Stolen Touches: Chapter 24

Milene

The van door slides open to reveal bright daylight. A hand wraps around my upper arm, dragging me outside. I squint at the sun, my eyes having become accustomed to the gloominess of the van. I try to see the place they’ve brought me to. A big metal hangar that looks like some kind of a warehouse looms a few feet in front of me. It could be anywhere. I don’t manage to see more because one of the men, the bald hulk, ushers me toward the building. Stones and other debris press sharply into the skin of my bare soles.
What will they do to me? If they planned on killing me, they would have done it already. I cast a glance down at my tied hands and the gold band around my left wrist. Salvatore’s OCD is going to save my life. He’ll send someone to get me out. I just need to stay alive until they get here.
The inside of the warehouse is nearly empty, with only a few random pieces of furniture scattered around. In the far-right corner, there are a few mismatched chairs next to a long Formica coffee table. Eight men are sitting around it, drinking and laughing. I quickly drop my head to keep my eyes fixed on the hard ground between my feet. The guy holding me drags me toward the wall on the left and pushes me to the ground. With my hands tied, I don’t manage to soften the fall, and land hard on my shoulder, my nose against the damp and dirty floor.
“Don’t fucking move,” the bald guy barks and crosses his arms in front of his chest, looking in the direction of the wide sliding doors they’ve left open.
Looks like we’re waiting for someone. Probably the head of the Irish clan. I wiggle into a sitting position and lean my back against the wall, turning so I can see the entrance.
* * *
It must have been two or three hours since I’ve been brought into the warehouse. I can’t be sure since I don’t have a watch. I’ve spent most of that time on the cold floor, looking around, searching for a way out. Nothing has come of it. The bald guy keeping guard over me hasn’t said a word.
When I wasn’t looking for an opportunity to escape, I thought about the three men who died for me today. I didn’t know the two bodyguards who remained at the store’s door very well. I can’t even remember their names, and it’s eating me up inside. How can I not remember their names? I think about Alessandro. He might have been a big sullen grouch, but he saved my life today, probably several times, only to end up dead because of it. I wish the bald guy hadn’t shot Vincenzo. That fucking traitor deserved a much more painful death.
What do they plan to do with me? Are they going to ask for a ransom? Why haven’t they done something already? Other than maybe a few missing strands of hair, some cuts to my feet, and bruises on my arms from being manhandled, I’m pretty well intact, at least on the outside. At one point, I thought I might be gang-raped over a rusty oil can, but aside from the dirty jokes I’ve heard from the men around the table, I’ve been largely ignored. Obviously, I’m a pawn in a much larger game. Is that a good thing? Will they get more money from Salvatore if I’m unharmed?
A phone in the bald guy’s pocket rings. He takes it out, listening to the person on the other end for a while. Then, he looks over at the men who are gathered around the coffee table, watching some videos on someone’s phone and laughing.
“He’s here,” the bald hulk barks. The men jump off their chairs and rush to pick up their weapons resting against a wall nearby.
A large silver car pulls through the open doors. One of the men runs over and shuts the warehouse door behind the vehicle while the other seven stand in front of the car, their guns pointed toward it. The driver-side door opens and Salvatore steps out. I fumble my way up from my spot on the floor, intending to run to him, but the bald guy wraps his meaty hand around my upper arm, holding me firmly in place.
Salvatore closes the car door and looks around, paying no heed to the men pointing their guns directly at him. It’s as though he’s entered a 7-Eleven to buy a fucking carton of milk. I hold my breath, waiting for his men to barge in. Nothing happens. What the fuck? Why is there no one with him?
His gaze reaches me and stops. His eyes move down my body. I can only imagine what he must be thinking as he sees my tangled hair and the scratches on my left cheek that I obtained when the bald Irishman pushed me roughly to the ground. His eyes roam over my stained powder blue dress and finally down to my bare feet. The men around yell at Salvatore to raise his hands, but he ignores them. His gaze travels back up my body until it reaches my eyes, where it remains fixed. Three of the Irishmen circle behind him, their guns trained on Salvatore’s back. They’re still shouting.
Two of the men grab Salvatore’s biceps and drag him to the chair at the center of the huge space. And he lets them. What the hell is going on? Where the fuck is his backup? They have the GPS coordinates from my bracelet, so why has Salvatore come alone, damn it? I watch in horror as they push him down onto the chair, and a short stocky man proceeds to tie Salvatore’s hands behind his back.
Salvatore doesn’t try to resist and says nothing. He just sits in the chair and stares directly at me.
* * *
The stocky guy pulls his fist back again and punches Salvatore in the stomach once more. I stifle a whimper and close my eyes for an instant as his fist makes contact.
“I think we should keep him alive for at least a few days,” one of the men standing by the wall says and laughs. “Until everyone gets their turn.”
When the stocky guy swings his fist again, I pull on my arm in an effort to get away, but the bald Irishman holding me tightens his grip. He’d moved me so I was standing in Salvatore’s line of sight. The only thing I can do is watch as another blow hits home.
Since the moment Salvatore entered ten minutes earlier, the Irish have focused all their attention on him, leaving me on the sidelines with the heavy-set bald man. I was bait, used to get Salvatore here.
He hasn’t uttered a word since he arrived. Not when they dragged him to the chair in the middle of the room and tied him to it, and not while they’ve been hitting him. He just sits there in silence and watches me—his piercing eyes never leaving mine.
The stocky guy hits him again, this time on the chin, and Salvatore’s head snaps abruptly to the side. I try to blink back tears, but they fall anyway. Some trickle down my cheeks to land on my ruined dress. They’re going to kill him, and he knew that the moment he stepped inside the warehouse. Still, he came. Salvatore takes a deep breath, lifts his head and returns his eyes to mine. I sniff and tug at my arm again, trying to lurch forward, but the hand holding me only tightens. I’m powerless against its vice-like grip.
The wide metal doors on the right slide open and a car moves inside, coming to a halt close to the chair where Salvatore is bound. The driver gets out and opens one of the back doors. A man in a navy suit emerges. He throws a look in my direction, then shifts his gaze to Salvatore as a wicked smile spreads across his lips.
“You know,” he says as he walks toward Salvatore. “If anyone had told me a woman would be your downfall, I’d have laughed them out of the room. I wonder what’s so special about her.”
Salvatore’s eyes leave mine and focus on the man in the suit. “Patrick,” he says in an even voice. “How nice of you to join us. I expected you to hunker down in your hole and let the others do your job for you, as is your usual style.”
What the fuck is he doing? Why is he provoking the Irish leader?
“Always so composed.” Patrick shakes his head and looks at me over his shoulder. “Will you maintain composure when I start playing with your wife? She is a pretty thing, I’ll give you that.”
“I had an interesting chat with one of your men,” Salvatore continues. “I wasn’t aware you had a gambling problem, Patrick. Do your people know you’re spending the organization’s money like water?”
Patrick’s head turns rapidly back to Salvatore, and he backhands him. “Shut the fuck up!”
Salvatore spits blood on the floor, then looks up. “Two million is a lot of money to lose, Patrick.”
I gulp, and tears stream from my eyes as I realize what he’s doing. Damn you, Salvatore. He is trying to make Patrick focus on him instead of me.
“I planned on toying with you for a while before killing you,” Patrick says. “But perhaps I’ve changed my mind.”
As he reaches inside his jacket, the sound of gunfire erupts outside. The sliding doors open, and men with guns rush inside, shooting with accuracy at the Irish. I recognize Carmelo and Aldo among them. The windows on the other side of the warehouse shatter under the gunfire, and the Irish mob suddenly slides into disarray, running this way and that, seemingly unprepared for any such intrusion. My captor vanishes from view, his bald head moving toward the open doors, gun in hand. I turn to Salvatore, who’s still tied to the chair, directly in the crossfire, and run toward him.
“What are you doing! Get down!” he shouts as I reach him. I ignore his yelling and go around to the back of the chair. My hands are tied at the front, so I should be able to release him, but when I reach for his wrists, cold panic rises inside me. They didn’t use rope the way they did with me. Both of Salvatore’s hands are handcuffed to the back of the chair. A metal chair. Bolted to the floor.
“Milene! Get the fuck down!”
From all around us comes the sound of shouting and gunfire, but it appears most of the gunfire is taking place around the doors. I take a deep breath, move around to face Salvatore, and hook my tied hands around his neck. I climb onto his lap, straddling him, my back toward the doors and the shots being fired around us.
“Milene! What the fuck?! Get down!” he snarls, shaking his body, trying to throw me off, but I plaster my chest to him and squeeze my arms around his head, pressing it to my chest.
“Damn it, Milene, I’m going to fucking kill you! Get off me and lie on the floor!” he yells at the top of his lungs. “Right now!”
“You’re a damn magnet for bullets, Salvatore.” I kiss his hair and tighten my grip. “And I’m pretty sure you’ve already used up your nine lives, so you’re not getting shot again today.”
His chest rises and falls. Several bullets whizz somewhere close to my head and hit the table further back in the room, sending it toppling to the concrete floor. Salvatore’s body starts to shake in my embrace.
“Vita mia,” he whispers. “Please. Get down.”
Another bullet ricochets off the floor to our right, and I press myself more tightly to him. His body is shaking as though he has a fever. “I love you, Tore,” I say into his ear.
“Milene.” His eyes are red. “I’m going to bite you. With all my strength.” The gunfire still rages, but I hear now how his voice trembles. “It’s going to hurt, Milene. Very much. Get. Off. Me.”
I smile. “Be my guest. I’m not moving.”
Bullets hit something over our heads and part of the metal construction comes crashing down behind us, sending dust and shards of debris into the air. Salvatore’s breathing becomes erratic, his chest rising and falling at a maddening speed. As I watch, a tear rolls down his cheek.
“Please,” he whispers.
“No,” I say, and squeeze my arms around him, tucking his head into the crook of my neck. He thrashes around again, and I barely manage to keep myself from falling off his lap.
More yelling and gunshots reach my ears, the sounds lasting a couple of seconds more before the action quiets. Soon after, only voices and rapid footfalls can be heard. Nino jumps down to the warehouse floor through a large broken window at the back and runs toward us, with Pasquale and another man following. As I watch them over Salvatore’s head, Nino and Pasquale stop abruptly and raise their guns in our direction. My eyes widen because, for an instant, I think they might actually shoot at us. Before they’re able to pull the triggers, a gunshot explodes somewhere behind me, and pain erupts in my arm.
I stifle a scream and almost faint on the spot as I stare at the big red hole in my arm oozing blood. It’s different to see a wound on my own body, and no amount of experience could have prepared me for it.
“Nino!” Salvatore yells, staring at my arm and the blood pouring from the wound. He’s breathing hard, and when he looks up at me, there’s a crazed look in his eyes.
Nino comes running, presses a bundle of material that looks like someone’s shirt onto my arm, and I scream.
“To a hospital,” Salvatore barks. “Now, Nino!”
“What about you, Boss?” Nino asks as he gathers me up in his arms.
“If you don’t get my wife to a hospital in under five minutes, Nino, I will fucking end you! Carmelo, go with them and take Pasquale. Fucking now!” he shouts.
Nino nods and carries me out, running toward an SUV parked outside.

Salvatore

It takes forty minutes for Stefano to find the keys to the handcuffs and release me. Forty fucking minutes of me sitting there while Milene loses blood. Shot. Because of me.
A sound of a phone ringing comes from my left.
“It’s Nino,” Stefano says and passes me his phone.
My hand is shaking as I take the device and stare at the screen. It’s an arm wound. It shouldn’t be serious unless the bullet hit an artery. The shaking of my hand intensifies, and I manage to hit the answer button only on the third try. I position the phone next to my ear and close my eyes.
“Nino?”
“She’s going to be okay.”
I grab the back of the chair and exhale. “How bad?”
“Some muscle damage that should heal fine.
“She’s expected to have a full recovery? No consequences?”
“They’ll release her tomorrow. Your wife is okay, Boss.”
I cut the call, then turn to look at the bodies of the Irish men strewn all around. Most of them are dead, but there are others still alive, whimpering or panting. Turning my head to the side, I fix my gaze on the man Aldo is holding pressed onto the hood of a car. Fucking Patrick Fitzgerald! He was hiding in his car while the gunfire was raging, and then tried to shoot me when everyone lowered their guard. Only, the bullet hit my wife.
“A knife,” I say without taking my eyes off the Irish mob leader with only a few hundred heartbeats remaining in his pathetic life.
Someone presses the handle of a knife onto my outstretched hand. I take a step forward, bend, and grab the first groaning Irishman I see by his hair. Fitzgerald is staring at me, eyes wide, and I keep my gaze on him as I press the knife to the side of the man’s neck and draw the blade across his throat. Warm blood flows over my hand. The warehouse, which was brimming with shouts and noise, goes silent.
I let the body fall at my feet, step over it, and walk toward the next man. This one is passed out, but he’s still breathing. I grab him by the hair, too, and press the blade to his Adam’s apple.
A strangled sound leaves Patrick’s lips as he tracks my hand with his eyes and watches the blood spray over my arm and shirtfront. When I let the body fall and take another step toward him, Patrick looks up. I take a further step and proceed with creating a path of dead Irishmen, not taking my eyes off his. The terror on his face is delicious. He knows I’m saving the best for last. I smile and take another step. Oh, how I will enjoy filleting the man who hurt the only thing in this world I love.
* * *
I enter the small private hospital that treats my men when Ilaria can’t care for them in the infirmary, and turn toward the hallway on the left. Two nurses at the main desk stand up abruptly, but when I don’t acknowledge them, they sit back down. There’s a piercing pain in my left side. Patrick’s goon probably broke one of my ribs, but I ignore it and keep walking, with Stefano following a few paces behind.
I don’t remember ever being as scared as I was when I saw blood pouring from Milene’s arm. It was as if someone had lodged a knife in my stomach and dragged it upward, opening my chest.
People who see me pass step aside, staring at the blood still covering my arms and hands. It’s a good thing I wore a black shirt for the occasion. It means they can’t see the blood soaked into that, as well.
The doctor who usually treats my men looks up from the chart in his hand and rushes toward me. “Mr. Ajello! What—”
“Back off,” I snap, turn around the corner, and rush down the long hallway toward the door at the end, where Carmelo and Nino stand guard.
“Open the door,” I say.
“Boss. You may want to wash the blood off first.” Nino nods toward my hands. “She may freak out if she sees you like that.”
I hadn’t thought of that. “Find me a shirt.
It takes me five minutes to scrub my hands and arms. The black T-shirt Nino brought for me hides the stains on my chest, which I didn’t bother cleaning. When I throw open the door to Milene’s room, I’m in a semi-presentable state. Outwardly, at least.
“Tore!” Milene sits up in bed and swings her legs over the side.
I grab the metal cart standing at the foot of the bed and squeeze the edge with all my strength.
“Don’t you dare get down from that bed,” I whisper, eyes focused on the bandage around her upper arm and the IV stand next to the bed. She could have died. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, trying to compose myself. It doesn’t work.
I grip the frame of the cart harder. There’s a shitload of something inexplicable building up inside me, and it feels as though I’m going to explode like a fucking supernova.
“How could you do it?” I ask quietly, then switch to yelling. “How the fuck could you do that! I wanted to die on that chair, knowing you were in the direct line of fire, waiting for a bullet to hit you! Because of me!” I squeeze the cart and launch the thing at the wall behind me. “You. Cannot. Do. That!”
“Tore—”
“No!” I snarl. “Never! Never, Milene! I can’t . . . I can’t bear even the thought of what could have happened! How the fuck do you expect me to deal with this? You, getting hurt, for me? You will never do that again!” I bury my hands in my hair and pull. “Fuck!”
Milene cocks her head and watches me. Apparently coming to some mysterious conclusion, she slides down off the bed and takes the IV pole in her hand. With it at her side, she comes to stand next to me.
I take a deep breath, then exhale and grab her by the back of her neck. “Never, vita mia,” I whisper.
“Did you have a doctor check you out?” she asks.
“No.”
Her right eyebrow lifts in one perfect arch. “Why?”
“I was busy.”
“Busy with what?”
Killing the Irish and freaking out. Not that I plan on telling her that. “Doesn’t matter.”
She sighs. “You look awful, baby.”
“I know.”
She places her palm on my cheek and pulls me down for a kiss. “Let’s find someone to have a look at your lip. And your eye. Your face is a mess.”
“The fuck with my face.”
“Can I have a hug?”
“No.”
Milene blinks in confusion. “Why the hell not?”
“I’m afraid I’m going to hurt your arm.” My gaze moves down to the bandage, then I quickly avert my eyes and place a kiss on her forehead. “I can’t bear to even look at it.”
“Tore . . .”
“I was so scared, Milene,” I whisper again, tracing the line of her eyebrow with the tip of my finger. “I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that before. It’s like I jumped off a cliff and watched the earth rise up to meet me, just waiting for the impact.” My finger travels down until it stops on her bottom lip. “I’ll get a fucking aneurysm because of you.
Milene leans against me, wraps her hand round my neck and tilts her head up. “A kiss. Then a hug.”
I narrow my eyes and grab her face between my palms and press my lips hard against hers. The pressure in my chest builds, my heart beating so fast it feels like it might burst out. I press her harder to my body, careful not to hurt her arm.
“You don’t understand, Milene,” I say into her mouth.
“Of course I do.” She smiles and looks right into my eyes. “I love you, too, Tore.”

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