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Stolen Touches: Chapter 23

Milene

“I’m going to drop by to see Pippa later,” I throw over my shoulder and turn on the coffee machine. “I promised I’d go shopping for a dress with her afterward. They’re throwing a banquet for the hospital staff on Saturday.” There’s no returning to the residency program for me—not after the Family changed my life a couple of months back. And since the attack a month ago, Salvatore’s reasons for not letting me work as a nurse in a public hospital are more understandable.
“Do you miss it? The work,” Salvatore asks from his spot at the dining table.
“You know I do.” I shrug.
“Nino is still trying to locate where the Irish are hiding so we can wipe them out. When I’m done with Fitzgerald, we’ll figure something out.”
The cup I’m holding almost slips from my fingers. I turn around and stare at him. “What do you mean?”
“If it means that much to you, we can try to find a hospital nearby that might allow bodyguards,” he says while watching me with a grim-looking face. “Or you can take over the infirmary downstairs.”
I squeeze my lips together, then smile. “Thank you.”
Salvatore nods. “About that shopping spree. How long?”
“Three hours. Maybe four.”
He glares at me for a few moments, lips pressed into a thin line, then nods. I take my cup of coffee to the table, sit myself down on Salvatore’s right thigh, and reach for the basket of breakfast pastries. His right arm comes to rest around my waist, and he continues eating.
Sitting on Salvatore’s lap during meals was a little strange in the beginning, but I’ve gotten used to it. It started a month ago, right after the skirmish with the Irish. At first, he would insist I sit on his lap when we were having breakfast. Then it was dinner, as well. Now, it’s every meal. When I asked him why, he said that he still hadn’t forgotten that I told him I was going to leave if he got shot again, and this was my punishment. It doesn’t seem like a punishment. In fact, I quite enjoy being so close to him in this way. His explanation was transparent bullshit, of course. Salvatore has problems recognizing his own feelings, so it’s no wonder he has equal difficulty in expressing them.
“You’ll call me every hour,” he says and squeezes my waist.
“You know I will.” I place a kiss at the corner of his tightly pressed lips.
“Don’t forget, Milene.”
I sigh, take his face between my palms, and tilt his head. “How about we make it thirty minutes? Would that make it easier for you?
He just watches me in that unusual way of his, as though he wants to absorb me into himself through his eyes.
“Thirty minutes it is, then.” I smile and kiss him. “You need to start talking about these things, Tore. I can’t always guess when something’s bothering you.”
“You’ve been doing well so far.”
There is a sound of something crashing to the floor, followed by angry mewling as Riggs runs out of the kitchen and dashes across the living space. A second later, Kurt lunges after Riggs at breakneck speed, but he loses traction on the polished floor and ends up sliding across the hallway on his side, hitting the wall at the end with his butt.
“That cat needs a brain transplant,” Salvatore deadpans, and I burst out laughing.
“If that was your attempt at making a joke, you need to work on your delivery.”
“You’re laughing, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,”—I snort—“but only because you’re mine, and I don’t want to discourage you.”
He arches an eyebrow.
“You can’t deliver a joke with the same intonation you use for death threats, Salvatore.” I place one more kiss on his mouth, grab another pastry from the basket, and stand up. “I’ll call you. Promise.”
* * *
“I really don’t see how this is necessary,” Pippa grumbles as we reach the perfume store. “It was fun the first few times, but now it feels weird.
I glance over my shoulder. Alessandro’s walking a few paces behind us, looking dangerous in a dark suit, his earpiece visible. I wonder where he finds suits in his size. The guy is at least six and a half feet tall and has the muscle mass of a medium-sized mountain. Vincenzo is standing near the cash register at the opposite corner of the store with his hands clasped behind his back. Two more bodyguards are by the entrance, one out front, and the other inside.
“Ignore them.” I shrug.
“I need to go to the restroom,” Pippa says. “I’ll catch up with you.”
“Again? Your bladder’s the size of a peanut.”
“I’m on a detox program. Liquid food for the next seven days. It sucks.” She dashes to the exit.
I walk toward the men’s section and pass a shelf with the sign “New Arrivals” near the middle of the store. I reach for a bottle of cologne to take a sniff. Nope, too strong. Salvatore wouldn’t like it. I’m putting the bottle back when the sound of a gunshot pierces the air.
The bottle slips from my hands, crashing to the floor, as I stare at the bodyguard who was positioned outside the entrance. He’s spread-eagled on the ground, blood pooling all around him. A huge male body materializes in front of me at the same moment another shot rings out. Rooted to my spot, I stare at Alessandro’s back, which is obstructing my view of the entrance, and try hard to get enough air into my lungs. It doesn’t work. All I can manage are quick, sharp breaths. I can’t see anything, but based on the proximity of the bangs, I know it’s Alessandro’s gun firing. Once, twice . . . seven times. The sound mixes with the noise of other shots, and it seems as though gunfire is raging all around us. People are screaming. My heartbeat skyrockets and I frantically look around for Pippa. Where is she?
“Vincenzo,” Alessandro says. “The door. Cover us.”
Vincenzo leaves his spot behind the shelf to our left, runs toward the entrance, and continues returning fire.
“Take off your shoes,” Alessandro’s deep voice says as he changes the magazine in his gun and resumes shooting.
The moment I have my heels off, his fingers wrap around my wrist and move my hand to the waistband of his pants at his back.
“Hold on. Walk behind me,” he commands in an even voice. “We’re leaving.”
The sleeve of his jacket has ridden up, revealing a leather bracelet around his wrist. At the knot where the leather string is tied, there’s a small silver pendant in the shape of a teddy bear with a pink bow atop its head.
“Milene.”
I firmly grab his belt, and his hand vanishes from view.
Alessandro walks toward the exit. One step. I follow, holding on for dear life and staying as close to him as possible. Several more gunshots. I wince with each boom. Another step. One more round of firing. He changes the magazine again. Two more steps. We stop at the door, and my eyes fall to the prone body on the ground to my right. The bodyguard’s eyes are open but glazed over. I realize for the first time how young he looks. There’s a hole in the side of his neck which is oozing blood, and a few more on his chest. I press my lips together, trying to keep the tears from falling.
“Vincenzo.” Alessandro’s voice. “Behind Milene. Cover our backs.
We step out of the store, Alessandro first, with me following. Vincenzo comes out after us, his back pressed to mine, holding his gun at the ready.
A shot rings out, shattering the store’s window to our left. Another one follows. Alessandro keeps walking down the aisle, firing off bullets ahead of us. His left sleeve is wet. When I lower my gaze, I see blood dripping down his hand and onto the white tiled floor. Bodies lay scattered around us. There must be at least twenty. My eyes flit over each one, afraid I’ll find Pippa among them. It’s only men, however, and some of them still have their weapons in hand. Police sirens blare from the street outside, but they seem distant and somehow otherworldly.
“That’s all of them,” Alessandro declares as if he’s discussing the weather. “Let’s go to the car.”
Suddenly, Vincenzo’s arm wraps around my waist, and he tugs me toward him. I gasp as my hand slips from Alessandro’s belt. He spins around as Vincenzo lifts his gun and sends five bullets into the big man’s chest. I scream as Alessandro drops to the floor.
“Move.” Vincenzo painfully grips my upper arm and drags me backward to an emergency exit, my eyes glued to Alessandro’s unmoving form.
* * *
“You piece of shit!” I yell as Vincenzo keeps on dragging me. We’re in the underground parking lot and heading for a black van parked at the far side of the dimly lit garage.
“Shut the fuck up, or I’m going to silence you with my fist.” He squeezes my arm harder and jerks me along.
The van’s side door slides open to reveal two men.
“Where are the others?” the huge bald guy next to the door asks.
“Gone,” Vincenzo says, grabs me by the hair, and pushes me inside.
“What do you mean, gone? We had twenty-five people!”
“Zanetti killed them all.”
“Why the fuck didn’t you kill the bastard?”
“I had to at the end,” Vincenzo snaps. “I was paid to get the woman out. Not to help a bunch of idiots who are incapable of taking out one man.”
“Fucking coward,” the bald guy spits out, raises a gun, and shoots Vincenzo in the face.
The sliding door closes with a firm click as the engine comes to life.

Salvatore

The phone on my desk rings while I’m in a meeting with Cosimo. The moment I see Alessandro’s name, a feeling of dread forms in the pit of my stomach. He could be calling me to approve a change of route because Milene decided to go somewhere else after the mall, but I somehow know that’s not it.
“What happened?” I bark into the phone.
“The Irish attacked us while we were at the mall,” Alessandro says. His breathing is labored, wheezing. “I managed to neutralize them, but before we reached the car, Vincenzo grabbed your wife and pumped half a magazine into me.”
I squeeze the cell in my hand. “Where did he take her?”
“I don’t know.” Alessandro coughs. “I was wearing a bulletproof vest, but I passed out from the impact. They’re gone.”
“Get out of there and call someone to pick you up.” I cut the line and look at Cosimo. “Leave. Send Nino here. Right now.”
I open the GPS tracking software on my laptop and stare at the red dot that shows Milene’s location. The signal is moving along the highway. They’re taking her out of the city.
* * *
“They won’t touch her, Boss,” Nino says. “It’s you they want.”
“I know,” I say and continue staring at the red dot flashing on the screen. I haven’t taken my eyes off it since the moment I opened the tracking app, as if it will disappear if I so much as blink. Something dark and hungry for destruction awakened inside my chest when Alessandro called. An abyss of darkness grows with every passing second, yearning for slaughter. A black hole ready to swallow the entire universe. They dared to take my Milene. Oh, how they will pay.
The pulsing dot stops. My heart skips a beat. A minute later, the phone on my desk rings. I grab the phone and take the call.
“Ajello,” the voice on the other side says. “I heard you lost something.”
“Where is my wife, Patrick?”
He laughs. “Oh, wouldn’t you love to know?”
“Where. Is. She?”
“Get into your car and drive south. Someone will call you with further instructions. When you reach the destination, we’ll make a trade. You for her,” he says. “If you are not alone, I’ll tell my men to snap her neck.”
The call disconnects.
“Take thirty men,” I say to Nino. “They’re holding Milene somewhere west of the city, probably in the industrial zone. You can get the exact coordinates off this. Take it with you.” I nod toward the laptop.
“I can have them ready to go with you in ten minutes.”
“They won’t be coming with me. You’ll take the men directly to wherever Milene is and find cover close by. I’ll call you when I get there. Patrick will probably lead me around in circles for a while to make sure no one’s following, so you’ll be there before I arrive.” I pin him with my stare. “Don’t even think about sending anyone after me,” I whisper.
“But, Boss . . .”
“Don’t you fucking dare!” I snarl and strike the desk in front of me with my palm. “I will kill anyone who follows me, and I will end you too for disobeying orders! Do you understand?”
Nino grinds his teeth. “It’s a trap.”
“Of course it’s a trap.” I put the phone in my pocket and take the car keys off the desk. “When I get there, wait twenty minutes, and then you and the men can go in with guns blazing. Not a second sooner, Nino.”
“They’ll kill you.”
“They won’t. Not right away, at least. I want them focused on me, not on Milene, while you storm the place.” I get up and walk around the desk until I’m right in front Nino. “Whatever you find when you go in, you will get Milene out first. Only when she’s safe are you are allowed to come back for me. Nod if you understand.”
He stares at me with wide eyes.
“Fucking nod!” I yell into his face.
Nino closes his eyes and nods.
“Good.” I turn and leave the office.

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