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The Sweetest Oblivion: Chapter 22

Elena

“That was the beginning of the end of our thing.”

—Anthony Casso


“COME IN!”

The door of the penthouse on the twenty-second floor swung open, and Gianna stood on the other side. I didn’t believe that even someone who knew Gianna would be able to guess what she would wear next.

Tonight, it was a small black dress with a hem cutting diagonally from one hip to the opposite knee. Tall red pumps. Fishnet stockings. Wavy hair that was half-up, tied in two knots on the top of her head, and no makeup. Really, she didn’t need it.

“You’re early!” she exclaimed. Her eyes shone a little too bright, her pupils too large. She was high. Cocaine, most likely.

“I’ve brought some bruschetta and seafood salad,” Mamma said, moving into the kitchen with a tiny bowl of tomatoes while Benito struggled with everything else.

Adriana and I stayed in the hallway, hesitating.

Why was Gianna answering Nicolas’s door?

A sliver of something unpleasant curled in my chest, and for a split second, I didn’t like Gianna. The feeling was so strong and sudden I had to inhale a breath to push it away.

It was an unreasonably jealous reaction I shouldn’t have had, especially after yesterday. The problem was, I could still feel his hands on me, like I’d been branded for life. The only other man who’d gotten as close as Nicolas had a warm, gentle touch which faded to memory only seconds later. What I would give to reverse the two.

Adriana stepped into the apartment, her eyes taking it all in. “So, this is going to be my prison cell.”

Mamma gasped and spun around to shoot her a look. “Adriana!

My sister walked further into the room with me following behind.

Gianna laughed. “Thankfully, this prison comes with great amenities. I’ll give you a tour!”

Apparently, Nicolas owned a few properties in New York and he’d chosen this one for Adriana. It wasn’t as quaint or as homey as his red-brick house, but it was upscale in every meaning of the word.

It was modernly decorated, with white and silver marble floors, lots of glass tables and chrome finishes. The lighting was dim and romantic, twinkling off the wall of glass that showcased the city. It was breathtaking, but I knew my sister would hate it.

“I hate it,” she said sourly, examining the view.

“Oh, come on,” Benito responded, throwing an arm around her shoulder. “It ain’t so bad. Look, it’s even got a pool.”

It did. The blue water lay still, the railing nothing but glass before a two-hundred-foot drop.

“If you like it so much, then you live here,” Adriana said.

“Don’t think Nico likes me like that.”

A hint of a smile tugged at my sister’s lips.

Gianna and Mamma took the tour by themselves, my mother’s “oohs” and “ahhs” drifting down the hallway.

Nobody else had arrived yet, not even the groom.

He was probably planning to leave Adriana here and to only show up when conjugal visits were necessary. My cousin Cici, who lived in Chicago, got the same fate. Though, she didn’t despise it so much because she hated her husband.

With the thought of “conjugal visits” sticking around like a bad aftertaste, I decided I needed some alcohol. So I went in search of some.

My head was in the fridge when I heard him behind me.

“Look at you, snooping through my shit. You’d think I was marrying you instead.”

His voice sent a shiver down my back, but I ignored it and grabbed a wine cooler off the shelf.

Closing the fridge, I turned around.

Nicolas stood on the other side of the island, his gaze on me as he dropped a folder next to Mamma’s appetizers. He must have come straight from work, because he only wore a black button-up shirt and pants. Not dressed for a party. His hair was messy, like he’d been running his hands through it, and I had the sudden desire to do it myself.

I leaned against the fridge. “Thank the good Lord for small miracles, huh?”

His gaze was averted as he took off his watch and set it on the island, but a small smile pulled on his lips.

My pulse pattered to an uneven beat. I’d come to the conclusion that even if I were to marry this man, he could give my heart nothing but tiny fissures and cracks—it didn’t know that, though. Or maybe it did, and the heart only took chances the brain would not. Thankfully, I’d always been a realist and usually reacted to the latter’s cues.

However, an entirely different part of me controlled my actions regarding him: base instincts. This was how the human species kept populating. Unyielding attraction and lust. And Mother Nature wouldn’t let me forget there was a male in his prime nearby.

We’d been doing something we shouldn’t have yesterday. It wasn’t like we’d crossed a direct line, but we’d undeniably dipped a couple toes on the other side. It would be much easier to dip a few more the next time. It was a dangerous slope, and I just needed to stay away from it completely.

I had no idea how he would regard me now—now that I’d asked him to disrespect me. I planned to pretend it had never happened, but my body hadn’t forgotten. It sang in his presence, my stupid heart warming and not knowing what was good for it.

As he came around the island, I tipped my wine cooler out to him in a gesture asking him to open it.

He watched me as if he definitely remembered I’d asked him to disrespect me yesterday and he wouldn’t pretend otherwise, though his expression was indifferent, like it was nothing new to him. I was positive it wasn’t. I’d had his phone for two minutes max and received a naked picture. I couldn’t imagine what I’d see if I had it all day.

He took the bottle from my hand and twisted off the cap. Right before he gave it back, he took a drink while looking at me all the while. My stomach erupted with butterflies from sharing with him, but I ignored the ridiculous feeling.

I swallowed when he returned it to me and headed to the sink. My brows knitted as I looked at the half-empty bottle. How did men take such big drinks?

Leaning on the fridge, with the bottle resting against my lips, I watched him wash his hands.

His eyes came my way, running from the hair I’d straightened and wore down, to my gold dress that stopped mid-thigh. His eyes narrowed slightly, like he didn’t like it at all. When his attention landed on my white heels, it traveled back up my body slowly, and I knew he was looking for the pink.

Danger. Playfulness. Fever. A mixture of them all filled my chest, trickling through my bloodstream and straight between my legs. Beneath the light pink thong that suddenly felt heavy, hot, and damp.

A little lightheaded, I scraped my teeth on the bottle, biting down.

His gaze darkened.

Was the air growing warmer?

Cazzo.

Brother-in-law. Brother. In. Law.

As my eyes fell downward, I paused.

The water was running pink.

He was washing blood off his hands.

“Good day at work?” My tone was sweet and sarcastic.

He flicked an amused gaze to me. “And look at how well you play wife. Starting to think I got the short end of the stick.”

My eyes followed his to see Adriana sitting on the floor, cross-legged in the corner, playing what looked like a game on her phone. She was at least dressed appropriately in a yellow halter dress and flats. It would take blackmail to get her in heels.

The TV sounded from behind the low wall that separated the kitchen from the living room, and I imagined Benito was settled on the couch with his arms resting across the back as he always had them. In the background, my mamma was squealing about how big the shower was.

I tilted my head. “I think we do much better as fratello and sorella, don’t you?”

He licked his lips, running his teeth across the bottom one thoughtfully, but it looked like he was thinking about all the wrong things.

Those butterflies took flight.

“If you say so, Elena.”

“I do, Ace.”

He dried his hands and tossed the hand towel on the counter. Just like a man not to hang it back up.

“You been reading up on me?”

“Maybe.” I lifted a shoulder. “But no one knows why they call you Ace. Can you kill a man with a playing card?”

That amused him. “Why does it have to be about killing? Maybe I’m just damn good at cards.”

I raised a brow. “Are you?”

My heartbeat raced as he walked toward me, because it felt more like a stalk than anything.

“I’m all right.” His expression hinted at dark amusement, like he knew something I didn’t. He stepped within a foot of me, braced a hand on the fridge above my head, and then leaned in until I could see nothing but him.

I held my breath.

His gaze was thoughtful, as though he wondered if he could trust me with his secrets, whether he wanted to.

“You didn’t read much about me,” he guessed.

I shook my head.

He ran a thumb across my chin, right below my bottom lip and down the small indention. “First man I killed, I shoved an ace of spades down his throat.”

I swallowed as he took a step back and walked away from me.

“Name’s been with me ever since.”


“What about her?”

“Bitter and bisexual,” Adriana answered blandly, taking a sip of wine from her seat beside me at the island.

“How can you tell she’s bisexual?” I asked.

“She’s checked out Gianna’s boobs and Benito.”

I paused. “Well, her boobs are kind of distracting.”

My sister tilted her head, regarding Gianna’s breasts. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

The penthouse was full of about twenty Russos I hardly knew. The women stood in a corner, talking amongst themselves, and the last thing I wanted to do was small talk. Adriana should have been getting to know them better, but she never did anything by the book.

Papà was speaking to Nico, who had just come out of his room freshly showered and dressed in a black suit. Mamma’s smile was fake—she was doing a poor job of feigning interest in Nicolas’s aunt’s conversation. And Adriana and I sat here, playing a game where we judged people by two words, only because Mamma took my sister’s phone—and therefore Angry Birds—and yelled at her to get off the floor.

So far, Adriana thought everyone looked bitter and had some kind of secret sexuality. I didn’t think she was giving this game her all.

She still hadn’t shared with me why she’d been so upset last night, and that could mean two things: she’d given it some thought and decided it wasn’t as bad as she initially believed; or, the one I was concerned about—she’d decided not to listen to his demands. How would Nicolas deal with that? My stomach tightened.

“Your turn,” Adriana said, picking at the label on my empty wine cooler.

At that moment, the door swung open and a groaned “Why?” escaped my lips.

Tony stood on the other side of the door with Jenny. Her blond hair was down, her dress was tight and navy blue, the same color as her eyes as they landed on us. “Ohmygod, hi! It’s been forever since I’ve seen you!”

Adriana rolled her eyes. She hated fake cheer, or really, just cheer in general. It wasn’t my favorite either, but I understood fake better than anyone.

I nudged my sister’s shoulder, silently telling her to be nice.

Jenny’s screech brought everyone’s attention to the door. Nico’s gaze landed on her while speaking to my papà. I didn’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t for him to glance away to finish his sentence, uninterested.

Tony headed to Benito and Dominic, who hung out near the minibar, and Jenny came straight to us. I tensed as my brother walked by Nicolas, and then let out a breath when there was no altercation. They only glanced at each other with indifference. I’d never understand men.

“I’m so happy for you, Adriana,” Jenny said as she reached us. “Your wedding is so soon.” It looked like Jenny wanted to hug her, but my sister’s expression made it clear she didn’t want to be touched. Jenny took an awkward step back after coming too close.

I tried to lighten the mood and smiled. “How are you, Jenny? I hear you’re graduating culinary school soon.”

“Yes, but I don’t think I’ll ever be as good a cook as Celia.” She said it loudly enough for my mamma to hear, who only pursed her lips and sipped her cocktail.

I swore Adriana muttered, “Suck-up.”

Truthfully, nobody liked Jenny.

Papà frowned when he saw her, and Mamma pretended she wasn’t here. My father’s reason was that she wasn’t Italian or connected to the Cosa Nostra, and therefore a liability. Jenny knew what my family was involved in, though she never let on she did. She wasn’t faithful to Tony, which meant she didn’t love him. In this life, there was only one reason a woman from the outside would stick around with a man she didn’t love: money.

Jenny was a gold digger.

A nice one, but a little gold digger, indeed.

Tony was paying for her classes, her apartment, and the diamond bracelet on her wrist.

I’d always tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but after seeing her very naked on Nicolas’s phone a couple nights ago, I realized I was wrong.

She grew up in the foster system, in a poor home. I couldn’t dislike her for trying to make her life better any way she could, but I didn’t like that she was pulling on my brother’s heartstrings for her own gain.

I never confronted anyone, though.

No one besides Nicolas Russo, anyway.

“Well, you’re definitely better than Adriana and I combined,” I said with a laugh. Nico’s gaze found me, lingering, and I swallowed. “You’ll have to give us some pointers some time.”

“Oh, I’d love that!” Jenny exclaimed.

Two quiet knocks sounded on the door, and Gianna pulled herself away from a conversation with Valentina Russo to answer it.

When I saw it was Christian standing on the other side, I sat straighter in my chair. Brown hair combed back, in a navy suit and red tie, his countenance appeared welcoming. Only his icy blue eyes seemed to fit with the cold resonance he carried around.

Every woman in the room turned to stare—even my mamma’s eyes widened on him. They might as well have taken their panties off and thrown them at him it was so obvious. Nicolas’s gaze warmed my face, but I refused to look at him.

Once Gianna noticed who it was, her head rolled with annoyance, and she tried to shut the door on him.

With one hand and indifference, Christian easily kept it open.

Gianna turned to walk away, but he stopped her by grabbing her wrist, and then pulled her closer.

I watched, enraptured.

I didn’t want Gianna to be involved with Christian because I needed him, but there was something compelling about the dressed-to-the-nines agent and the walking fashion disaster that was Gianna. They were so different, and yet . . . maybe not so different at all.

Gripping her chin, Christian looked into her eyes with scrutiny. He shook his head with a slight grimace, before shoving her face away. Gianna muttered something that looked to be stronzoasshole—and then stomped away on her stilettos.

Christian must have noticed she was high, but it didn’t look like Gianna cared at all what he thought. So, what was their relationship? Maybe she was his stepmother, too. She was married to a man three times her age, though I noticed she never wore a ring.

Adriana’s gaze landed on Christian, before she announced, “Perfectionist.” She paused, tilted her head. “Straight as an arrow.”

Well, at least that was on my side.


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