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Stolen Touches: Chapter 18

Salvatore

I ground to a halt at the threshold as I’m leaving the bathroom, staring at my bed. Empty. Milene was still sleeping when I went to take a shower, so she’s probably gone to her own room to do the same. She should be here. I grind my teeth and head toward the closet.
I have a meeting with Arturo and Nino in fifteen minutes, and one thing I truly hate is being late. Once I put on my prosthesis and get dressed, I quickly head down the hallway, only to stop in front of Milene’s door. The sound of a hairdryer can be heard from the other side. With a shake of my head, I continue toward the elevator but pause after a few feet. Squeezing my hands into fists, I take another step and stop again. Fuck! I turn around and head back toward Milene’s room.
“Hey.” She turns off the hairdryer when she sees me enter. “Do you need something?”
Yes. Her in my room. In my bed. The fact she’s not there inflicts a feeling of restlessness in the back of my head which I can’t shake off.
“No,” I say. “I have a meeting, so I’ll skip breakfast today.”
“Okay.” She leaves the hairdryer on the dresser and comes over. “Is something bothering you?”
“No. Why?”
“You seem . . . angry.” She places her hand on my forearm and brushes it lightly.
“I don’t get angry, Milene.”
She arches her eyebrows. “You could have fooled me.”
I grab her around the waist and pull her to me. She smiles. It’s one of the smiles I like—the one where her eyes seem as though they’re twinkling.
People rarely smile at me, and I don’t really want them to. I just need them to do what they’re told.
Squeezing my arm more tightly around her, I smash my lips against hers, stealing that smile. It’s mine. She’s mine. Along with everything else she has to give. Every smile, every kiss, every moan. They’re all mine.
“I can’t . . . breathe,” Milene mumbles against my lips.
I ease my hold slightly.
Her eyes dim a little, and she looks puzzled. Concerned, even. She brushes the back of her hand down my cheek. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Of course I am.”
Milene nods, kisses the side of my chin, then steps into her walk-in closet.
“I need to take Kurt to a vet. He’s been scratching his hind leg like a maniac for three days.”
“If that thing brought fleas into my home, I’m going to strangle it.”
“He doesn’t have fleas,” she throws back over her shoulder. “It looks like some kind of allergy. There’s a veterinarian’s office two blocks from here. I found them online. I’ll call to see if they have some availability today.”
“Call Nino when you know the time. He’ll have the bodyguards waiting for you downstairs.”
“Four?”
“Yes.”
“Jesus.” She sighs and shakes her head.
“Call me before you leave, and when you get back.”
“Yes, Mom.”
I grit my teeth. She doesn’t understand. I don’t fucking understand it, either. I only know I need her to call me. “I’ll be in the office.”
“I’ll come by as soon as I’m done with Kurt,” she says.
Arturo and Nino will be arriving in a few minutes, but instead of heading to my office, I move to stand behind Milene. She’s still rummaging through her closet and grumbling something about a yellow T-shirt. I bend my head to bury my nose in her freshly washed and dried hair.
“Chocolate?” I ask.
She looks over her shoulder and smirks. “Nope. Coconut.”
“Hmm.” I wrap my arm around her waist and pull her to me. “Are you sore?”
“A little.” She gasps when I slide my hand inside her panties. “You kind of demolished my pussy last night.”
I circle her clit with the tip of my finger, teasing it with fast strokes until I feel her getting wet. Her breathing quickens, and I slowly move my finger lower and slide it inside. Milene grabs the shelf in front of her and opens her legs wider, letting out a sweet moan.
“Does this hurt?” I ask and slide my finger a little deeper.
“No,” she breathes out and grabs my wrist. “More.”
“Will you call me as we agreed?”
“Yes!”
“Good girl.” I slide my finger out, circle her clit a few more times, then push two fingers inside her in one thrust. Milene gasps and shudders as she comes.
“You see how nice it is when we agree on things?” I kiss her neck and remove my fingers from her pussy. When I leave the room, she’s still clutching the shelf while taking rapid, shallow breaths.
* * *
“So, do we know who the snitch is?” I ask Nino, who’s sitting on a chair next to Arturo.
“It’s Tomaso,” he says. “The guys cornered him, and he broke after two hours.”
“Send someone to question him. I want to know who his contacts are, how they got in touch with him, and what he told them. You have”—I check my watch—“nine hours.”
“Okay.” Nino nods. “Then what?”
I look at Arturo. “I want all capos and team leaders in the old safe house at ten this evening.”
“All right. What should I tell them? What’s the occasion?”
“A demonstration of sorts.”
“No specifics?”
“No, we’ll leave it at that,” I say. “Where are we on Fitzgerald?
“He hasn’t been leaving his lair.” Nino shakes his head. “I have two men outside his house at all times, but so far, no activity.”
I lean back in my chair, weighing our options. “I want you to nab one of Fitzgerald’s men and bring him to me. Someone close to him. Unharmed. Make sure no one notices when you grab him, I want to keep this encounter on a need-to-know basis.”
“Where should we bring him?”
“Into the safe house downtown. Do we have any other pressing matters?”
“Do you plan on going to the City Museum opening next week?” Nino asks. “If you do, I’ll have to organize the security detail.”
“No.”
“What about Rocco’s wedding? Everyone will expect to see you there.”
I’m not really in the mood for mingling with the Family, but gossip surrounding my marriage has already picked up, so I guess taking Milene to meet them is in order. “We’ll go.”
“How many bodyguards?”
If it were just me, I wouldn’t be taking any, especially to a Family wedding. “Stefano and Aldo.”
“Okay. Anything else?”
“No. That’s all.”
When Nino and Arturo leave, I pick up the phone to call Milene. She messaged me two hours earlier after getting back from the veterinarian. Barely an hour later, I found myself feeling on edge. It’s idiotic. I know she’s two floors up—in the penthouse—because I called Ada to make sure she was there, and yet, I still have a powerful compulsion to check on her again.
“I was meaning to call you,” she says the moment the line connects. “Why is Ada moving all of my things to your room?”
“Because I told her to.”
“And it didn’t occur to you that maybe you should talk to me first?”
No. “I want you to move into my room, Milene.”
“You’re seriously lacking in social skills. You know that, right?”
“Yes.”
She sighs. “Kurt is coming, too, just so you’re aware.”
“I’m not going to sleep in the same bed with a cat. Especially one with fleas.”
“He doesn’t have fleas. The veterinarian says he’s depressed.”
A depressed cat. “Should we sign it up for a group therapy?” I ask.
“Ha ha.”
“What do you do with a depressed cat?”
“He suggested taking in another one, so they could play.”
“No.”
“He’s suffering, Tore!”
“I said no, Milene.” Another cat and I will be the one who’s suffering.
“There’s a rescue close by. We can go have a look after lunch.”
“No. More. Cats.”
“You are a bad person.
“Yes.”
“Please? Just one. You can choose.”
“We’re not taking in another cat, Milene,” I say and cut the call.

Milene

“Oh, look at the ginger one!” I grab Salvatore’s hand and pull him toward the last cage in the line. “He looks like a mini Garfield.”
“That one is a little problematic,” the lady who runs the rescue says, observing Salvatore with concern. My husband isn’t the typical clientele—stoically standing there in his charcoal Armani suit, wearing a scowl on his face while regarding the cat in question. I guess she’s right. He certainly doesn’t give the impression of someone who likes cats.
“Problematic?” I ask. “In what way?”
“No more mentally defective animals, Milene,” Salvatore grumbles. “One is enough.”
“Well, he’s a little grouchy,” the lady says. “Not very good with people.”
“Sounds exactly like you, Tore.” I place a hand on his arm. “Can we take him?”
“No.”
“But look at him! Isn’t he cute?”
“No.”
“Tore!”
He looks at the cat, then moves his gaze to glare at me. “You said we’d come here to look.
I cock an eyebrow and smile. “I lied.”
Salvatore watches me, his eyes glued to my lips. He does that a lot. He always studies my mouth when I smile.
“Just take the damn thing, and let’s go home,” he grumbles.
* * *
“Tore!” I yell from the guest bathroom. “He won’t come out from the shower stall.”
I nudge the food bowl toward the cat and coo at him, but he keeps sitting stubbornly in the corner.
Kurt came to see the new resident as soon as we arrived, hissed at him, and went back to my old bedroom. Saying things are not going as I expected would be putting it mildly. I sigh, leave the cat in the bathroom, and head toward the dining room where Salvatore is already eating.
“We need to name him,” I say as I sit on the chair next to him. “How about Riggs? Like Mel Gibson’s character in Lethal Weapon.
“I don’t particularly care for the way you name your animals.”
“I’m glad you like it.” I scoop a spoonful of mashed potatoes from a bowl on the table and drop them onto my plate.
“What’s with you and the obsession with eighties movies?”
“They made the best films back then. Want to rewatch Escape from LA with me?”
“I don’t watch movies, Milene.”
I lower my fork and stare at him. “You don’t watch movies? What do you do in your free time?
“Go to a gym on the third floor. Watch a game from time to time. Sleep.”
“And . . . that’s it?”
“Yes.”
“It’s no wonder you’re surly all the time.”
His hand shoots out and grabs at my chin, tilting my head to the side until our gazes meet. “I’m surly?”
“Extremely.”
“And watching action movies from the eighties will fix that?”
“Maybe?” I smile. “Want to try?”
His gloomy gaze moves to my lips. “We can watch a movie this weekend,” he says and lets go of my chin to return to his meal.
“Are we going to do emails after lunch?” I ask.
“Yes.”
“Okay. I’ll go to check on Alessandro first.”
“I’ll come with you.”
“You don’t need to,” I say with my mouth full. “It’ll only take a minute, and I’ll go to the office straight after.”
“I said I’ll come.”
I lower my cutlery and sigh. “Do you think I’m going to flirt with Alessandro or something?”
“No. I don’t like the idea of you alone with another man.”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”
“Probably. I still don’t want you alone with him.”
I sigh. “I find it really hard to understand you sometimes, Salvatore.”
“I know.” He picks up his glass of water and leans back in his chair, fixing me with his gaze. “I have some business to attend to tonight and won’t be home before two a.m. I need you to call me to tell me everything is okay.”
“All right. I’ll call you before I go to sleep.”
He nods, but I notice his jaw is set in a hard line as though he’s unhappy with my answer.
“Is there something wrong?”
“No,” he says, clutching the glass in his hand as though he’s trying to break it.
“Tore?”
He sets the glass on the table, turns toward me, and squeezes the bridge of his nose. I don’t know what’s going on, but he seems unusually agitated all of a sudden. I can’t figure out why.
“I’m leaving around eight.” He looks me in the eye. “You will call me every hour while I’m not here.”
“What for?”
“To check in,” he deadpans. “So, I know everything is okay.”
I gape at him. “You want me to check in every hour? While I’m kicking back in the living room, watching a cooking show?”
“Yes.”
“Are you expecting someone to storm the building? Did they announce an imminent earthquake?” I ask.
“No.”
“Then why?”
“Because I told you to.”
“Would a text message suffice instead?”
“No. I need to hear your voice.”
Okay. We need to talk about this. I stand up and place my palms on his cheeks, looking into his eyes. “Can you explain? Please?”
His piercing light brown gaze bores into me. “I’m not sure you’ll understand, Milene.”
“Try me.”
Salvatore’s hand comes to the waistband of my jeans. He hooks his finger on a belt loop and pulls me down to sit on his thigh. I raise an eyebrow in question, waiting for him to explain, but he just watches me for a few seconds, lips pressed tightly together.
“I have . . . a problem,” he bites out the words. I already figured Salvatore didn’t tolerate weakness, and it seems very hard for him to be confessing one now.
“Do you think I’m cheating on you when you’re not around?”
“No. It doesn’t have anything to do with that.” He places the tip of his finger onto my forearm, stroking my skin lightly. “When I was in the office today, even knowing you were here, I felt compelled to call and confirm. I can’t control it, Milene. I’ve tried.”
“Is it like some kind of anxiety?”
“Yes, but ten times worse.”
“Do you have this . . . compulsion with anyone else? Your employees?”
“Just you.”
I blink at him in confusion. “Why? And why so suddenly? Have I done anything to trigger this?”
“It’s not sudden, Milene. I’ve barely managed to control it for these past weeks.” He reaches out with his other hand and strokes my cheek. “You will call me every hour. Please.”
“Will it go away?” I ask. “This compulsion.
“I don’t think so.” His face is grim, and I see he doesn’t enjoy asking this of me. He’s right, I don’t understand.
Salvatore gives the impression of a highly composed individual, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that many of his reactions have not been exactly normal. Like in the parking lot when someone shot at us. No one should be that calm and controlled under fire, but then freak out when I go to the floor below without informing him beforehand. I’ve also never seen him smile. He’s a little odd—I knew that from the start—but this doesn’t seem like a silly quirk. I think he actually has a problem, and I’m not sure he’s telling me everything.
“Well, I hope it won’t get worse, because I’m not letting you into the bathroom when I have to pee.” I lean forward and touch my nose to his. “How often do you need me to call you?”
He closes his eyes and brushes his nose against mine. It’s such an unexpected and tender gesture, so completely at odds with his character, that it elicits a tenderness in my heart, like a warm hug comforting me from within.
“When I’m in the office, every two hours,” he says and looks at me. “But when I’m not in the building, every hour, on the hour.”
“And what do you want me to tell you when I call?”
“Whatever. Doesn’t matter.”
“Okay.” I nod and stroke his hair. “What will we do when I have to go somewhere?”
“I’ll be accompanying you from now on.”
“You can’t always go with me, Salvatore. What if I need to visit the hairdresser? Or get a manicure? I have girlfriends. I like going for coffee with them from time to time.
His body goes rigid. “How often?”
“Beauty salon stuff, once a month. Girl time, twice a month.”
“All right. I’ll deal with that somehow.” He squeezes his hands around my waist. “But tonight . . . every hour, Milene.”
“I’ll call,” I whisper. “Where are you going tonight?”
“To one of our safe houses. I have a situation to resolve.”
“Do I want to know the specifics?”
“You don’t.” He places a quick kiss on my lips. “Let’s go work on those emails.”
* * *
The sound of the doorbell reaches me as I’m trying to coax Kurt out of the kitchen cupboard. He’s been hiding out in a large, stainless-steel pot for twenty minutes, and every time I’ve tried to get him out, he’s only hissed and bared his fangs. I also have two long claw marks on my forearm from when I tried to take him out.
“Ada, can you get that?” I yell over my shoulder, then turn back to the devil’s eyes before me. I will not admit defeat before this cat! Grabbing the lid from the shelf below, I put it over the pot and, with the cat still inside, take the vessel by its handles. I’ll carry Kurt to the bedroom and deposit him on the bed to avoid further injury.
Pot in hands, I turn around and come face-to-face with Salvatore’s mother.
“Ilaria.” I gulp, then smile. “How nice to see you. Would you like some coffee?”
“Sure,” she says and takes off her coat.
“Perfect, I’ll just . . . take this away.” I nod down at the pot in my hands. Kurt picks that exact moment to let out a pained meow. I groan, lower the pot to the floor and carefully remove the lid. Kurt leaps out of the pot, hisses at me again for good measure, and dashes toward the hallway. When I stand up, I find Ilaria staring at me with wide eyes. I guess she’s not accustomed to seeing people carrying cats around in stockpots.
“Desperate measures,” I murmur, setting the pot down in the sink and head toward the coffee machine. “Milk? Sugar?”
“Both.” She takes a seat at the breakfast bar.
“Salvatore’s not here,” I mention over my shoulder. “He had some business to attend to.”
“I know. I came to check on Alessandro, but I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Oh?” I carry the coffee over and take a seat opposite her. “About anything in particular?”
“How’s this thing between you two going?”
“By ‘thing,’ you mean the marriage?”
“Yes. Being forced to marry someone you don’t know is not every woman’s dream,” she says and looks down at her cup. “Believe me, I have experience.”
“You didn’t know Salvatore’s father until you married him?”
“No. So, you see, I can relate to you and your situation.”
“Hmm.” I take a sip of my coffee. “Salvatore and I knew each other before he decided to trap me in this marriage.”
Ilaria’s hand holding her cup of coffee stops midway to her mouth. “What?”
“Oh, he didn’t tell you?”
“No,” she whispers.
“We met a handful of times. I’m pretty sure he was stalking me. We even went on a date. A kind of date, anyway.
She stares at me. “Salvatore doesn’t do dates.”
“He told me.” I snort. “Also, I’m not a hundred percent certain, but I think he broke into my place and filled my refrigerator with food.”
The realization came only a couple of days ago when I stumbled on Ada preparing soup. I asked why we needed soup when no one was sick, and she said it was because Salvatore had told her I liked it the last time. The only soup I’ve eaten in the past two years was the one I found in my miraculously stocked fridge. I still don’t know what to think about that revelation. It’s cute in a very bizarre way.
Ilaria keeps on staring at me for a few moments, then slowly lowers her cup. “Has he been acting . . . strangely?”
“Well, your son is a very unusual person, Ilaria, and I don’t know him well enough to gauge what behavior is ‘normal-strange’ or ‘strange-strange.’” I shrug. “He wants me to call him and check in every two hours. Would that be considered ‘strange-strange?’”
“Yes. Did he say why?”
“Because of some compulsion to know where I am at all times. Do you think it’s some kind of OCD? Like when you need to touch your wallet every few minutes to make sure it’s there, you know?”
Ilaria closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “It’s not OCD,” she says and looks at me with a grave expression on her face. “I think he . . . likes you.”
I burst out laughing. “He did force me to marry him, so yes, I assume he likes me.”
“Salvatore doesn’t like people, Milene. He respects them, or not. But he doesn’t like them.”
I furrow my brows in confusion. “That’s crazy. He likes his men. I saw how concerned he was when the Irish attacked, and some of them got hurt.”
“Salvatore’s men are extremely loyal to him. He respects their loyalty. Maybe even cares about them in his own way.” She leans forward and takes my hand. “But he doesn’t feel anything for anyone.”
“Of course he does.” I blink at her. “He’s not a fucking statue. Yes, he sometimes has weird reactions, but . . . he loves you. You’re his mom.”
“Salvatore cares about me, yes.” Her eyes crease in a sad smile. “Will you call him, as he asked?”
“He hasn’t actually asked. It was more like a demand.” I smirk. “But he said please, so yes.”
“He said please . . .,” she mutters, then squeezes my hand. “I’m going to check on Alessandro.”
As she takes her coat and purse,  I wonder if this might be the weirdest interaction I’ve ever experienced.

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