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The Sweetest Oblivion: Chapter 13

Nico

“I like to be myself. Misery loves company.”

Anthony Corallo


THERE WERE TWO RULES I always followed.

Never leave the house without my .45.

And never put myself in a position I knew I couldn’t get out of.

I had more enemies than the President of the United States, and I’d only survived this long by following those two simple rules. I’d never been tempted to break them—up until I was locked in a car with Elena Abelli.

Gas station fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed above my head. Mist fell from a dark, starless sky, each drop sizzling on my skin. I was fucking burning up. I took my suit jacket off and tossed it in the backseat. Pulled on my tie and leaned against the car door. I inhaled, smelling nothing but rain and gasoline, and listened to the tire noise from the expressway.

I could have laughed, though I wasn’t amused at all. The smallest sexual interaction I’d ever had with a woman had gotten to me so much I had to pretend I needed gas just so I could get the fuck out of that car. Heat crawled beneath my skin, and I rolled up my long sleeves.

Elena Abelli pressing her lips to mine was in breach of rule number two. I’d known it wasn’t something I could handle, yet like an idiot I’d let my dick guide me. It hadn’t killed me, but fuck, it felt like it. I was more worked up than I’d ever been. I swore, straight lust in all its itchy, burning glory rushed through my veins.

I put a cigarette between my lips and slipped my hands into my pockets. I wasn’t going to light it. If I did, I’d have to admit she unsettled me, and I refused to do that over a fucking grade-school kiss.

I leaned against the car for far longer than it took to fill up the five dollars’ worth of tank space. I paid at the pump—couldn’t go in because I had a fucking hard-on.

The mist began to cool me down, but before I knew it, I was sucked back: her soft lips on mine, her shallow breath in my ears, the tiniest brush of her tongue, hot and wet, before she pulled away. Fuck me. Heat raced straight to my groin.

I didn’t know how I’d managed not to grab her nape, pull her closer, slide my tongue against hers and taste the inside of her mouth. It hadn’t felt like a want at the time—it felt like a need. And that realization gave me the strength to hold back. After the night before, especially. I’d thought she was materialistic and shallow, yet she watched documentaries, read history, and was reserved. I wanted to know what she did during the day and what kind of thoughts consumed such a pretty head.

A car door shut behind me.

I turned to see Elena looking at me over the top of the car. She wore a high ponytail I should’ve never wrapped around my fist. Now I could never forget how silky it really was.

She cocked her head toward the gas station. “Bathroom.”

I nodded once, then gave her my back, because the last thing I needed right now was to watch her ass as she walked away. She was wearing leggings—enough said.

I’d underestimated her. I’d thought she would refuse to reenact the stage kiss, therefore giving me a leg to stand on by calling that “platonic” excuse bullshit. Truthfully, I didn’t give a fuck if it had been. It pissed me off.

I wanted to make her squirm after I’d spent the entire week trying to drive her half-naked body from my mind. Except she didn’t squirm; she undid her seatbelt and laid one on me. She called it platonic, while I had been one second from losing my grasp on self-control and touching her everywhere she’d let me.

Shit, was she irritating—a little nuisance that had wiggled beneath my skin. She was supposed to be wallpaper, but I couldn’t stop my gaze from finding her whenever she was in the room.

In the library the night before, she’d stared at me unashamedly, and fuck if it hadn’t made me feel itchy as shit. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I’d called her out on it and she hadn’t even said a word, only continued to watch me with the softest brown eyes I’d ever seen as pink tinted her cheeks.

Never thought a blush could get me so hard.

Watching her with Tyler made me wonder if he was the man she was in love with. She hadn’t hesitated to kiss me to protect him. My teeth clenched. The ring on her finger was from a man. I’d bet money on it. Tyler? Or the man she’d run away to be with?

Jesus, why did I care?

I wasn’t going to worship Elena with the rest of the male population of New York. I’d stand on the sidelines and watch the idiots pine for her attention. I ran a hand across my face, pulled the cigarette from my lips and dropped it in my shirt pocket.

As I twisted the cap on the gas tank, my attention coasted up to see Elena walking toward the car, her steps quick and her eyes toward the concrete.

My gaze narrowed. I’d learned how to read body language over the years. It was good to know when someone was going to shoot at you in the middle of a meeting. And Elena’s posture raised all my alarms. Avoiding eye contact, tight shoulders—she was stressed.

“Elena,” I said, trying to get her to look at me.

She didn’t stop at my voice. She climbed in my Audi and slammed the door. My chest burned, and without realizing how I’d gotten there I stood on her side of the car.

“What happened?” I demanded as soon as I opened the door.

She shook her head. “Nothing. Can we go?”

Maybe I’d believe that if she wasn’t such a fidgety mess. But nah, not even then. Everyone knew that when a woman said nothing she was fucking lying.

“Yeah.”

Her gaze shot to me, and now I had her. Now I could see the turmoil swimming in those eyes.

“Yeah?” she whispered.

“Yeah. After you tell me what the fuck happened.”

She sighed and rested her head against the seat. “Nothing. I just want to go home.”

I dropped to my haunches, grabbed her chin, and turned her face to mine. “I’m not leaving until you tell me what happened.”

Her teeth tugged at her bottom lip, and she averted her gaze. “I don’t want you to make it a big deal.”

“Won’t.” Depends.

“Promise you won’t do anything.”

“Promise.” Lie.

Those soft brown eyes met mine, working their way into my chest. “The cashier . . .” She swallowed. “ . . . Well, he told me I had to buy something because I used the bathroom. And then I told him I didn’t have any money on me, and . . .” She hesitated.

“Jesus, spit it the fuck out,” I snapped. Anger crept beneath my skin, slow but searing. “Did he touch you?”

“No!” she responded too quickly. “It’s not that big of a deal . . . he just threatened he would if I didn’t leave.”

A deathly stillness fell over me. “You’re lying.”

She tossed her head, trying to shake off my hand.

My grip tightened. “Where?”

Her eyes came to mine with a spark. “He smacked my ass and told me I could pay another way, all right?”

I had to take a second to swallow down the burning rage so I could form a coherent sentence. Could this woman go anywhere without men losing their goddamn minds? The irrational part of me grew agitated, pounding at my chest and shaking the bars of its cage.

I ran my thumb down the indention in her chin. “Which hand did he use?”

Her gaze widened. “No,” she breathed. “You promised!”

Her voice was distorted by the rage rushing through me, drumming in my ears. Red crept into my vision, until she was covered in it. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath of gasoline fumes, and then stood.

“No, don’t. Please, please, don’t, Nicolas,” she pleaded.

“I’m just going to talk to him.”

“No, you aren’t—”

I slammed her door.

A frustrated noise came from inside.

One lone black man was at the pump, filling up his old beater. A gas can sat on the oil-stained concrete; the one I had watched him fill while Elena was inside getting fucking groped. I grabbed the container and headed toward the station doors.

“What the fuck you think you doin’, man?”

“Some friendly advice,” I said without turning around. “Might get the fuck out of here if I were you.”

It took him two seconds to put it together.

“Aw, hell no,” I heard from behind me. A door slammed shut and a car drove off.

The ‘P’ on the Pronto sign flickered in and out. A bell chimed as I entered the harshly lit gas station with dirty, peeling laminate. The cashier stood behind the counter reading a magazine. He looked to be in his forties, with a balding head. His red, starched t-shirt said “David” in yellow.

“You the only one here tonight?”

The clerk flicked a gaze up, the end of a pen bit between his teeth. He pulled it out before saying in a heavy Long Island accent, “Yeah. What’s it to you?”

I ignored the question and looked around the dump. “Nice place you got here. You own it?”

The clerk glanced at the gas can in my hand. “Yeah.”

“Must be your livelihood, I imagine.”

His expression turned stiff. “I don’t know what you want, but I’m not interested.”

“Can’t afford new floors, nor to replace your sign out front. I’m sure all income is going straight home. Wife . . . kids, maybe.” I undid the cap, and then sloshed some gasoline on the dirty laminate.

The clerk dropped his pen, taking a step back. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“The girl that just came in here?” I gave my head a shake. “Wrong girl, David.” Gas splashed a shelf of postcards.

“I’m calling the cops.” The clerk’s voice shook. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed he didn’t reach for the phone. I glanced at the man to see he was focused on my forearm—on the ace of spades tattooed on the inside.

An amused breath escaped me. “I swear, this lack of anonymity ruins all my fucking fun. Should’ve never gotten the tat.”

“I didn’t know,” the clerk blurted. “I didn’t fucking know who she was!”

“I wanted your hand,” I said, walking down aisles, sloshing gasoline on shelves, cooler doors, the rack of porn mags. “But that’s a fucking mess, really. Don’t have the right knife on me to do a good job.”

The clerk stood, frozen and sweating.

“You got insurance, David?”

He swallowed. “Of course.”

The smell of gasoline fumes consumed the gas station. I tossed the now-empty can on the floor and grabbed a Zippo lighter off a shelf. Ironically enough, one with the ace of spades on the sides. I thought for a moment about the location and class of the joint. “Hartford?”

“Y-yeah.”

I placed a cigarette between my lips, a dark smile pulling on the corners. “The correct answer is you had insurance.”

“Wait,” he pleaded. “Fuck, I’m sorry. Let me apologize—”

His words became white noise in my head, a gurgling, annoying sound. Standing in front of the glass doors, I lit the cigarette between my lips. A cherry glowed at the end, and nicotine flowed through my blood.

With the lazy, autocratic stare I was known for, I told the wild-eyed, frozen clerk, “If you got a back door, you better find it.”

A breath of smoke from my lips and the clerk was gone, slipping on gasoline all the way to the back room. Before he reached it, I flicked my cigarette to the laminate, silently hoping David wasn’t quicker than he looked.

The bell dinged above my head as the old glass doors shut behind me. I slipped my hands into my pockets. Cool mist hit my face while the heat of a fire brushed my back.

The old Pronto lit up like a fucking Christmas tree.


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