending chills up my arms and along my lower legs. I wanted him to take me. It seemed we were mentally, physically and sexually in tune with one another. I never seemed to wait long for him to fulfill my desires. His fingers continued to satisfy me until a ringing filled my ears. An orgasm soon escaped, feeling almost as if it ran along my skin, and not from deep within me. Startled, I opened my eyes. He stood before me with his cock in his hand. His cheek brushed against mine as he pulled his mouth from my ear. Our eyes met. I wanted to say something, but realized often with Michael I was incapable of saying a single word. My eyes fell to his cock-filled hand. “Give...” And he did just that. He pushed me into the door forcefully, but not violently. The thrusts that soon followed, however, were a different story. With my back against the wall and his hands cupped around my lower thighs, he held me suspended above the floor with my legs slightly bent. I felt slight pressure as he penetrated me, and gasped at the feeling of being completely filled with his entire length in one thrust. His hands moved up my thighs, eventually resting against the bottom of my ass. The tips of his fingers dug into my flesh, spreading me wider and stretching me to a state of arousal I had never known. His mouth encompassed mine. Our tongues intertwined. My subconscious drifted to a euphoric place, attempting to process the kiss, while my mind was all but required to focus on him fucking me. Each savage thrust lifted me up the wall and forced the breath from my lungs. Rhythmically, they continued, one after another. I dragged my fingernails along the muscles of his back. We were no longer human. We had become two wild animals mating out of instinctive desire. The sounds of fucking echoed throughout the hard surfaces of my home while the scent of our sex filled the air. I felt myself begin to contract around his shaft. I opened my eyes, desperately wanting to see his face as I reached climax. Painfully and purposefully the thrusts continued. The tip of his dick was hitting spots inside of me that I wasn’t aware existed. I cried out. His mouth muffled my screams until he leaned away and groaned himself. My shoulders slamming against the hollow door with each thrust acted as a reminder that he wasn’t quite finished. The sound of his groan intensified. His breath became choppy. His cock swelled. I cried out again. The mother of all orgasms was building within me. A toe curler.
My feet ached. I could feel my nipples against the fabric of my bra. “I’m...going...to come...inside you...” he groaned. “Please, do,” I begged. One last thrust shoved me against the door. And. He. Exploded. His come shot through me like a surge of hot lava, sending my mind reeling for my own sexual release. My body shuddered. My toes curled. I dug my fingernails into his shoulders and wailed like I was being delivered to my maker. Together, as it seemed we always did, we reached climax. With my back to the door, and my feet suspended above the floor, Michael and I became one. I wanted to hold him, hug him, kiss him and never let him go. At that moment, nothing mattered. Not my father, my heritage or my religious beliefs. Love has no boundaries, and at that instant, for the first time, I felt that whatever connection anyone on earth might have, we certainly had. I had no idea at the moment what it was that was different, but something was. Something within me clicked. A switch was flipped. Maybe a spot inside of me that his oh-so-perfect cock collided with sent the signal to my brain. All I knew was that it was different. And I felt differently. I gazed into his eyes. “Holy. Shit.” He looked content. His lips parted. His mouth curled into a smile. He shrugged. Maybe the same thing had happened to him that always seemed to happen to me. He seemed speechless. He pursed his lips and shook his head. A few seconds passed. He opened his mouth again, and chuckled. “You fucked me stupid.” I shrugged. “I fucked you stupid, and you fucked some sense into me.” “What do you mean?” he asked. You’re all that matters, and I think you may have fucked me until I fell in love with you. I knew how I felt, but I didn’t dare say a word. Not yet. “You’re amazing,” I breathed. He held my gaze. “I think...” He grinned and kissed my lips lightly. You think what? “You think what?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “I need some time to think. Like I said. I’m pretty sure you did something to me.” I knew better. We did it to each other.
Chapter Fourteen Michael It was apparent Terra was successful with her shoe business, and I realized I couldn’t buy her anything that she didn’t probably already have. I could, however, offer her something no amount of money could never buy. Me. She shoved her hand into the tub of buttery popcorn and turned toward me. “I haven’t been to a movie since I was a kid.” “I come all the time. I think it’s one of my few means of escape.” She finished chewing her popcorn and gave me a halfhearted scowl. “With who?” “Alone.” “You come alone?” “I have since I got back from the war, yeah.” “Why alone?” “Until I met you, who would I bring? Cap?” “I don’t know. I guess nobody. And when am I going to get to meet him?” She playfully forced her lower lip into a full pout. “You said you were going to introduce us.” “I will,” I said. “Soon.” She grinned and scooped another handful from the tub. “Okay.” While nibbling away, she spoke through her popcorn-filled hand. “I can’t wait for it to start.” Seeing her excited over something so simple as a movie was priceless. Watching a woman as proper and as refined as Terra eat popcorn like an overeager child was rewarding in a totally different way. Terra may have been wealthy and a member of a large family, but in the end, she was no different than I was. Whether we came from the house on the hill or the bowels of society, we were simply people. In basic training for the marines, the recruits were told to be color-blind. We were all, according to our instructors, varying shades of green. But we were all green. Living without preconceived notions was easy for me. I gave respect and expected to get it in return. If someone was disrespectful, I disliked them the same regardless of age, race, color or creed. The lights faded away and Terra snuggled to my side, one hand on my inner thigh and the other in and out of the tub of popcorn. Halfway through the previews, a man in front of us answered a telephone call. He sat directly in front of us, slumped in his chair, talking no differently than if he was in the comfort of his living room. People beside us and to my rear complained quietly about his rude behavior. He continued nonetheless. The screen went dark. I tapped him on the shoulder. “Just a minute,” he said. “I can’t believe he’s so rude,” Terra whispered as the screen illuminated. He turned and glared at her. I tapped his shoulder again. He spun around, cupped his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, and sighed heavily.
“I said I’ll be done in a fucking minute,” he said. “Tap me on the shoulder again, and I’ll drag your ass outside and whip it.” I glanced at Terra. Her mouth fell open. “Hold this.” I handed her the tub of popcorn. A quick glance around the front of the theater revealed an exit in both corners, each illuminated by an exit sign. Typically used as fire exits or in case of an emergency evacuation, the doors opened from the inside, but not from the outside. I stood, turned toward the people behind me, and offered a shoulder shrug as an advance apology for what was about to take place. Standing in the shallow aisle in front of my seat, I turned toward the screen and tapped him on the shoulder. He jumped up and spun around. As soon as he did, I struck him at the base of the neck with the bottom edge of my flattened hand, paralyzing him for an instant. He dropped his phone, but before he collapsed onto the floor, I caught him by his shirt and dragged him into the main aisle. Amidst the sounds of hands clapping, a few quiet cheers and a shrill whistle or two, I dragged him to the exit, opened the door with my shoulder and hip, and shoved him onto the asphalt of the dark parking lot. Confused, embarrassed, and scared, he stared back at me. “If you come back in here, I’ll drag your ass outside and whip it,” I said in a sarcastic tone. I took my seat at Terra’s side and reached for the popcorn. “What did I miss?” I whispered. “Shhh,” she said jokingly. Halfway through the movie, an action film, she pointed toward the screen and pressed her mouth to my ear. “Did you ever get shot at?” I responded in a soft whisper. “Yes.” “Did you get shot?” “Yes, I did. Twice.” She pulled away and narrowed her eyes. “Did you have to kill anybody? I mean at war?” she whispered. It was a question most weren’t willing to ask, and as many weren’t either prepared or very enthusiastic to answer. “Yes,” I said. “Several.” Her face went somber. “I’m sorry.” We quietly watched the rest of the movie, and both of us enjoyed it immensely. Afterward, while picking the popcorn up from the seats and preparing to leave, the couple seated behind us thanked me for removing the rude gentleman from the theater. “You a vet?” the man asked. I nodded. “Yes, sir. US Marines. Iraq and Afghanistan.” He glanced at his wife and grinned. “Told you, Sheri.” He shook my hand. “I told my wife. I said ‘that guy isn’t one to fuck with.’ I could see it when you walked in. You know how you can tell by how a guy carries himself? Well, I saw it in your walk, that’s for sure. And when that asshat started talking on the phone, I told her. I said ‘Sheri, he’s going to drag that son-of-a-bitch outside, you just watch,’ that’s what I told her. Didn’t I, Sheri?” She responded sheepishly. “He did.” “Then, when he said he was gonna drag you outside, I just slumped down in my seat. I knew it was on like Donkey Kong. What the hell did you do to him, anyway?” “It was a knife hand strike.” He chuckled. “You dropped him like a bad habit. That’s what you did.”
“I suppose so.” “Appreciate your service,” he said with a nod. “I’m Tracy, and this is my wife Sheri.” “Thank you. I’m Michael, and this is Terra.” “Hi,” Terra said. The lights came on. I glanced around the empty theater. “You look familiar,” he said to Terra. “I’ve seen you somewhere before.” “I doubt it,” she said. “Maybe your shoe store,” I said. She shrugged. “I don’t know.” “I think it’s TV. I’ve seen you on TV. You a celebrity? Like a newscaster or something?” he asked. “No,” she said, her voice conveying slight annoyance. “I swear. I’ve seen you somewhere.” “I don’t think so,” she said. He studied her for a moment, shaking his head lightly. “I’ll remember it as soon as you’re gone, that’s what I always do.” Terra reached for my hand. It seemed he was making her nervous with his claim of seeing her on television. “Well,” Tracy said, tilting his head toward the door. “They turned on the lights, so it looks like they’re tossing us out.” “Nice to meet you,” I said. “Likewise,” he responded. We followed them through the theater, and to the front door. Every few steps, he turned and glanced over his shoulder, obviously trying to recall where he knew Terra from. As we reached the door, I held it open for them to pass. After they went through, Terra followed. I walked through the vestibule and pushed the door open that led to the sidewalk. As soon as I stepped outside, I caught a glimpse of something out of my peripheral on my right-hand side. Naturally, I raised my right hand and turned toward the threat. As I turned, I swept Terra behind me with my left hand. In front of me with his hands raised and ready to fight, stood telephone boy. “You think I wasn’t going to wait for you? You fucking dumbass,” he said. “Michael!” Terra screeched. He was considerably bigger than I expected him to be, but the last time I saw him he was wadded up in a ball in the dark parking lot. Easily a few inches taller than me, and outweighing me by forty pounds, he would be intimidating to most men. As far as I was concerned, he was simply a larger target. I studied his fighting stance and couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He was in no way prepared to challenge me. “Go inside, find your phone, and go home,” I said. “Because if you don’t put your hands down, this isn’t going to end well for you.” “You ain’t big enough to talk to me that way,” he growled. “Actually,” I said, “I am.” He lowered his right hand and reached for his pocket. Mentally prepared for him to pull a weapon, I reached to my left side and checked Terra’s positioning. Don’t do it. “No, you ain’t.” He pulled a knife from the front pocket of his jeans. “Maybe I’ll just cut your skinny ass and take your little Mexican whore home with me.” Whore?
Without thought, and in accordance with my training, I took a step to the rear, pulled off my T-shirt, and wrapped my left arm with the shirt. Standing in front of him shirtless—and with my left arm protected—I was prepared for a one-sided knife fight. A crowd of eight had gathered, Tracy and Sheri included. Mentally in combat mode, the sounds surrounding me became dull and muffled. My entire focus was the hand holding the knife. He swept his right hand toward me in a poorly executed slashing maneuver. I leaned back, swung my left arm upward, and forced his hand in the same direction he was swinging it. By using his own force against him, he was thrown off-balance, and he stumbled to the rear. As he did, my right hand swung to the left, and gripped the wrist of his knife-wielding hand. Instinctively, I pressed a pressure point on his wrist with my thumb, and he dropped the knife to the ground. I kicked the knife behind me and twisted his arm behind his back, forcing him to his knees. The entire event didn’t take thirty seconds. Now, there was twice the crowd there was before. While he whimpered and begged for me to release his wrist, I shifted my eyes to Terra and nodded toward the knife. “Pick up the knife for me, would you?” I glared at him. “And you’re going to call my girlfriend a whore? You don’t talk to women that way. Any woman. Now, apologize to her.” As I spoke, I grew angrier that he had chosen to be as disrespectful as he had. The anger soon mounted, and I pulled against his arm with more force. He groaned in pain. “Sorry.” I lifted his wrist, placing more pressure on his shoulder. “I’ll snap this motherfucker off and toss it in the parking lot. I asked you to apologize. Try again.” “Sorry for calling you a whore. I’m sorry, really sorry,” he groaned. I tugged against his wrist. “Are you ever going to talk to a woman that way again?” “I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again.” It wasn’t enough. Maybe I was more attached to Terra than I thought. It very well might have been the whore remark. It was also quite possible I simply didn’t believe him, and knew deep down inside that he would do the same thing if given another opportunity in the future. “Just to make sure you remember what happens when you do,” I said. “I’m going to leave you with this.” I pulled against his wrist until I heard his shoulder snap, undoubtedly dislocating it. With him curled in a ball on the concrete entrance crying for an ambulance, I turned toward Terra and put on my shirt. “I’m sorry for everything,” I said. “You probably didn’t need to see me do that.” She handed me the knife. “Didn’t bother me at all. He got what he deserved.” “Holy shit,” Tracy said, patting me on the shoulder. “You fucked that guy’s night up. Teaches that asshat about fucking with a US Marine. I’m telling you. You just whap, whap, whap, and that knife fell out of his hand. Kicked his ass twice in one night.” I forced a grin and shrugged. “And I figured out where I know you from,” he said. “You’re Toni’s daughter.” “Must have me mixed up with someone else.” She tugged against my arm. “You’re not Anthony’s daughter?” She shook her head. “Like I said, must have me mixed up with someone else.” “Huh,” he said. “I would have sworn.” “Leave them be,” his wife said. “They probably need to get out of here before the police show up.” “She’s right,” I said. “They’ll be here before long.”
“Come on,” she whispered, pulling against my wrist. “Let’s go. That guy’s creeping me out.” “He sure thought he knew you.” “Well, he doesn’t.” “You positive?” I asked jokingly. “Yes,” she snapped back. “I’m positive.” After a quiet walk through the parking lot, we got into the car and turned to face each other. “I’m sorry about all of that.” “I’m sorry for being a bitch. That guy...I mean the entire...the entire thing...it just pissed me off. Bad.” She leaned toward me and puckered her lips. I kissed her and leaned away. “I’m sorry, but I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect you. Always. I can’t turn it on and off.” “No,” she said with a laugh. “Not him, the other guy. The one who kept looking at me and saying he knew me.” I chuckled. “Oh. Well, he’s gone now.” “I feel like our perfect little date was ruined,” she said. It was disappointing to hear her say, and I didn’t share her feelings. As far as I was concerned, our night out was great. My worst night with Terra would always exceed my best night at war. “I don’t agree with you. I guess it gets down to what your definition of perfect is, and what your expectations of life are. Life isn’t perfect, and it never will be. But a bad day with you will always be better than my best day at war.” “So you can just accept what happened tonight as being part of life?” “I don’t have a choice,” I said. “I can’t change it. Accepting it is all that’s left.” “I think I could accept about anything when it comes to being with you. You know, if you did something stupid or whatever. But it’s because I know deep down inside you stand for everything that’s good. As far as life goes.” She lowered her head. “I need to work on that.” I laughed. “I’m not planning on doing anything stupid.” She locked her eyes on mine and shook her head lightly. “Know what?” “What’s that?” “Life may never be perfect, but you are,” she said. I looked at her for a long moment. I’m sure someone could find fault in her, but I couldn’t. I liked that about her. “And, so are you, Terra.” So are you.
Chapter Fifteen Terra I was sure my father wouldn’t accept Michael, but I knew deep within my being that surviving without him wasn’t an option. When I was with him, nothing else mattered. When he was away I felt like I was choking, dying a little with each hour that passed, until he returned to my side. I desperately wanted to talk to my brother, who I believed would be more understanding than my father, but he was out of the country on business. Left with the decision to be honest with my family about Michael or simply continue what I was doing and avoid contact with them, I chose the latter. Michael had become my support system and my family. And I was falling in love with him a little more with each beat of my heart. I sat anxiously at a bar with Michael, waiting to meet Cap. I was glad the day had finally come, and likened the meeting to a typical man introducing me to his family. From what Michael had said, and from what he hadn’t, it was apparent that Cap was all the family he had. I noticed a massive man with a military-style haircut and a broad chest as he walked down the aisle toward our table. Dressed in jeans, boots and a T-shirt, he looked like someone even Michael shouldn’t cross. As his eyes fixed on us, I nervously shifted mine away. Michael stood as the man approached. “Cap, this is Terra. Terra, Cap.” I stood up and gawked at him in disbelief, hoping the entire time that he didn’t realize I was doing so. He was the type of man other men would describe as huge. “I’ve heard a lot about you. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” “I feel the same way. Ol’ Tripp here is protective of who and what he cares for.” I glanced at Michael. “Did you tell him about the movie theater?” He shook his head. “No.” I wondered what Cap was talking about and then decided maybe he meant Michael was protecting each of us from the other—at least until he was sure. I decided that was probably the case, and grinned at the thought of it. Cap sat down across from us. “What happened, Tripp?” I sat down. Michael shook his head and shrugged. “Can I tell him?” I asked excitedly. Michael sighed. “Go right ahead.” Cap leaned forward, resting his muscular arms against the edge of the table, making them seem bigger. “Let’s hear it.” “Well,” I said. “We went to the movie, and there was a guy in front of us and he was talking on the phone. Michael tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to put it away. He turned around and said ‘I’ll put it away when I’m done, and if you tap me again, I’ll drag you outside and whip your ass.’ So, Michael...” Cap raised his hand. “Stop right there. I can’t wait to hear how many teeth this guy lost, but not another word until I get something cold to drink. You don’t have any drinks?” he asked, motioning toward us. “We were waiting on you,” Michael said. “Lemme guess.” He pointed to me. “Wine?”
I smiled. “Riesling?” I glanced at Michael. “I like him already.” He laughed. “Give him time.” Cap stood up and pointed at Michael. “Doesn’t matter what foo-foo shit you drink when you’re with her. With me, you’re drinkin’ beer. Be right back.” I turned to face Michael. “I like him.” “He’s a damned good man.” He quickly returned with two beers in one hand and a glass of Riesling in the other. “They’re bringing a bucket of beers and the rest of that bottle of wine.” He handed me the wine, and Michael a bottle of beer. “Okay, sorry for the interruption. In case you forgot, when we last spoke, somebody was gettin’ ready to whip Tripp’s ass.” He raised the bottle of beer and drank half of it in one gulp. “Well, wet your whistle and get started. I’m dyin’ to hear the rest of it.” I looked right at Cap and widened my eyes. “Well, he said the ‘whip your ass’ thing, and Michael said ‘hold this’ and handed me the popcorn. Then, he tapped the guy again. Right on the shoulder.” “Just like the guy told him not to.” “Exactly,” I said. “Okay, go ahead.” “So, when Michael tapped him, he jumped up. When he turned around, Michael karate chopped him in the neck, and he kind of went all limp. And then Michael tossed him out the back door.” He leaned back and scrunched his nose. “That’s it? No broken arms or busted ankles? No eye gougin’ or nothin’?” I chuckled. “I wasn’t done.” “My apologies,” he said. “Please continue.” “So, we watched the movie and we were going to the car. When we stepped outside, the guy with the phone—only he didn’t have his phone anymore—was outside waiting. And, as soon as he saw us, he pulled a knife and said ‘I’m going to cut you and then I’m taking the Mexican whore home.’” I paused and took a sip of wine. Cap’s face contorted. “So there was another girl with you? Some Mexican whore? I must have missed something.” “No.” I laughed, because I knew he was joking. “He was talking about me.” “But you’re not Mexican or a whore.” I raised my glass of wine. “I’m Italian, and I’m a lady.” “Good goddamned thing I wasn’t there. I would have snapped his fuckin’ neck. I’m sure he got his, though.” “He did,” I said. “Okay, so some prick with a knife calls you a Mexican whore.” He tilted his head toward Michael. “Where was Tripp?” “He tore off his shirt and wrapped it around his arm and told the guy to bring it. Or something like that. I think he said ‘you should have gone home.’” “Back up. He tore off his shirt? Like ripped it into shreds or just pulled it over his head real quick?” I laughed. “Over the head.” He pressed the tips of his fingers to his temples. “Just tryin’ to get a mental picture.” I swung my free hand in the air. “So, the guy swung the knife toward Michael, and then all of a sudden
his knife is on the ground and Michael has his arm twisted in a knot.” He shifted his eyes to Michael. “You give him a speech on bein’ disrespectful to women?” “Let her tell it,” Michael said. “He made him apologize, but when the guy didn’t do it right, Michael decided to break his arm.” Cap glared at Michael. “Got that temper at bay, huh?” Michael shrugged. “Sounded like I might have dislocated it.” “Sorry for the wait,” the waitress said. She placed a wine chiller on the table with a bottle of wine in it and a bucket of ice filled with bottles of beer. “Here’s your drinks.” Cap reached for a beer and gulped down most of it before he placed it in front of him. I finished my wine and refilled the glass. “And that was it,” I said. “We went back to my house and fell asleep.” He shrugged and shifted his eyes back and forth between Michael and me. “So, no cops?” I shook my head. “We left before they got there.” “Yeah, Tripp don’t take too kindly to guys bein’ rude to women. I don’t either, but sure seems like he’s got in his fair share of fights over it.” I was intrigued. “Oh really?” “Yeah, but before I tell you about it, I need to back up. You said you went back to your house and went to sleep.” His soft gaze turned into a glare. “You two are sleepin’ together?” I looked at Michael. “Don’t look at him,” Cap growled. “I’m the one askin’ the questions.” “I uhhm.” I took a sip of wine and shrugged. “We went back and fell asleep.” He took a quick drink of his beer. “Ain’t what I asked you. You been around Tripp too long, you’re evading the original question. You two are bumpin’ uglies, aren’t ya?” I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say yes, because I was proud that we were, but I didn’t want to say anything if Michael hadn’t already told him. Without expressing emotion, he sat and stared, waiting on me to answer. “I don’t have an ugly,” I said. “And whoever I’m bumping pretties with is none of yours or anyone else’s business.” He tilted his beer bottle toward me and grinned. “Good answer.” “So what about Michael defending the honor of women?” I asked. “You were going to tell me a story.” “I ain’t a good storyteller, but I’ll give it a whirl. There’s a million, but I’m just gonna tell one short one.” I took a drink of wine and nodded eagerly. “Okay.” “Which one are you going to tell her?” Michael asked. “The great almond mystery.” “Okay,” Michael said. Almond mystery? Cap leaned forward, pressed his fist into his palm, and rested his elbows on the table. “So, it was that time of year when it’s kind of winter and it’s kind of spring. One day it’s hot and the next it’s freezin’. And Tripp’s car was filthier’n fuck. In case he didn’t tell ya, he’s a weirdo about havin’ anyone touch it, so we pulled into one of them serve yourself car washes. It’s a four stall joint, but they got buckets blockin’ the entrance in three of the four stalls, so only one stall is open. There’s a dirty as fuck Buick in the stall when we pull in, but it looks like it’s abandoned. So, Tripp pulls in behind it.” While he took a drink of beer, I wondered what kind of problems a person could find in a car wash, and decided the normal person would find none. Michael wasn’t normal, and from what I could tell,
neither was Cap. “Well, we’re behind this car waitin’ for our turn, and after a minute, it’s apparent there’s two people in it. Two we can see, anyway. And Tripp points toward it and says ‘are they fightin’?’ Well, I have a long look and I say ‘they’re either fuckin’ or they’re fightin’, I can’t tell which.’ And then I seen him raise his hand and slap this chick. And I changed my answer. ‘Fightin’,’ I said.” I gulped down some wine. “So what happened?” “Sit back and listen, and I’ll tell ya,” he said with a nod. “Tripp yanks the car door open, gets out, and goes up to the car and snatches the guy out. Now, I was pretty damned sure Tripp didn’t need any help, and I was finishin’ eatin’ my bag of almonds, so I took my time. That is ’til I seen the dipshit in the backseat gettin’ out.” “There was another guy in the car? And he didn’t help her?” “Just settle down and let Ol’ Cap tell the story,” he said. I grinned. “Okay.” “So, where was I? Oh, yeah. I’m mindin’ my own business, eatin’ my little bag of jalapeño-flavored almonds, and I glance up. Tripp’s punchin’ the guy who was slappin’ the girl, and up comes this big prick. And, when he got out of the car...” He paused and stepped out of the booth in an exaggerated fashion, taking a long, slow stride out into the aisle. “He just kept gettin’ out. Fucker was about six foot fifteen tall.” I coughed out a laugh and shook my head. “So, I tossed my almonds on the ground and hustled up there, and Tripp’s slappin’ the first guy around and tryin’ to kick at the second guy. It’s pretty clear this big son-of-a-bitch is gettin’ ready to whip Ol’ Tripp, and I can’t have that. Now, I can see that Tripp’s got his hands full with whippin’ one of these brain surgeons, so I stepped up behind number two and said ‘hey shithead,’ and this prick turns around. Then I blasted him in the nose.” He widened his eyes. “Guess what he done?” I shrugged. “Fell down?” “One woulda guessed. Nope, he spit out a tooth, looked up, and fuckin’ smiled.” “You’re kidding me?” I gasped. “Not one bit. Cops said when they got there that he was wacked out on somethin’, but I’ll get to that later. So Tripp’s whippin’ guy number one, and I’m squarin’ off with the tallest man in the world, and the girl gets out. Her clothes are torn, one of her tits is hangin’ out, she’s got a bloody lip, and she’s tryin’ to get dressed. She’s cryin’ and blubberin’ and she starts hollerin’ about these two fucktards tryin’ to rape her.” “No!” I gasped and covered my mouth with my hand. He shook his head. “‘Fraid so. So, I go off on this guy and Tripp does the same. Before we know it, we got two guys down on the ground hog-tied, and we’re waitin’ on the cops. Fuckin’ whole herd of cops come screechin’ in the lot a few minutes later, and they take the two dipshits away. Ambulance takes the girl, and a couple cops stay and take our statements. When it’s all over, all I want is what’s left of my bag of almonds. You know how you get to eatin’ somethin’, and nothin’ will satisfy you but that one thing you’re cravin’?” I grinned. “Yep.” “Well, they ain’t nowhere to be found. The great almond mystery. Half a bag of my precious nuts, up and disappeared. Shit, I crawled under Tripp’s car, under the two fuckin’ cop cars, all over the damned place just wantin’ my little jalapeño almonds back.” “Did you find them?”
“Yep. When the cops left.” He chuckled. “They was parked on top of ‘em.” I reached for my wine. “That’s funny.” He waved his hand toward me. “Accordin’ to you. They was squished into dust.” “That sucks. What about the girl? What happened to her? And them?” I asked. “Well, we was preparin’ to go to court and testify, but the two turds finally pled guilty. We saw the girl at the DA’s office. She was doin’ good. Ends up they hadn’t raped her yet, they were just tryin’ to when we pulled up.” I smiled to myself and let out a sigh. Michael and Cap had saved a girl from being raped, and to them, it was just one of the stories they chose to tell. Most other men probably wouldn’t have noticed what was happening, let alone intervened if they had. I didn’t know what my father and his men did, but if only half of the stories were true, I knew he was an extremely violent man. I lived life sheltering myself from the truth, saying it wasn’t happening, or that I didn’t care to know the details. When I was old enough to date, I swore I would never end up with a man who participated in or condoned violence against others in any way. It was easy for me to see Michael as being a passive man, because whatever he did was a positive reaction to someone else’s lawless or immoral action. In some respects, he was a vigilante, taking the law into his own hands, only stepping in when no one else would or could. In the end, everything he did was for the good, which was more than I could say for my father. From what I could see, Cap was the same way. Instead of detesting their actions as I did my father’s, I admired each of them. I patted my hand against Michael’s thigh. “Thank God you two showed up when you did.” “Amen,” he said. I tilted my head toward Cap. “And, you lied,” I said. He tossed his hands in the air. “How so?” “You said you weren’t a good storyteller,” I said. “You’re a great storyteller.” “Appreciate it,” he said. He sat against the back of the booth and studied me for a moment, and then turned toward Michael. “Well, Tripp. If you want my endorsement, you got it,” he growled. “I like this fuckin’ girl.” His voice fit him well. It was raspy and thundered from his lungs when he spoke. I looked at Michael and then at Cap. I had no real reason to think what I thought, but I decided in looking at him that he would always protect Michael, and Michael would protect me. Together, as an inseparable trio, we would live life free of any harm. Michael chuckled. “I like her, too. I think I’m going to keep her.” I wondered if meeting Cap was some kind of test. I felt like I was standing with my family on one side, and the man I was quickly falling in love with on the other. Each was tugging against an arm, and Michael was clearly winning the battle. I hadn’t been to see my parents in weeks, and for the first time in my life, I really didn’t care to. I turned toward Michael and puckered my lips. “I’m going to keep you, too.” And I had every intention of never letting him go.
Chapter Sixteen Michael I had been dating Terra for two months, and I couldn’t imagine life without her in it, nor did I want to. It was midafternoon, the beginning of summer, and roughly two weeks had passed since the incident with Agrioli’s men. Much to my surprise, I hadn’t heard a word from Svetli or from Agrioli. Cap interlocked his fingers behind his head and leaned back into the chair. “So, when we get these AR15s done, I’m gonna buy a fuckin’ sixty-inch smart TV .” “Why, so you can watch New Girl on a bigger screen?” “Those new 4K fuckers are the shit. They look like 3-D, but you don’t have to wear the glasses. You ever been to a 3-D movie and looked around the theater? It’s like you’re at a movie with a bunch of fuckin’ four-eyed weirdos. I ain’t gonna get caught dead wearin’ that shit at home, that’s for sure.” “Who’d see you? You’re a fucking hermit.” He shrugged. “Mail lady maybe. Or one of them kids on a bicycle with the bibles. That’s my risk. Or maybe you.” “You’re a fucking mess.” “I’ll agree. I’m a mess, but I’ve been this way forever. You? You’re different than you used to be,” he said. “How so?” “Well, you’re happy. Used to get mad when I sat in here and talked. Now you don’t give a shit. Damned girl’s got you happier’n shit no matter what happens around ya. Guess it’s good. Like I said in the beginnin’, long as you don’t lose focus. Far as I can tell, you look like you’re doin’ okay.” “Appreciate the nod of encouragement,” I said. “But if you hated her, I’d still be with her. She’s perfect for me.” “Who the hell could hate that chick? Damn, she’s gorgeous, polite, funny, and she can damn near outdrink me. Got a winner with her for sure.” “Agreed.” Cap leaned forward and turned his head to the side. The sound of a hard-soled shoe walking down the corridor echoed and caught my attention. The gait sounded familiar. I pointed to my ear, raised my right hand and clenched my fist. While he sat quietly, I pulled my drawer open and removed my pistol. He nonchalantly walked through the door, removing any doubt about where I recognized the footsteps from. Fuck. Anthony Agrioli stood staring back at me, alone, his face smeared with concern. Genuine concern. “I wasn’t expecting company.” I stood and folded my arms in front of my chest. “No disrespect, but you’re going to want to keep those hands where I can see them.” Dressed in a dark gray suit, he pinched the lower corners of his unbuttoned jacket, pulled it open slowly, and shrugged. “I’m unarmed. I’m here to talk.” I motioned to the empty seat beside Cap. “Have a seat, but he’s staying.” He offered a half-assed shrug and sauntered toward the empty seat. He looked tired, disappointed, and
like he’d eaten an overly large piece of humble pie for lunch. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked. He sat down. “Time is of the essence,” he said. “I’ll make this brief.” The accent in his voice still conveyed his heritage clearly, but lacked the authority from when we had spoken before. The skin under his eyes was sagging, as were his cheeks. He appeared to have aged ten years since I saw him last. In short, he looked like hell. Reluctantly, I took my seat. “I’m listening,” I said. He glanced at Cap, crossed his legs, and then looked at me. “One of my business associates advised me. His words. Stuck in my head.” Based on his appearance alone, I felt I had the upper hand, and his demeanor only added to my belief. “Enlighten me,” I said with a note of sarcasm. He cleared his throat. “My associate. He advised me. In dealing with your organization, one isn’t dealing with amateurs.” It was the message I gave the two wounded men to deliver. “That is correct.” He glanced at Cap, and then locked eyes with me. “Your men. Are they as well trained as you?” “A condition of their employ.” “Interesting,” he said. “My parents were immigrants. I grew up in South Philadelphia, delivering groceries for a market in my neighborhood, 9th Street. I worked my way to where I am today, scratching and clawing for each and every dime I earned. I’m a proud man, Mr. Tripp.” Having Agrioli drop by unannounced was definitely strange, but his passive behavior was more odd than his unscheduled arrival. Confused on what point—if any—he was trying to make, I narrowed my eyes and glared back at him. “Why are you here?” His eyes fell to his lap. It seemed several minutes passed. “Children. Do you have any children?” I shook my head. “I do not.” “I have two. As you are aware, one of them has been kidnapped. Taken hostage. Used for ransom. My only boy. The Russian bastards who...” Still staring into his lap, he paused, exhaled heavily, and then shook his head. “For his return? They ask twenty million dollars.” They weren’t Russians, but it was an insignificant detail. He lifted his eyes until he met my gaze. He appeared defeated. I swallowed hard. The twenty-million-dollar demand was preposterous. “Have you tried to negotiate?” His lower lip began to quiver. “I’m doing so now.” It began to make sense. At least to me. He was seeking my assistance, but I was at a loss for what I could—or would—offer. I glanced at Cap, who sat slumped into his seat as if he didn’t have a worry in the world. I shifted my gaze to Agrioli. “I’m still listening.” “These men.” He turned his palms up and shrugged. “I can’t negotiate.” “I’ll ask you again. Why are you here?” “I’m a businessman. I make business decisions. In business, we have loss. It’s part of doing business. But this?” He shrugged. In my limited dealings with Agrioli and his men, I had learned two things. They shrugged a lot, and they talked in circles. His Philadelphia-Italian accent was wearing my nerves thin, and his lack of explanation behind the intrusion into my office was quickly overcoming what little sorrow I felt for him regarding the temporary loss of his son. I stood and cleared my throat. “I’m going to ask you one more time. No talking in fucking circles. Why
are you here?” “You’re a businessman, no?” he asked. “I like to think so.” “I have a business proposition for you.” “This is the third time I’ve said this since you got here. I’m listening.” “I’ll hire you to return my son. I’ll pay you two hundred thousand dollars.” He had my attention, but he had yet to gather my interest. I sat down. “Not interested.” “Four hundred.” I cocked an eyebrow. A moment of silence followed. I picked up my pencil and began to twirl it between my fingers. “Half a million.” He shrugged. “It’s all I can come up with in cash.” Cap cocked an eyebrow. I waited. Agrioli didn’t say another word. It appeared he was at his limit. “I’m not considering your offer, I’m preparing my response,” I said. “You’re a military man, are you not?” “That is correct.” “Iraq? Afghanistan?” “Both.” “Your opponents. If they surrendered, were they tortured later?” I shook my head. “No.” “Treated respectfully? In how you say, accordance with military conventions?” “Yes,” I said. “The Geneva Conventions.” “A man who surrenders. He’s never killed?” I shook my head. “No.” “Let me remind you, Mr. Tripp. My son surrendered. If I don’t pay—” His lip began to quiver again. “The Russians will assassinate him.” Well, fuck. I focused on the pencil as it flipped between my fingers. His points, as presented, fell on attentive ears. I had spent my adult life doing what I believed to be right, and opposed anyone who I believed to be wrong. On the night Agrioli’s son was taken, his men were trying to rob us. Their actions were not only criminal, but contrary to my moral code. My retaliation was only implemented after they were given a chance to withdraw—which they refused. I sat before Agrioli and struggled with whether the abduction of his son was right or wrong. In the heat of the moment, it seemed right. I began to wonder if my approval of Svetli taking Peter hostage was based in part on what his last name was. I considered my separation from my parents. I had no doubt that Agrioli would experience the same types of feelings in the absence of his son that I felt after losing my parents, and I wouldn’t wish that upon any man. A few seconds later I realized in addition to Peter’s abduction being on my hands, his blood would be as well. I allowed Peter to be taken, and now he was going to be killed. I caught the pencil in my hand and clenched it firm between my thumb and forefinger. “As men on this earth, all we have is our word. A man who falls short on his promises, he has no honor. Are you a man of honor?” “I am.” I glanced at Cap. He nodded once. It was his way of conveying approval without nodding his head like
an enthusiastic ten-year-old. I met Agrioli’s gaze. “Here are my conditions. From this day forward, you will not interfere with me, my business, my employees or my customers.” His eyes widened and the corners of his mouth curled into a hopeful grin. He uncrossed his legs and stood. I raised my index finger. “I’ll need a minimum of a three-man team to extract him. You’ll reward each of the men on my team whatever amount they request, and you’ll donate my portion to a children’s home that I’ll specify later. No negotiating. Take it or leave it. If you agree, I’ll do my best to save your son from the Russians.” He extended his hand. “You have my word.” If he was much of a man, that was all I needed.
Chapter Seventeen Terra His forearms rested against my shoulders. “Quit moving your head.” “I’m just trying to see it.” He pulled away and forced a sigh. “You can see it after I get the damned thing around your neck.” I stomped my foot like an angry kindergartner. “Okay.” He leaned into me and snuck a kiss. Full on my lips and passionate, it took my mind away from the wonderful night out, our footrace into the condo, and his presentation of my anniversary gift. A diamond necklace. I wrapped my arms around his waist and pulled him closer. Our lips meshed, our tongues danced, and my mind went blank of everything around me. My legs began to shake—as they always did when we kissed—and eventually he pulled away. “Ten seconds,” he said with a smile. “It’s all I need.” His eyes were blue; a color they rarely were. It seemed they were a mixture of blue and gray, and sometimes simply gray. When he was calm, and only when he was calm, they were blue. “There,” he said. “Now you can look at it.” I raised my hand and felt it carefully with the tips of my fingers. He had flashed it in front of me when we walked in, but wouldn’t let me see it until he had it around my neck. “I’m...I’m going to run...I’m going to the bathroom,” I stammered. He laughed. “Go.” I gazed into the mirror. It was beautiful—an ornate white gold pendant with small diamonds encompassing a much larger center diamond. A matching chain suspended the magnificent piece around my neck. Two months. It had only been two months, but I knew. Each time I saw him was like the first time. He made me feel beautiful with all he said and did. I’d seen romantic comedies, read books, and heard many stories about men who were perfect—but I never believed they really existed. Until now. I had several necklaces in my collection of jewelry, but I never really wore them. I admired this one in the mirror for some time, knowing I would cherish it for as long as I lived. “I love it,” I shouted. “Good. That’s what I hoped for.” We walked into the living room and sat down on the couch. I hadn’t perceived the day as a special day, but realized that it was the two-month mark of our having met. I had every expectation of Michael not knowing what significance the day held, and believed our dinner date was something I would cherish alone. Once again, Michael proved to be different than other men. “It’s funny how things change,” he said. “What do you mean?” “Three months ago, I would have sworn that I’d be single forever. Now, I can’t imagine not having you.”
“I feel the same way.” I reached up and touched the pendant. “It’s crazy.” “It’s not what I expected, but it isn’t crazy. You know, the day I met you, that was crazy. I saw that dipshit dragging you across the parking lot, and I knew I had to do something. So, in my mind, I’m thinking I’ll smack the guy, he’d let you go, and I’d go on my way. I thought you two were together. You know, in a romantic sense. Anyway, the closer I got to you, the more attractive you became. It made me sad thinking you were going to end up leaving with that guy, but I was sure that’s what was going to happen.” “But I didn’t.” “I know.” He smiled his dimple-revealing smile. “And I couldn’t get you off my mind. I sat at my office staring at this mountain of paperwork and I knew I needed to get to work, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t focus on anything. I just kept thinking about you. It wasn’t so much your looks as it was me wanting to know more about you.” “Know more about me? You told me you wanted to eat me out.” He chuckled. “I said I wanted to taste you.” “You finger banged me in that restaurant and then licked your fingers. That was your first taste.” My pussy began to tingle thinking about it. I inhaled a deep breath, closed my eyes and exhaled slowly, hoping my charade would encourage him to do something. “I get up in the morning and take a shower, and when I’m standing in front of the mirror shaving, I look at myself and think ‘what in the hell can she see in me?’ This happens like every other day, and eventually I decide I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. You obviously see something. I’m glad you do.” “Are you kidding me?” I snapped. “Your eyes need checked. That day in the parking lot? You came walking up and told the asshole to let me go, right? That instant, and I mean right then, my pussy gushed. It wasn’t what you said. It was who you were. You’re attractive, Michael. Very attractive. But what’s inside of you, and you knowing what’s inside of you? That’s what makes you irresistible.” He looked embarrassed. He grinned. “Thank you.” Be it our landmark date, the necklace, or that I was simply filled with love for him, I didn’t know, but I wanted to tell him how I felt. Love. Something as sacred and satisfying shouldn’t be so difficult to communicate. I knew how I felt and I wanted to tell him—hoping that he felt the same way—but more than anything, I feared rejection. I was twelve when I told Salvadore Tarrucci I loved him. He was thirteen. He was wearing a paisley shirt, one of his—and my—favorites. We were in seventh grade together, and it was almost summer. I wanted a lover for summer break, or at least I thought. Visions of holding hands, my first kiss and getting ice cream together filled my twelve-year-old mind. He stood and stared. I was sure he didn’t hear me. Maybe he was in shock, I thought. As far as I was concerned, I was the prettiest girl in school, and telling him may have taken him by complete surprise. I told him again. He smiled and reached for the padlock on his locker. While he gathered the books for his next class, I decided he hadn’t heard me, because if he had, he would have said something. I waited anxiously for him to reassure me he felt the same way, but it never came. So, I told him again. His face turned red and he giggled. A month later, we broke up. Although I never counted, I expect I told him I loved him two dozen times. He never returned the gesture. Bobby Cardone didn’t have a girlfriend. So, right before summer break, I told him I loved him. I was desperate. He wasn’t. He laughed.
It was the type of laugh you laugh when someone tells you something so stupidly funny that you almost pee and can’t catch your breath for several minutes. An eye-watering laugh. I cried and ran to the other side of the playground, hoping along the way that I would just die. But. I didn’t. Those were my earliest rejections, but they certainly weren’t my last. From that point until my early twenties, I didn’t bother expressing my love for my significant other. With Vincent, I waited to express myself until I was sure, and fully expected his feelings mirrored mine. I was wrong. Although I should have left him over his abusive behavior, it was ultimately his inability to commit that he loved me that cost him our relationship. Losing Michael would kill me. I couldn’t risk it. I loved him and nothing would change it. As nice as it would be to know he felt the same way, what I stood to risk was far too great. In the end, I chose silence over substance. He tapped me on the leg. “Hello? Are you still with me?” “Oh, yeah. I was just thinking.” “About what?” Loving you. “Nothing. Middle school.” “Middle school?” “Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe because summer’s finally here. I think I was thinking about summer break when I was a kid.” He seemed to lose focus for a moment. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have summer break as an adult?” “I know,” I said. In all actuality, I was on summer break all the time, but I knew I couldn’t tell Michael. At some point the truth had to come out, but I dreaded when the day would come. With each passing day, saying it got tougher, and the repercussions got greater. He stood up and held his hand over my lap. “I’ve got something else on my mind.” I reached for his hand, not knowing what he was doing or why he had got up from the couch. It was late, but I didn’t think it was so late he would consider leaving. He pulled me into him as soon as I was standing, and kissed me gently. I wanted more. Thirty seconds later, after lowering me to the bed, he gave it to me. He lifted my dress over my head, but everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Maybe it was because I wanted it so bad. Maybe I was noticing all of the details that had escaped me in the beginning. Maybe it was that I knew deep down inside that I loved him, and my love allowed me to enjoy all of the small things that I had simply taken for granted before. It didn’t matter. I was enjoying it, regardless. I nervously chewed my lower lip as he reached toward my hips. He hooked his fingers beneath the delicate fabric of my panties and met my gaze. With his eyes locked on mine, he slid them down my legs in what seemed like a ten-minute ordeal. When he pulled them over my feet and tossed them beside my dress, I inhaled a choppy breath. Whenever I watched him touch me it seemed I even forgot to do the simple things. Like take a breath. He stood and removed his shirt. The color of his skin was a reminder that summer was upon us, and the
light-bronze color suited him well. His biceps and upper chest flared as he reached for his belt. I watched intently while he unbuckled his belt and removed his jeans. His gorgeous cock swung from side to side as he climbed onto the bed. Another labored breath on my part acted as a reminder of my desire to have him inside of me. I tore my eyes away and searched for his hypnotic eyes. His mouth met mine, and at the same time, he guided himself into me. His girth made each time feel like the first time, and this time was no exception. I gasped for breath as he filled me with his thickness, and he bit into my lip in return. Passionately, we kissed, his hands gently touching me, caressing me, reassuring me. He found his rhythm—a slow, steady motion—pushing himself into me fully with every stroke. Our mouths eventually parted and he kissed along my shoulder all the while continuing his predictable—and oh-so-enjoyable— punishment of my wet and willing pussy. I squirmed while he nibbled at my shoulder, only stopping when he moved his mouth to my breasts. Kissing and gently sucking, he teased my nipples, sending small tingling shocks jolting through me from my nipples to my clit. I opened my eyes only to find him staring back at me. He held my gaze, lifting his mouth from my nipples and slowly arching his back while deep inside me. With his head directly over mine, our eyes remained locked. His rhythm increased steadily, as did his force. I spread my legs as wide as I was able, giving him free rein to do with me as he pleased. In a few seconds, he was fucking me steadily, the upper portion of his shaft tapping a tune against my swollen clit. I closed my eyes. It was the sex women dreamed of, but most would never know. In an unfamiliar state of sexual arousal, I felt myself inching my way to climax with each stroke. A few thunderous thrusts later, and we both began to moan. I grabbed for the cheeks of his ass and pulled against his muscular flesh, forcing him to go as deep as he was able. His back arched further. I clawed at his butt. My clit began to tingle. His hands groped at my breasts. My mind tried to catch up with what was happening, only to give up and allow me to focus on nothing. Quickly, nothing became everything. I felt him swelling inside of me. I reached for his balls and cupped them in my hand. Almost instantly, I reached the peak of my sexual bliss, and felt as if I exploded into the room. My eyes opened and closed repeatedly as he thrust a few more strokes, each one a little shy of full penetration. My body shook. I cried out. He erupted inside of me, filling me with his love. He collapsed onto me. I realized we hadn’t spoken a word. We didn’t have to. We both stared up at the ceiling for some time. After several minutes, I turned to face him. “What was that?” I asked. “What do you mean?” “Was that fucking, or was it making love?” “With you, it’s all the same,” he said. “It isn’t the act, it’s the person that determines it.” “So, in your opinion, fucking and making love are one and the same?” His eyes remained fixed on the ceiling. “Precisely.” “I thought fucking was rough and deep and hard, and making love was soft and slow and sweet?” He chuckled. “It’s all making love if you love the person you’re doing it with.” “And it’s fucking if you don’t?”
“It is.” I decided to take the risk. I cleared my throat lightly. “So what were we doing?” He turned his head to the side and gazed into my eyes. “Making love,” he said. I fucking love you. “Michael?” “Yeah?” “I love you,” I said. His eyes smiled. “I love you too, Terra.”
Chapter Eighteen Michael Following my promise to Agrioli, I spent a considerable amount of time struggling with what I perceived as right and wrong regarding the anticipated recovery of his son. I lived in a world of black and white. Good was clearly on one side, and evil the other. Everything I did, I did with the belief that I was standing on the side of what was inherently good. Evil was wrong, and I did nothing if I believed in my heart that it was wrong. Cap looked at me as if I had asked him to commit murder. In some respects, I suppose I had. “You’re fuckin’ kiddin’ me, right?” he asked. I shook my head. “We’re extracting a fucking hostage. Were you thinking we’d be met with open goddamned arms? ‘Hey fellas, he’s right over here.’ I don’t think so. They’ll be armed, or at least have access to weapons. Christ, we just sold them a fucking truckload of AK-47s.” “So, we’re going to kill the same guys we did the deal with the other night? Then, instead of havin’ Italians on us, we’ll have those crazy fuckin’ Bulgarians on us. I’m thinkin’ you need to rethink this, Tripp.” “Listen.” I stood and began to pace the floor of my office. “I should have never let them take him. You were here when Agrioli came. I made a mistake. I was thinking it served Agrioli right for having his guys try and hijack us. But he’s right. That kid surrendered. Agree or disagree?” Cap nodded. “He surrendered, no doubt about it.” “So, we let the Bulgarians execute him if Agrioli doesn’t pay? And remember, he’s not going to pay. If we don’t get his ass out of there, that’s what they’ll do. They won’t think twice.” “Well, fuck,” he said. “You got a point.” “This isn’t about money, Cap. It’s about righting a wrong. I made a mistake.” “I see that now,” he said. “We made a mistake.” Cap stood, sauntered to the corner of my desk, and removed the bottle of scotch from the drawer. He cocked an eyebrow slightly and raised the bottle. I nodded. My stomach was in knots thinking about the possible options, none of which included the Bulgarians living through the mission. A glass of scotch wouldn’t hurt things. “How ’bout this,” he said as he poured two glasses of scotch. “We create a diversion. Blow half their shop to fuck with some C-4, and then when they’re all tryin’ to figure out what the fuck happened, we go in and snatch the kid?” He handed me a glass. I took a sip of the whiskey and considered his suggestion. “They’ll realize it’s a diversion, so they’ll leave at least one man with the hostage. If we time it just right, we can have Trace do a thermal image with a drone at the same time. We’d know if there was one man or ten men with the hostage.” “Doesn’t matter if there’s one or fifteen. Once we blow the wall on that place, we’re going in no matter what. Agreed?” “Agreed. If there’s one, we’re in and out. If there’s fifteen...” “If there’s fifteen,” he said. “We’re fucked.” I took another sip of the scotch. “We’ll need to add Trace to the team. Have him as our driver and
operating the drone. You, me, Trace and Lucky. We get the kid, Lucky guards the exit.” “There’s about a hundred ways this thing can go to shit. You know that, right?” I raised my glass. “And only one way it’ll go well.” He took a sip of whiskey and cleared his throat. “Odds are against us, brother.” “They were against us in the Anbar Province, but that didn’t get us down.” He raised his glass. “Here’s to bein’ outnumbered two hundred to one and livin’ through it.” “Makes ten to one sound like a walk in the park,” I said. “You know we’re gonna have to kill any of those sons-of-bitches who recognize us,” he said. “Even with our faces covered, they’ll recognize our voices.” I finished my scotch and walked to the end of my desk. He was right. Anyone who would be able to identify us would have to be eliminated. The remaining occupants of the building would be left to assume Agrioli’s men extracted the hostage. And Agrioli could deal with that when the time came. I poured another double shot and downed it in one drink. “We’ll get the rest of the surveillance done tonight. Tomorrow night’s the night. You sure you’re in?” “I’d follow you to the fiery depths of hell, you know that, Tripp.” It was comforting to hear it. Because I felt that was exactly where we were headed.
Chapter Nineteen Terra Michelle forced a dramatic sigh. “He does sound perfect. I need someone like that.” I laughed. “You need someone, that’s for sure.” “Does he have any friends?” “I’ve met one. He’s really funny. And huge. Like bigger than big. And he’s really nice-looking, too.” “Huge? Like fat?” “No. He’s not fat at all. His muscles have muscles. And he’s so nice. You’d probably really like him.” I reached into my purse and pulled out my wallet. “But, your dad would kill you.” “If he treats me like Michael treats you, I don’t give a fuck. I need a real man.” “I’ll talk to Michael and see what he thinks,” I said with a light laugh. “That’d be awesome if you two hit it off. We could do stuff together.” My relationship with Michael was basically a secret. Being able to talk to Michelle about how much I cared for him and what we did together made me feel better about everything, but it didn’t make my concerns about my relationship dissolve completely. I had come to realize Michael was a permanent fixture in my life, and there was nothing that would change it. Finding a way to tell my father would be next. And, in one more hour, I’d have an opportunity. I just needed to figure out a way to do it without having him react inappropriately. I pulled my credit card from my wallet. “Here, let me pay for this, and then I need to go.” “I’ll pay for it.” She raised her drink, which was still half-full. “Get things set up for me to meet the big guy.” The thought of her being with Cap excited me. “Okay. I’ll see what I can do.” “What’s his name?” “Cap.” “Cap? What’s it short for?” It was short for nothing, which made it, and him, a little cuter. “Nothing. He said it’s his name. Cap.” “Ooh, I like it.” “Me too.” “So, you’re going to see your dad?” I wasn’t excited about it, and my response did little to hide my lack of enthusiasm. “Yeah.” “What’s Michael doing?” “Working late.” “What about your brother? Is he back yet?” I shook my head. “Still in Argentina.” “I swear,” she said. “Your dad’s probably got him making a drug deal. Anything for fuckin’ money.” “Yours isn’t any better,” I snapped back. “I know, right? Seriously, I’ll get this. Go ahead and go.” “You sure?” I asked. “I’d stay, but I have to change clothes before I go over there.” “Positive,” she said. “Yeah. Your dad sees you wearing that, and he’d freak out.” “I know.” I stood up and put my wallet in my purse. “Okay. I’ll find out about Cap, and I’ll get with
you.” “Okay.” Michelle and I had met for a drink on a whim. The bar she chose was in Shawnee Mission, the suburb I lived in, but spent very little time eating, drinking, or socializing in. The location was a nice choice considering I had to drive home, change clothes, unpack a day’s worth of shopping and drive back to greater Kansas City to meet my mother and father. Racing against the clock, I ran from the bar to the parking lot, hopped in my car and tried to quickly decide what the quickest way home was. After a sixty-second-long argument with myself, I chose a path and took off. A few wrong turns and several one-way streets later, and I was unsure of where I was. Frustrated, I searched for a place to pull over and program my navigation system. Halfway down an unfamiliar block in an industrial neighborhood, and I spotted several businesses that had well-lit parking spots and decided to choose one that was unoccupied to pull into. As I passed one of the buildings, I noticed a car that looked like Michael’s. I glanced at the rear of the vehicle as I drove past. TRIPP. I hit the brakes. It seemed like an odd location for investors to be working. Michael said he was working late, and I had no doubt that the car was his, so I turned around and pulled into the parking lot. Parked beside Michael’s car was Cap’s truck, an SUV, a Mercedes-Benz, and a black Suburban. I parked beside the Suburban and turned off my car. My mind raced. I tried to think of whatever possibilities I could be exposing myself to, and decided no matter what it was, it wouldn’t be bad. Obviously Michael’s work brought him to the facility, and for whatever reason, Cap was there with him. I sent Michael a text. After waiting several minutes for a response, I called. He didn’t answer. I walked in the front door. The thick layer of dust that covered the empty receptionist’s desk just inside the entrance led me to believe no one had sat down at it in years. The hallway turned to the right, so I followed it in hopes of finding Michael and Cap drinking a beer with two of Michael’s investors. The sound of muffled voices got quiet halfway to the only door I could see, which made me slightly anxious and a little apprehensive. I continued nonetheless. A few feet from the doorway, and I could see that it was open, so I stuck my head inside. I gasped. Michael, Cap and two gentlemen I didn’t recognize were in the room. They looked like they just got back from playing war games. Dressed in all black with their faces painted with green, gray and black makeup, they stood in apparent shock. Each of them either held a gun or had one strapped to their shoulder. “You said you had to work late. What’s going on, Michael?” “I’ll be back in a minute,” he said openly. “Give me a few minutes with her.” He handed one of the men the rifle he held and walked toward me. Each of the men, Cap included, sat down. I felt like I was going to vomit. “Look,” he said as he walked up to me. “I know you’re probably wondering what’s going on, and it’s not an easy thing for me to answer. But I’ll do my best.” “Why are you dressed like that? What...I don’t...” “I’ll explain. Just follow me,” he said.
I followed him down the hallway and through the door of another office. The room was filled with boxes, but had no furniture. I followed him inside. He didn’t look the same. His face was covered in horrid makeup, and he was wearing a black outfit with black boots. He inhaled a deep breath, exhaled and looked at me. “I can’t tell you what I’m in the middle of, but I can tell you it isn’t bad.” “Well, it sure doesn’t look good. Why do you have guns? And why are you wearing that stuff? You look like you’re going to rob a bank. I feel sick that I came here.” “Terra, it’s...I...” he stammered. I tossed my hands in the air. “Is this where you work? This building?” He nodded. The carpet was dark blue and I stared at it for some time. I felt like I was going to vomit. “You’re an investor in what?” “Let me...I can...I’ll explain. But I’m going to have to do it later. I really...” I had no interest in later. I wanted the answers right now, and nothing less. “No. I want an answer. There’s not a telephone at the receptionist’s desk. And it’s covered in dust. If you work here, something isn’t right. What do you invest in?” He inhaled a deep breath. I pressed my hands into my hips and stared. “Don’t lie to me, Michael.” “Firearms.” “What about them?” I asked. “I invest in firearms.” I wrinkled my nose and stared. “You collect firearms?” “I don’t collect. I buy, sell, manufacture...” “You’re a fucking gun dealer?” I snapped. He slumped his shoulders and shrugged. “Kind of. It’s complicated.” I hated guns and almost everything they stood for. I couldn’t believe my ears. “Tell me. I swear,” I fumed. “I am so mad at you right now.” “I’m sure you are, but I haven’t got a lot of time. We can talk later. And I’ll explain everything.” One of the things he said came to the front of my thoughts. “Wait a minute,” I hissed. “You said you buy, sell, and manufacture guns? This is your job? This is what you do?” He nodded. “I think I’m going to be sick.” “Terra, it’s not...” “Not what?” I fumed. “Not what? I’ll tell you what it is. It’s you fucking lying to me.” “Terra, I’m an investor. I invest in firearms. Huge shipments of them. And I sell them for profit. It’s my job. But it’s not something a person goes out and advertises. Let’s talk about this later,” he pleaded. “Who do you sell them to?” His lips parted slightly. He shrugged. Everything that he had said slowly sank in. I can’t tell you everything. I can’t explain. My face felt hot. I had been deceived. Lied to. And, most of all, I found out that the man I loved was a gun dealer, and that his huge shipments of them was complicated. I hated guns. I hated the violence and death they left in their wake. I hated the shady criminals that relied on them for income, and I felt terribly sorry for the people they crippled, killed and maimed. “What kind of guns?” I reserved a glimmer of hope that it was civil war relics or old war memorabilia. I had reached a point
that I was afraid that it didn’t matter. There wasn’t much I felt that he could say or do to change the fact that my heart was on fire and a knot was building inside my stomach. A knot I was sure would be there for a lifetime. He shrugged again. “It’s really something...we should...we just need to talk later.” “No. Now!” I demanded. “Guns like the ones you had in that room? Do you sell those? Don’t lie to me.” He nodded. Tears rolled down my cheeks. He reached for my face. “Don’t touch me,” I barked. “I know what those guns are. You sell machine guns? Assault weapons? Don’t fucking lie.” It seemed I was prying information from him that he didn’t want to reveal. After a moment of what was obviously an inner struggle, he responded. “Yes, I sell assault weapons.” “I can’t fucking believe this,” I cried. “Terra...” “Don’t Terra me.” I raised my hand between us. “I can’t believe this. I should have known.” I could forgive him for not telling me exactly what he did for income—hell, I hadn’t been close to truthful with him, either. His chosen profession of dealing in machine guns, however, was simply too much for me to accept. And I couldn’t help but feel that he knew what he was doing was unacceptable, or he would have told me the truth. I stomped out of the office and into the hallway. “Terra, it’s...” I spun around. “Save it. And, I suggest you tell the next girl the truth from the beginning. Then she can decide if she wants to be with someone who sells death.” “Terra...” “I hate you.” My stomach convulsed. I fought to breathe. My. Heart. Hurt. I stumbled toward the exit, blubbering and crying as I walked away. As I reached the door I wiped the tears from my face with the back of my hand and turned to face him. Covered in black, he stood at the end the hallway and stared back at me. “Don’t ever come near me again!” I shouted. And, as hard as it was to believe, I meant every word I said.
Chapter Twenty Michael Through thermal imaging surveillance, we learned there were three people in the building, and that two of them were mobile. Based on the stationary position of the third person, we assumed he was our objective. “Northwest and southwest entrances will be blown simultaneously. Lucky will toss two M84s in the southwest. We’ll enter northwest, extract the target and be out in thirty seconds. ROE are clear. If you’re identified or threatened, engage. Shoot to kill.” It was the plan for Lucky to throw flash-bang grenades into the area where the two mobile targets were positioned. When the devices detonated, it would disorient anyone exposed by subjecting them to a twohundred-decibel explosion and a one-million-candlepower flash of light. The two occupants would then be blind and deaf for five seconds, and they’d experience loss of balance and disorientation for several seconds beyond that. I believed the time we gained from their inability to function would be almost enough for Cap and me to get in and out of the facility without the need to harm anyone. “You’ll blow the doors on my command.” “Roger that,” Lucky said. “Now’s the time,” I said. “If anyone wants out of this clusterfuck.” The two thumbs-up replies were all I needed to see. In a matter of seconds, we were positioned at our respective doors. “M1 to M4, I need a status of the tangos,” I said. Trace’s voice came over the headset. “This is M4, we have two tangos currently at number one entrance three meters from exterior wall. Tango three is stationary, over.” I placed the explosive charge on the door. “M1, charge in place.” “M3, charge in place,” Lucky said. “On my three count.” “Roger three count M1.” “One.” “Two.” “Three.” The small explosive charge blew the locking mechanism completely off of the door. Immediately following, the sound and concussion of the two flash-bangs rang out through the building. Although thermal imaging will show hot spots, there is no indication of where walls, doors, rooms or any other interior surfaces are located. Cap and I entered the building blind to the layout, aided only by the night-vision goggles we wore. As fate would have it, the corner of the building we entered was well lit, making the use of our nightvision equipment impossible. Upon entering, we each flipped the goggles up and cautiously worked our way to the corner of the building. We advanced toward a room in the rear of the building with our weapons at the ready until we reached a closed door. Knowing surveillance indicated only one man in this area of the building, the door was opened and we entered with the expectation of finding Peter. What we saw was in no way what I—or anyone for that matter—would have expected. A man with
what appeared to be an explosive device strapped to his neck—and his body fitted with an explosive vest —was lying flat on a bed. If I tried to move him, the three of us could be dead instantly. If I waited too long to make a decision, we’d be in a firefight with two angry Bulgarians, and I had no way of predicting the outcome. I ran through the possibilities and quickly realized as soon as the two men in the opposite room regained their senses they may simply detonate the device, which would obliterate the entire corner of the building, Cap and me included. My thoughts immediately went to Terra. If I somehow lived through the situation I was in, I needed to find a way to right my wrong with her. But the first thing I needed to do was to decide how to get out of the situation alive. I glanced at Cap. Positioned beside the door with his weapon pointing toward the corridor, he met my gaze. For an instant, he studied me. He nodded once. Prepared for the situation that had been presented to me or not, I made a man a promise that I’d do the best I could to retrieve a man’s only son. And I intended to keep that promise. Forgive me, Lord... “M1 to M3.” “M3, go M1.” “Eliminate the two tangos.” “M1, say again?” “M3, eliminate the two tangos, over.” “Roger that, M1.” I heard the distinctive sound of a suppressed weapon being fired twice. The dull thud of two bodies falling to the floor followed. “M3 to M1. Two tangos have been eliminated.” “M1 to M4.” “M4, go M1.” “M4, we’ve got a situation. We need the Snowman.” “M1, say again.” I stared at the bomb. Since the war, I had seen nothing like it, and never expected to see anything in my civilian life—regardless of my chosen profession—that resembled it. It was one of the most intricate bombs I had ever seen. “We need the Snowman, over,” I said. “M3. Can I get a description of the situation?” “Haditha, 2007,” I said, recalling a battle in Iraq that Trace, Lucky and Cap all fought in with me. A similar device was strapped to a man in the center of the town square. It wasn’t defused in time, and the man exploded in front of our entire platoon. A crater large enough to park a truck in was the only remaining proof of his existence. “Heaven help us,” Trace said. “Amen,” I responded. “Peter,” I said sharply. “You need to stay as still as you can. Blink your eyes if you understand me.” His eyes blinked. And I began to pray.
Chapter Twenty-One Terra I caught my breath and tried to speak without completely breaking down emotionally. “I can’t even...I can’t begin...to explain,” I said. “He was everything to me.” “There will always be another,” my mother said. “No. There won’t.” I began to hyperventilate as I tried to breathe. I needed comfort that I felt only my mother could provide, so I decided to tell her about Michael, and about our breakup. By the time I got to my parents’ home, my father, like always, was gone. “Mia figlia,” she said. “Respirare.” Breathe, my daughter, breathe. “It...hurts,” I said. “So...much...” She wrapped her arms around me and held me against her chest. In a few minutes, I felt like I could breathe again, and pulled away from her. “I just can’t...” “Tell me what happened,” she said. I couldn’t tell her the complete truth, and a portion wouldn’t suffice. “There’s nothing to say. It just ended.” “But. If you feel.” She shook her head. “If you love him. You find a way.” “There is no way.” “It’s because he was American.” “Mother!” “American men don’t understand.” “Mother,” I snapped. “You sound just like Father.” “It’s true,” she said. “It doesn’t matter, he’s a good man.” After I spoke, I wished I would have said was. A few seconds later, I did. “He was a good man.” “If he was good...” She shrugged. “You wouldn’t be upset.” I initially felt some comfort in talking to her about Michael, but I was quickly growing angry about her stubborn nature. “I’m going to go,” I said. “No, stay,” she pleaded. “Let me see a picture of him. Do you have a picture?” I didn’t see what good it would do to show her, but stubborn pride caused me to grab my phone from my purse. After flipping through the photos on my phone, I selected one of him I had taken at my house when he was dressed in his work clothes. I held my phone at arm’s length. “Here.” She picked her glasses up and pushed them onto her nose. “Oh, he’s handsome. He dresses so nice. Are you sure he isn’t Italian?” “I don’t know, Mother. I didn’t ask him.” “You didn’t ask?” She peered over the top of her glasses and narrowed her eyes. “You should ask.”
“I don’t care. And now it doesn’t matter.” She scowled at me. “Ask.” “His parents died when he was little. His name isn’t Italian. He isn’t Italian, and it doesn’t matter. And even if we were together, it still doesn’t matter.” She tried to take the phone from my hand. “He’s a Catholic boy, no?” I jerked away and put my phone in my purse. I had no idea, but I was done arguing about something that no longer mattered. “No, he’s a Lutheran.” She gasped as if I had told her he was a mass murderer. “Lutheran? Let me see him again. He’s no Lutheran.” “Stop it, Mother. I’m glad we broke up. See? This is what I expected of you. But what would Father have said? Huh? If he knew?” She raised her hand to her face and covered her mouth. Her head shook slowly from side to side. “Your father.” Other than appearing to be ten years older than me, my mother could pass for my twin. I was born when my mother was twenty-two, but she didn’t look her age. At forty-six years old, she appeared to be in her midthirties at the most. A beautiful woman who always dressed like she was going out on the town, she was the typical Italian wife. She stood by my father’s side regardless of what his position was on a matter, and she agreed with him verbally even if she disagreed with him in her heart. I may have been my mother’s daughter, but I didn’t share her subservient ways. “I need to go home and sleep.” She stretched her arms wide. “Stay.” “I need to sleep in my bed. I’m going home.” “You need to be with your mother. I’m here alone. Every day since...” She shook her head and sighed. “What?” “Nothing,” she said. “What?” “Your brother. He’s been gone so long.” “Argentina.” I rolled my eyes. “Why?” She met my gaze. Something was wrong. “Mother?” She turned away. “Peter’s in Argentina, isn’t he?” It was muted and soft, but I could tell. She began to cry. I stepped to her side and put my arm around her shoulder. “Mother. Where’s Peter?” She looked up and wiped her eyes. “Business.” “Not in Argentina?” She looked away. “Mother?” “Come sit with me. And stay,” she said. I released her shoulder. “I’ll pour some wine.” Together, we sat and talked only the way a mother and daughter could. We talked not about Peter, or my father, but about life. We talked for a few hours about being a woman, and of loving men. We talked about sacrifice, loss and of standing beside the man you love regardless of the difficulties. I was still convinced, but maybe not wholly, that my decision to leave Michael was the right one.
The effects of the wine were becoming apparent. I was exhausted, my heart hurt and I needed some sleep. And, considering that I never took the time to eat, I was half-drunk. “I need some sleep.” “Just go up to your room,” she said “I’ll pick up.” I stood up, kissed her and walked up to the same room I slept in every night as a girl. No matter how old I became, there was always something magical about sleeping in my bedroom. After washing my face, I climbed into the bed and began to think about Michael. Despite my mother’s talk with me, I still felt strongly on the position I took with him. Senseless gun violence was something I detested, and I believed—for good reason—that assault weapons were the largest contributor. There very well may be a time and a place for a gun, but not those types of guns. If Michael would have told me on the day we met that he dealt huge shipments of assault weapons for a living, and that the details were difficult to explain, I never would have gone on the first date with him. I’d been exposed to too much of the earth’s evil through my father and my family. I didn’t choose my family, however. I couldn’t walk away from them, they were blood. But, as hard as it would be to do, I could walk away from Michael. Convinced my life was once again a disaster, and further convinced I could do nothing to fix it, I relaxed and fell asleep. At some point in time in the middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of doors opening and closing, which was something I had become immune to at my condo. I sat up in bed, and it was immediately apparent I’d had more to drink than I originally thought. I rubbed my eyes and allowed them to adjust to the dimly lit room. A flash of light at my window and the sound of a car leaving sparked my curiosity. Figuring it was my father in the middle of something shady, I walked to the window and peered outside just in time to see a car pulling out of the driveway. It was difficult to see very well through the tree branches outside my second-floor bedroom window, but as the car pulled away, it looked like the license plate said TRIPP. I blinked my eyes. Nothing. I could hear my father talking to my mother. The faint sound of a third voice chimed in occasionally. It sounded like my mother was upset. Quite certain that my father was in the middle of one of his late-night business transactions, and that the car was simply one of his associates, I crawled back into bed and went to sleep.
Chapter Twenty-Two Michael The room smelled like feces, sweat and urine. It seemed the temperature had risen about fifty degrees in the last fifteen minutes. Snowman’s repeated demands for me to leave the room fell on deaf ears—this was my mission, and if things went to hell, I was going to be in the middle of it. “Well?” I asked. “Never seen anything like it. Son-of-a-bitch has six triggers, all wired in series. One’s a motion with a timer. The motion is a mercury switch, and it looks like it triggers a timer that can only be deactivated by going back to the original position in the allotted time,” Snowman said. “English,” I said. “I need it in English.” He turned around, wiped the sweat from his face and sighed. “It means you need to leave the room if you want any kind of assurance you’ll live through this. But, I’m going to need some help. I can’t do this one alone. So either you’re going to die, or one of your men is.” I fought against my dry throat and swallowed. He wiped his brow again. “And the price to defuse it just went up. Way up.” The explosive device was constructed of aluminum, locked around Peter’s neck, and wired to a second device strapped to his upper body. Upon Snowman’s initial inspection, he said if it happened to detonate, the entire end of the building would be blown to dust. “I’m not leaving,” I said. “All right,” he said. “Come here, then. I need another set of hands.” He motioned toward an open pouch of tools on the floor. “Clear your mind of everything, and grab two pairs of those small wire snips.” I did as he asked. He grabbed a flashlight and directed the light toward the mass of exposed wires. “See the red with white stripe and the yellow with green stripe wires?” I studied the tangled mess of wires. “I think so.” He picked up an awl from the tool pouch and pointed to the two wires. “Here, and here.” I nodded. “Got it.” “Okay, after the count of three, we’re going to cut through the wires. I’ve got two to cut, and you’ve got two. Don’t yank, don’t squeeze. Snip. Not slow. Not fast. Just snip the wire.” “Okay.” “Listen. I’m going to count just like this. One. Two. Three.” His counting was sharp and quick. “Just like that?” I asked. “Just like that,” he said with a nod. “And when three comes out, you snip. Not when I start to say three, but when it’s done being spoken. One, two, three, snip. Both wires at the same time.” My heart was racing, and I was drenched in sweat from head to toe. I wiped my brow. “Got it.” “One, two, three, snip,” he said, counting just like he did the first time. “You comfortable with that?” I wiped the sweat from my eyes. “As comfortable as I can be. What happens if they’re not cut at the same instant?”
“You won’t have to worry about paying me, that’s what.” He inhaled a deep breath and sighed heavily. “One, two, three, snip. Just like that. You ready?” “Yeah,” I said. “I’m ready.” “Which wires?” he asked. “Yellow with green and red with white.” He pointed the flashlight at the wires. “Okay. Position your snips on the wires and grip them carefully. Take up all the slack in your tool and just hold it there. Understand?” “Understood.” “When you’re comfortable, just say ready,” he said. “After you say it, I’ll get in position, I’ll ask if you’re ready, and you respond again with ready. Then, I’ll count.” I positioned my snips, took up all the slack, and inhaled a deep breath. “Do you believe in God?” “You know I do,” I said quietly. “I’m talking to him.” Peter responded with a shaky voice. “I...I do.” “Pray to whoever your God is starting right now,” Snowman said. Everything around me except for the tools and wires got small and eventually seemed to disappear. “Ready,” I said. He placed the light to the side. After positioning his tools, he inhaled a deep breath. “Ready?” I sighed. “Ready.” “One. Two. Three. Snip.” I snipped through the wires and all but choked on the silence that followed. I glanced at Snowman. “Is that it?” He picked up the flashlight and a meter. He poked a few wires, and his deafening scream filled the air. “Fuck!” I felt like the room exploded, but it hadn’t. Yet. “What?” I shouted. He dropped the meter and pressed the heels of his palms against his temples. “Shut up,” he screamed. “Everybody shut the fuck up! Nobody move. Don’t even fucking breathe.” He tossed the meter to the side and dug through the pouch, frantically removing another meter. My head ached with each beat of my heart. Afraid to do anything, my eyes remained locked on the little pointed leads of his meter. After poking a dozen wires and studying the meter, he carefully placed it to the side and sighed heavily. “You, whatever your name is with this thing on your neck. Don’t. Fucking. Move. Don’t breathe, don’t do shit. Don’t even fucking answer me.” He turned toward me. “Still have your tools?” I didn’t respond immediately. I may have been afraid to. “I’m talking to you, Tripp.” I glanced down at my hands. The tools were still clenched tight in my fists. “Yes,” I breathed. “You hear that light buzzing?” My ears were ringing and I could feel my heart beating in my eye sockets. I tried to clear my mind, and when I finally did, I heard a light buzzing sound from Peter’s neck. “Yes,” I responded softly. “Same thing all over again. We’ve got about two minutes from what I can tell, and maybe less. One. Two. Three. Snip. If we snip it, and that buzzing doesn’t stop. Run as fast as you can out to the street.
We’ll have to leave him here. Understand?” I shook my head. “I can’t...” “You don’t have a choice. Green and yellow stripe. You ready?” I nodded. “Yeah.” He pointed at the wire with a shaking hand. “See it?” I wiped the sweat from my face. “Green and yellow.” “What’s his name?” “Peter,” I said. “Pray, Peter,” he demanded. “You ready?” “Ready.” “Well, get in fucking position, then,” he barked. I gripped the green wire with the yellow stripe and held it firm in the jaws of the snips. He gripped two other wires. “This is for fucking real. Ready?” “Ready.” “One. Two. Three. Snip.” I snipped the wire. The silence was deafening. He fumbled to pick up the meter. After poking a few wires, he turned to face me. “We did it. We fucking did it.” “It’s defused?” “It is.” “So he’s safe?” “I’ve got to cut this damned thing off his neck and get rid of it. It’s still a fucking bomb, though.” “But it’s not going to go off if he moves, right?” “That is correct,” he said. A sigh shot from Peter’s lungs like a rocket. “Grazie a Dio.” * * * I paced the living room floor with a glass of scotch while Peter took a shower. The relief I had felt in the past after liberating so many Iraqi citizens from similar situations was missing. I felt no relief from freeing myself of Agrioli’s grip. With each respective step, I felt a calmness wash over me, and the tension from the mission slowly escaped. Only to be replaced with an equal amount of sorrow. I refused to believe that Terra was gone. I walked back and forth, sipping my scotch, trying to think of what went wrong. After all of the tension was gone, the answer was clear. I hadn’t been forthright. In the end, my reservation to be straightforward about who I was left me telling her nothing but a lie. I felt sick. “These clothes. I appreciate this,” Peter said. I turned around. Damn. In taking him from his place of captivity, it appeared that he had lost twenty pounds, and his face had
taken on a rather gaunt appearance. Freshly showered, shaven and dressed in one of my suits, he looked much better. Presentable. I raised my glass. “Think nothing of it. And just keep the suit. It fits you well.” “I still don’t understand.” “Understand what?” I asked. “Why?” “Same as I told you in the car,” I said. “I made a mistake. I righted my wrong.” He shook his head. “I owe you my fuckin’ life.” I finished my scotch and sighed. “You owe me nothing.” “Same as I told you in the car,” he said mockingly. “My father will reward you well.” I hadn’t told him of any arrangements I had made with his father, or that he had participated with the organization of his release. I didn’t feel it was my place. “All I care about is getting you home safely. You’re sure you don’t want anything to eat?” “I’m sure.” I raised my glass. “Drink?” His eyes lit up. “One shot, just to take off the edge.” I poured two glasses of scotch, neat, and we sat down at the bar. I studied him as he drank the whiskey, and came to realize three things. One, he wasn’t much different than me. Although his involvement might be more criminal than mine throughout the course of a typical day, our work didn’t differ much. He was simply on one side of the line, and I the other. Two, I missed the war. It was one place I truly felt I had a family of my own, a connection and a purpose. Rescuing Peter reminded me of war. For the brief time I was involved in his rescue, the three men at my side were my family. My brothers. I had no doubt that I would have forfeited my life for them if need be. And, three, the union of family is a greater bond than any other, with the exception of one. Love.
Chapter Twenty-Three Terra I would have expected a little more sympathy and considerably less criticism, but Michelle had always been an opinionated bitch. “A fuckin’ day ago, everything was fine. Now, all of a sudden, he’s an asshole. Get over yourself,” she hissed. “It’s not that easy.” “It is that easy.” “You just want to meet Cap,” I said. “And there’s no way I’m doing that now.” “You’re a fuckin’ brat, Tee. A brat.” She shook her head and took a bite of her sandwich. Over her mouthful of food, she continued. “I just want you to be happy.” The thought of permanently being without Michael hadn’t settled in yet. I ached from head to toe, and had no reason to believe it would ever stop. “It’s going to be a long time before I’m happy again.” She took another bite of sandwich. “You gotta tell me what happened.” “It really doesn’t matter.” She finished chewing and swallowed. “Right now, it’s all that matters.” I stared at my untouched sandwich. All I had done since I broke up with Michael was drink. Eating seemed out of the question. I wondered if talking about it would make me feel better. After a few seconds of contemplation, I realized the only person I could really be truthful with was Michelle. “Okay, I’ll tell you.” She bit into the sandwich, widened her brown eyes, and shrugged. “When we met, he told me he was an investor. He said he invested in opportunities.” She was chewing her food, but didn’t wait to respond. “You told me that.” I wanted to tell her everything and have her agree that I was right and he was wrong. In the end, I hoped her acceptance of my actions would somehow provide me comfort. “Well, after I left here the other night, I drove by some random building, and his car was there. So I pulled in.” She grabbed her glass of tea and washed down her sandwich. “Oh my God. He was fucking some skank.” “No,” I snapped. “Just let me finish. So, I went in, and him and three other guys had guns, and they were dressed up like bank robbers.” Her mouth fell open. “What?” It seemed strange talking about it. It confirmed my actions were justified. “Yeah.” She took a drink of tea. “What the fuck?” “Exactly. What the fuck. So I asked him just that. What the fuck? He said ‘it’s complicated, I can’t tell you, but all I can say is that it isn’t bad.’ So, I looked around and said ‘do you work here?’ and he said he did. So I asked about the guns, and then we got into this whole other conversation...” I inhaled a shallow breath. It wasn’t as easy to talk about as I had hoped. My lip began to quiver. She reached for my hand and held it until I began to speak again. “He’s a gun dealer. He sells guns. Bad guns. Like what that guy used when Paul got killed. He said he has huge shipments, and it’s difficult to explain. Those are the kinds of things he told me. That is his
investment, guns. I asked him what kinds of guns, and they’re like machine guns. Assault weapons. Those kinds of guns are his opportunity.” I met her gaze. She stared. After a long silence, I cleared my throat. “Well?” She stared back at me in obvious disbelief. “That’s it? That’s your story? You’re done?” I chewed against my lower lip. “Yeah.” “He didn’t kill anybody? They weren’t robbing a bank?” “I don’t know what they were doing. He said it wasn’t bad.” “He was like a marine or whatever, right? Like some war veteran or something?” My response lacked enthusiasm. “Yeah.” “And so was that friend of his? Cap?” “Yeah.” “Was Cap there? With a gun or whatever?” “Yeah.” “And tell me again, why did you break up with him? The exact reason.” My eyes fell to the table. “He’s not an investor. He’s a gun dealer.” “You said that he said large shipments and it’s complicated and he sells assault weapons and machine guns?” “Yeah.” She coughed out a laugh. “He’s not a gun dealer. He’s a gun runner.” “Huh?” “I heard my dad and Philly Pete talking about a guy. A gun runner. It was a while back. Gun runners bring in guns and sell them to people. Like independent armies and stuff. People that stand up against the government or maybe against people like Saddam Hussein or whatever,” she said excitedly. “Gun dealer, gun runner. Whatever.” She raked her fingers through her thick hair and shook it out like something was driving her nuts. “You’re telling me that’s why you broke up? Because he sells guns? I think it’s sexy. It makes him a badass.” Sometimes Michelle was impossible. I glared back at her. “Excuse me? They’re bad guns.” “According to you,” she huffed. “They’re bad. Did you not hear me? They’re like the guns that those two kids used when they shot up that school. When Paul died. Remember?” She sighed. “I remember. Those kids were fuckin’ evil, Tee. I hate to sound like a bitch, but that wasn’t the gun’s fault. They said on the news that those kids were killing animals when they were little. They’d been seeing psychiatrists since they were ten.” “Michael sells assault weapons. They’re the same guns that killed my cousin. They’re bad. He’s bad.” “Tell that to the people who fuckin’ need ‘em,” she said with a laugh. I couldn’t believe my ears. “Who needs assault weapons?” She cocked her head to the side. “Every capo, soldier or associate under your father, that’s who.” I forced a sigh. “You know how I feel about that stuff.” “So you say. You drive a Benz. You wear that ring. You live in your condo. You’re a mafia princess. Trust-fund baby. Whatever you want to call yourself. You don’t have a job. Where’d the money come from, Tee?” “We’re not talking about my father. We’re talking about Michael. You asked why we broke up, and I
told you.” “Stick your head in the sand. Okay. The whole reason you got with him in the first place is because he was a badass. Now, he shows you he’s a real badass, and you run away?” I wanted sympathy. I was getting criticized. I felt sick. “I think he deals death,” I said. “And I can’t...I just...if I would have known that at the beginning, I never would have...” My eyes welled with tears. When my grandfather died, I cried for a week. I was sixteen at the time. When I thought of Christmas, a birthday, a family gathering—anything—a fond memory of my grandfather came to mind. The realization that he would never again accompany me through any of those events followed, as did the tears. As time passed, I learned to cherish my memories of him. A year later, at Christmas, when I thought of my grandfather, I smiled. I told stories about his odd sense of humor, the way he farted when he ate pork, and how he snuck cigarettes after the doctor warned him against it. I wanted my grandfather to accompany me in life for as long as possible. His death, however, was inevitable. In the end, I accepted it and cherished my memories of him. But. I realized I needed Michael to simply survive. There was nothing anyone could do or say to convince me what he was doing was in anyone’s best interest. Which left me no alternative but to live without him. And doing so was crushing me.
Chapter Twenty-Four Michael It had been a week since the night. I hoped Agrioli would honor his commitment to me after the rescue of his son from the Bulgarian mafia. At his request, I agreed to meet him for lunch at a restaurant of his choosing. Upon entering, I was shocked to see Agrioli and one more familiar face at what appeared to be a celebratory lunch of some sort. The entire restaurant was void of patrons with the exception of us. I took a sip of wine and glanced at the men seated around the table. There wasn’t much in life that made me uncomfortable, but I wasn’t exactly at ease sharing a glass of wine with the Italian crime lords of the city. After we gathered at a large round table positioned in the corner of the dining area, Agrioli stood, leaving me and the other four men seated at the table. I flinched slightly as he reached for me. “This man.” He patted me on the shoulder. “A man of honor.” Four respective heads slowly nodded. He waved his hand toward the four men. “These men are my family. My strength. For me, they make decisions. Good decisions. Mio capos. My captains.” He motioned toward the man in the pinstriped suit who had visited me at my office. “Jimmy Cupcake.” Cupcake nodded. He tilted his head at the next man on my right. “Little Frank.” Another nod. “Gino.” A half-assed salute and nod followed. “Mad Sal.” Mad Sal raised his wineglass. Little Frank and Mad Sal looked like older versions of Cap. Slightly overweight and maybe twenty years older, they remained intimidating—primarily due to their size. Their faces told me they weren’t wannabes. They were the real deal. The types of men I suspected cut off fingers, assassinated people through open car windows, or walked into a restaurant and shot the entire place to shreds just to get the one man they were after. Afterward, it was apparent they celebrated with a plate of pasta. I had no idea what to do or say so I gave a nod suitable for any nationality, religion or ethnic origin. “Gentlemen.” “This man.” He squeezed my shoulder again. “This man and his men rescued my son from the Russian fucks that kidnapped him.” He cleared his throat. “They strapped a fuckin’ bomb to his neck. My Peter. This man? He defused the bomb himself. He cleaned Little Pete up, gave him a suit and delivered him to me.” The four men nodded in unison. “Twenty million dollars they demanded. Twenty fuckin’ million...” I raised my eyebrows in an effort to express my disgust with the demands of the Russians. Not because
it was what I necessarily believed, but because it was what I thought the four men across the table expected me to do. I took a sip of wine and exchanged glances with each of the men. “Figli di putanna,” Agrioli said. “What did they get? The hand of death.” Four wineglasses raised. I glanced at Agrioli. Five. I raised my glass. “Salute!” We all drank. To the hand of death. For the past week, I felt like hell for many reasons, my primary being the absence of Terra from my life. My phone calls and text messages had gone unanswered, leaving me to believe that she was serious with her statement of never wanting to see or talk to me again. The other thing that bothered me was my decision to take the lives of the two Bulgarians. At the time I felt like I had no choice. If the bomb would have been detonated remotely by either of them, we all would have died. And negotiating with them wasn’t an option. As with every time I had to make a decision to take the life of another man, the decision was made promptly, and only when I felt my life or the lives of men I was empowered to protect was at stake. Nonetheless, I always felt remorseful afterward. Agrioli’s expression of gratitude made me feel better about my decision. In an odd way, his appreciation gave the act purpose. “Today, and all days in the future.” Agrioli squeezed my shoulder. “This man will be known as a Giovane d’onore. A man of honor.” “Salute!” We all drank. Agrioli sat down. “We consider you a member of this family, by association. Anything you need.” He motioned toward the group of men seated before me. “You ask the family.” Humility filled me. Guilt soon followed. In Agrioli’s heritage, family was very important, and he had somehow found a way to include me in his family. A man I once detested had made me feel that I was involved in something larger than life as I knew it, and as attractive as it was to have some facsimile of a family, I couldn’t convince myself the mafia was where I needed to nestle. Everyone stood. We remained in the restaurant for over an hour, talking, drinking and telling stories of friends, family and our devotion to both. I couldn’t offer much short of my stories of my marine brothers— some of which were now my employees. There seemed to be a consensus amongst the men. Although none of them knew me—and only two of them had ever met me—there was a degree of sorrow each of them expressed when they realized I had no family. They insisted that I had a new family. A group of men I could lean on in times of need. They assured me —as individuals, or as a group—they would provide whatever I felt I needed to survive as a gun runner in the streets of Kansas City and abroad. The conversation soon migrated to talks of weapons, other factions of the Italian mafia, and of potential future orders for their Italian brethren in need. When we parted, I received something from each of the men I hadn’t expected. A hug. Filled with an unusual feeling of warmth, I walked to my car. I sat for several minutes and mentally
digested what had happened, what—if anything—in my life had changed, and what the future held for me. In doing so, I realized regardless of Agrioli’s offering, I would be spending the evening alone. And the warmth soon vanished. * * * Cap folded his arms in front of his chest and glared at me in apparent disbelief for a moment. “You’re fuckin’ shittin’ me? That’s exactly what he said?” “Well, it’s as good I can speak Italian. But he also said ‘a man of honor.’ And a member of the family by association, or something like that.” “You don’t watch TV, but I do. I’ve seen the fuckin’ Sopranos. He made you an associate.” I took a sip of beer and tried to act like I didn’t care. Part of me, however, did. “Yeah, so what?” He shook his head and reached for his beer. “Let’s just say we won’t be havin’ any more problems with the mob.” I found it reassuring everything in my business life would be without worry. “Back to normal is good.” He leaned over and propped his forearms on the edge of the bar. “Yeah, ’cept for the girl. Now what the fuck you gonna do about that?” I felt empty and weak. I wished there was a way I could fix it, but I knew better. I wasn’t the type of guy to go against her will or her demand of leaving her alone, and I really didn’t want to talk to Cap about how I felt about her. I finished my beer and walked to the refrigerator. “Can’t really do anything.” “Sure as fuck can.” I opened the bottle, and tossed the cap and my empty in the trash. I lingered there for a moment, out of Cap’s view, and thought. “She asked me to leave her alone.” “Yeah. Guess fuckin’ what? My old high school sweetheart asked me not to poke it in her butt, too. But I did. And you know what? She fuckin’ liked it. Women don’t know what they want. What they say and what they want is two different things. Remember that. Words of wisdom from Cap’s vault.” I laughed a light laugh and walked around the edge of the bar. “So she really wants me to talk to her?” He pointed the mouth of his beer bottle at me. “Well, she wishes you were truthful with her from the start, and my guess is she feels like she was lied to. Now she’s embarrassed and hurt. She wants a fuckin’ explanation and an apology.” I was shocked to be hearing life lessons from Cap. I didn’t know he had it in him. “When did you get so versed on life with women?” “Netflix, fucker. Rom-coms,” he said with a nod. “Rom-com?” He took a sip of beer and nodded. “Short for romantic comedy. Whole fuckin’ shitload of ’em on there. Teach you a lot about life, too.” “Well, rom-com or no rom-com, I’ve tried to call and I’ve tried to text her. No answer on either. She doesn’t want to talk.” It seemed I’d insulted him. He pushed himself away from the bar and furrowed his brow. “You insensitive prick. A text? The woman you love left you and you sent her a fuckin’ text?” He raised his index finger as if he had an idea. “Maybe you should buy her a box of fuckin’ chocolates.” It seemed reasonable enough. “I could do that.”
“I was jokin’. You know, for as intelligent of a man as you are, you’re one dumb motherfucker sometimes, Tripp.” He turned around, grabbed another beer from the fridge, and tossed his empty in the trash. “She don’t want chocolate. Or a fuckin’ text message. You know, ninety percent of the problems on this earth could be fixed if we could just turn back the clock to 1860. If somebody broke into your house back then, they get shot. If we did that today, that’d stop burglaries. They used to shoot horse thieves. If we shot fuckin’ carjackers, I bet that shit’d stop too. All of them fuckers that lied and lost all them fellas money during the subprime bullshit? Shit, if they’d a done that in 1860, they’d would have been strung up by their necks. If a man rapes a woman today, half the victims don’t testify for fear of the man beatin’ their asses, and the rotten pricks walk free. Back then, they hung the bastards. If we started hangin’ rapists on the courthouse steps, I bet that shit’d stop.” He took a long drink of beer. “And guess what else, Tripp? Back in 1860 there wasn’t such a thing as a text message or a phone call. You wanted to get something resolved, you talked face to face. Here’s my suggestion.” He raised his bottle of beer. “Take a step back in time.” “Go see her?” “No.” He chuckled. “Steal her horse. Yeah, dimwit. Go see her. It’s a damned good thing you got me for a friend, I swear.” “And say what?” “I’d start with I’m sorry.” “I can do that.” After a few long seconds of glaring at me, he tossed his hands in the air. “What?” I asked. “I’ll lock up when I leave,” he said. “It’s eight o’clock at night. You think I should go now?” He cleared his throat. “Do you love her?” My response was immediate. “I do.” “I’ll lock up when I leave,” he said.
Chapter Twenty-Five Terra I stared up at the ceiling. It reminded me of the night Michael and I talked about the definition of making love. I rolled onto my stomach and turned my head to the side. It reminded me of how I encouraged him to spoon with me. I took one of the pillows and put it between my knees and tried to get comfortable. Instead of comfort, I felt like I was going to cry. In the week that had passed since Michael and I broke up, I had slept little, eaten nothing and drank just enough alcohol to reduce the pain in my heart, mind and spirit enough that it dissipated to a dull thud. Nothing, however, seemed to make it disappear. As much as I knew his disguising the truth led to the problems that caused our breakup, I couldn’t help but feel tremendous guilt for not telling him who I really was. Although I told myself the secret I was keeping from Michael was miniscule compared to his, I wondered what portion of the pain I felt was a result of my guilt for not being completely truthful. Over and over I wished I had told him who I really was before I found out about his gun dealings. Now I would never have the chance, and the guilt was slowly killing me. If I learned nothing else through all of the pain, I learned the value in being truthful with the man I loved. And I loved him deeply. In the period of time we had been separated I realized that my love for Michael was real. The pain I felt was confirmation that my expression of my love while we were together had not been simply wishful thinking or a greedy desire. Once in a lifetime love was real. And he was gone. A knock on the door startled me. I sat up on the bed, convinced myself it was something else, and almost immediately, it came again. I stepped off the edge of the bed, walked to the door, and peered out the peephole. Michael stood outside my door. My throat constricted. My mouth went dry. I looked again. Instantly, the pain increased to an almost crippling roar. “What did I tell you? Go away!” “I want to apologize,” he said. There was nothing he could say. I wanted the pain to end, and seeing him wasn’t helping. Talking to him would only make matters worse. “I’m not willing to listen.” “Terra...” I wiped away the tears. “Go. Away. And, don’t come back. Please, have some decency and don’t make me ask you again.” I peered through the hole. With my eyes pressed to the door, I watched as his distorted image disappeared. And I prayed it would be the last time I ever saw him.
Chapter Twenty-Six Michael I sat in a hipster coffee shop a few miles from my office and sipped a cup of coffee. Convinced I was never going to love or be loved again, I tried to find a new path to walk upon that would allow me to live a life without Terra, yet maintain some degree of sanity. I had serious doubt I would be able to live in the same area as she did—without her in my life—and not go insane, regardless of where I decided to hide and have my coffee. “So you think she’s gone forever?” he asked. “That’s the problem. She isn’t gone. She lives five minutes from here. But, is she out of my life? I’m afraid so.” “Dude. That sucks.” “Sure does.” A thin mop-haired kid who just graduated from high school shared a table with me. The coffee shop was long, narrow, and filled to the seams with people. Two dozen high-top tables lined the wall in a single line, from the entrance to the rear of the facility. Filled with adults, college-aged kids, and teens, the place was an eclectic mixture of what Kansas City’s suburbs had to offer. He lifted his eyes from his sketch pad and flipped his hair away from his eyes. “No chance of getting her back?” “I don’t think so. She won’t talk to me.” “Like, at all?” I shook my head. “Not at all.” “Dude. Women can be so hard.” “Tell me about it.” He continued to sketch as I drank my coffee, glancing up from time to time, but not really paying attention to anything. He seemed to be taking information in, but in small pieces. “How old are you?” I asked. “Nineteen,” he responded without looking up. “I started school late. You?” “Twenty-nine.” He continued to draw on his pad. “Cool.” I took my mind to my nineteenth birthday. I had been in Iraq three weeks. I was young and scared, but for the first time in my life I felt that I was a crucial part of something. My existence was necessary. The United States, I was convinced, would be a better place with me fighting for its freedom. At least that’s what I told myself. Ten years later, I wondered if that was the case. “What are you going to do?” I asked. He glanced up. “About what?” “With your life.” He began to sketch again. “Hard saying. I’ll see what I think after summer’s over.” “Going to college?” As he scribbled, he chuckled. “Can’t afford it.”
“Got a girlfriend?” “Not anymore.” “Mind if I ask?” He carefully placed his pencil beside his pad, ran his fingers through his thick hair and removed an ecigarette from his leather satchel. After a few long drags he exhaled a huge cloud of sweet-smelling vapor into the air and sighed. “Do you smoke?” “Sure don’t.” “Got anything against people who do?” “Nope.” “Well, I smoke. And she didn’t like it. We argued about it on and off for like, I don’t know, forever.” I nodded toward the e-cigarette. “You mean that thing?” “No, smoke. You know, weed.” I tried to act indifferent. “Oh, yeah.” “Well, she came over one day and I was smoking, and she just lost it. Said she was done. That was it. She left. Sucks, but what am I going to do?” He took another long pull on the e-cigarette and blew the vapor in his lap. “You think about quitting?” He shook his head and laughed lightly. “Not interested.” “Didn’t like her that much?” “I loved her. But she knew I smoked when we hooked up. We used to hang out all the time, and I was always smoking. She just got sick of it, and wanted me to change.” “Yeah,” I said. “That sucks.” He shook his head. “Dude.” He took another puff from his smoke-stick and started sketching again. I considered my situation with Terra, and wondered if she had given me an ultimatum what I would have done. An answer didn’t immediately come to me, and I was initially surprised. I knew not only that I loved her, but that I loved her wholly and completely. Convincing myself to change who I was—or what I believed in—however, didn’t come easily. I finished my coffee a few small drinks at a time as I continued to think about Terra, my chosen profession, and what had happened between us. In the end, I decided my misfortune with her was a result of me not being honest from the beginning. If I had told her what I did for income on the day we met, maybe she would have chosen to simply shake my hand and walk away. I finished my coffee and stood from my seat convinced we are who we are, and changing isn’t always an option. Acceptance was the key, and for me to attempt to be someone or something I wasn’t would be to truly tell a lie. If I agreed to change, I wouldn’t be true to myself. “Thanks for the seat,” I said with a nod. He glanced up, grinned and tore the sheet of paper from his pad. “Here,” he said, handing me the drawing. I studied the sketch. A comic-book-style action drawing with two people, one a man, and one a woman, each holding portions of a broken stick. A cloud over the center, between the two ends of the stick, had the word snap! in it indicating the stick had just broken in two. The woman clearly held the largest portion of the stick. I shook the sheet of paper in my hand and met his gaze. “Isn’t that the truth.”
He cleared the hair from his face and grinned. “Dude.” I walked away knowing that being without Terra was killing me, but for her to have me in her life, she’d have to accept me for who I was. If she couldn’t, I’d simply have to die alone. Alone, and true to myself.
Chapter Twenty-Seven Terra I decided to go stay with my parents for a while, and hoped my time with them would allow me to recover from my separation with Michael. Being alone was becoming terribly unhealthy. Everything in my home reminded me of him, and although I had no assurance things would be better at my parents’, at least I wouldn’t be alone. I loaded my suitcase in the car, closed the trunk and turned to go back for the rest of my things. “Where ya headed?” I lifted my head. Cap. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk with his arms folded in front of his chest and his feet spread wide, it appeared he wasn’t going to let me by unless I answered. Going through him wasn’t an option. I fought to swallow and tilted my head toward the bottom of the stairs. My response was just like me. Weak. “Inside.” He pressed his hands to his hips and shook his head as if disgusted by my response. “No fuckin’ shit, Sherlock. I meant where was you goin’ in the car. And, for what it’s worth, you look like a hammered turd.” His eyes fell to my feet, then slowly rose the length of my withered frame. As he met my gaze, he cocked an eyebrow. “When’s the last time you ate?” I couldn’t recall, so I said nothing. “I’ll take that as an I ain’t sure.” “Last time you slept?” “Last night.” He laughed. “Don’t look like it.” I wanted him to hug me and tell me I was going to be okay, but he hadn’t offered and I wasn’t sure of the protocol. I tried to smile, but doubt anything noticeable happened. He turned halfway around. “Get on.” “Huh?” “You still speak English, right?” “Uh-huh.” “Get on. Hop on my back, and I’ll take ya up the stairs. You look like you’re gonna collapse.” I couldn’t remember the last time I had a piggyback ride. The thought of it alone made me smile. I climbed on his back and directed him to the door. He lowered me onto the couch and glanced around the house. “Nice digs.” “Thank you.” “Got any bread?” It seemed like an odd question. “Sure,” I responded. “In the cupboard on the far left.” “Meat or cheese or peanut butter? You got shit like that here?” I couldn’t remember the last time I had been to the store. I did a mental inventory of what I knew was in the refrigerator. “Uhhm. There’s prosciutto, salami, some cheese...”
“That’ll work. Be back in a minute. You sit right there.” A few minutes later, and he returned with two sandwiches. “Here, eat this.” “Oh, I’m not really...” “You’ll eat that motherfucker, or I’ll poke it down your throat. You pick.” I laughed. “I’ll eat it.” “All you got in the fridge is water. You want a bottle or should I pour it in a glass?” I was surprised he asked. “Glass, please.” He brought me a glass of water and a napkin, and sat down beside me. Silently, we ate sandwiches together. Seeing him seemed to breathe a little life into me. I’m sure the food helped. When we finished, he carried the dishes to the kitchen and refilled my glass. He handed me the glass. “You can probably guess why I’m here.” “Cap, I really don’t want to...” He cleared his throat. “Stop talkin’. I know it’s rude to say, but I ain’t tryin’ to listen to your horseshit right now. I’m gonna talk and you’re gonna listen. First of all, Tripp don’t know I’m here. He didn’t ask me to come, and I don’t think either of us need to tell him I did.” I knew better than to argue, so I agreed. “Okay.” “The man you met that day in the parking lot at the Starbucks, the one who kicked the shit outta that guy without you askin’ for help. You remember that guy, right?” I sighed. “Yes.” “Well, that’s Tripp. He’ll step in where other men would turn and run away. It’s just who he is.” He took a drink of water and fixed his eyes on the far wall. “We got orders to take back this shitty little village from al-Qaeda. They were killin’ civilians and wreakin’ havoc on everyone in this dusty little shit-hole city. So, we’re marching down the street, and it’s as quiet as death. Then, all of a sudden, enemy mortars started comin’ in, and buildings were blowin’ up on either side of us. Gunfire from every fuckin’ direction, smoke so thick you couldn’t breathe, and flames as high as you could see. The whole fuckin’ platoon stopped when it happened. “Nobody wanted to advance into that shit. We weren’t just walkin’ into hell, we were walkin’ into undeniable death. “Tripp? That cocksucker kept walkin’. Acted like he didn’t care. Fuckin’ bullets whizzin’ by, bombs going off, and he just keeps goin’. He was like a fuckin’ machine. Every now and again, he’d fire off a round, eliminatin’ one more fuckin’ bad guy from the earth. “So we’re all standin’ and starin’, knowin’ if we keep goin’ we’re gonna get killed. Tripp? He looks over his shoulder and acts shocked that no one’s behind him. And then he turns around, and bam! “He gets shot. Spun him clean around and knocked him to the ground. Hell, I thought he was dead. I ran up there and got him to his feet. He wouldn’t let me call for a corpsman. You know, a doctor. He wanted to keep fightin’. Bullet tore through his arm, but he didn’t care. He insisted that I keep it quiet and let him fight until the city was safe for the civilians to return. And, he did just that. Lost so much blood he damned near died. But we won the battle. When I asked him why he didn’t give up, he said ‘They were killin’ women and children, Cap. We were their only hope.’ You know, I thought about that for a long time. I didn’t know him real well back then, but that? That right there. That’s Tripp. And that was the day I decided I really liked him. You know, what he stood for.” I had held my breath the entire time he spoke. I wiped away the tears on the back of my hand and inhaled a slow breath, grateful that he was still looking away. “He always does what he thinks is right, and he never does anything he thinks is wrong. The whole world might be against him, but he don’t fuckin’ care. He’ll stand up against anyone or everyone if he
thinks he’s right. Now, I suppose we need to talk about some things that I ain’t really supposed to talk about. But I’m gonna. Wanna know why?” I wiped away what was left of my tears. He looked right at me and waited. I met his gaze and nodded. “Yes.” “I see you two together, and it makes me feel good. Tripp ain’t got no family, and he ain’t never really had a girlfriend. People like him don’t need ‘em. They’re a distraction. But he fell head over heels in love with you, and I’ve never seen him happier. Now? When I look in his eyes I see a hole. He’s hollow inside. Like someone stole his soul. It makes me sick thinkin’ you two are perfect for each other, and you’re either too stubborn or too damned dumb to try and work things out.” I’d heard enough. I wasn’t being stubborn, and I wasn’t dumb. “Wait a minute. I...” “No, you wait a minute,” he snapped. “You’ll get your chance in a minute. Lemme finish.” “But...” He chuckled. “But nothin’.” I thrust my forearms under my boobs and glared. “Fine,” I huffed. “You and Tripp met, and he told you he was an investor. Well, he is. He invests in freeing people from tyranny, oppression, abuse and slaughter. He sells weapons under the radar to people, but he don’t sell ’em to everybody. He won’t sell ’em to a drug dealer. Or the cartel. But he will to a group who’s gonna use ’em to fight for somethin’ he believes is good. Might even be illegal, but if Tripp believes in it, so be it. I ain’t gonna lie to ya, he sells ’em by the truckload. But they always go to someone he believes needs ’em and he makes a lot of money doin’ it.” He had done nothing to change my mind, but I did feel a little better about what Michael was involved in. As far as I was concerned, assault weapons and machine guns were still evil, and I doubted he would say anything to convince me otherwise. “I’m guessin’ he didn’t tell you about what he did in detail because it’s not somethin’ someone like him would normally volunteer, at least not at first. I know him well enough to say at some point he damn sure would have told you. You just happened to find out before he got a chance.” I cleared my throat harshly. “You guys weren’t going to do anything good, I don’t care what he said. I mean, really? Your faces were painted and you all had machine guns.” He raised his index finger. “And this is the part where I’m gonna have to tell you somethin’ that I shouldn’t be tellin’ ya. I’m gonna tell you what we were doin’ when you came wandering in. But, I need you to make me a promise. You gotta promise this stays between you and me. Always. It stays here. No matter if he ever brings it up, or whatever. You hear anything of this in the future, you gotta act shocked. Like you didn’t hear it from me. I’m just tellin’ you this because I think it’ll make a difference.” I knew nothing could change my mind, and I was curious to hear the truth, so I agreed. “Okay. I promise.” He extended his hand. “Gotta shake on it.” I shook his hand. “Fine.” “If you break this promise...” “I don’t go back on my word,” I snapped. “I’m Italian.” He coughed out a laugh. “So am I, but don’t tell Tripp.” I was shocked that he was Italian, but more so that he said not to tell Michael. “Why?” “Long story,” he said. “You ready for the truth?” “Please.” He inhaled a deep breath, exhaled and began. “A well-known figure in this city approached Tripp a few days before the night you saw us. His son had been kidnapped and was bein’ held hostage. They
demanded a ransom far beyond what the man could possibly pay, and he was assured if he didn’t pay by the deadline, they’d kill his son. I was at Tripp’s office the night he came in askin’ for help, and we agreed to get his son back.” I waited for him to say he was joking, but it never came. I’m sure partially due to the lack of sleep I had been getting, and a little more because it was obvious he wasn’t kidding, I stared back at him in complete shock. “We were runnin’ against the clock. That’s why he couldn’t take the time to explain. I guess I’ll tell you the rest of it, now that I started.” His eyes fell to his lap and he raked his fingers through his closely-cropped hair. After a heavy sigh, he met my gaze. “We got to the guy, and they had a bomb strapped to his neck. A bomb big enough to blow all of us to kingdom come. Now, there ain’t a whole bunch of fuckers that’d volunteer to rescue a kidnap victim. And, there’s a lot less that’d do it up against the crazy fuckers we was up against. But to find someone who’d take the risk and try and defuse the bomb? Yeah, that’s a tough one.” I felt like I had swallowed a handful of sand. My throat was tight, my mouth was dry and my heart was racing. I remembered I had a glass of water, and took a drink. “What happened? The man’s son died, didn’t he?” “Sure didn’t. Tripp made us all seek shelter, and he insisted he stay and help defuse the bomb. Took the kid home with him, got him cleaned up, gave him one of his suits and delivered him to his father.” “Oh my God,” I gasped. I glanced down at my shaking hands. I had run through many scenarios of what might have been going on that night, and I never would have dreamed it was anything like what Cap had described. “Now. The guns you got mad about? The machine guns, as you call ‘em? Those very guns are what saved all of us, that kid included, from bein’ killed on that night.” It was almost too much to comprehend. I wondered who the boy was, and who the man was. A senator, judge or congressman, I supposed. I had so many questions. “Oh my God, this is so crazy,” I said excitedly. “I have a ton of questions.” “If it’s about that night, the answer’s no. I’ve told you all I’m going to tell you about that night. Not one word of it was a lie, and I didn’t hold anything back. But, we’re done talkin’ about it. It’ll never be discussed again.” “But...” “No buts about it. I got one more thing to say, and I’m leavin’.” He stood, turned around, and folded his arms in front of his massive chest. “Tripp’s parents died when he was a kid. Grew up without a family. But he didn’t give up. As an eighteen-year-old kid he went to war. Two countries, a million enemies, and a couple of gunshot wounds later, he returned. But it didn’t kill him. Ten fuckin’ years of hell. I’ve seen him in places no one in his right mind would go, and against enemies no man would ever want to fight. But he lived through it all. And then, along comes this little Italian gal. “He loves ya, Terra. More than he probably loves himself. And you? You bein’ here? After all he’s lived through, you’re killin’ him. He’s dyin’ right now. I can see it. And seein’ it’s killin’ me.” My eyes began to well with tears. “Do you love him?” he asked. “I...I do.” “Go tell him,” he said. And he walked away.
Loving Michael was easy. All I had to do was exist. Being without him in my life, however, was impossible. “Cap!” I shouted. He was at the front door and just about to walk outside. He glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah?” “Can you help me carry my stuff back inside?”
Chapter Twenty-Eight Michael Cap cleared his throat as he walked into my office. “Get out the scotch,” he said. I reached for the top three inches of the mound of papers piled on my desk and lifted it from the stack. “What’s going on?” For all intents and purposes I hadn’t done a damned thing since the night. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever reach a point that I cared enough to work again. My desk looked like a combat zone, and I had customers who were threatening to go elsewhere if I didn’t at least return their calls. “Time for a drink.” “It’s not dark yet.” I glanced out the window. It was just about dusk. “Not quite, anyway.” He flopped down in the seat on the opposite side of the desk. He looked exhausted. “It’s dark somewhere. And I’m done with the AR-15s. Time to celebrate.” “Done?” I looked up from the pile of papers. “Like done?” “Yeah, motherfucker. Done. Like there’s five fuckin’ hundred assembled weapons in crates in the shop. We could arm a small country. Or maybe the northern half of Texas.” “Holy shit.” He nodded toward the corner of the desk. “Pour me a glass, would ya?” A million dollars’ worth of inventory, finally completed and ready to ship. I was excited, but not in the manner I would have expected. I pulled open the drawer and peered down into it, looking for the bottle of celebratory scotch. “I will.” A light knock on the door startled me. Hell, I hadn’t even heard the footsteps. Convinced I was losing my nerve, my mind and my sense of awareness, I looked up from the drawer. Terra. My heart stopped. And then, it began to beat rapidly. She looked no differently than she always did. Magnificent. Her hair was draped down over her shoulders in the front, and her brown eyes were filled with hope. Or maybe it was mine. She was dressed in a little black dress, but I couldn’t decide if it was the one we purchased together at Saks. It seemed like so long since I had seen her wear it, making it impossible to decide. I decided it was. Around her neck, the diamond pendant hung by the necklace I had purchased her for our two-month anniversary. “Can I come in?” I jumped from my seat and wiped my hands on the thighs of my pants. “Absolutely. Come in, have a seat.” Cap stood up. “I’ll come back later.” “No,” Terra said. “Stay for a minute if you don’t mind.” Cap glanced at me. “I don’t mind if...” “Okay by me,” I said. “Sit.”
I walked around the corner of my desk and motioned to the seat beside Cap. “Have a seat.” She looked incredibly...perfect. The dull ache that seemed to fill me for the last few weeks instantly vanished and was replaced with an irregular heartbeat. She sat down. “Thank you.” It was difficult not to stand and stare, and I felt like I was doing just that. I pried my admiring eyes from her and walked to my seat. “So, how’s it going?” She smiled. It was slight, but a smile nonetheless. “I’ve been better.” “Is there anything I can do to—” “There is. I need to ask a few questions.” “Okay,” I said. “Anything.” “The night I came in here. You said it was complicated. I want you to uncomplicate it. Is that a word? Uncomplicate?” “Simplify,” Cap said. I glared at him and then shifted my eyes to her. “I think so.” She sighed lightly and crossed her legs. “Well?” “You want him to...” I tilted my head toward Cap. “Yes,” she said with a nod. “I want him to stay.” I hadn’t given any thought to what I would say if I was ever given the opportunity to talk to Terra about the incident that night, or about my business. I truly believed I would never have an opportunity, and therefore had nothing canned to respond. I wanted a glass of scotch to calm my nerves and my heart, but decided against it. Just tell her the truth, Tripp. “Before I get started, I want to say this—I wish I would have been forthright from the start. For what it’s worth, I didn’t and I still don’t feel like I lied to you, but I didn’t offer you all of the facts, either. In the future, if there is a future, ask me anything you’re uncertain of, and I’ll never lie to you.” “Okay,” she said. “I buy and sell firearms. They’re typically, but not always, the types of firearms the military uses, but in civilian form. Assault weapons. I sell them to who I believe needs them, and no one else. Are they always legal law-abiding buyers? Probably not. But they’re never the types of people who are going to go shoot up a school, movie theater, or anything like that. Most, if not all, are shipped out of the country and used elsewhere. That is what I invest in.” “Anything else?” “Anything else what?” “Is there anything else you invest in? Besides guns?” “There is not.” “Okay. I’m a guy. I call you and I say I want to buy a thousand AK-47s. That’s a gun, right? An AK47?” I wondered if she had done research, or if she hated the weapons so much that she knew their designations. “Yes,” I said. “That’s a common weapon of choice.” “Okay. I want a thousand of them. What’s the first thing you ask me?” “Who are you?” “I’m a Vietnamese gangbanger.” “Sorry, I can’t help you.” “I’m a Mexican drug lord.” “Sorry, I can’t help you.”
“I’m a Mexican citizen.” “Who’s your opposition?” “My opposition? Let’s see. The Guatemalan police are corrupt and they’re bringing cocaine in through my state. It’s a disaster. We need to do something about it. We’re going to kill them. Or at least try.” “So, you’re actually fighting the Guatemalan police?” “Si, señor.” I grinned a shitty little grin. “They’re $2,500 each. Where do you want them delivered?” “$2,500? I can get them down the street for $900.” “Get ’em down the street.” “Okay,” she said. “Now I’m me again, and I’m not the Mexican guy. Why? Why is it okay for them to fight the police?” “Because they’re willing.” “So you’ll sell them to anyone who’s willing? Willing to fight?” “No. I won’t.” “I don’t understand.” “And I don’t expect you to. I don’t ever do anything that I believe is wrong or that may put an American life in jeopardy. That’s my rule. Might be my only rule, I’d have to think about it.” “But you decide who’s worthy of the guns and who isn’t?” “That is correct.” “And some of the people you sell to might be bad people?” “In someone’s eyes, maybe. Hell, maybe in my eyes. But the weapons will be used for something that’ll make the world a better place.” “In your mind.” “That is correct.” “So, in a sense, you sit in your little chair and play God. The gun god?” “I suppose so.” “You don’t mind me calling you that? The gun god?” “No,” I said with a laugh. “Actually, I kind of like it.” “What were you doing that night? Where were you going?” “What night?” “Really? What night? The night I came in here and caught you and your little group of vigilantes.” I glanced at Cap. “Don’t look at him. Answer me.” Out of my peripheral, I saw Cap nod once. “I was going to attempt to rescue a man who was being held hostage.” She laughed a sarcastic laugh. “So you were on a hostage rescue mission?” “That is correct.” “And you expect me to believe that?” I shrugged. “Probably not.” “Is it the truth?” “It is.” “You swear?” “I don’t swear. I told you when you came in here that I wouldn’t lie to you. Ask the right questions, and you’ll always get the right answers. I told you the truth. I was going to attempt to rescue a man who was kidnapped and being held hostage.”
“Did you succeed?” “Yes, I did. We did.” She turned to face Cap and chuckled. “Were you part of this hostage rescue mission?” Apparently, she still thought I was joking. Cap sat up in his seat and pointed to the scotch. “Pour us a glass.” I poured two glasses half-full. Terra cleared her throat. “Ahem.” I poured another. I handed each of them their glasses. As I sipped mine, Cap turned toward Terra. “I was,” he said with a nod. “And the other two guys that were in here. Were they part of it?” Cap shrugged. “Better ask them.” She turned to face me. I took a sip of the whiskey. “You’ll need to ask them.” She rolled her eyes. “Okay, last question.” I took another sip. “I’m listening.” “Did you kill anyone that night?” It surprised me she asked. After my first fuckup with her, I wasn’t interested in creating another. If we were ever going to be together again, I was going to be sure she understood what—and who—she was going to be involved with. “Yes. Two men.” “Dead?” “That is correct.” “You killed them?” “I gave an order to kill them, yes.” “Gave an order?” “That is correct.” “You’re not in the military any longer, right?” “I am not.” “So who do you give orders to?” “My employees are former military. We treat some of our business transactions like military missions, and they follow my command.” “So you’re like a mafia boss? The Godfather?” I never looked at it that way. I considered it, took a sip of scotch, and nodded. “I guess so.” She lifted her glass, downed the scotch in one drink and stood from her seat. My heart sank. She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand and coughed. “I’ve got two statements, and one question.” I prepared for her to unleash her wrath. “Michael, I love you.” My throat went dry. I somehow managed to swallow, regardless. I took a sip of my whiskey and waited for the but. “And.” Her lip curled. Just a little. “I’m not wearing panties.” I choked on my scotch until I went into a coughing fit. When I finally caught my breath, she continued. “Now, my question. I’ve forgiven you. Will you forgive me?” I coughed the last of the scotch out of my lungs. “Yes,” I said without hesitation. “I will.”
Cap slapped his hand against the edge of my desk. “That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. Pour one more round, motherfucker. Then I’ve got to get.” “Stay for a bit,” Terra said with a smile. “After that panty remark?” He cocked an eyebrow. “I think you two need to be alone.” For once in my life, I agreed with Cap wholeheartedly. * * * The glare from the headlights of Cap’s truck disappeared from view. I turned away from the office window and walked toward her. With each careful step, I tried to hide my excitement—both on my face and in my pants. “No panties, huh?” Seeming nervous, she twisted in her seat. “Did I say that?” I stepped around the corner of the desk, pushed the heel of my palm against my stiff cock, and nodded. “I love you, and I’m not wearing any panties. That’s what you said.” She met my gaze and stood up. “I don’t...uhhm...I don’t remember saying that.” I moved closer. With my lips mere inches from hers and our eyes locked, I reached under her dress. I raised my hand between her thighs and gently cupped her pussy in my palm. She was soaked, and it appeared she had been for some time. She inhaled a choppy breath. I curled my finger, pushing the tip between her soaking-wet folds. “Oh fuck,” she gasped. I gripped the back of her neck and pulled her firmly against me. As our lips met I pushed the entire length of my finger inside of her. Passionately, we kissed while I worked my finger in and out of her wet and willing pussy. I released her neck and swept the top of my desk clean with one motion of my hand. As the month’s debris came crashing down to the floor, I lowered her onto the uncluttered surface. I pushed another finger deep inside. Her eyes widened and she drew a sharp breath. “I missed you,” she said through clenched teeth. My cock was about to burst through the fabric of my pants. “Give it to me,” she begged. Simply having Terra back in my life was enough to make me as rigid as a stone. Having her in my office half-naked and begging for my cock put me over the edge. My desire for her was well beyond what I was able to hide—or even attempt to conceal. After tossing my jacket aside, I pushed my pants to midthigh and reached for my rigid cock. With my fingers still deep within her, I began to stroke myself with my free hand. Flat on her back on the desk, she raised her head slightly. Her eyes immediately fell to my crotch. “Please.” I slid my fingers free from her swollen mound and motioned toward the desk. “Bend over,” I said, my tone demanding. She rolled onto her stomach, spread her stance wide, and reached for the hem of her dress. As soon as the material cleared her ass cheeks, I gripped her waist firmly and pushed myself into her fully. “Oh...my...God.” She arched her back slightly. “I really missed you.” Absorbed by the sight of my swollen shaft repeatedly disappearing into her wet pussy, I gazed down and watched in awe. Within a few seconds, I was fucking her forcefully, pounding my hips tight against
the back of her ass with each stroke. With my eyes still fixed between the cheeks of her butt, I pulled against her waist with each thrust of my cock. The distinct slapping sound of skin-on-skin echoed throughout the office. “I’m...so...sorry,” she said, one word escaping her lips with each stroke. “Teach...me a...lesson.” I’d forgiven her completely, but the thought of teaching her to never question my means, methods, or motives was appealing—at least at the moment. I shoved her full of dick in one savage thrust. “Don’t.” I pulled my hips back and reached for her tits. I squeezed them firmly in my hands. “Ever.” I thrust my hips against her ass. Obviously close to climax, she released a low-pitched moan. Another violent shove followed. “Doubt.” “Oh God,” she wailed. I withdrew my entire length and quickly drove it right back in. “Me.” I pulled back slowly, watching each inch of my glistening shaft as it slid free of her. Without warning, I pounded myself into her one more time, grunting as my cock bottomed out. “Again.” She gulped a breath. I squeezed her breasts, rolling her nipples between my thumb and forefingers as I continued with a predictable fast-paced rhythm. A moment later, and the sensation of my balls slapping against her clit proved to be too much. “I’m going to come,” I groaned. “Please,” she begged. I continued at the same pace for a few more seconds. As my cock swelled, warning us of what was to come, I felt her pussy contract. I squeezed her boobs tight while she fumbled to grip the edge of the desk. With her arms outstretched and her back arched, her legs began to quiver. I pinched her nipples tight. My balls tightened. “Oh...fuck...” I groaned. I exploded, releasing every ounce of my satisfaction into her. Her pussy clenched my cock like a vise, and together we reached climax, mine lasting for several earth-shattering seconds. Still inside of her wetness, I leaned forward, resting my chest lightly against her back. I kissed her shoulder. “I love you.” Her breathing was still irregular and choppy. “I love...you...too.” I kissed her neck. “Make me a promise.” “Okay,” she responded. “Don’t ever leave me again.” “I won’t,” she assured me. “But you need to make me the same one.” “Okay.” “No,” she said. “You need to say it.” “I’ll never leave you.” “No matter what?” she asked. “No matter what.” She exhaled heavily and collapsed onto the desk. “Thank you.”
Chapter Twenty-Nine Terra We were finally going to ride the roller coaster we never had the chance to ride because we got distracted with sex. “It seems like we’ve been talking about this forever,” I said. Michael merged into traffic and then glanced toward me. “I say we stop and eat first.” I was so excited. But I was hungry too. “Agreed. Now all we have to do is decide what we’re going to eat. Something light,” I said. “So we don’t get sick on the roller coaster. Nothing’s worse than barfing.” “If you want a light meal...” He chuckled and grabbed his crotch. “You can always...” After resolving our issues in his office on the previous night, we put everything behind us, and agreed that Michael’s business was Michael’s business. I decided my reaction to learning of his chosen profession was more of a response to what happened to my cousin than his dealings with firearms. In the end, I felt foolish for reacting the way I did. Although he forgave me, I still harbored guilt, the majority of which was a result of not having been forthright with him regarding my own profession—or lack thereof—and the truth about my family. I needed to find the courage to tell him, but because I hadn’t yet, I felt I needed to make it up to him somehow. “Get it out,” I said. “I’m driving.” I unbuckled my seat belt. “So.” “Really? You can’t suck my cock while I’m driving.” “Really?” I said mockingly. “You’ve never heard of road head?” He changed lanes, took a quick glance in my direction and fixed his eyes on the road ahead. It was the perfect way for me to make it up to him. “If you’re not going to get it out, I will.” He stared straight ahead. Fine. I struggled with his belt and then the button of his jeans. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. I finally got them unbuttoned, and began the journey to get them down his hips far enough to release his cock. There seemed to be so much happening. The seat belt alarm was dinging, the music was playing, and I could hear Michael’s breathing. With no help from him, I fought and fumbled until it finally popped out. Holy shit. His perfectly shaped dick was twitching only a few inches from my face. It seemed so much bigger. I glanced up at him, hoping for some form of approval to proceed. I got nothing. I gripped the shaft in my hand and grinned at the girth. I made a comparison to my wrist and couldn’t decide if I had really skinny wrists, or if his cock was abnormally thick. I focused on my hand and watched as I worked it up and down the length of the shaft. His breathing became labored, as did mine. Gripping his dick in my right hand, I traced around the rim of the head with the tip of my left index finger. After a few slow circles, his cock twitched. Startled, I jumped. He flinched. I wet my lips and prepared to rock his world.
I looked up at him one last time. If he was going to object, it was going to need to be quick. He glanced down at me. Although he fought against it, his mouth curled into a slight grin. It was all the approval I needed. I’m going to suck your cock until you forgive me. Forever. I wrapped my lips around the head and flattened my tongue against the shaft. Slowly, I worked my dicksucking magic, taking a little more of him in my mouth with each stroke. Having him in my mouth made me feel powerful in a sexual sense. Whenever we had sex, I was left feeling like he was in charge—he was doing the fucking, and I was receiving whatever it was he was giving me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed having him in charge, and loved how he fucked me. But. When his swollen cock was in my mouth, and the sex began and ended with me sucking him until completion, it provided me a sense of accomplishment like nothing else. When he came, it was all the proof I needed that I satisfied him fully and completely. His hips began to rise and fall ever-so-slightly, working in perfect timing with my mouth. The soft skin of the head banged against my throat with each stroke—a reminder of his massive length. I began to work my hand gently along the slippery shaft while I continued to suck, hoping I could bring him to climax. The music played, the seat belt buzzer chimed, and cars sped by us, but his breathing became more prominent than any of the other sounds. Choppy and labored, it encouraged me to continue with vigor. I felt his hand gently rest on the back of my head. His hips bucked wildly. And his warm come filled my throat. Yes! I continued to suck until every last drop was gone, swallowing him gratefully. I returned to my seat, satisfied that I had pleased him. I truly hoped he had forgiven me as completely as he said he did, but it wasn’t the only reason why I wanted to suck his cock. I wanted to suck his cock because I loved him. And I wanted him to know it. I waved my hand in his direction and grinned a grin of accomplishment. “You can fix that mess with your jeans. I did my job.” He coughed out a laugh and shook his head. “I can’t fucking believe you did that.” “What?” “In the car? Really?” “You didn’t complain. And I thought it was hot.” “It was hot. It was hot as hell. Just kind of new for me.” “Nobody’s ever...” He shook his head. “Nope.” I stared back at him in disbelief. “Sex in a car?” “Nope.” I grinned. “Huh.” Eventually we exited the highway and ate a salad in anticipation of riding the roller coaster. Afterward, we drove to the theme park and found a place to park Michael’s car without fear of someone dinging it with their door. We sat in the rather remote parking location, several aisles away from any of the other cars, but well within view of passersby. I really wanted to ride the roller coaster, but the more I looked at Michael, the
more I realized how completely I loved him. “You ready?” he asked. I simply adored him. “Are you ready?” He wrinkled his nose. “For what?” He must have seen the adoration in my eyes. I pointed to his belt. “Take off your pants.” He turned and looked out the window. A mother and her children were walking toward their car in the distance. “There’s people out there.” I unbuttoned my jeans and began to push them down my thighs. “Recline your seat. Whatever. But I’m riding that cock. I have to.” “Why?” “Because I fucking love you.” He looked out the window one more time, shook his head, and sighed. Following what appeared to be a short mental struggle, he unbuckled his belt and removed his jeans. “That’s good enough reason for me.” I got undressed, climbed on top of him, and found a comfortable position with his seat reclined fully. With him flat on his back and out of sight, and my hands on the steering wheel, it appeared to anyone who happened to walk past that I was simply sitting in the car alone. I tapped my hands on the steering wheel, listened to the music, and fucked Michael like it was the last time I was going to have a chance. I felt I had a lot of making up to do for my foolish behavior. I waved at a few people as they walked past, changing their odd stares to a smile. It took quite some time, but after three orgasms on my part, he eventually climaxed. With the car running, and the air conditioner blowing cold air against our sweaty bodies, I collapsed into his arms in the reclined seat. When we woke up the theme park was closed, and I was certain Michael was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. But I was convinced we’d never ride a roller coaster together.
Chapter Thirty Michael “What about this one?” Terra asked. I was relaxing on the most comfortable couch I had ever had the pleasure of sitting on, and had no desire to get up. Dressed in jeans, heels and a black sleeveless top, Terra sat across from me on another piece of furniture. She spread her arms over the backs of the cushions and grinned. “I like it.” She rocked back and forth in the cushion. “Michelle asked about Cap again.” I pulled my phone from my pocket. “I forgot. I’ll text him right now. When does she want to try and do it if he wants to?” “She’s free anytime. And, thank you. At least I’ll be able to say I asked.” I sent Cap a quick text message and forwarded the photo of Terra’s friend she had sent me a few days prior. I pinched my phone between my thumb and forefinger and studied the couch she was sitting on. “How much do you like it?” she asked. “A lot. I like the leather.” She pressed her hands into the leather cushions, leaving impressions when she pulled them away. “Like it enough to buy it?” “I like looking at it from here.” She narrowed her eyes and appeared to be inspecting my choice of seating surfaces. “The one you’re on is a shade darker than what you have. It’s almost white. It’d be like making a change but not really making a change.” “True.” “This?” she said. “This is heaven. And it would look so good in there.” We both agreed my taste in furniture was boring, so I’d decided to redecorate my home—with her assistance. Wandering aimlessly through a furniture store, however, was proving to be more work than I was prepared for. She slapped the surface of the cushion beside her. “Come sit on it.” I pushed myself up from the couch and my phone buzzed. I opened the message from Cap, grinned at his response, and pushed the phone into my pocket. I flopped down beside Terra. The cushion seemed to envelop me. “Holy shit.” “I know, right?” “It swallows you up.” She pointed at the tag hanging over the arm. “Down-filled cushions.” “Down-filled heaven. You’re right.” “With your blond wood floors this stuff would look great.” The period of time I was without Terra allowed me to understand how I truly felt about her. Touching a woman and being touched in return was an experience in itself, but loving and being loved was beyond compare. I wanted my home to feel comfortable to her, and hoped making a few changes would convert it into a place she wanted to stay at, and less of a place she chose to visit.
I bounced up and down on the cushion. “Do you like it?” “I love it.” “Well don’t you two just look adorable?” a shrill voice asked. The sales associate wore too much makeup, had noticeable extensions that were in complete contrast to the color of her hair, and was wearing a lemon-yellow skirt and jacket that looked like they came right out of the 1950s. The ten pounds of jewelry she was wearing topped off the ensemble. She clutched her portfolio of paperwork and grinned. “That’s our Cordova line. It’s our bestselling line for a reason.” I studied the big brass buttons that dangled from her open jacket. “What reason would that be?” “Durability, comfort and value.” I glanced at the price tag and tried not to act surprised by the $8000 value. “From what I can see, it’s the most expensive piece in the store.” “It is. But it’s worth so much more. We could ask as much as $10,000 or maybe $12,000 for that couch and we don’t.” She turned and pointed to the love seat positioned beside the couch. “Did you see the love seat?” “I did. I stumbled over it to get to this one, yes.” Terra pinched my leg. “Stop,” she whispered. “Well keep looking, and in case you forgot, I’m Chloe.” “Thank you,” Terra said. “We’ll let you know when we make a decision.” Chloe’s eyes lit up. Apparently, she felt she found a new friend. “How long have you two been together?” “Three months,” Terra said. Her head cocked to the side and she stared back in disbelief. “Months?” “Mm-hmm.” Chloe gasped and covered her mouth with the tips of her fingers. “Oh my. I was going to guess years. You two have an undeniable aura about you.” “Thank you,” Terra said. “Again, if you need anything.” “Thank you,” I said with a false nod of gratitude. Terra rested her head on my shoulder. “Do you think we have an aura about us?” “I don’t know. It’s hard to say what others see.” She nestled her head into the space between my shoulder and neck. “I think after that little mess we went through that we must have something pretty special, because being without you was absolute hell.” “Cap says he’s never seen me happier.” “If you could describe it, how would you? You know, what you feel?” “I can’t,” I said. “It’s indescribable.” She lifted her head from my shoulder. “Really?” “Well. I don’t know. I’d hate to try and define what I feel. It wouldn’t do us justice.” “Do it in one word.” I put my arm over her shoulder. “Indescribable.” She leaned forward and puckered her lips. “That’s cheating.” I kissed her lightly. “Best I could do. And you? One word.” “Life-changing.” “That’s two words.”
“It’s one. It’s got a hyphen.” I stood and alternated glances between the two couches. She said my home looked clinical, and maybe she was right. The darker leather was by far the better choice, but not what I would have chosen if shopping alone. “So, what do you think?” she asked. I added the prices of the couch, ottoman and love seat. “About what?” “Furniture shopping. Did you think six months ago that you’d be doing this?” “No. I was pretty sure I’d be single forever.” “When the right person comes along, though.” She stood. “There’s not much you can do to argue with it.” I shook my head. “You’re not the right person.” “I’m not?” “No,” I said. “You’re the only person.” Chloe’s irregular steps in her oversized heels did little to disguise her approach. “So, have you two lovebirds made a decision?” I looked at Terra. “Do you want it?” She nodded eagerly. “I really like it.” “We’ll take the ottoman, love seat and couch. In this color.” “Really?” they asked in unison. “Really,” I said. “But there’s a catch.” “What’s the catch?” Chloe asked. “I want it delivered by the weekend.” “I’m sure that won’t be a problem,” she said. “We have trucks that deliver seven days a week.” I grinned and nodded. “We’re going to look around a little more.” “Take your time. And just let me know if you have any questions.” As she turned away, I glanced at Terra. She was smiling from ear to ear. “What are you so happy about?” I asked. “You’re actually going to buy it?” “You said you liked it.” “I love it.” “I want my house to be a place where you want to be. A place where you’re comfortable.” “I am comfortable there.” “You said it looked clinical.” “Everything’s white. It does look clinical. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be there.” “I just. I want you to be happy. Happy with everything. I’m tired of us going back and forth and spending time at both places and eventually spending nights apart. I just. I want my place to be comfortable for you.” “Are you thinking. Do you mean you think we should...are you...” she stammered. “I’m thinking you need to start thinking about whether or not you want to live with me.” There, I said it. “Oh, wow. Yes, I uhhm. I’d love to start thinking about that.” “Well, get busy thinking about it,” I said with a laugh. “And let me know what you come up with.” “I’m done,” she said. “Done what?” “Thinking.”
“And?” She walked toward me with her arms outstretched. “Let’s do it.” “Go pick out some bedroom furniture,” I said. “Are you serious?” I wrapped my arms around her and held her tight to my chest. “Anything you want.” “Really?” “Really.” I buried my face in her hair and inhaled a deep breath. Lilacs, jasmine and sunshine. The aroma reminded me of our little escapade in the Saks dressing room. “You better get busy looking,” I said. “Or I’m going to end up bending you over this couch.” She pulled away and glanced over each shoulder. “You can’t do that in here.” “Probably not a good idea, but I just got a whiff of your hair and it reminded me of Saks.” “Every time I hear that word it makes me wet.” “What word?” “Saks,” she said. I chuckled. “Saks, Saks, Saks, Saks.” “You’re going to get it when we get back to your place.” She held my hand in hers and started walking toward the bedroom furniture. “Why’d you want the furniture delivered by this weekend?” “Thought it’d look nice when Cap and Michelle came over.” She stopped and turned to face me. “He said yes?” “He did.” Her eyes widened. “Oh my God. This is so exciting. Can we buy some candles?” I stared back at her. “Candles?” “You don’t have any candles. Like none. In the whole house.” My stare continued. “I didn’t know I needed any.” “Well, you do. You need a few Jo Malone Wild Fig and Cassis candles. If you’re going to have a girl in your house full-time, actually there’s a lot of things we’re going to need to get.” I wanted a life with her, and I was willing to do almost anything to get it. But candles? “Alright,” I said. “We’ll get the Jo Malone candles. But it’s going to cost you.” “What?” she asked. “You’ll see,” I said with a grin.
Chapter Thirty-One Terra I was excited for our little get-together. Cap was dressed in dark wash jeans, a black button-down shirt, and dress boots. He looked more than different, he looked good. Michael was dressed similarly, and I had on my little black dress. All we were missing was Michelle. Cap was pacing the floor of the kitchen. “I’m as nervous as a whore in church.” “Don’t be,” Michael said. “It’s just a girl. We’re just going to hang out and have a few drinks.” “Maybe we’ll watch a movie on Netflix or something. Just relax,” I said. Cap stopped pacing and glared at me. “Netflix and chill for me means another episode of New Girl and an ice-cold beer. I ain’t used to this shit.” I grinned. “Just be yourself. And you look nice.” “When’s she gonna get here?” he asked. “I said seven, and it’s past seven, so any minute.” “And this chick’s cool, right? I mean I can just act like me?” “She’s really cool. You’ll see. After we get a few drinks in her, she’ll loosen up.” “So we gotta get her drunk to enjoy her company?” I laughed. “No. But she’ll open up after she has a few drinks.” Michael walked through the living room and nervously adjusted everything from the pictures on the wall to the plants I had purchased and carefully placed throughout the room. The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” I said. I opened the door. Michelle was dressed in jeans, heels and a sheer black button-down with an extremely low neck. Her rather large boobs were bubbling out of the top of her partially exposed bra. “You look like a hooker,” I whispered. She grinned and hugged me. “A really sexy hooker. Oh my God. Is that him?” she whispered. “Black shirt. Yeah.” “Quit cock blocking me.” She chuckled, pushing me to the side. “Move.” By the time I closed the front door and walked into the kitchen, she had introduced herself to Michael and Cap, and Cap was pouring her a glass of wine. Michael and Michelle stood on one side of the kitchen island, which was also a bar, and Cap stood on the other. I walked to Cap’s side and picked up my wine. Michelle reached for her glass. “So, you used to be a marine?” “I did. Ten years of getting shot at was enough, so I got out.” “What do you do now?” “Security advisor. I train people in the use of weapons, and tactics. Boring stuff. You?” Michelle took a sip of wine and leaned forward, pressing the bottom of her boobs onto the countertop, and forcing the tops out of her bra. “I’m a trust-fund baby, just like Terra.” I glanced at Michael. I couldn’t tell if he caught it. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I glared at her, trying to get her to see me without Michael doing so. Her eyes were glued to Cap.
Eventually, I gave up. I fucking swear. Michelle, if you fuck this up... “Trust-fund baby, huh?” Cap nodded toward Michelle and raised his beer bottle. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.” Stand up. Your tits are falling out, and you look like a slut. I cleared my throat. Twice. Michael exchanged glances between Cap and me. I was sweating bullets, and wondered if Michael could tell. I tossed my head toward the living room. “Should we go sit down?” “I’m fine right here,” Michelle said. “Unless everyone else wants to.” “You ever seen New Girl?” Cap asked. “Oh my God,” Michelle gasped. “Best. Show. Ever.” “Isn’t that the fuckin’ truth. Just finished season three. Schmidt is the funniest fucker I ever seen.” Michelle chuckled and finally stood up straight. The neck of her see-through blouse hung well below the top of her bra. I fought against the urge to walk around the bar and adjust it. “They’re all funny,” she said with a laugh. “That’s the best show. I swear. I love it.” “What’s your favorite episode?” Cap asked. In the middle of a drink, Michelle lowered her wineglass. “The one when Winston and Schmidt went to buy crack. What about you?” “The one where they all talked about losin’ their virginity.” “I laughed so hard,” Michelle said. “Schmidt is such an idiot.” Tempted for a moment to go into the living room with Michael and leave them in the kitchen talking about New Girl, I decided to drink my wine and enjoy their conversation instead. The evening was more about them than it was about us, anyway. I just hoped she didn’t make any more mistakes. We stood at the bar for some time, talking and laughing, and for the first time since Michael and I had been together, I felt completely normal about our relationship. My lack of exposure to any and everyone I knew while in Michael’s presence acted as a constant reminder that my family and friends were unaware of how happy I was, and how much I simply adored Michael. Sharing time with Cap and Michelle made me feel like my relationship wasn’t such a secret, and I liked how I was beginning to feel. My mind soon faded away from the conversation and to my father. I tried desperately to convince myself he would find a way to accept Michael. I eventually decided that if Michelle was in a relationship with Cap, and I was in one with Michael, that it would be much easier to tell my father. He and Michelle’s father could discuss their concerns with each other, find a way to accept what we had done, and life would continue without anyone being killed, me included. I glanced at my watch. It was almost eight o’clock. “So how tall are you?” Michelle asked. “Six-three,” Cap responded. She straightened her posture and thrust her chest forward. “I’m five-three.” Cap took a drink of his beer and grinned. “Perfect size.” Michelle’s eyes went wide. “For what?” Oh Lord. “For anything. Pickin’ up. Tossin’ around. You know.” I glared at Michael and quickly shifted my eyes to Cap. “Tossing around?” “Yeah,” he said with a nod. “Durin’ sex.” Well, that didn’t take long. “Do you really think you could pick me up? Like up off the floor?” Michelle asked.
Oh Lord. Really? “Know I could. Hell, I bench-press two-hundred-sixty pounds forty-five times three days a week. I don’t think pickin’ you up will be a problem.” She pushed her wine to the side and walked around the end of the bar. “Do it.” Michael glanced at me, shook his head, and shrugged. He didn’t seem to be concerned about the earlier trust-fund comment, and I convinced myself he didn’t catch it. He hadn’t said two words all night, but with Cap and Michelle ogling each other and talking a hundred miles an hour, it was tough to even get a single word in on their conversation. Cap slipped his hands into Michelle’s armpits, picked her up until her head almost hit the ceiling, and lowered her to the floor. Holy crap. “So what about the tossing around stuff?” Michelle chuckled. “Tell me about that.” I shot her my best laser-sharp glare. “Michelle!” She glanced over her shoulder, returning her own shitty stare. “What?” Cap glanced at me and shrugged. “Ain’t much sense in beatin’ around the bush.” His eyes shifted to Michelle. “I been known to like it a little on the rough side.” Michael coughed out a laugh. I glanced at Michael and shook my head. “Sounds to me like we have two things in common,” Michelle said. Cap folded his arms in front of his chest. “Oh we do?” Michelle nodded. “Watching New Girl and rough sex.” “You like it rough do ya?” “The rougher the better,” Michelle said. Oh. My. God. It was not at all how I expected my perfectly planned Friday night to go. With the new furniture, decorations, pictures and random foliage I had arranged throughout the house, I had visions of a nice quiet night of eating, drinking and talking. In less than an hour, the one-sided conversation hadn’t included Michael and me, and the subject was now rough sex. I walked around the bar and to Michael’s side. “What the fuck?” I whispered. “Looks like a match made in heaven,” he responded. I nodded toward them. Standing at the end of the bar giggling and staring at Cap, Michelle looked like an awestruck teenager. “Look at them,” I said with disgust. Michael seemed genuinely okay with how they were acting. He chuckled. “They’re fine.” “It’s embarrassing. Her boobs are falling out.” “Cap seems to like it.” Cap may have, but I didn’t. “I can’t believe she wore that top. She looks like a hooker. I wanted her to talk to you. I thought we’d like eat, and have a few drinks, and sit around on the new furniture and talk.” “Looks like she had something else in mind. He’s not putting up much of an argument, though.” “I’m sorry.” I kissed him lightly on the lips. “I love you.” “There’s nothing to be sorry for. They’re having fun. We’ll eat and talk later.” “Well, Brother Tripp. Sounds like we’re going to head over to my place,” Cap said. What? I shot Michelle another glare. “What?” Michelle grinned. “We’re going to go watch New Girl and hang out.” I waved toward the newly decorated living room. “You can watch New Girl here. And we can all hang out.”
“We’ll all hang out some other time,” she said. A matter of minutes later, and they were gone. I sat on the new couch staring at the blank screen of the new sixty-inch LED television Michael purchased. “Now what?” I huffed. Michael shrugged. “We could try that New Girl show.” “I’m fine with that.” By Monday morning, we had watched the entire first season of the show, only getting off of our new couch when completely necessary. Over the course of the weekend, I appreciated how Michael had changed since we met without becoming someone else. We laughed until we cried while we watched the show, eating the finger foods and snacks I bought for the party. We drank wine, ate peanut butter out of a jar, and he held me in his arms until we fell asleep. At one point we decided to shower, and although we did it together, we were both far too excited to return to the show to initiate sex. Having sex with Michael was magical, but I loved that we didn’t have to have sex to enjoy each other’s company. Our relationship was blossoming into so much more than sex, and on that weekend, I realized how easy it was to get lost in who Michael really was. A former marine badass turned gun runner who wouldn’t hesitate to fight for the person or situation he felt was deserving. And official couch potato. He was mine, and I couldn’t wait until I could tell the world.
Chapter Thirty-Two Michael Terra stood in the kitchen facing the living room. With my chest against her back, I pressed my hands against her waist and rested my chin on her left shoulder. “I love you,” I whispered. “Are you about ready to go ride this thing?” She tilted her head to the side, resting her cheek against mine. “I love you, too. I’ve been ready, but I think it’s just a lie. We’re never really going to leave.” I released her hip with my right hand and traced the tip of my index finger along the zippered seam in the back of her dress. It seemed I’d just zipped it up. The warm breath of her sigh prompted me to continue. I pulled the tab of the zipper down slowly. Her dress parted in the center, exposing her back as the two pieces of material fell to each side. I released her hip with my left hand and unclasped her bra with the tips of my thumbs. Eagerly, I reached inside the front of her dress and squeezed her breasts until she began to moan against my cheek. I pressed my mouth to her neck, kissing her softly while continuing to knead her soft flesh. With each squeeze of my hands, her breath escaped her lungs in a sudden burst as if forced by my touch. My cock began to fight for freedom. While kissing along the side of her neck as if it were the only portion of her body deserving of the sensual touch of my lips, I pulled my hands from beneath her bra and reached inside her panties. I pressed my right palm flat against her stomach, and slowly slid it past the waist of her panties, stopping as the tip of my middle finger slid into her wetness. “Oh God,” she cooed. Touching her had become easy, and I found it to be very rewarding. The softness of her skin, the smooth contour of her body, and the effect my touch seemed to have on her prompted me to continue—often well beyond what I had planned. Exploring her body was easy, stopping proved to be impossible. I slid my finger in and out of her tight confines a few times, lubricating it fully with the juices that freely flowed from her willing warmth. I pulled it out, then bit her neck lightly, circling her swollen clit with the tip of my finger while I nibbled my way to her shoulder. She inhaled a choppy breath. I pressed my two middle fingers together and pushed them inside. She slapped her flattened hands against the countertop, spreading them wider as I pushed my fingers deeper. The base of my fingers massaged her clit. She gasped. I moved my mouth to her ear. “I’m going to fuck you senseless.” “Please,” she begged. I fumbled with my left hand and eventually got my jeans unbuttoned and unzipped. My rigid cock sprung free as soon as the denim cleared the shaft. I lifted her dress and grasped the waist of her panties in my left hand, while still finger-fucking her rhythmically with my right. I breathed into her ear. “Do you like these panties?” “They’re...one of my...favorites,” she said between strokes of my fingers. “Sorry,” I whispered as I yanked against the frail fabric sharply, snapping the material in two.
I pulled the top of her dress down and her bra up, exposing her full breasts, the sight of which drove me insane. My left hand pressed against the center of her back, pushing her chest onto the countertop. I leaned over her and bit the bottom of her ear between my teeth. My cock tapped against her inner thigh as I positioned myself between her legs. “Back that little ass up so I can shove you full of cock.” She raised herself on her tiptoes and pressed the cheeks of her ass against my hips. With my fingers still steadily fucking her and my palm torturing her clit, she reached between her legs and fumbled to find my throbbing shaft, eventually gripping it tight in her hand. Before I could give my next instruction, she guided the head into her wanting pussy. With my fingers still deep inside of her, I fought to push my length inside of her. Determined to fill her with my love, I curled the tips of my fingers into the rough flesh of her G-spot, tickling it as I pushed my length steadily into her. I released her earlobe from between my teeth and encompassed her ear with my mouth. “How much do you want?” I asked. Her response came out in grunts. “Every. Fucking. Inch.” Her response made my already rock-hard cock become harder yet. Now giving her once-in-a-lifetime pussy some serious stiff dick, I lifted my chest from her back and gazed down at her perfectly shaped ass. Slowly, I worked my hips back and forth, gaining a little more depth with each stroke. I watched as the glistening shaft slid from inside of her, only to be pushed back in as deep as I was able to explore. In a few strokes, I was balls deep, my fingers still working in unison with my rigid shaft. Her already tight pussy being filled with two of my fingers and my cock made the experience that much more enjoyable. Her pussy gripped me like a fist, making each stroke one step closer to climax. I held myself in deep and curled my fingers into her G-spot. “God, I love fucking you,” I moaned. “Fuck. Me. Then,” she grunted. It was all the invitation I needed. I pulled my fingers from inside of her, grabbed her waist with each hand, and began to pound my stiff shaft into her like it was the last chance I would ever have. The sound of our grunting filled the air, and soon turned into short, choppy breaths. I felt my balls tighten, warning me the end was near. My hips slapped against the soft skin of her ass a few more times, and it was all I could take. I closed my eyes, arched my back and prepared for the climactic finale. “I’m going...Michael...I’m...” Her pussy clenched against my shaft. I somehow managed a few more strokes, each one more difficult than the last. The friction of her flesh against mine caused my cock to swell. Her legs shook. As we often did, in unison, we reached climax. I exploded inside of her, filling her with every drop of my love. Her pussy contracted one last time, shooting a shock through me and reminding me that there was no one else on earth that could satisfy me in the manner she was able. I held myself deep inside of her and lifted against her shoulders until her back was against my chest. “I can’t. Stand up,” she murmured. “Just one kiss,” I whispered. She turned to face me, forcing me to fall from her warmth. We embraced, and kissed passionately, which caused me to forget everything else that surrounded me. Terra became all that existed each and every time we kissed. At some point, the kiss ended.
Our mouths parted. I gazed into her beautiful brown eyes. She was an amazing woman, and I loved her with every ounce of my being. “I love you,” I said. She stood and stared back at me, her mouth twisted into an ornery smirk, her unkempt hair hanging down past her shoulders in a tangled mess. “I love you too,” she said. “But at some point in time we’re going to have to leave this kitchen. My legs are rubber.” It was the second time we had sex in the kitchen since the shower that followed our breakfast. I glanced at the clock. It was almost one o’clock in the afternoon. “Are you hungry?” I asked. “I’m starving, but I can’t stand up anymore.” I lifted her from her feet and lowered her down onto the kitchen counter. I pulled up my jeans. “Sit there for a minute. I’ll make lunch.” “And then we’ll go ride the roller coaster?” “Maybe,” I said. “It depends on what happens after we’re done eating.” We’d been trying to get away to ride the roller coaster for over a month, and it seemed an impossible task. Each and every time, for whatever reason, we ended up fucking instead. “Anymore, when you say ride the roller coaster, it’s just another term for sex. We’re never going to ride it.” I glanced down at my crotch. “Say it again,” I said. “What? Roller coaster?” I felt a faint twitch in my jeans. I laughed. “I think you may be right.” “I think with you, it’s about priorities. And the roller coaster is no longer a priority,” she said. “Riding you and riding a roller coaster are similar, I guess,” I said. “Oh really?” I buckled my belt and nodded. “Both are exhilarating, take my breath away, and cause my heart to race.” “I’m better though,” she said. “How so?” She raked her fingers through her hair. “A roller coaster won’t suck your cock for Jo Malone candles.” The thought of her sucking my dick in the car for the candles made me grin. “Which are about gone, by the way.” “Make our lunch, and after we eat we can go get some more.” I pulled the refrigerator door open and glanced over my shoulder. “It’s going to cost you.” “I can’t believe you make me suck your cock for candles.” She closed her eyes and inhaled a long breath through her nose. “But it’s so worth it.” I closed my eyes, and inhaled a whiff of the sweet aroma that filled our home. I thought of her sucking my cock in the car after we left the candle store. I glanced down at my twitching cock. Worth it? I couldn’t agree with her more.
Chapter Thirty-Three Terra “Mom must have misunderstood.” My father picked up a slice of capicola and folded it into his mouth. “Misunderstood how?” he asked as he chewed the slice of meat. “It was just a guy I met. It was nothing serious. We just talked at the coffee shop,” I lied. I’d gone to see my father with every intention of telling him about Michael. As soon as I got there, it was apparent my mother told him about the Lutheran-American I met, and he wasn’t happy at all. As much as I wanted to be truthful about everything, he had made me extremely uncomfortable doing so. Thinking about it in my father’s absence was easy. In his presence, things were much different. He was a very intimidating man, even when he was simply trying to be my father. I looked out the kitchen window, hoping I could finish my discussion with my father before my mother arrived and turned my lies into an argument. He peeled another slice of the meat from the loaf and folded it in his palm. “I’ll talk to your mother.” “Okay,” I said. “I think she just got mixed up.” Beside the capicola sat a cold dish of pasta al ragu he had taken from the refrigerator. He lifted a forkful of the pasta to his mouth and slurped it from the fork. Noodles dangled from his bottom lip. “What happened with Vinnie?” I looked away, disgusted by his choice of snacks. “We broke up.” He raised his fork. “He was a good Italian boy.” He wasn’t, but I knew better than to share my experiences with him. “He was okay.” Another forkful of pasta. “You’re not getting younger.” “I know.” I needed to change the subject. “So, is Peter still sick?” His face lit up with joy. “Sick? No. Peter is a strong boy. He’s just fine.” Apparently, while in Argentina, Peter had ingested something that made him terribly sick. When he finally got home, he was ill for several days that followed. “I talked to Mom, she said he was thin. That he lost a lot of weight.” His face went angry. He reached for the ham, paused and pulled a slice from the loaf. “His weight. Yes, he lost weight.” I often wished my father wasn’t completely secretive about his dealings with the mafia. According to him and his men, the mafia didn’t exist. They claimed to be businessmen, conducting business. They never admitted to being part of anything larger, participating in any criminal activities, or being organized. But everyone knew. I learned more about what my father was involved in by reading about him on the internet, watching the news, and listening in on conversations when I had the chance. I was left to decide what I believed to be true and what I hoped were embellished lies. I sighed. Men and their secrets. Michael said if I asked the right questions, I would always get the right answers. Maybe I never asked the right questions. “Why was Peter in Argentina for so long?” The words came out before I had a chance to stop them.
He snatched another piece of ham. Then another. He plunged his fork into the pasta, became frustrated, and tossed it into the dish. He folded the capicola like he was angry at it. He poked the ham in his mouth. “Business.” I wondered if Michael’s statement regarding asking questions would work with my father. Considering what had been revealed about Michael, I decided to delve further. I reached for the ham and shot him an innocent look. “What kind of business?” “What’s with the questions? Business.” I tore the slice of ham in two. “Since when do you have business in Argentina?” “Since now.” Ask the right questions, get the right answers. “What happened to him to cause him to lose the weight?” He reached for the ham, paused, and glared at me. “He was sick.” “Because why? What made him sick?” He shrugged. It wasn’t an answer. He was avoiding answering me. Maybe he was just like Michael. If he didn’t tell me anything, he wasn’t telling a lie, he was simply choosing not to respond. “You don’t know why he was sick? What caused him to lose weight? You have no idea?” I poked half the ham into my mouth and waited for him to respond. He opened the refrigerator door. “Cannoli?” “You’re avoiding answering me.” He set the cannoli down on the island and gripped the edge of the countertop so firmly his knuckles went white. “Why the questions?” I decided to tell a version of the truth. “Vinnie and I broke up because he wasn’t telling me everything. He wasn’t being truthful. It hurt me. I just want to know.” He shook his head. “You don’t need to know. He was sick. He’s fine now.” I poked the remaining ham in my mouth and stared. He held my gaze for a long time. I struggled to keep from looking away. After what seemed like a lifelong stare-down, he sighed. He released the counter, picked up one of the cannoli, and began to pace the kitchen floor. “Your family’s business stays in this home,” he said sternly. “It is not for your friends.” “I understand.” “I tell you. Don’t be upset. You want to know?” “I won’t be upset.” I fought not to smile. “I just want to know the truth. For once.” He stared. I laughed, hoping to ease his mind. “I’m a big girl.” He walked the length of the kitchen floor and nibbled on the cannoli. After pacing back and forth a few times, he took a deep breath and exhaled heavily. “Figli di putanna took your brother hostage. I had to get a man...” Holy shit! I knew it wasn’t business. My heart raced. He glanced at the cannoli, walked to the trash and tossed it inside. “A man specializes in such things. They wanted money. So much money. They threatened the family. The man, the specialist, he agreed to help. He rescued Peter from the savages.” He looked at me with uncertain eyes. “Is that what you wanted to know?” I was still trying to process everything, but I was glad he’d told me the truth. “Yes. Thank you.”
“People. They think we have so much money. We don’t.” I knew better, but I agreed. “I know.” He reached for the ham and shrugged. “I work hard.” “I know you do.” I walked the edge of the island, and reached for his hand. “We’re safe? I don’t need to be worried?” “A misunderstanding,” he said. “It was a misunderstanding. You’re not at risk.” “Are you sure?” “As sure as the Pope is Catholic.” I wasn’t as sure as he was, and I always worried about such things. I asked, and he answered my question, trusting me to be able to accept the information he gave me. I was excited, fearful and wanted to know so much more, but knew to mask my feelings. I forced a smile. “Good.” “You say nothing to your mother. Not to Peter.” He pointed to me, and then to himself. “You and me. Our secret.” I grinned. “Our secret.” He glanced at his watch and gasped. “I’m late. Jimmy. He’s so demanding of my time.” I waved my hand toward the island. “I’ll put everything away.” He smiled, kissed me and turned toward the door. Before he got to the hallway, he turned to face me. “Loose lips. They sink the ships.” I shook my head. “Our secret.” “That’s my girl.” I cleaned up the mess and thought about everything he said. While I was wiping off the countertop, I had an epiphany. No way. In my father’s explanation of what happened to Peter, he didn’t mention Argentina. Peter wasn’t in Argentina. It was probably what he told everyone to hide what was really happening. Michael, Cap and the other two men had saved a hostage on the night before Peter came home. Cap said Michael gave the man one of his suits to wear. I tossed the rag on the countertop and raced to Peter’s room. Nervously, I looked through his closet at his suits. Four suits, all roughly the same color of dark gray, hung in his closet. They looked like what Peter had always worn when he was dressed in a suit, and not like Michael’s more modern-fitting clothes. Shit. I felt like a detective who had chased a lead in an investigation, only to find out it was a dead end. To think that somehow my father had talked Michael into saving my brother from someone who took him for ransom was a ridiculous thought anyway. I laughed to myself at my mind’s ability to manufacture such nonsense and walked out of the closet and into Peter’s bedroom. A quick scan of the room brought back memories of my childhood, and how I always felt like the much older sister, although I was only two years older. I turned to walk out, and when I did, noticed a few articles of clothing draped over the back of a chair at the desk—more than likely things he intended to take to the dry cleaners. Excitedly, I walked to the desk, lifted the items from the back of the chair, and voila. A navy suit. I looked inside the jacket. Brioni. 44R. I didn’t know what size Michael was, but he was smaller than Peter. Peter was like my uncle Sal, kind
of thick and a little chubby, but really tall. I ran to the closet, removed one of the jackets and looked inside. Joseph Abboud. 46L. I looked at the next. And the next. And the next. All were Joseph Abboud 46L. I carefully draped the clothes back over the chair and stared at them. I had no idea what was going on —or if my suspicions were accurate—but I suspected somehow Michael became involved in my brother’s rescue. I wondered if it was common knowledge that he was a former marine, and he offered such services, or if my father somehow knew him. Maybe my father purchased guns from him, I had no idea. I stumbled to the kitchen. I began to run through the possibilities, seeming almost frantic to find the answers, only to realize I couldn’t know anything for sure. There was no way I would be able to find out anything definite without telling Michael who I really was, and if I told him now it was quite possible I would jeopardize our relationship. And that was something I couldn’t risk. My father certainly wouldn’t volunteer anything, and if I revealed I knew Michael—depending on how my father came to know him—it could create many more problems than simply dating a non-Italian beyond the authority of the Catholic church. I somehow needed to find a way to remain Terra Wilson and act like I knew nothing—at least until the entire truth revealed itself. But I feared the guilt from not telling Michael who I really was would kill me.
Chapter Thirty-Four Michael I didn’t want to appear stupid, but I was sure beginning to feel that way. “I guess I’m not really following what it is you’re trying to say.” Agrioli adjusted himself in his seat, turned toward Jimmy Cupcake and shrugged. Cupcake brushed the sleeves of his jacket with his hands as if he was cleaning them of an invisible filth. He locked eyes with me and leaned forward in his seat. “Like a fuckin’ security detail. Your men accompany our drivers, make sure everything goes smooth.” I picked up my pencil and flipped it between my fingers as I focused on Jimmy. He sat expressionless, waiting for my response. I weighed the pros and the cons of such an arrangement, and came up with many more cons than pros. “And if something happens? If the cargo is threatened?” Cupcake shrugged. I shifted my eyes to Agrioli. He shrugged and unsuccessfully attempted to hide his smile. “It’s not really what I do. Not my forte,” I said. I watched as the pencil flipped from finger to finger. It was relaxing for me, and something I had perfected, starting when I was a bored kid of twelve years old. I had spent countless hours flipping a pencil between my fingers, often driving whoever was trying to talk to me insane before finally stopping. Cupcake’s eyes darted back and forth between the pencil and Agrioli. Agrioli inhaled a deep breath through his nose, held it, and exhaled slowly. “You’re a businessman, no?” I considered myself so. I glanced around my office and nodded proudly. “I like to think so.” Agrioli gave the office a quick visual survey. “Successful?” “Again,” I said. “I like to think so.” “Your success. Do you measure in customer satisfaction, or in earned profit?” Cupcake chuckled. I didn’t find it humorous. I glanced at Cupcake. He stopped laughing. I met Agrioli’s gaze. “Profit.” Agrioli nodded. “A percentage of revenue from each safe delivery.” His habit of beating around the proverbial bush was driving me insane. I shot him a half-assed glare. “You’re offering me a percentage of your revenue? Is that what you’re saying?” He shrugged and glanced at Cupcake. Cupcake shrugged. I had very little, if any, interest in being involved in the mafia’s many business transactions. Being considered a man of honor was one thing, but actually being involved was another altogether. Illicit activities brought the watchful eye of the law, and along with it, the potential threat of imprisonment. And I doubted there was much the mafia was involved in that I would be able to embrace as being morally acceptable. Agrioli sighed. “Last month. We lost three trucks.” Cupcake turned his palms up in agreement to the loss. “Hijacked?” I asked. They glanced at each other. It seemed like a simple question. Obviously, there was more to their operation than they wanted to
reveal. “Your drivers were hijacked? While in transit?” Cupcake looked at Agrioli. Agrioli studied me. I felt lost. Terra was on her way to meet me for lunch, and I really didn’t want two of the mob’s upper echelon in my office when she arrived. I glanced at my watch. I had fifteen minutes. The pencil continued to flip through my fingers while I alternated glances between the two men. I was done with the mafia secrecy and the guessing games. “Look, I’m afraid there isn’t going to be much I can do to help. I appreciate your offer, though.” Agrioli adjusted himself in the chair. “Cigarettes. Each truck delivered, fifty thousand dollars.” He had my attention. “My way? Fifty grand?” Agrioli nodded. “How many deliveries a month?” Cupcake responded. “Four? Six?” I stopped the pencil in my palm. That was two-and-a-half million bucks a year in cigarette delivery security detail. I doubted Agrioli had a license with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, so I was left to wonder about the legitimacy of the deliveries. I glanced at my watch. Ten minutes. “You pay in cargo, or in cash? I don’t need a warehouse full of Marlboros.” Agrioli laughed out loud. Cupcake joined in. “Cash,” Agrioli said when he finally caught his breath. I stood. “Let me consider it, and talk to my men. I’ll have a response to you by the end of the week.” I planned on shaking the men’s hands, but realized when they stood that we were going to do the hugging thing again. I walked around the edge of my desk, hugged each of them and walked them to the door. I watched as their Cadillac backed out of the parking spot, but my mind was elsewhere. It seemed like a lot of money to assure safe delivery of a truckload of cigarettes. I decided there had to be more to it than what they were telling me, but felt not knowing might have been best. I stood in the warm sun for several seconds and considered their offer. A few hundred thousand dollars extra a month would allow me to retire in Belize a lot sooner than I originally expected. My eyes came into focus at the sight of Terra’s Mercedes approaching the entrance to my parking lot as the Cadillac pulled out. Instead of pulling in, she simply drove past. The Cadillac went left, toward the highway, and Terra drove off to the right. After she drove a half mile down the street, I lost sight of her car. I reached for my pocket, realized I had left my phone on my desk, and decided to wait and see if she returned. Five minutes later, just as I was giving up, she pulled into the lot. She opened her car door, pressed her hands against her hips, and stared. “So, what are you doing?” “Wondering.” “About what? It’s hot out here and you’re dressed in a freaking suit.” “Wondering what the fuck happened. You just drove by like you forgot where I was.” “I was daydreaming. The next thing I knew I was way up by that Three Corners bar. I’m a ditz sometimes, I swear.” “Some guys came to talk, and I was bidding them farewell, and whoosh! You blew past.” “What uhhm. Some guys came to talk, huh?” “Yeah, they made me a business offer.”
Her eyes fell to the parking lot. She kicked at a loose pebble and then dug the toe of her shoe into the asphalt, trying to free another. “A uhhm. Was it a good one?” “I haven’t decided yet.” I wondered just how comfortable she was with my gun dealings. She sure seemed to be skittish about it sometimes. She looked up. “A gun deal?” “No,” I said. “To provide a security detail.” She furrowed her brow. “Like armed guards?” “Something like that.” “Is that legal?” I shrugged. “Depends.” I returned her gaze and waited for her to ask many more questions, wondering how long I could distract her from reaching the actual answer to what she wanted to know. She sighed heavily. “Ready for lunch?” That was easy. “Let me lock up.” I locked the door and turned around. Wearing a dress with her hair twisted into a bun, she looked elegant. Sophisticated. Beautiful. I walked toward her. “I think I’m about ready for a little time off.” “What do you mean?” I kissed her lightly, leaned away and waved my hand toward the building. “I need some time away from this.” “What are you going to do?” “We. What are we going to do? And the answer’s relax.” “Sounds fun.” She was right. It would be fun. And so much more.
Chapter Thirty-Five Terra I walked the row of kennels twice with no preconceived notion of what I was looking for. Several of the dogs were active, some barked incessantly and others were fast asleep. There was one puppy lying down who was awake, quiet and not very active. But he was adorable. As I walked past his kennel the first time, he lifted his head slightly and watched me. As soon as I passed, his head flopped down to the floor between his front feet. His body was completely brown, and his front feet were white. Just above his shoulders, the brown stopped and his entire neck and head were white—except for one brown eye. The skin all over his body was loose and wrinkly. And his eyes were sad. On my third trip along the row of kennels, he lifted his head again and stared. I stopped and stared in return. He opened his mouth wide, yawned and flopped his head down on the floor. A girl wearing a T-shirt that said I Love Cats approached me. She smiled and tilted her head toward the kennels. “Hi. I’m Nichole. Having any luck?” I pointed toward the wrinkly pup. “What about that little guy?” She smiled. “Hank? The English Bulldog?” “The little wrinkly guy. Is that what he is?” She nodded. “His name’s Hank?” “Yep. Hank. He’s a rescue pup.” “What does that mean?” “Well, it was a strange situation. The owner got arrested or something, I don’t know for sure. You know. Rumors and stuff. But. The entire litter was abandoned, left in the home unattended. The mother was left outdoors, and the pups inside. The mother, or at least we think it was the mother, was hit by a car and killed. The entire litter died except him. He hadn’t eaten in over a week. Our vet said it was a miracle he lived, but he did. We named him Hank. It’s short for Hank the Tank. You know, because he’s indestructible.” My throat tightened. He was the perfect pup. I glanced at him again. He lifted his head, this time for only a few seconds. When it fell to the floor of the kennel, I chuckled and turned toward the girl. “He’s uhhm. So he’s an orphan?” “I guess that’s one way of putting it.” As I didn’t see making Michael part of my family was in my immediate future, I felt we needed to make a family of our own. At least until I could figure out a way to reveal the truth. Seeing my father leave Michael’s shop provided all the reassurance I needed to believe that Michael was the one who saved Peter. As proud as I was of him for doing so, knowing my father knew Michael and had made offers to him regarding business made revealing the truth about who I was that much more difficult. Until I figured out what to do, I guessed he and I could share our home together in secrecy. In my way of thinking, I’d already given myself to Michael, and giving him the puppy would be as close to providing
him a family as I would be able. And I wanted him to have a family. “He can’t seem to hold his head up. Is he okay?” I asked. She grinned and nodded. “He’s fine. They’re a lethargic breed. He’s lazy. You want to go see him?” I nodded eagerly. We walked inside, past all of the other dogs, and to Hank’s kennel. After she unlocked the door, he stood, shook himself off, waddled up to me and flopped down between my feet. I looked at Nichole. “He likes you.” I glanced down at Hank. Without lifting his head, he shifted his eyes up and stared. “Hank,” I said sharply, hoping he’d at least lift his head. His mouth snapped open. “Woof!” “I’ll take him,” I said. “You can spend some time with him, and see if he’s really what you want...” I felt like such a girl, but the thought of getting the puppy and having even a likeness of a family with Michael almost brought tears to my eyes. “No,” I said. “I’m sure.” I bought the puppy, a portable kennel, a box full of toys, grooming supplies, food and a bed. After the journey home, I arranged everything, and Hank curled up in his bed. While I waited for Michael to come home from work, I wondered what my father had proposed to him. If he accepted it, what effect it would have on our relationship once I figured out a way to reveal the truth? Not opening up to Michael was making me sick, and one way or another, I knew I couldn’t hold out much longer. I felt like the lies were building up, and soon they’d explode, making my life a complete mess. I relaxed on the couch with Hank lying in his bed on the floor beside me. In a short period of time, we were both fast asleep. And I dreamt of Michael and me having a normal life.
Chapter Thirty-Six Michael I struggled with my decision regarding Agrioli’s deliveries, and after a long discussion with Cap and Lucky, decided to give it a try. Agrioli was grateful for even a trial run, and felt confident afterward that I would agree to provide the service full-time. Tired, sick of the tension and in need of a relaxing evening, I parked my car in the garage, lowered the garage door, and walked inside the house. The sweet smell of my home reminded me I needed to buy more candles. Many more. I inhaled a deep breath, peered through the kitchen and into the living room, and was surprised Terra hadn’t greeted me yet. “Terra?” Silence. I cleared my throat. “Terra!” Woof! What the fuck? I walked around the corner of the island, and was greeted by the cutest English Bulldog pup I had ever seen. His skin fit loosely over his barrel-shaped chest, and hung down from his jowls. As a kid, I’d always wanted a dog, but my living arrangements as an orphan prevented it. In the military it was impossible, and although I told myself I would get one when I was discharged, I hadn’t done so yet. Filled with wonder over what was going on, I lowered myself to the kitchen floor and patted him on his overly large head. A camouflage collar with matching camouflage tag hung from his neck. I reached for the tag and lifted it into my view. “Hank” Tripp 648 Timbercreek Shawnee Mission, KS 66203 My heart filled with warmth. The thought of having a pet of my own had been a lifelong dream. The pup collapsed at my feet. “Terra!” I shouted. She sat up, peered toward me over the back of the couch and rubbed her eyes. “I’ve got a surprise for you.” “I’ve got one for you, too.” “Yaaay!” She jumped to her feet. “Mine first.” Hidden behind the kitchen island, I stood with Hank at my feet. “I hope you like it,” she said. “I just...” She glanced around the living room nervously. “Well...” “What are you looking for?” “I have a surprise. It’s, well, it’s...crap. Can you come help me?” I picked up the pup and walked toward the living room. Crawling on her hands and knees, and looking underneath the couch and love seat, she appeared frantic.
“Looking for this little guy?” I asked. “Shit!” She stood up. “I wanted to surprise you. So, uhhm.” She twisted her hips back and forth nervously. “I hope it’s okay, but I wanted us to have a family.” “It’s more than okay. I’ve always wanted a dog. He’s cute.” She pursed her lips and nodded her head eagerly. It seemed she was about to cry. I cradled the lazy pup in my arms. “What’s wrong?” She shook her head. “Nothing. I just wanted to tell you. But.” “Tell me what?” She wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m such a girl.” “What?” “He uhhm. His mom and all his family died. He’s a little orphan. We’re his only family.” It probably shouldn’t have made a difference, but it did. My throat went dry, my heart filled with love, and I knew—absolutely knew—that the little pup and me would be the best of friends. My mind went to thoughts of taking him to work with me, taking him to the park, and teaching him how to do all of the things a puppy should learn to do. My chance to raise a son in a manner I wish someone would have raised me. “I love you,” I said. “Thank you.” I leaned toward her and kissed her with Hank sandwiched between us. She looked over my shoulder and toward the kitchen. “What’s my surprise?” “It’s not in there,” I said. “Where is it?” “A long way from here,” I said. She pushed her hands into her back pockets and twisted her hips back and forth. “Oh really?” “Do you have a passport?” She nodded eagerly. “Yes, I do.” “Can your little Long Island shoe store live without your consultations for a few weeks?” Her eyes widened. “I think so, why?” I hoisted the pup to my chest. “Well, as long as they don’t mind us taking Hank with us, we’re going on a little vacation.” The look in her eyes told me my decision to take some time off was the right thing to do. Terra had seemed stressed out lately, and I suspected moving in together was to blame. Too much change too quick. She wrapped her arms around me, held me tight and kissed me like it was her last chance. And I cradled Hank in my arms the entire time.
Chapter Thirty-Seven Terra Blindfolded, I was led up some steps, through a doorway and into a room. A very familiar scent caused my nostrils to flare. The aroma gave me an immediate feeling of comfort, even though I was blind to my surroundings and in a strange place. I heard Michael let Hank out of his crate and then I felt him fumbling with the blindfold. After a fewseconds-long struggle, the cloth was removed, and I gazed around the room. Dimly lit and illuminated by candles, and only candles, the small space felt romantic and possessed a certain warmth. That smell...it’s... I gasped. “But. They’re Jo Malones. How...” “I had them shipped down here and paid a guy to set it up. What do you think?” I think you just melted me into a puddle. “I think I love you.” I knew we were on an island of Belize, but that’s all I knew. After arriving at the airport and taking a shuttle to another island, Michael insisted that I allow him to blindfold me for the last leg of our journey. I felt like I did when I was a little girl and it was finally Christmas morning. It was all I could think to compare it to. I gazed around the room and inhaled slowly though my nose. As my nostrils filled with the wonderful aroma, my heart swelled with love for the perfect man providing me the perfect getaway. He smiled the dimple-producing smile I rarely got a chance to see. “I love you, too.” He kissed me. The candles flickered in the otherwise dark room, reminding me that although we had reached our destination, it was late at night, and I was exhausted. I bet Hank and Michael were, too. “Where are we?” “Caye Caulker, Belize. It’s a small island. And this...” He waved his arms around the open room. “This is our home for two weeks.” “Are we close to the beach?” He opened a pair of French doors. A veranda looked out to the beach, which the home was positioned directly on top of. The ocean was our backyard. “Oh my God. This is...” “Perfect?” I closed my eyes and listened to the waves wash ashore. “Can you imagine living here?” “I can.” I turned to face him, draped my arms over his shoulders, and thanked God for his existence in my life. “I can’t even...I just...I love you.” “I love you, too.” It had taken us twenty hours of flights, layovers and shuttles to get where we were, and neither of us slept the entire time. As exhausted as we were, we should have probably gone right to sleep. Instead, we cuddled in a hammock on the veranda, and listened to the sounds of the ocean. Silently, and in each other’s arms, we swayed back and forth until we finally fell asleep. I didn’t think of my father or Michael’s dealings with him, but my need to clear up the mess of lies that seemed to be piling up at my feet seemed to linger.
After some thought, I decided that I would, without a doubt, resolve the issue once we returned to the States, allowing our trip to be exactly what it was intended to be. A romantic getaway. That night, a life with Michael—free of lies and deception—was my last conscious thought. * * * I pulled my newly purchased straw hat down over my eyes. “I really don’t care, as long as they bring it to me, but I am not moving.” “I’ll walk up and get it. Fish or shrimp?” “Tacos?” “We don’t have a lot of options if you’re not going to get up.” I lifted my hat, tilted my head to the side and opened my eyes. Blinded by the sun, I squinted, wishing I hadn’t forgotten my sunglasses in the house. Michael stood ten feet away, dressed in knee-length swimming shorts and nothing else. The tan he’d obtained over the past twelve days made him look like one of the locals. “Shrimp. With lime. I had fish yesterday.” “To drink?” I admired Michael’s muscular torso. It was difficult not to. “One of those pineapple things.” He laughed. “The one that made you dizzy?” “Yeah.” I scanned the beach. As far as I could see, it was completely void of people. “Maybe we can bone after.” “We’re supposed to go snorkeling at two, remember?” I sighed. “Fine. Get me one anyway. And don’t feed Hank any more tacos, I mean it.” He returned a shitty glare. Caye Caulker, Belize was an amazing place to be. Clear water, plenty of warm sunshine, and a plethora of activities to keep us busy from sunup to sundown. Our late-night partying with a few of the dive instructors and their respective wives left little time for us to sleep. But I had no interest in sleeping. I was truly in heaven. Being away from everyone and everything allowed me to understand just how much I wanted to make my life with Michael official. After our second night on the island, I decided as soon as I got home that I was going to tell my father about Michael, and simply deal with his reaction like a responsible and perfectly capable adult. No excuses. I’d find a way to tell him, resolve it completely and make him accept it. Then, and only then, I’d tell Michael the truth. More than anything, I wanted my life with Michael to be free of any drama, secrets or surprises. The intensity of the sun in Belize was much different than in the United States. The cool island breeze made sunbathing a relaxing activity, and the 80-degree weather disguised just how close to the equator the island was. Several times since we met, Michael had mentioned retiring in Belize, and now that I had the opportunity to experience one of the islands, leaving wasn’t something I was looking forward to. He returned with our lunch, and we ate the tacos on the beach. Later, we relaxed in the beach house we rented for the length of our vacation, and then went snorkeling in the afternoon. The various colored fish, starfish and gorgeous seashells we encountered were a far cry from the landscape of Kansas City, and as much as I wanted to miss my home, I didn’t. After we snorkeled, we walked along the beach, hand-in-hand. I held Hank’s leash and followed
Michael, not really paying attention to anything, but loving everything. The gentle waves washed away the footprints the puppy and I left behind, making me feel like everything was just a dream. Michael stopped and turned away from the ocean and faced inland. A few hundred feet away the sand ended. Palm trees, dense foliage and thick grass filled the landscape. It looked like what I had always called paradise. “How far did we walk?” I asked. He shrugged. “Half a mile.” I turned toward the ocean. Crystal-clear water did little to hide the beauty of the coral reef that was immediately offshore. I turned inland. Snow-white sand separated us from the beautiful jungle. The large leaves of the palms swayed back and forth in the breeze, and the grass rustled lightly. I inhaled the smell of the beach and tried to memorize it. I never wanted it to end. “What do you think about this?” “The beach?” I asked. “No,” he said. “This? This exact spot.” I glanced to my left. The beach was void of anything but sand. To my right. The same. It was as serene a place as anyone could ever find on earth. I sighed. “I love it.” He grinned his dimple-revealing smile. “We own it.” I coughed. I thought he said we own it. “What?” He grinned and nodded. “We own it.” I looked around me. “We own what?” He waved his arms in each direction. “This. It’s where I went yesterday while you were taking a nap. I got everything signed, and the money’s been wired. It’s final. Well, less signing a few documents.” I was so excited I felt like I was going to pee. “You’re serious?” “Completely,” he said. “It’s more than I wanted to spend for land, but after seeing it, I had to. It’s the perfect place for...well, for us.” My heart rose into my throat. “Oh my God. You’re serious?” He smiled a prideful smile. “I’ll have to do some serious saving to fund building the perfect house on it, but yeah. This is ours.” I released Hank’s leash and tackled Michael. Together, on the place where one day we’d have a home, we rolled until we were covered in sand while the puppy looked at us like we were nothing but fools. And the unthinkable happened. I fell even more in love with Michael. Evening soon came, and after we ate dinner, we stood on the veranda and faced the ocean. I inhaled the sweet scent of the beach. “I love this place. It’s going to be impossible to get me to leave tomorrow.” He smiled. “One day you won’t have to leave.” “Sounds like a dream.” He took a drink of his beer and gazed out at the ocean. “My dream? My dream is standing beside me. I just had to find the perfect place for the perfect woman. And now, we have it.” It was the perfect vacation with the perfect man. My imperfectly fucked-up life had somehow drifted into the perfect dream, leaving me breathless, head over heels in love, and grateful. “I fucking love you,” I said. While staring out at the darkening horizon, he grinned. “I fucking love you.” The island we were on was between San Pedro, Belize, and Belize City. Michael had insisted that we
stay on the side of the island that faced west, so we could enjoy the sunsets. As the sun prepared to set I grew sad knowing that it was our last night on the island. “This is beautiful,” I said, tossing my head toward the sunset. “If there’s a way we could...” I wanted one more day. Just one. But the beauty of it all caused the words to escape me. He knew what I meant. To be with Michael permanently on the island would be my dream come true. He walked into the house and soon returned, grabbing my hand in his as he stepped on the veranda. “Come on. The sun’s about to set. Our last sunset here. Let’s spend it on the beach.” “Hank?” I asked. “Leave him here.” Barefoot, we walked to the beach hand-in-hand. We both waded out to where the ocean met the land, and walked along the edge of the water. I closed my eyes and allowed the soft waves to wash along the tops of my feet as I followed Michael, holding his hand the entire way. “Open your eyes,” he said. He placed his hands lightly against my upper arms and turned me to face the sunset. His hands fell to my waist. We swayed back and forth in the warm breeze while my feet slowly sank into the wet sand. “Watch the sunset,” he said. “I am. I can’t help it.” I gazed over his shoulder and watched in amazement as the pinks, purples, oranges and yellows melted into the wet horizon. “Tell me when it’s the most beautiful. When it’s perfect,” he said. I got lost in the moment. I stared out over the ocean while the sound of the waves came ashore. In a moment, the colors of the sunset blended with the few clouds that had gathered out along the horizon, making the entire horizon seem as if a child had painted it with finger paint. The sky slowly started to darken, leaving only a slight reflection on the water, and the bright colors in the sky. I peered over his shoulder and smiled so much it hurt. “Now,” I said. He released my shoulders and lowered himself to one knee. I looked down at him as if he were foolish for not turning around and enjoying what I believed to be most beautiful sight on earth. “I love you, Terra.” “I love you too.” My eyes shot out to the horizon. “Get up. Look at this. You’re going to miss it.” “Terra?” The colors were magnificent. The time was perfect. “Look,” I said. “It’s the perfect time. Right now.” “Terra Wilson.” My eyes fell from the horizon to Michael. “Yes?” With his back to the sunset, he glanced over his shoulder and met my gaze. “A life with you in it is as beautiful as that perfect sunset. Before it’s gone, answer me this.” “Okay.” He fumbled with his shorts and pulled out something sparkly. “Terra, complete this beautiful moment, and say yes.” Oh my God. “Will you marry me?” You can’t tell him. Not now. I’d dreamt of the time coming since I was a little girl. My mouth went dry. My head spun in circles. I shifted my eyes from the ring to him, to the horizon, and back. My eyes welled with tears.
I opened my mouth. The words didn’t immediately come. I wanted it more than anything. But. I was filled with guilt. “Terra?” I raised my index finger. I have something to tell you, but not until we get home. A tear escaped my eye. I nodded. My lips parted slightly. I had gotten myself into a terrible fucking mess, but I wanted a life with him so badly. I fought against the tightness in my throat. “Nothing on this earth would make me happier,” I said. “Of course I will.” With a shaking hand, he slipped the ring onto my finger. And, despite the increasing darkness, I saw something I never would have guessed I’d see in a lifetime of lifetimes. A tear rolled down Michael Tripp’s cheek.
* * * * * Look for more of Tripp and Terra’s story in THE GAME CHANGER, coming Fall 2016 from Scott Hildreth and Carina Press!
Acknowledgments A woman walked into my life, and instead of complicating it, she completed it. I express my love for her through the voices of my heroes. Jessica, you are my one. And my only.
Look for The Game Changer and The Good Boss, the next books in the Mafia Made series, coming soon from Scott Hildreth and Carina Press.
About the Author Scott Hildreth was born into this world early and plans on leaving late. Between his arrival and departure, he has written twenty-four novels and has every intention of writing many more. Despite falling in love with his wife, Jessica, late in life, Scott professes to be an authority on the subject of love, and his writing is a reflection of this belief. Biker, military hero, Mafia boss, billionaire, boxer, vigilante and tattoo artist will always be his preferred careers, but as writing has become a full-time gig, he must live vicariously through the characters in his books who share his admiration for these professions. Twitter: @ScottDHildreth Facebook Fan Page: www.Facebook.com/ScottDHildreth Facebook Author Page: www.Facebook.com/SDHildreth Goodreads Author Page: www.Goodreads.com/ScottHildreth Website: www.ScottHildreth.com
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