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The Sweetest Oblivion: Chapter 35

Elena

“Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.”

—Charles Maurice de Talleyrand


WE STOPPED AT HIS OFFICE, and when I saw there was pizza waiting for me on the coffee table, I groaned.

Nico let out a breath of amusement and headed past me to his desk, where he spent the next hour on the phone. It could have been longer, though I wouldn’t know, because with my stomach full and the toll the sun had taken, I fell asleep on the couch. It was a light sleep, where I could still hear his deep and newly comforting timbre in the background.

Three hours later, I awoke to an empty office.

Slightly disoriented, I blinked and then pulled my hair out of its ratty ponytail. I finger-combed it and slipped my heels back on before heading to the door and into the hallway. The card tables were still, the basement silent except for a few soft male voices.

I stepped into the main room and noticed Lorenzo, Lucky, and Luca at one of the far booths, each holding a hand of cards. I wondered how one went about playing poker with a cheater in each seat.

I didn’t see Nicolas anywhere, and suddenly grew an itch to check out the club upstairs. I was going to have a rule-breaker for a husband, so maybe I needed to go out of my comfort zone and learn how to get on his level. On the balls of my feet so my heels didn’t click, I walked to the staircase and slipped out the door.

The place was elegant yet comfortably decorated. A wide dance floor made of panels blinked from purple, blue to yellow. A long line of red plush chairs sat around lacquered, round wooden tables, with a mirror taking up the far wall. A staircase led upstairs to where I imagined the VIP rooms were. I hoped Nico didn’t allow shady things to go on in there, though that was wishful thinking.

After another moment, I decided to head back downstairs before they noticed I was gone. As I took a step to leave, I realized I wasn’t alone.

“So, you’re the lovely Elena.”

I froze.

The voice was unfamiliar, though I’d learned I was a top choice on any gossip list lately, so it wasn’t surprising he would know me.

I turned around and met an uncultured yet refined gaze, as though the two battled amongst themselves. Ruthlessness spilled out of his Armani suit, yet his easy looks, urbane wardrobe, and relaxed carriage belied it. I imagined he was a chameleon, effortlessly taking form of whatever façade he wished.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.”

His quiet laugh sounded like low musical notes left to die on the wind. “No, you wouldn’t. I’m only a second son.”

While the significance of his statement should have become extinct in the twentieth century, I understood what he meant. I was living proof of the Cosa Nostra’s old-fashioned ways—my wedding right around the corner.

As a second son, he wouldn’t inherit much, not the title nor the business, and he would always be expected to work for his papà and then older brother. He would be forever second best and overlooked.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

He scratched his jaw, amused, and then I thought he muttered, “No wonder he liked you.”

I didn’t know the man to question him, though the past tense of that statement—liked—piqued my interest. I shouldn’t be conversing alone with a man I didn’t know, but it wasn’t like Nico would let someone he didn’t trust into his club, would he?

With hesitant steps, I closed the distance between us. This stranger grasped my hand and pressed a light kiss to it. As he did, I said to him, “You seem to already know who I am, though I know nothing about you. You must have a name?”

“You can call me Sebastian.” A subtle glint passed through his eyes before he added, “Perez.”

Something cold shot through me, and my knee-jerk response was to yank my hand out of his grasp. It was then I noticed the thin accent to his words as Colombian.

He blew out a breath like my reaction was equal parts amusing and annoying. “Third time that’s happened. Starting to wonder how I’m going to get laid in this city.”

I wavered at the light tone of his voice and statement. However, as I watched him slip his hands in his pocket and turn to look at the place, I realized this man might be more manipulative than his brother. Though, what I wanted to know was how deviant.

I wondered if what he insinuated was true—if Oscar had a bad reputation with women. He seemed to have enough female attention that I’d seen, but it was only in our circle, and if he had certain . . . proclivities, I was certain he wouldn’t show them to anyone in the Cosa Nostra. Not until he locked one of their women down with marriage and stole them away to Colombia, anyway. A fate it felt like I’d missed by a hair.

“You know, he liked you,” he said. “He liked you a lot.”

An unpleasant taste filled my mouth. To be desired by Oscar Perez felt like contracting an STD.

“This is a nice place,” he observed, taking a few steps deeper into the club. “Interesting to find you here, though. Thought Ace was marrying your sister?”

I swallowed. “Change of plans.”

The simple huh that escaped him was coated with amusement.

“You know,” he said, “one time when my brother was drunk, he told me your voice was like a woman’s soft caress.”

“How very . . .” I held in the grimace. “Nice.”

He chuckled as though he loved the awkwardness his statement had brought into the room. “He spoke sonnets of you. Would you like to hear the others?”

“I . . . don’t think so.”

“Good choice. Some of them were . . .” He turned around with a slight frown. “Uncultured.”

“You’re no longer a second son,” I noted.

A flicker of pitch black passed through his eyes. “No.”

My stomach tightened. “Is that why you’re here?”

As soon as the last word left my lips, a wave of pure tension brushed my back. My body went still, but Sebastian stood where he was, his hands remaining in his pockets as he flicked a gaze to the man behind us.

“Elena. Downstairs.” The words were cold and distant. Words of a boss that carried an unmistakable timbre of control. A shiver worked its way beneath my skin. “Now.”

I turned around to comply.

I knew this breaking the rules thing wasn’t for me . . .

Nico didn’t give me a glance. He remained focused on the Colombian who stood in the middle of his club and who I was beginning to think hadn’t received an invitation.

This version of Nico was all hard lines and an intimidating presence that burned if one stepped too close. I couldn’t help but notice that the man I knew caressed me with the same hands the don used to maim.

I passed him and headed down the hall, but something made my feet halt around the corner, the tension thick enough to suffocate. An itch to see how Nico did business. Plain curiosity.

“You have five seconds to explain how the fuck you got into my club.”

Sebastian’s laugh was quiet. “Straight to business, then?” His tone turned as sophisticated as his suit. “Very well. I put the front cameras on loop and used the good ol’ credit card maneuver.”

“There are two chain key locks on that door.”

I could feel the smile spill around the corner. “What can I say? Maybe you should have gone with three.”

Silence met my ears and I could tell Nico wasn’t amused. “If you want to leave here with all your body parts intact, I would start talking.”

“My brother must not have been a friend of yours.”

Impatience crept on the air and I inhaled slowly.

“Perez,” Sebastian said. “Oscar.” A pause. “You see, my brother was suspicious—straight up paranoid, really—about someone trying to kill him. Can’t say I didn’t consider doing it myself. I mean, I think I had thoughts about it since I was seven—”

“Point,” Nico snapped.

Sebastian sighed. “Well, he was so paranoid he hired a private investigator. Someone who followed him around and made sure no one else followed him.” He laughed. “Ironic, no?”

There was an intermission as though he waited for Nico to respond. Nico never did say anything, and I imagined he was only giving the man that intimidating glare.

“Right,” Sebastian repeated. “Well, the reason I imagine my brother wasn’t a friend of yours is because that PI has some photos of you shooting him in the head.”

My pulse skid to an awkward stop. And when all Nico said was, “Don’t think you’ve come to tell me who this PI is,” a cool rush of awareness flooded me.

Sebastian laughed. “If I did that, I’m sure he’d be floating in whatever river is closest to here. Besides, he gave the photos to me. Wouldn’t have even taken them if he’d recognized it was you. ‘Bout had a heart attack when I pointed it out.”

“Smart man,” Nico drawled. “You, not so much. Tell me what you want before I decide I don’t give a shit.”

“Let’s just say my brother ran the business into the ground. Killed a lot of our contacts with his . . . well, to be frank, he loved women. Fucking them, beating them, cutting them up. It made for bad business. You partner with me and those photos go poof.”

Nico let out a sardonic breath. “You realize, starting a new relationship with blackmail isn’t the smartest move you could make?”

“Like you would have considered a new supplier another way.”

Nico was the one who killed Oscar . . . Why?

“You have good shit?” Nico eventually said.

“The best.”

“Fine. We’ll talk about this later this week, after you make a fucking appointment like anyone else. Where are you staying?”

“Why?” Sebastian’s tone was amused. “You want to show me the city?”

“So if I decide to kill you, I won’t have to waste my time finding you,” was Nico’s deadpanned response before I decided I’d heard enough.

Before I left, I paused at Sebastian’s next words, needing to hear Nico’s reply.

“Tell me,” Sebastian said, “why did you do it?”

A heavy silence took over, and my chest tightened at Nico’s cavalier tone.

“He had something I wanted.”


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