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The Sweetest Oblivion: Chapter 16


“I see nothing in space as promising as the view from a Ferris wheel.”

—E.B. White

MY HEAD FELT LIGHT AS my second beer settled into a warm puddle in my stomach.

I was only tipsy and had already exchanged alcohol for water. I never drank too much in public; it loosened my tongue, to the point I feared what I would say or do. What if I told everyone what I was thinking? The Sweet Abelli and alcohol didn’t mix. I wasn’t ready to jump headfirst into the world as myself, didn’t know if I’d ever be. When you’re groomed and praised for being a certain way your entire childhood, sometimes there’s no escape.

Adriana didn’t share the same opinions on the matter. She was drunk, very much so. Thankfully, she was usually quiet while intoxicated, and appeared to only be eating much more and with less decorum than she did sober.

More family had shown up and filled most of the restaurant. Russos sat with Russos and Abellis with Abellis. Though, Adriana sat next to Nicolas and his uncles and their wives. I knew his mamma had passed when he was a teen, and his papà had been killed when the Zanettis shot up one of his nightclubs. Unsurprisingly, it was because Nicolas’s father had cheated them on a business deal.

It was strange not having Adriana at our table, but I guessed she was going to be a Russo in less than two weeks. A discomfort tightened in my throat.

I sat next to Tony, who seemed to be in good spirits. He had a bandage on his right hand, though, and kept asking me to get his drinks for him, to pass this or that, and to cut his steak. He always asked with too much enthusiasm, as if he liked his new condition. I was feeling for Jenny, cheater or not.

My parents, Nonna, Dominic, and Benito also sat with us. The men kept the conversation monotonous with talk about work—Papà owned many different establishments, from strip clubs to laundromats, though the latter was probably a cover-up for the packaging and distribution of drugs—or about their bets on men in their illegal fights.

Gianna ran the conversation in the room, making Abellis converse with Russos and vice versa. She looked like Barbie today. Thin-strapped pink dress, high ponytail, and light pink makeup. She was charismatic, independent, and now that I believed she’d slept with Nicolas, I watched her more than I should have. I was fascinated with the idea that she knew what it was like to sleep with him. Though, the more I thought about it, a foreign feeling—a wave of something unpleasant—slithered through my veins.


That’s what it was.

I wasn’t only attracted to the man, I was jealous of the women he’d been with.

I groaned out loud.

All eyes at our round table came my way, forks of dessert halfway to their lips.

“Indigestion?” Nonna questioned.

“Yeah,” I responded without thinking, and pushed my chair back. “I’m going to use the restroom.”

I didn’t even realize what I had said until I was walking away from the table and heard my brother and cousins’ soft laughter behind my back. Men.

I had the bathroom door open three inches when I heard my name between the sound of the running faucet and toilet flushing.

“Look, all I’m saying is that she’s known to be this Sweet Abelli, but really it’s only because she gets sweet with a lot of men.”

A bitter taste filled my mouth.

The voice belonged to a Russo woman. Valentina. Married to one of Nicolas’s cousins, though I didn’t know which. She was tall, statuesque, with strong Sicilian features. Hard to miss or forget.

“You’re just jealous because Ricardo’s been staring at her all night,” another woman replied. It sounded like Jemma, Nicolas’s cousin. She was close to my age, maybe a little younger, with light brown hair and eyes. I’d only spoken to her once, but she’d seemed like a nice girl.

“I don’t care what Ricardo does. I have Eddie,” Valentina replied. I heard a rustle like someone was digging through their purse, then silence, maybe reapplying makeup. “They killed her lover, don’t you know? Some man from Staten Island.”

“They’re going to kill yours too if you don’t shut up about it,” Jemma said.

Valentina scoffed. “Ricardo and I hardly sleep together anymore. What does he expect me to do?”

“Stop. I don’t want to hear about you, my brother, and sex in one sentence.”

“Fine, prude.”

I let the door close quietly. I hadn’t known my nickname was so popular until I’d met the Russos. I wondered if that’s what everyone believed—that the Sweet Abelli was easy and sweet about it.

My stomach turned. I didn’t care so much about what others thought of me, but the rumor hit closer to home than I wished. A man was killed because I’d made the mistake of sleeping with him, and now I was lusting after my sister’s fiancé. Her comment struck the right nerve.

The girls exited the bathroom with a fresh wave of perfume and didn’t even notice me standing in the shadows.

I leaned against the wall as the past came to the surface.

I’d met him at the carnival.

Warm breeze, sun, and laughter from the Ferris wheel high above. Smells of fried funnel cakes, popcorn, and cotton candy. At least, that’s what I imagined it to be in the heat of summer. Instead, it was as empty as a Sweet Abelli smile. Nothing but snow, concrete, and the whistle of cold wind.

He worked at a mall nearby as a security guard, as well as two other part-time jobs to support his mother and younger sister, who I could only imagine were struggling to get by while mourning a son and brother. The awful truth was, I didn’t even know his name. I wouldn’t tell him mine, so with a smile he’d told me he wouldn’t share his until I shared mine. Now, he’d never get to tell another anything.

He was blond, charismatic, and easygoing. I hadn’t known such light-heartedness existed, and it had charmed me in a way. However, I was raised and deeply embedded in a different world altogether. A world that ended his life.

The most bitter part was that the guilt was fading, like the image out of a rear-view mirror as the car drove away.

I leaned my head against the wall, tilted it up, and twisted the ring on my middle finger. He gave it to me as a lark. However, now it had become a promise to myself to make restitution for my mistake. And I wouldn’t take it off until I had.

A familiar awareness brushed my bare skin.

I rolled my head to the side to see Nicolas standing at the end of the corridor, his hands in his pockets and that lazy stare all mine.

“And here I thought I’d never see you out of pink.”

His deep voice touched my ears, and I shivered from the sound filling the silent hallway. Never see you out of pink. My mind took that to a dirty place, where I wore nothing and he looked on. My breasts tightened as warmth ran a languid path between my legs. I swallowed and pushed the breathlessness away.

I hardly ever wore black, but I was feeling edgy tonight. Maybe because I knew he would be here and I needed the strength black could offer to pretend he didn’t exist. He’d only ever seen me in white or pink—it wasn’t a surprise he looked at me like I was a ridiculous girl most of the time. But that was for the best. If he had returned this fascination, I could only imagine the chaos it could bring, and I wasn’t starting another scandal. Ever.

Still leaning against the wall, I pulled up the hem of my dress until my hot pink heels were showing.

A hint of a smile pulled on his lips, and he wiped at it with a thumb before sliding his hand back in his pocket. Butterflies erupted low in my stomach. If I ever cursed—really cursed—it would be to describe how handsome he was. It deserved a salacious word, otherwise no one could understand the magnitude of it.

“What do you know Sweet Abelli to mean?” I asked, my expression thoughtful. I had to know if I was considered a whore to the entire Cosa Nostra. Living in naivety wasn’t my style, no matter how much I disliked the truth.

He raised a dark brow, maintaining a ten-foot distance. “You want me to say it?”

I gave my head a slow nod, pulling my bottom lip between my teeth.

How bad was it?

His gaze sparked with dark amusement, though a small amount of bitterness leaked through. “One of the sweetest pieces of ass in New York, easily.”

I blinked. Swallowed. Made a hmm noise to hide my breathlessness. That’s just what he knew it to mean, not necessarily what he believed, right? Still, I couldn’t help a weight from forming between my legs. My dress from feeling abrasive and hot.

This attraction burned, and before it scarred me forever, I needed to treat him differently. If I regarded him like family—which he would soon be—maybe then it would fade away.

I pushed off the wall and walked toward him. The old restaurant’s atmosphere held a charge. I suddenly wondered if the feeling was merely a reaction between two combustible forces, or if my crush had sunk so deep into my skin the air was thicker to breathe in his presence.

With an exhale that could be construed as relief, I said, “Well, that’s not as bad as I was assuming.” I stood in front of him, within arms’ length. A feeling of significance rushed me whenever I was in his company, like I had the attention of the most popular boy at school.

The past still gripped me, enough that the present seemed easy, courage not difficult to find. I stepped closer and ran my finger across the edge of his jacket button.

His voice held a variety of his natural darkness; this one was rougher, not in the least amused. “What did I say about assuming?”

Somehow, his demanding, bossy nature only made my cheeks warm. How easily this man told people what to do and expected immediate obedience. A silver spoon must have fed him his entire childhood.

“I had good reason to believe it was something else.” I pushed the black button through its hole, undoing his jacket. He watched me, and every inch of my skin burned like I was standing too near to a fire.

“I’d love to hear your half-baked reasoning.” His tone told me the opposite.

“So, what do you want?” I opened his jacket, revealing the black vest beneath that hugged his stomach. “Just checking up on me?”

His words were laced with harshness. “Your sister is drunk and you encouraged it.”

“Oh, so I’m in trouble, then?” I reached into his vest pocket and pulled out the cigarette I knew would be there. I’d seen him put it between his lips or roll it between his fingers like he was trying to quit. “Take it up with my papà. I’m an Abelli, not a Russo.”

I went to turn around, but he grabbed my wrist.

“You’re not going outside alone.”

“I saw some kitchen staff go out there.” I tried to shake off his grip, but that only brought his attention to my hand. His gaze darkened on my ring like he wanted to pull it off. I curled my fingers protectively because I believed he might just try it. When his grasp slipped from my wrist, I headed toward the back door.

“You’re not going outside with the kitchen staff.”

Treat him like family, right?

“Nicolas, go find someone else to boss around—”

I froze, my heartbeats slowing like they’d been dropped in molasses. He held me by the ponytail and kept me from taking another step, like it was a leash. My breath stopped when his front pressed against my back. He felt so warm, so good, I could have groaned if I had the air to do so.

With a small tug on my ponytail, my head tilted to the side and his lips brushed the hollow behind my ear. “Tell me what to fucking do again.”

My neck would be the most sensitive part of me if the obvious didn’t count. Goose bumps rose on my skin. His gravelly tone ran the length of my nape before trailing down my spine and between my legs. My back arched on reflex.

“You’re not going outside alone. And not with the kitchen staff either.”

With half-lidded eyes and a hazy mind, it took a moment to comprehend his words. I blinked, trying to clear my head.

“Do you have a lighter?” I was going outside, whether he liked it or not. My question left the suggestion open that he was invited, though I didn’t know why. This moment here proved I couldn’t treat him like family.

He gripped my waist and pushed me forward a step. He must have let my hair go and I hadn’t even noticed.

When he opened the alley door and humid August air brushed my face, I hesitated.

With his back pressed against the door, he held it open, his hands in his pockets. His stare was edged with something heated—maybe annoyance. He didn’t want to be out here with me.

The Sweet Abelli would have considered his feelings. I didn’t have to be her around him, though.

I stepped out to smoke with Nicolas Russo.


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