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Stolen Touches: Chapter 7

Salvatore

There have been some issues with one of the construction projects, so when I return to the penthouse, it’s already nine in the evening. I thought I’d be agitated by not knowing what Milene was doing during the day, but having her in my home made it easier. As I pass by the kitchen, I nod to Ada, who’s taking dishes out of the dishwasher, and head into my bedroom to have a shower.
When I exit my bedroom half an hour later, Ada’s putting on her coat, readying to leave.
“Where is she?” I ask.
“In her room. She hasn’t come out since you left, Mr. Ajello.”
“Did you take her lunch?”
“Yes, but when I went in again to bring her the litter tray for the cat that she had asked for, the plate was sitting on her nightstand, untouched,” Ada says. “I took her dinner at seven, but she didn’t touch that, either.”
“Has she eaten anything since this morning?
“No. I offered to make something else, but she said she wasn’t going to eat anything made under your roof. I’ve put the food in the fridge.”
Grinding my teeth, I nod. “You can go, Ada.”
I wait for Ada to leave and then head to Milene’s room, furious as hell and with no experience as to how to deal with it. I never get mad. Annoyed, yes. Irritated, sometimes. But where that woman is concerned, every emotion jumps straight into overload. I open the door and see her sitting cross-legged on the bed, typing something on her phone.
“This childish behavior ends now!” I roar, and her head snaps up, her eyes suddenly wide. “Ada left the food in the fridge. If you don’t eat something, I’m going to fucking force-feed you!”
Milene blinks, still gaping at me, and it dawns on me. Shit. I’d been so damn angry about her not eating that I completely forgot. Milene’s gaze travels down my arms and the hands holding my crutches. Then, it moves lower until her eyes reach my left leg . . . where the pant leg of my sweats is tied in a knot just below the knee. It completely slipped my mind that I’ve never told her about my leg. As her eyes lift to meet mine, I steel myself for what I’ll see there because if I find even an ounce of pity, I’m going to smash the room.
She gets up off the bed and comes over to stand before me, her chin tilted up at a slight angle. “I’d love to see you try, Salvatore.” She raises her eyebrows and slams the door closed.
I stand there, staring at the door that almost hit me in the face, and feel the corner of my lips twitch slightly upward.

Milene

I walk back to the bed and sit down on the edge, trying to collect myself. It never crossed my mind that part of his leg might have been amputated.
Salvatore Ajello is always trending where gossip is concerned. Even though only a few members of our Family have met him, people love to talk. Probably because there is never enough info about him. He doesn’t visit public events, and there are no pictures of him anywhere. His underboss, Arturo, acts as the “face” of the New York crime family. When anyone needs to contact the New York Cosa Nostra, they call Arturo. Never the don.
If there was a recent accident resulting in such serious injury, someone would have heard about it. The rumor mill would have run rampant for months. So, it must have happened before he became the head of the New York Family.
“Jesus,” I mumble and bury my hands in my hair.
Losing a limb must be hell to deal with. I’ve met a few amputees during my studies and residency, and most of them had trouble adjusting to their new realities. Salvatore doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. What kind of nurse am I not to have suspected? I noticed his limp and that it had become a little more pronounced when we arrived at the penthouse, but I didn’t make the connection. He probably controls the way he walks when there are other people around. I assumed it had to be an old injury or something congenital. That is if I even thought that much about it.
He’s a really peculiar guy, my new husband. The way he acted so calm and unshaken that day when someone shot at us in the parking lot was truly frightening. I have a feeling not many things would shake him to his core. Except, apparently, me not wanting to eat.
I grip my phone at my side. I should call Bianca and tell her what’s happened. She’ll freak out. Distressing a woman who’s six months pregnant isn’t wise, but I’ll have to tell her. Tomorrow. I’ll call her tomorrow because I’m still processing this shit myself. As I scroll through my contacts list, wondering if I should call Andrea, another name comes across the screen, and I stop. Nonna Giulia. My late father’s aunt is always up-to-date with the latest gossip. Being a hundred and one years old, she knows everyone in Cosa Nostra. I press the call button.
“Milene, tesoro!” she chirps on the other side.
“Hey, Nonna. How are you?”
“Sunbathing in Cancun. You cannot believe the male hotties they have here.”
I snort. Nonna’s a little whacky. “Listen, I wanted to ask you something. Have you ever met Salvatore Ajello? The don of the New York Family?”
“I know who Ajello is, tesoro. I’m still what you would call compos mentis.” She snickers. “Why do you ask?”
I sigh and give her a summary of the latest events in my life. When I’m done, there is a long pause on the other end of the line before she finally answers.
“Holy fuck, Milene,” she whispers.
I’ve never heard Nonna curse before. “So? Do you know him?”
“I knew his father. He was a capo. Salvatore took his place when his father was murdered. It was nine or ten years ago,” she says. “Something happened in New York a few years later, and the whole establishment ended up dead. The don, the underboss, five capos. Salvatore took over. I think that was six years ago.”
“You’ve never met him?”
“Once, but it was decades ago. There was a wedding and his father brought him along. Salvatore was eight, I think.”
I try to imagine Salvatore as a child but can’t make the leap. “How was he?” I ask.
“Strange,” Nonna says. “There was an accident toward the end of that day. One of the light fixtures broke free from the ceiling and fell onto a table, trapping a man beneath it. Women screamed. Blood was everywhere. People rushed around, trying to help the poor soul, but he was already dead. It was awful.”
“Dear God.”
“Salvatore was sitting at a table nearby, eating cake and observing the events, absolutely unaffected by what had happened. It was as if there wasn’t a man with a metal rod sticking out of his chest sitting not even fifteen feet away from him. At first, I thought the kid must have been in shock, but he stood up and casually walked toward the buffet table to take another piece of cake. He passed the bloody scene as though it didn’t bother him in the least,” she says. “There is something wrong with him, Milene. Please, be careful.”
When I end the call, I spend some time mulling over what Nonna said. I’ve already noticed Salvatore is a bit odd, so she hasn’t told me anything new. What interests me more is the fact that he became a don at what? Twenty-eight? That’s unheard of.
The cat jumps down off the bed and rubs his flank against my legs. He’s probably hungry. I forgot to tell Ada to order cat food. For now, something from the fridge will have to do, and I’ll buy some cat food tomorrow. It would be a good idea for me to eat something, too, but my stomach has shrunk, and the idea of food seems unappealing. However, I’m pretty certain Salvatore wasn’t bluffing when he said he would force me to eat. Bastard.
I take the cat in my arms and head toward the door. “Let’s go and find something to eat, Kurt.”
The first word that comes to mind as I walk through the penthouse, is “enormous.” The space must be at least four thousand square feet, maybe more. Considering its location, this place must be worth millions. How loaded is Salvatore, I wonder. My family has money, and I became accustomed to owning expensive things quite early in life, but this is a whole new level of rich. I’m not much of an art expert, but the paintings lining the walls must have cost a fortune. Hopefully, the furniture isn’t as expensive since my cat loves to sharpen his nails on the upholstery without a care in the world.
The penthouse is divided into two sections. The first one, where my room is located, seems to be a private area with two bedrooms on each side of the wide hallway. Large white double doors separate it from the common area, where the kitchen, living and dining rooms are located. Everything is immaculately kept, and the open floor plan emphasizes the vastness of the space.
I find Salvatore sitting at the breakfast bar which divides the kitchen from the living area but ignore him pointedly. Opening the door of the state-of-the-art refrigerator, I rummage through its contents, searching for something my cat might eat. I find a plastic container of meat on the middle shelf, so I open it, take a piece and touch my tongue against it, to check whether it’s too spicy or too salty. It’s not, so I put the cat down and grab a bowl from the stand on the counter. I place a few pieces of meat inside, removing the bone with my fingers and walk toward the corner of the kitchen to place the bowl on the floor. Instead of going to the dish, the cat jumps up on the counter and leaps onto the top of the fridge. His nose twitches once, twice, and then he sprawls on top of it.
“Damn it, Kurt!” I snap.
The cat stares haughtily at me from his spot atop the appliance.
“Kurt?” Salvatore’s deep voice echoes behind me.
“Yup. I’ve decided it’s time to name my cat since I’m keeping him.”
I turn and head into the open concept dining room to get a chair, avoiding Salvatore, not wanting to know whether he’s watching me or not. I’m so mad at him.
“And it has to be ‘Kurt’?”
“Yes.” I chose that name so I can always be reminded of what a liar my husband is.
I carry the chair into the kitchen and climb on it, intending to get Kurt down. However, the second I reach for him, he leaps across onto the counter, runs the length of it, and jumps on top of the bar in front of Salvatore. They engage in some kind of a standoff, the cat observing him with interest while he scowls at him. I open my mouth to warn Salvatore to watch his plate, but Kurt’s already snagged a huge piece of food and dashed away.
“Was that . . . fish?” I ask.
“Yes. Why?”
I groan. “That upsets his stomach.
As I watch Kurt chew the piece of fish in the corner of the kitchen and think of what will await me in the litter box tomorrow, I decide I’m done for today. I take the container with the rest of the meat from the fridge and head back to my room.

Salvatore

Milene leaves the kitchen and walks across the living room, carrying the leftovers from lunch, obviously planning to eat them in her room. I decide that won’t do. “No eating in the bedrooms.”
She stops in her tracks, turns slowly and graces me with one firm, agitated look. “Ada brought me lunch and dinner there.”
“But you didn’t eat it, did you?” I point to the bar stool next to mine. “You eat here.”
“I’m most certainly not eating at the same table as you.”
I grab the back of the chair and turn it so it’s facing her. “Here,” I bark. Milene lifts her chin, and yet she does as I ask.
“You have control issues.” She sits next to me and starts eating directly out of the container.
It amazes me how unexpectedly normal she is. If I didn’t know it already, I never would have guessed that she was a Mafia princess, accustomed to luxury. She seems so ordinary, living in that dump of an apartment, working as a nurse, and keeping that idiotic cat. Why not spend the money her brother was sending her? She keeps her nails short and unpainted, and her hair is gathered at the top of her head with a simple rubber band. I’ve seen it hang loose, and it’s a simple cut, nothing fancy. Then, there is her face. Zero makeup. No false eyelashes. I have never come across a woman within our circle who hasn’t had her hair perfectly styled, had makeup flawless and was wearing an outfit that came off the runway. Still, the woman sitting next to me in a loose T-shirt and jeans is more beautiful than any of the others. Milene Scardoni is a rare specimen.
“I need to do some shopping tomorrow,” she says between bites.
“You’ll take bodyguards.”
“Bodyguards?” She looks up at me. “As in plural?”
“Yes.”
“I’m going to a fucking supermarket. One will be enough.”
“You will take the bodyguards I assign to you, or you can order online. Your choice.”
“Perfect.” She turns back to her food. “I’m going to buy tampons and cat food with two gorillas trailing after me.”
“Four gorillas,” I say.
Her head snaps up. “Four? Are you serious?”
“Don’t argue with me, Milene. It won’t get you anywhere. It’s going to be my way, or it’s not happening.”
“You”—she points her fork in my face–“need professional help.”
“Alessandro will be waiting for you in front of the door at nine. You’ll be escorted by him. The rest of the team will follow in a second car.”
“Two cars. Fucking great.” She shakes her head and resumes eating.
It looks like I’m being ignored again since she keeps shoveling food into her mouth, clearly trying everything she can to avoid making eye contact with me.
“You haven’t asked what happened to my leg,” I say and see her fork still halfway to its destination.
“What happened to your leg?” she asks just before taking a bite of meat.
“Gunshot wound. Transtibial amputation.”
She lifts her head and looks at the bandage visible beneath the cuff of my T-shirt sleeve. “Seems like people enjoy shooting you.”
“It happens.”
“How many times so far?”
“That I’ve been shot at?” I reach for my glass of water. “I stopped counting. But if you mean how many times I’ve been hit—eight. Actually, nine, if you count this last one, but that one was just a graze.”
Milene’s eyes bulge. “Holy shit. Are you trying to break a Guinness World Record or something?”
I ignore her retort. “When you married me, you became a target, too,” I say. “Do you now understand the need for four bodyguards?”
“Wonderful.” She sighs and looks at my left hand lying on the bar surface. “Gunshot wound, as well?”
So, she’s noticed that I removed the glove, as I usually do before going to bed. I follow her gaze to my hand, regarding the numerous scars covering my slightly deformed fingers.
“Hammer,” I say. “The nerves in the last two fingers are damaged beyond repair. I can’t feel those. The rest are mostly okay, but I have trouble with fine motor skills.”
“Why do you wear a glove?”
“I don’t like being reminded of my weak spots,” I say. “My left hand is the dominant one.”
“What about your leg? Is that a weak spot, as well?
“No. I have a top-of-the-line prosthesis and have adapted well. A textbook case. And it has been over seven years. Most of the time, I forget it’s there.” I reach out to take a lock of hair that’s fallen across her eyes, and tuck it behind her ear. “Does it bother you? That I’m missing part of my leg?”
“Nope.” She smiles. “But you being a lying bastard, does.”
I lean forward and take in the contours of her face. This smile doesn’t compare to the way she laughed at the coffee shop two days ago. The coffee-shop smile, I liked. I don’t like this one. It seems . . . angry.
Reaching for my crutches, I stand up and lean to whisper into her ear. “But I’ve never lied to you, Milene, have I?”
“Withholding the truth is the same as lying.”
“Not in my world, cara.” I place a light kiss on the exposed part of her shoulder where the T-shirt she’s wearing has slipped and head toward my bedroom.
“I have a night shift tomorrow,” she shouts after me. “I need to be at work at nine.”
“You won’t be working at the hospital anymore, Milene.”
“What! You can’t forbid me from working.”
“I just did.”
The sound of a chair scraping across the floor is followed by rapid tramping of bare feet. Just seconds later, she comes around me and stands there, blocking my path.
“Please, don’t do this,” she says through gritted teeth.
“I’m sorry, cara, but I won’t risk your safety.”
Milene’s nostrils flare, and she takes a step closer to stand right in front of me, our bodies almost touching. She tilts her chin and looks straight into my eyes.
“You’ve ruined my life,” she whispers.
I bend my head until our noses touch, just like the day we met in the parking lot. “I know.”
She doesn’t say anything. Eyes locked, we stare at each other for a long time, the tips of our noses the only point of contact between our two bodies. After what seems like an eternity, Milene turns abruptly on her heel and disappears into the guest bedroom.

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