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Stolen Touches: Chapter 6

Salvatore

“You got reckless, Boss,” Nino says. “Standing there for two hours, waiting for the girl where anyone could see you. And in the middle of the day. It was only to be expected.”
“Did you find the shooter?” I ask.
“It took us most of the night, but yes. Just a gun for hire.” He looks at the bulge of the bandage beneath my sleeve. “And not a very good one.”
“Did he say who hired him?”
“Stefano worked him over pretty good, but he kept saying he doesn’t know who hired him. Could it have been Nera Leone?”
“It’s not her,” I say. The wife of the Boston don is a great schemer, but she keeps her promises. “Where are you holding the shooter?”
“In the old safe house.”
“I’ll come over later. What about the girl?”
“She went to work this morning, as usual. We have two men on her constantly, but so far nothing suspicious has occurred. I don’t think anyone other than the hitman saw her with you. She should be safe.” He looks at me pointedly. “If you keep your distance.”
He’s right. But the problem is, I don’t want to keep my distance.
* * *
It takes me two hours to go over the updates on the shipments of drugs with Arturo, my underboss. I leave the operational part of the narcotics business to him, so if everything works as it should, he only needs to bring me up to speed once a week. I spend the next hour with Cosimo, Rocco, and Giancarlo—the capos in charge of our construction division. They report to me daily. Dusk has already fallen when I head over to the safe house.
An hour later, I turn my car onto a dirt road that’s hidden from prying eyes by a thicket of trees and follow the track downhill. Soon, I reach a rusty gate and flash my lights four times. A man in black tactical clothing emerges from behind a tree, unlocks the gate, and drags it open.
“Is Stefano still here?” I ask when he approaches the driver-side window.
“Yes, Boss.” He nods. “How’s the arm?”
“Just a graze,” I say and proceed along the trail, past the overgrown bushes that sweep the side of the car. A rickety house comes into view, and I park on the gravel out front.
When I enter the safe house, I find Stefano sitting in a recliner, dressed only in his black suit pants. His chest is bare and glistens with sweat and blood, most of which appears to have dried to a dark, crusty brown. Across from him, tied to a wooden chair, sits a man in his late forties. He’s still alive, but Stefano has taken him right to the edge, it seems.
“Got a little carried away, Stefano?” I ask.
“Boss.” He jumps off the recliner and comes to stand next to our unfortunate guest. “Sorry. I heard he shot you, so I might have been a little rougher than normal.”
Sometimes, my men are like an old maids’ church choir. They love to gossip among themselves. I don’t give a fuck, as long as they keep the information within the right circles. They know better than to let any news—personal or business—spread if they don’t want to end up like Octavio.
I walk toward Stefano’s vacated recliner, sit down, and regard the shooter. He’s conscious, but unresponsive. It happens when you overdo a beating, eventually numbness and dissociation set in, and you’re left with a lump of throbbing, inert flesh. Stefano should have switched tactics hours ago if he wanted results. But he’s young. He’ll learn.
When I took over the New York Family, I changed the way things work. I delegated most of the operational stuff—things that don’t require my personal involvement—to Arturo and the capos. That left me only with high-level decision-making in terms of general business oversight. I kept a close hold on the Family stuff, however, including the handling of thieves, snitches, and outside threats.
“Cut off his hand,” I say to Stefano.
The man starts talking the moment the saw bites at the skin of his wrist two minutes later.
“The Irish!” he screams. “It was the Irish.”
“Who, specifically?” I ask.
“Patrick Fitzgerald.
I lean back in the chair and regard the prisoner. It’s nothing new, someone’s always trying to kill me, but the Irish are becoming a serious problem. When they attacked the Bratva in Chicago four years ago, their attempt ended with half their own men dead, the leader included. It looks like they’ve set their sights on my city now. They’ll have to be dealt with, and fast.
“Did you tell the Irish I was meeting a woman?” I ask.
The shooter stares at me, then shakes his head quickly. I give Stefano a nod. He takes a knife and thrusts it into the man’s side, hopefully avoiding any vital organs. The prisoner screams.
“I . . . I might have mentioned her,” he says between whimpers.
“Did you give them her description?”
“Yes.”
I close my eyes. If the Irish think there is something between us, they might come for Milene. “What else?”
“I told them she works at the hospital.”
I open my eyes and stare at the peeling wallpaper behind him. It’s not the fact that he’s passed the information along that stuns me, but the anxiety that builds in my gut. When I think about how easily this man’s bullet could have caught Milene, it turns into full-blown rage. This bastard missed her, but the next one might not. For a few minutes I stare at the wall, making sure my features don’t betray anything of my internal turmoil.
Unfamiliar emotions wash over me. I feel like a sailor caught out on the stormy sea. I let the feelings overtake me, taking them all in. The urge to destroy rises inside me like the tide. It’s anger. Fury. An unrelenting maelstrom.
I get up, walk toward the prisoner, and take the knife from Stefano’s hand. With the blade at the sniper’s neck, I swipe hard, slicing his throat from ear to ear.
* * *
After I leave the safe house, I get inside my car and taking out my phone, pull up the surveillance feed from Milene’s place. The cat is hanging from a half-shredded curtain, evidently chasing some bug. Milene is not there. Anxiety immediately builds deep in my chest.
I call Aldo. “Where is she?”
“Still at work. I’m parked in front of the hospital, I’ll let you know the moment she heads home.”
“Don’t let her out of your sight.” I cut the call and stare into the distance. I’m not sure for how long. Eventually, I pick up the phone again and call Luca Rossi, the don of the Chicago Family.
“Mr. Rossi. We may have a problem.”
“Something regarding the last construction project?” he asks.
“No. This is a personal matter,” I say and lean back in my seat. “There is something of yours here. Something that shouldn’t have been in my city, Mr. Rossi . . .”

Milene

“Say that again.” Pippa lowers her purse and stares at me.
“Someone shot at us.” I grab a bottle of water from my locker and take a sip.
“In the middle of the day? Did you call the police? And why are you so . . . unperturbed?”
It’s not my first rodeo, but Pippa doesn’t have to know that. “My mysterious stranger threw me into his friend’s car and sent me away. I can’t say what happened afterward. The driver dropped me off and hightailed it.”
“Was it a random shooting?”
“I don’t know. It’s possible they were aiming at the jacket guy.”
“Why would someone shoot at him? You said he’s just a businessman.”
Yeah, I’ve wondered about that, too. “I’m not even sure whether they were shooting at us or if it was a stray bullet. Everything happened so fast. One moment we were kissing, and the next, the windshield behind me shattered, and then I ended up in the back of another car.”
“What?” She widens her eyes at me. “You kissed him? Was it good?”
“Technically speaking, he kissed me.” I grin in spite of myself. “And yup, it was good.”
“Are you going to see him again?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t exactly have time to exchange numbers.” I close the locker and lean back against it. “There is something about him. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but I’m attracted to him like a bee to honey. And believe me, there is nothing sweet about that guy.”
“He certainly is hot.”
“It’s not just that. He’s . . . weird, in some strangely attractive way. He was completely serious the entire time, as if we were in a business meeting, discussing stock fluctuations. But the way he looked at me . . .” I sigh. “Have you ever gone out on a date and talked nonsense to break the ice? There, outside the coffee shop, I rambled on about work while his eyes studied mine. And, Pippa, he listened to me. Not because he was being polite, but as though he really wanted to know.” I close my eyes and shake my head. “I like him. Like, really like him. But I don’t like being shot at. And I would have really appreciated it if he’d shared his name this time.”
* * *
I slide the key into the new lock, but the front door opens without me having to turn it. Did I forget to lock up this morning? I step into my apartment and freeze like a waxwork model. My brother is sitting at the kitchen table, his arms crossed, staring at me.
“What the fuck were you thinking, Milene?” he asks through his teeth.
I cross the small space and drop heavily down on the sofa. “How did you find me?”
“How? That’s a funny story, really. Last night, Rossi called me, furious. He wanted to know what the hell my sister was doing in New York. I said it must be a mistake since my sister was in Illinois.”
Shit. How did our don find out I’m in New York? I squeeze my eyes shut for a second, then look up at Angelo. “I knew you wouldn’t let me come to New York, but St Mary’s is the best hospital. I was lucky to get the chance to work there and didn’t want to miss it. I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” he snarls. “You’re fucking sorry?
“I have three more months of my residency left, and then I’ll leave, I promise. Don Ajello won’t ever find out.”
Angelo regards me with his jaw pressed tight, the veins in his neck pulsing rapidly, and shakes his head. “How do you think I got your address, Milene?”
An icy chill passes down my spine as dread spreads a numb sort of panic throughout my body.
“Ajello sent your address to Rossi, Milene. Along with a copy of your residency details, showing you’ve been here nine fucking months!” He yells so loudly that my poor cat jumps from the sofa and dashes into the bathroom.
All I can do is stare at my brother, incapable of speech.
“Do you realize you’ve almost started a goddamned war?”
“But . . . I’m just working at a hospital. It’s not like I’m selling drugs on Ajello’s turf or anything. Why does it matter?”
“He’s the fucking Don of the New York Family, and you went against his specific decree. It sends the message that you don’t recognize him as an authority figure in his own region. And by extension, neither does the Chicago Family.” He slumps his shoulders and squeezes the bridge of his nose between two fingers. “You being a capo’s sister only makes the situation a hundred times worse.”
“I . . . I never saw it that way, Angelo.” I bury my hands in my hair. “Jesus.”
He sighs and looks up at the ceiling. “Do you remember Enzo, Milene?”
“Catalina’s idiot cousin who died in an accident last year? What does Enzo have to do with anything?”
“He didn’t die in an accident. Ajello found out he came to New York for a weekend “mancation”—strip clubs, drinking, having a good time. Nothing to do with the Family business. Enzo’s body was delivered to Rossi the following day. It came in several bags, Milene.”
“Bags?” I gape at him.
“Yes. There were three. The note said it was easier for FedEx to handle smaller packages. It worked out to be cheaper.”
I wrap my arms around myself. “Is he going to kill me, too?”
“He has every right to, and no one would be able to do anything about it.” He looks at me. “But he’s demanded another compensation. Rossi agreed.”
“What kind of compensation?”
“A marriage.”
My head snaps up. “No,” I whisper.
“I’m sorry. You’ve brought this on yourself.”
“I am not getting married!” I yell while trying very hard to keep the tears at bay, but they come anyway, blurring my vision.
“There’s nothing I can do, sis.” Angelo gets up from the chair and walks toward me, crouching at my feet. “If it were just you, I could have arranged to get you out of the country or something. But it’s the whole Family on the line here.”
My brother’s right, there isn’t anything he could do. Saying no would mean war. People would die because of me and my stupidity. I knew the risk of coming to Ajello’s territory and decided to come anyway.
“I fucked up big time, didn’t I?” I sniff.
“Yes, you did. I’m sorry.”
“So, who am I arranged to marry?”
He grabs my hand and just watches me for a few seconds, then sighs in. “Don Ajello, Milene.”
Panic explodes inside my chest. “What? I’m not marrying a man who chops people up and mails their body parts.”
“If you don’t, Ajello may attack. And, even though the Bratva will likely side with us because of Bianca, it will still be a fucking bloodbath.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Our sister’s husband is the Bratva’s enforcer. If the Russians are dragged into this, he’ll be sent to the front line. I can’t do that to Bianca.
“When?” I choke out.
“He’ll be here with the marriage officiant at noon.”
My tears flow so fast they fall like rain onto the wooden floor, each one splashing against the last.
* * *
Exactly at noon, a sharp knock sounds at the door, but I remain seated and motionless on the sofa, still wearing my work scrubs. Angelo answers it.
My brother tried to convince me to change into something more appropriate, but I told him to fuck off and die. In the three hours I’ve spent on the sofa, I’ve gone through shock and disbelief, then denial and self-pity. Now? Now, I’m royally pissed off.
Angelo opens the door, and a huge bald man in his fifties marches confidently into my apartment. I can’t suppress a shudder. It could be worse. It could be much worse. My inner monologue is still repeating the thought when the bald guy moves to the side, revealing another figure. I spring to my feet in an instant. It’s the jacket guy.
My enigmatic stranger walks in as though he’s lived here all his life, and I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry. The son of a bitch knew who I was the entire time. He was probably the one who informed Ajello. Bastard.
“Milene,” my brother says and nods toward the mysterious asshole. “This is Don Salvatore Ajello.”
My jaw drops. What the fuck?
“Nice to meet you at last, Miss Scardoni,” he says in his even tone.
I stare. Blink. Then stare some more, paying no attention to what is going on around me.
“For such a tiny woman, you’ve created quite an uproar,” he adds, his words snapping me out of my stupor.
I press my lips together. The nerve he has, pretending we don’t know each other when he’s well aware that he had his tongue thoroughly inspecting my mouth not forty-eight hours earlier. I guess he’s waiting for my reply. Well, he’s not getting it.
“Milene!” Angelo nudges me with his elbow. “She’s just nervous.”
I let my lips widen in a sarcastic smile. Salvatore Ajello ignores my brother’s comment and regards me. Even though I keep on smiling, I communicate all the loathing I feel through my eyes. And there is loads of it.

Salvatore

My gaze is focused on the road, which comes in and out of view through the windshield as wipers periodically clear the glass of the steady rain.
Milene hasn’t said a word since I walked into her place, other than to answer “Yes” to the officiant’s question. I expected her to be surprised, but I didn’t expect this. Being ignored is a new experience for me, and the fact she’s the one doing it makes me want to hit something. Instead, I grip the steering wheel harder. It doesn’t help. I take a deep breath, trying to quell the raging fire within. Pissed. No, that’s not the exact term. Livid. I am fucking livid, even though it’s not a reasonable reaction.
A mewling sound reaches my ears from the back seat. The damn cat had completely slipped my mind until Milene left her building, holding a carrier with the dumb animal inside.
I park the car in my spot in the underground garage below my building and get out, intending to open the door for Milene, but she’s already out and opening the back door to take out the cat.  Walking around the car, I open the trunk and take out her bag as she moves to stand to my right. She grabs the handle with her free hand, wrapping her fingers around it right next to mine, and pulls, trying with all her might to take the bag from me. I keep hold until she releases the handle and huffs. As we walk toward the elevator, Milene makes sure she stays two steps behind me, and doesn’t say a word.
When we reach my penthouse, I lead her across the living room and down the hallway to my bedroom and open the door. Milene stops at the threshold and casts a quick glance around the room.
“Not happening,” she says and takes a step back into the hallway.
“What, exactly?”
“Me sleeping in your room.”
I meet her gaze. “How do you know this is my bedroom?”
“Please.” She snorts. “Massive dark wood furniture? A bed the size of a football field? It screams ‘self-centered, selfish bastard.’”
“Is that how you see me?
“Yes. Am I wrong?”
No, she isn’t wrong. “And where would you like to sleep?”
“Back at my place.”
“You know that’s not an option.”
She lifts the cat carrier and wraps her arms around it, creating a barrier between us.
Maybe I should give her some space. For now. “All right.”
I exit my bedroom and head down the hallway toward the second bedroom, leaving her to follow.
“Lunch will be in the dining room at two,” I say when I step inside, turning to find her watching me through narrowed eyes. “Is something wrong?”
She lowers the cat carrier to the floor, then crosses her arms and juts her chin out. “You mean, other than you making a mess of my life, Salvatore?”
A feeling of immense satisfaction passes through me upon hearing her say my name. I take two steps forward until I am standing right in front of her. “Would you prefer I killed you?”
“Well, I can’t say it makes much of a difference.”
“You’re exaggerating.”
“Oh? My life might have seemed small and meaningless to you, but it was my life.” She chokes on the words. “Why didn’t you just tell me to leave New York? You knew who I was from the start.”
“I planned on doing that. It would have made things much easier.” I reach out and take a strand of her hair between my fingers. “However, the situation has changed.”
“Why? In what way?”
Because I’ve decided I won’t let her go anywhere. “It’s nothing you should concern yourself about now,” I say.
“Yes, let’s not overwhelm my limited brain with stuff only men can understand.” She moves her gaze to the strand of hair I’m still holding and grabs at my hand, trying to pry my fingers open. “Let go of my hair.”
“You always knew you’d end up married to someone in the Family, Milene. So, what’s the problem?”
“Well, therein lies the rub—I didn’t,” she mumbles as she keeps pulling at my fingers. “I left Chicago because I hoped I’d somehow avoid that destiny.”
I let go of her hair and take her chin, tilting her head up. Her green eyes bore into mine as her breathing picks up slightly. “You can’t run from Cosa Nostra, Milene.” I say and move my hand.
“No. I guess I can’t.” she whispers and takes a step back, escaping my hold. Grabbing the carrier again, she walks past me toward the bed and puts the cat down next to it. “I’m going to take a shower.”
I follow her with my eyes until she disappears into the bathroom, wondering if I’ve made the right decision. Maybe the Irish wouldn’t have come for Milene, and by marrying her, I’ve only made her a more lucrative target. But I wasn’t satisfied with watching her from afar anymore.
I want Milene Scardoni like I’ve never wanted anything else before.

Milene

I let the cat out of his carrier, then flop down on the bed and stare at the ceiling. Calling this a disaster would be an understatement. What am I going to do? Live the rest of my life here, with him? I don’t know who he is. He doesn’t know me. Who the fuck still thinks arranged marriages are a good idea? It’s like we’ve forgotten five hundred years of history and returned to the Middle Ages, for fuck’s sake. Yes, I messed up. He didn’t have to marry me to prove his point. He could have let me go back to Chicago, and everything would have been a bed of roses. Why the fuck did he want to marry me?
Was it some kind of a whim? We didn’t even exchange rings. Maybe he just wanted to teach me a lesson? No, he has more important things to do than that. Sex? Nope, it wasn’t that either because I was ready to have sex with him anyway without this shitstorm. Well, it’s not going to happen now, that’s for sure. Maybe he’s bored, and he’ll let me go when he’s had enough of me.
I roll over on the bed to bury my face in the pillow and groan. He didn’t do this out of boredom, and I very much doubt he’ll let me go. This shit is for real.
Me. Married.
To the fucking Don of New York.

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