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Stolen Touches: Chapter 11

Salvatore

I lean my shoulder on the bookshelf and regard Milene. I’ve been doing so quite a lot in the last week. She is sprawled on the couch, watching another cooking show. My gaze travels along her body and stops at her legs which are dangling over the armrest. A pair of extremely ugly sandals with multicolored sequins adorn her ridiculously small feet. The cat is stretched out next to Milene, with its head turned toward the TV. Something is seriously wrong with that animal.
Before I moved Milene in here, I would go to the office early in the morning and usually return to the penthouse late in the evening. But now, I keep finding some idiotic reasons to leave the office and drop by my place at least twice a day, just to get a glimpse of her. Milene tries her best to ignore my presence when she sees me watching her, so I started coming upstairs for lunch every day.
“You can’t cook,” I say. “Why do you watch cooking shows?
This morning when I came to breakfast, Ada approached me and asked if I would consider installing extra fire extinguishers in the kitchen. When I asked why, she said my wife offered to help her make pasta sauce yesterday and managed to start a fire in the pan because she left it to heat for too long.
“Well, I watch Animal Planet, too, and you don’t see me chasing rabbits around or laying eggs in the sand, do you?” Milene says without taking her eyes off the screen. “Are you going to dictate what I watch now?”
“Maybe.” I don’t give a fuck what she watches, but I quite enjoy rattling her cage.
Milene cocks her head to the side and arches an eyebrow at me. “Is that some compulsion? Ordering people around just because and expecting them to dance to your tune?”
“It’s how things work around here, Milene.”
“So, you say jump and people ask how high?”
“Pretty much.”
She scrunches her nose. “Your life must be a really boring endeavor.”
Yes. I never realized just how much until she barged in and made a mess of my entire existence.
“Grab your purse,” I say.
“I don’t need a purse for lounging on the couch.”
“We’re going to have a look at one of the lots I bought.”
“Not interested. But thanks for the invite.” She throws a placating smile at me and shifts her attention back to the TV.
I straighten and walk toward the couch. Milene pretends she doesn’t notice me when I stop in front of her. I bend, grab her around the waist, and lift her onto my shoulder.
“What the fuck!” she yelps. “Put me down!
Ignoring her protests, I head toward the front door. I want to spend time with her, and she has no say in it.
“You controlling, rude, overbearing asshat . . .” She rattles on with her insults, while she pounds on my back with her fists. It’s . . . quite amusing.
I carry her toward the elevator and get in.
“. . . absolutely no care whatsoever about other people’s wants . . .”
I hit the button for the garage.
“. . . find a therapist who’ll help you with your issues . . .”
The elevator dings when we reach the underground level. I step out and pivot toward my car as another vehicle parks next to mine, and Nino gets out.
Milene continues to babble, “. . . a fucking Neanderthal with zero . . .”
I pass my head of security—who stares at us with his mouth agape—open the passenger door, and deposit my wife onto the seat.
“Put on your seat belt, Milene.”
She tilts her face up and presses her lips together, then gives me the middle finger. I close her door and walk around the hood to get into the driver’s seat. Milene is sitting with her arms crossed, staring through the windshield at the concrete wall.
“Milene,” I say.
She snorts.
Reaching over, I grab her chin and turn her head. We stare at each other for almost a minute. The defiance in her eyes turns me on so fucking much. I don’t want to break her spirit because I enjoy the ways in which she tries to defy me. But she needs to understand there is a leader in every pack. And in this particular menagerie, that would be me.
“Seat belt,” I whisper.
Milene exhales through her nose, reaches for the seat belt, and tries three times before she finds the buckle. She is still looking at me, her eyes boring into mine. I move my thumb to lightly brush the line of her lower lip, then lean away and start the car.

Milene

I turn around, looking over the green expanse as far as my gaze can reach. The vast field is surrounded by trees on three sides. It’s beautiful.
“I thought you said you bought a lot,” I say, “not half of the state.”
“I bought several. I still haven’t decided what I want to build on this one, so I’m acquiring all the available land. Just in case.” He takes my hand and leads me back to the car. “Are you hungry?”
I expected the lot he mentioned to be somewhere in the city, but we drove two hours to reach it.
“I’m starving,” I mumble, looking down at our intertwined fingers. I should pull my hand away. But I don’t.
“There’s a restaurant twenty minutes from here,” he says as he opens the passenger door for me. “I eat there when I come this way.”
“Some posh place, I presume?” I ask when he starts the car.
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
I gape at him. “I’m in fucking jean shorts, Salvatore. Even if they let us in, everyone will stare.”
He gives me one of those pinning looks of his, then reaches for his phone and calls someone.
“Jonathan,” he says into the phone, “I’m coming for a lunch with my wife in fifteen minutes. We don’t want to be disturbed.”
He doesn’t wait for the person on the other end to reply, just ends the call and throws the phone onto the dash. Rude much? And what will this Jonathan guy do, anyway? I assume he’s the manager.
I shake my head and train my eyes on the road in front of us. “You have a very strange way of handling phone calls.”
“How so?”
“What happened with ‘Hello, how’s your day?’ or ‘How are you?’ You know, common courtesy.”
During the two-hour drive over here, his phone rang at least seven times. With each one, he said exactly two words: “yes” when he took the call, and then either “yes” or “no” after listening to the person on the other end of the line. He’d cut the call right afterward.
“I don’t care how they are or how their day is going, Milene.”
I turn my head and stare at him. I kind of assumed that was the case, but I didn’t expect him to be so blunt and admit it. “You are one exceptionally rude person.”
“What I am, is uninterested.”
“Uninterested.” I nod. He’s absolutely nuts. “About the people who work for you, or people in general?
“In general. With one exception,” he says and levels me with that unnerving gaze of his. “You.”
I blink in confusion and quickly avert my eyes. Should I be flattered or terrified?
Probably both.
* * *
“Whoa.” I stop in my tracks as we pass through the restaurant’s rear French doors.
The place is situated near the edge of a forest. It’s a big one-story colonial style mansion. What leaves me speechless, however, is a huge garden in the center, placed under an enormous iron dome covered with vines and greenery. The tables and chairs are all done in white wood, with flowerpots scattered around to create a jungle-like aesthetic. It’s magnificent. And completely empty of people, excluding the manager who greeted us at the doors.
Based on the size of the parking lot and the number of tables, the place can accommodate more than a hundred people. It’s lunch time. How come there is not even one table occupied?
Salvatore’s hand lands on the small of my back as he ushers me toward a table on the side of the garden area, set next to a lemon tree planted in a red terracotta pot. He pulls out the chair for me and takes a seat opposite.
“Is something wrong with their business?” I ask in a quiet voice.
“No. Why?”
“Well, I’m under the impression you need guests to run a restaurant business.
“They have more customers than they can handle,” Salvatore says and takes the menus the waiter brought. “What do you want to drink?”
“Lemonade.”
“A lemonade and a mineral water,” he tells the waiter. “And tell Jonathan we’ll take a few dishes the chef already has prepared.”
The waiter nods and vanishes.
“Mineral water?” I raise an eyebrow.
“I don’t drink when I drive.” He leans over the table and reaches for my hand.
A pleasant shiver passes through me when he traces the lines on my skin in the same way as he did when we went for our “date.” And like before, I don’t remove my hand, even though I want to.
“So, if this place is usually packed, where is everyone?” I ask looking around.
“They left.”
“Left? Where to? Why would they . . .?” I snap my head back and gawk at him. “You shooed away a whole restaurant full of people?”
“You said you wouldn’t be comfortable with them staring at you.” He pulls my hand closer . “Now they won’t.”
My heartbeat skyrockets. That’s the most fucking romantic thing a man has ever done for me.
“So, a hundred or more people had to leave in the middle of their meal because of my shorts?”
“No. They had to leave because no one gets to make you feel uncomfortable.”
I lean onto my elbows, coming up to his face with only a few inches separating us. “I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with my head dangling upside down while you so graciously carried me to the car as if I was a sack of potatoes. In fact, it was a rather uncomfortable experience, Salvatore.”
“Then let me rephrase my declaration. No one, except me.”
Ugh. I roll my eyes and sit back down in my chair.
“Tell me, do you really chop people up for fun?” I ask.
It’s been bugging me from the start. When Angelo told me that Salvatore sent Enzo’s body back in three bags, I assumed he was some super aggressive, violent guy who did that kind of stuff in a mad rage. That’s the absolute opposite of the extremely composed man who’s currently watching me from the other side of the table. I have the impression that he wouldn’t bat an eyelid if a fucking UFO landed in the middle of the restaurant.
“No,” Salvatore says and reaches for his water.
“I knew it.” I smirk. Of course he doesn’t. I’ve always been good in judging person’s character.
“I do it because nothing sends a stronger message than a severed head delivered to your doorstep, Milene.”
My jaw drops. I’ve been married off to a complete lunatic.
Salvatore cocks his head to the side and pins me with his gaze. “Are you scared of me now, cara?”
I take him in, his big body casually leaning back into the chair, those amber eyes boring into mine. After hearing that declaration, I should jump up from my chair and run away screaming. Only, I don’t.  Something must be wrong with me, because for some unexplainable reason, I am not scared of him.
Two waiters approach the table, carrying huge oval platters in each hand, saving me from giving Salvatore my answer. As they place them on the table, I notice both are trying really hard not to meet Salvatore’s gaze. I guess that’s understandable. People tend to avoid eye contact with someone they think is crazy. But what puzzles me is that neither the waiters nor the manager who greeted us when we arrived ever glanced at me. Why would they avoid looking at me? I’m a nice person.
I shake my head, take a sip of my lemonade, and cough. How many lemons did they put in, a whole pound?
“Excuse me?” I call to the nearby waiter.
He stills while arranging the plates on the table, then turns his head to Salvatore. Why would he do that?
Salvatore gives him a nod.
The waiter straightens and finally gives me his attention. “Yes, Mrs. Ajello?”
“Can I have some sugar, please?” I ask and lean my elbows on the table again, glaring at my  husband who’s been watching me the whole time. I wait for the waiters to leave, then raise my eyebrows. “What was that?”
“What exactly?”
“That nod. Because it looked like you were giving the waiter permission to address me.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“Are you for real?”
“He’s not from the Family, Milene. Therefore, he is not permitted to look at my wife unless I allow him to.”
I have no comeback to that, so I just stare at him.
“What would you like to eat?” He nods toward the plates and the ton of food lining the table in front of me.
“I’m not picky.” I shrug and place something that looks like rice and green leaves on my plate, together with a huge piece of fish.
“Don’t you want to know what it is first? What if you don’t like it?”
“Someone took time to make these . . . whatever you call them. They cooked them and brought them over. I didn’t have to make any of this.” I stuff a spoonful of food into my mouth. “So, what’s not to like?”
“You really hate cooking.”
“Yup.” There is something that looks like fried onion rings on one of the plates. I reach out and take a piece, then yelp. They’re scorching hot.
“Let me see.” Salvatore seizes my hand and turns my palm up.
I try pulling out of his grip, but he holds my hand tightly. My heartbeat picks up, and butterflies flutter in my stomach again as he lifts my hand to his lips and places a kiss on the tips of my fingers. The moment his grip loosens, I quickly retrieve my hand and pretend I’m engrossed in my meal. Why does he keep doing that? Shouldn’t the seduction come before the marriage? He’s already forced me into marrying him, so I don’t see the point.
He can keep trying. I’m not sleeping with him. I would rather die than sleep with him. I take another bite and chew slowly while my inner devil mocks me.
Liar, liar, pants on fire. You’ve been imagining how it would be. Wondering if he would also be controlling in bed. You’ve been ogling him in secret like he’s a candy for days, and . . .
I put my fork next to the plate and grit my teeth. Stop! I yell at my internal self. That bitch has the worst taste in men. Just . . . fucking stop.
“Are you all right, Milene?
My head snaps up. “Yup,” I murmur and keep shoveling the food in my mouth. “Why?”
“You had a very interesting facial expression for a moment. It seemed like . . . frustration.”
“Well, I’m forced to be with you, Salvatore. Wouldn’t you be frustrated if someone forced you to spend time with yourself?”
He leans over the table and takes my chin, making me look at him. “Is it really that awful? Spending time with me?”
No. And that’s exactly why I’m so frustrated. “Yes,” I say.
His thumb traces a line along my chin and up to my lower lip. If I saw his picture somewhere, I would have said he’s ridiculously handsome and that’s it. But the image wouldn’t be able to convey the potency of his presence in person. I quickly pull away from his touch and focus back on my meal, eating some more of the delicious food. Trying my best not to let my eyes wander to him. It doesn’t really help because even though I’m not looking at him, I can still sense his gaze on me.
Why did he insist on marrying me? I’m pretty sure I’m not his type. I mean, he’s like a walking commercial for Armani or Prada, or a similar high-end designer, in his impeccably tailored gray suit and black shirt. And that slicked back dark hair, with snow-white strands splattered here and there, which tempts me to thread my fingers through it and count the grays. I don’t know why I’m so attracted to him. I like blond guys. Chris Hemsworth. Brad Pitt. The angelic-looking type. I steal a quick glance at Salvatore and snort. He could give Satan a fucking run for his money. He’s just missing the damn horns and a pitchfork.
Suddenly, his gloved hand enters my field of vision and takes a strand of my hair that’s fallen out of my ponytail and is hanging next to my plate. He holds it between his fingers for a few seconds, then moves it behind my shoulder.
“You find something amusing, Milene?”
I put my fork down and lift my head.  Salvatore is leaning over the table, his face barely inches from mine, and his unnerving eyes are staring right into my own. My breath catches. I force myself to hold his gaze while keeping my expression blank. It’s not easy.
It’s both horrifying and exciting how someone is able to ensnare a person with only a look like Salvatore does. I’m afraid that if he tried to pull me into the depths of hell while looking at me like this, I would willingly follow. Not good. Not good at all.
“I don’t find anything amusing in this situation, Salvatore.” I sigh. “Listen, I understand. I really do. I fucked up, and you wanted to punish me for it. Nobody messes with the big bad New York Don—point taken. But let’s be honest, here. This,”—I point my finger to him, then to me—“this is not going to work. It’s better we part ways. You send me back to Chicago, saying I suck in bed, or whatever, and annul the marriage. I get out of your hair and go on with my life. And you can continue beheading people, sending their bodies around via FedEx, or whatever, without me to mess with your schedule. What do you say?”
Salvatore places his left hand at the edge of the table and tilts his head, regarding me in silence. Is he considering my proposition? Oh God, please make him say yes.
The table between us suddenly flies to the side, knocking me backward in my chair. Dishes and cutlery crash onto the cobbled ground. Pieces of food and broken glass scatter everywhere within a five-foot radius. I stare at my husband with wide eyes as he gets up and takes two casual steps until he’s standing right in front of me.
Leaning back in my chair, I tilt my head up. “That would mean no, I assume?”
“That would mean no, Milene,” he says in that cold tone, grabs me around my waist and lifts me up over his shoulder.
“Salvatore!” I yell with my head once again dangling behind his back as he carries me. “Put me down! Right now!”
He takes a couple of more steps, then stops. Thank you, Jesus, there is some sense in him after all.
“The food was excellent, Jonathan. Tell the chef we enjoyed our meal and put the damages on my account.”
“Of course, Mr. Ajello,” answers a strangled voice, and Salvatore resumes his trek through the restaurant. The fucking son of a bitch keeps walking!
“I have your shoulder lodged in my stomach,” I snap. “I’m going to puke all over your fancy suit if you don’t put me down, Salvatore.”
A ping sounds as the car door unlocks. Salvatore settles me onto the passenger seat, walks around the car, and gets behind the wheel as if everything is perfectly in order.
“If you have a mental health diagnosis, now is the time to mention it,” I say, staring at his perfect profile.
He turns his head and I find myself a prisoner of his intense gaze again. His hand shoots up and grabs my chin. I suck in a breath and stare at him as he leans close to my face.
“It doesn’t really matter, cara. Because you’re stuck with me,” he says through his teeth, then crushes his mouth to mine.
It’s so angry. His kiss. My response—even angrier. I grab his neck, intending to squeeze it, but instead my hands slide upward, fingers tangling in his hair. There is not enough air in my lungs as I try to keep up, taking everything he’s giving. God, his mouth . . . so hard, but somehow soft at the same time. Teeth biting at my lower lip. His fingers, still holding my chin. It’s madness. I can’t think. I don’t want to think. When he kissed me in that parking lot it was like a sea breeze, but this is a tempest. I find myself wrapping my arms around his neck, trying to get closer to the stormy sea that is Salvatore Ajello. His other hand cups my cheek, then moves to my nape, squeezing. The lips on mine go still.
“It looks like we’re not incompatible, Milene,” he says into my mouth, then abruptly releases me and starts the car.
I fix my gaze onto the road in front of us, wondering what the hell just happened.

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