Amore part 1, p.9
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       Amore: Part 1, p.9

           Bella Jewel
 
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  My back straightens. “I don’t want to believe it, but it’s all pointing in his direction,” I growl, running a frustrated hand through my hair.

  “I don’t either, but he was in communication with Ross before he was killed, and he happens to work in the same offices that we’re being led to. It’s too much to be a coincidence.”

  “Did you look into our bank records, accounting, any of that?” I ask Vin, who just lit a cigarette.

  “Still looking. Nothing so far.”

  “If it’s him, he’s good. However, he’s pulling this off, he’s fuckin’ good,” I say, lifting my glass of whiskey and shooting it down.

  If Julie found out I was looking into her father, that I suspected he was messing with my family . . . it would destroy her. If I’m right, I have to take him out. It can’t matter to me that he’s one of her parents. If he’s messing with us, he needs to be taken care of. I pray I’m fucking wrong, but the fact of the matter is that all arrows are pointing to him.

  Dammit.

  Fuck.

  “You told her yet?” Vin asks, glancing at me. He can read me like a fucking book.

  “Why would I tell her?” I snap.

  “Because you’re fucking her, and she has a right to know part of the reason you’re keeping her around is so you can get information.”

  I flinch. I haven’t asked her a single question about her father. “I haven’t asked her a damn thing,” I say, my voice dropping low.

  “Maybe not, but we both know you will because we both know part of the reason you’ve let her stick around for so long is because she’s helpful.”

  He’s wrong.

  Isn’t he?

  Fuck.

  “What I want to know,” Ben says, shifting the conversation, “is why her father would want to take out one of our members, and then have our shipments stolen and our men killed. How would that benefit him?”

  “I haven’t figured that out yet.” I sigh, rubbing my temples. The pounding in my skull is almost deafening.

  “It doesn’t make a great deal of sense,” Vin says. “I’ll give it that much.”

  “Maybe he’s getting paid by someone,” Ben suggests.

  “I doubt it,” I mutter. “There are only very few who would mess with our shipments.”

  “Doesn’t seem like any other good explanation.”

  I grunt. “Keep looking. I’ll keep my eyes open. We’re still going ahead with the masquerade tomorrow night?”

  “Yeah, all organized. You bringing Julie?”

  I shrug. “She’ll come, but Maria is obviously my companion for the evening.”

  They all stare at me. I shoot them each a look.

  I decided to hold a masquerade ball at my club tomorrow night. It’s a good way to raise money and get a good rep in town, but mostly, it’s somewhat of a lure to see who comes out to play. I have a strong feeling that whoever is messing with us will send someone in to get information. I’ll have men everywhere. I’ll have men they don’t even know are my men.

  I’ll find who is doing this.

  And when I do, I’ll kill them.

  CHAPTER 16

  JULIETTA

  I move across the dance floor, my beautiful black-feathered mask covering half of my face. The dress I’ve chosen is a dark, navy blue silk that falls almost too perfectly over my body, clinging where it needs to cling and flowing where it doesn’t. My hair is down and curled in thick waves. Even I’ll admit I look as beautiful as I feel.

  Rafael invited me to this ball, and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure if I’d come. I’m not entirely positive as to what my purpose is here, because as far as I know, his entire family is in attendance as well as everyone who works for him. Considering I got my ass tanned for interacting with a family member of his in the past, I’m wondering for what purpose he’s brought me along.

  As I glance around the opulent room, I notice his brothers standing to the left of the bar, unmasked. Their eyes fall on me and I can feel their gazes penetrating, as if I’m standing there naked, wearing nothing but this damned mask. It’s getting hot behind it suddenly. I look away quickly and realize I’m standing right in the middle of the dance floor. My cheeks grow warmer as couples sway beside me, deep in the trance of each other’s company.

  A hand curls around my hip and a warm breath tickles my neck. “You look beautiful, cara.”

  That voice.

  Him.

  All of it.

  I sigh and close my eyes as his fingers trail over my hip, up my spine, curling until they close around my arm and he spins me to face him. He catches me in his arms, his big body engulfing mine. Home.

  I look up into his eyes. He isn’t wearing a mask; he doesn’t need to. He’s already exquisite enough on his own. He holds the room without even trying. People move out of our space as he starts swaying us to the music. Right here, in public. My heart swells, and a hope I know I shouldn’t have explodes in my chest.

  We move slowly on the dance floor, not once breaking eye contact. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Rafael Lencioni cared about me. But I know I’d be wrong in assuming that. This is just the way he is. He knows how to treat someone correctly, and that’s exactly what he’s doing. Right? God, I wish my heart wouldn’t swell with hope. I know that hope is far-fetched and unrealistic.

  But I can’t stop it.

  I’m foolish. I know that.

  I lean forward and press my lips to his throat—I can’t stop myself. I know I shouldn’t, but he smells so incredible. He makes a deep, throaty sound and pulls me back, just slightly, putting me right back in my place. My heart swells, but not with happiness—with pain. I don’t let it show. It’s not like he didn’t warn me this was the way my life would be. We continue moving to the song, his hands on my hips, swaying me with expertise.

  When the song ends, he lets me go and stares down at me. I want to reach up and curl my arms around his neck. I want to kiss him. I want something. Instead, I have to smile as if I’m just any other woman. I guess, in the grand scheme of things, that’s exactly what I am.

  “I’ll see you later, cara,” he murmurs, his eyes dropping to my lips before he lets me go and disappears into the crowd.

  I stand with wobbly legs for a few minutes, then I move to the bar and order a drink. Is that my cue to go, or am I meant to stay and wait for him to take me home? I take a seat and sip my Cosmo, figuring this is the best place for right now. I listen as his brother, Vincent, welcomes the group and goes over the charity they’re raising funds for.

  My eyes graze the room to find Rafael and my heart drops when I see him standing with Maria tucked into his side. At that moment, it feels as if I’ve been sucker punched.

  Sure, I know he’s married, and I know what I am, but I’ve been hidden from it until this very moment. In the hospital, he barely acknowledged her and now here he is, his arm tucked around her, laughing with a group of people. Her head is thrown back, and she’s laughing, too. She looks so beautiful. She is so beautiful. What am I doing? What the hell is wrong with me?

  I skitter off the barstool and rush up the stairs towards the ladies’ room. I make a wrong turn but continue to run away down the long hall, stopping when I hear voices at the end of the dark space. I skid to a stop when I hear what they’re talking about.

  “Classy move on Rafael’s part, flashing his mistress like that so everyone here knows who she is.”

  My blood runs cold.

  “Then his wife comes in only minutes later—perfectly timed. Can’t fault the man. He’s got all his ducks in a row.”

  Hurt explodes in my chest. Irrational hurt.

  “Pretty young thing he’s got there. I bet she’s wild in the sack. Rafael has flaunted a few of his mistresses now, but none quite as fine as her.”

  Flaunted his mistresses. My knees tremble.

  “He never keeps them around though—how long was the last one? Jackie? A few months. She was the longest. Man is too picky.”

  A few
months. I’m going to be sick.

  I turn and rush back down the hallway. Screw the bathroom—I’m getting out here. I shove through the crowd of people and out the front doors. The air hits me like a cold slap to the face, and tears burn under my eyelids. This is my own fault. What did I expect? Of course he only brought me here tonight to make it known that he was living up to his reputation. I’m such a moron.

  I dial Celia as I flag down a cab and climb in.

  “Hey, honey, over already?”

  “Can I come and see you?” I sob into the phone.

  “Of course. I’m at home. Are you okay?”

  “Not really. I’m on my way.”

  I give the cab driver her address and let the tears flow the way they need to. They roll down my cheeks, and a lump forms in my throat. By the time I’m at Celia’s place, I’m near on hyperventilating. I’m humiliated, but mostly I feel stupid. Stupid for ever letting myself believe that I was anything outside of a toy to Rafael. I pay the cab driver, who gives me a sympathetic look, then I climb out of the car.

  Celia is already rushing down the front steps. The second I reach her she throws arms around me. I fall into her, and we crumple down onto the porch steps, me sobbing, her hanging on for dear life. She doesn’t say anything; she just holds me there while I babble on about what happened. When I’m done, and my sobbing has eased, she pulls back and helps me up. “Let’s get some tea and we’ll talk.”

  I nod and let her drag me inside. She says nothing as she prepares some tea, and I take the time to go and rinse my face. It’s blotchy and red.

  My phone is ringing in my purse. I know that ringtone—it’s him. I don’t care. What’s the worst he can do? Not see me anymore? Maybe that’s for the best. That very thought has another sob rising up in my throat.

  God, I’m attached. Stupid, stupid girl.

  I head back out to Celia, and she hands me a warm cup of tea. We sit on the sofa and she finally speaks. “I’m not going to make this worse for you by giving you the ‘I told you so’ speech—you already know that. But honey, you deserve more than this. I know you think you don’t, but you do.”

  “I’ve fallen in love with him,” I sob, shaking my head in angry frustration. “How stupid am I? To him, I’m just another fucking notch on his belt, and here I am, stupid, stupid girl, giving him my heart. He didn’t deserve that. He warned me, but I didn’t listen. That’s on me. When did I get so incredibly stupid? I’m one of those pathetic girls who thinks maybe she can be the one that’s different. I’m not different. All I am is naïve. I can’t take it back now. I gave him that damned piece of me and now I can’t take it back.”

  “Hey,” she says softly, taking my hand. “You’re being way too hard on yourself.”

  “Am I?” I cry. “Because honestly, I think I just wanted to believe it was something more, and that makes me even stupider because he warned me about where I stood. The sad thing is, he’s never lied to me. He’s been one hundred percent honest the entire time.”

  “Yes,” she agrees. “But still, what he did tonight? He could have warned you, given you a heads up. It wasn’t fair to flaunt you like that without you knowing why he was doing it.”

  “I’m a fool,” I moan to myself.

  “Look, I won’t lie. You are a fool. These kinds of situations end in heartbreak more than they work out. But you know that. You can either accept what you are, or you can’t. Personally, I couldn’t do it, but if it’s something you want then you need to learn your place and be okay with it.”

  I stare down at my hands.

  Can I do that? Can I truly accept my position without getting any more involved or am I just setting myself up for disaster? Deep down, I know the answer to that but the selfish part of me, namely my heart, has decided already that it’s not ready to left Rafael go, and because of that, I know I’m not going to walk away even though it’s really what I need to be doing.

  “I guess I have to be okay with it.”

  Celia doesn’t say anything, but I know inside she’s screaming at me, probably mentally beating me, and I can’t say I blame her. If it was she in this situation, I’d probably be thinking and feeling the same things. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and no amount of convincing a determined heart will change its mind. This is going to hurt me, I know it, so why the hell am I too weak to walk away?

  “I know I can’t change your mind, but please, Julie, be careful. If you’re too invested, walk away before he can make you leave. I know it’ll hurt, but believe me, it’ll hurt more when he decides he’s done with you. At least give yourself the chance to leave with your dignity intact.”

  “I promise,” I whisper.

  But I don’t know if I have it in me to walk away from him, dignity or not.

  I’m already too invested.

  God help me.

  ~*~*~*~

  RAFAEL

  “Why did she run out?” I bark to Vincent, pacing my office.

  “How the fuck am I supposed to know? Maybe she saw Maria and got jealous.”

  I shake my head. “It’s more than that.”

  “Listen, Raf, you gotta get over this shit. You’re too wrapped up with this woman, and she doesn’t even know what a fuckin’ lie it all is.”

  I glare at him. “Don’t.”

  “I’m just pointing out the truth. You need to remember your place, and you need to remember hers. We’re here to speak to people; we’re not here to worry about your mistress.”

  I flinch.

  Dammit. He’s right.

  I need to get my head together.

  “Right,” I say, straightening my tie. “Bring him in.”

  Two of my men enter with a middle-aged, balding man. His eyes dart around the office, and I watch him swallow. Definitely someone who has been sent in as eyes. He’s nervous, and clearly inexperienced, which makes me wonder who is running this show. So far, they’ve shown experience, so why have they now sent someone like this in?

  Something doesn’t feel right.

  At all.

  I stand up and walk towards the fumbling man. He stares at me, his eyes wide, as if he’s never experienced men like me in his life. Something is definitely not adding up. I reach out and carefully dust a tiny piece of lint off his collar. He just about pisses his pants.

  “Who sent you in here?” I ask calmly.

  He opens his mouth and stammers, “I-I-I don’t know.”

  I lash out, grabbing his collar and jerking him right into my face. “Do you know who I am?”

  “Yes, yes, sir,” he babbles, his face going red.

  “Then you know if you do not answer my fucking question, I’ll be forced to put a bullet right here.” I tap his forehead.

  He squeals like a stuck pig. “Please. They just told me to come in here and look obvious. I don’t know who they were. They threatened my wife. Please. I’m begging you, I was just a distra—”

  A loud bang rips through the club. The ground shakes, and the man I’m holding goes flying across the floor. I reach out, steadying myself on the door as another loud bang goes off. This time the windows to my office go exploding inwards, shattering glass all over Vincent and I.

  “Fuck,” Vincent bellows as thick, black smoke crawls up the walls and fills the space. Screams can be heard downstairs, hysterical, terrified screams.

  “Get out, now!” I roar.

  I don’t think twice about the man who is on the ground sobbing, crawling towards the door. I charge out after Vincent, running down the corridor and to the back exit where we have a security door. We burst through it, but I come skidding to a halt. Maria. I spin around, shoving back inside. “Raf!” Vincent calls.

  “Maria,” I bark. “She was in there.”

  I charge into the hall, my heart pounding, to see Benito coming towards us with a bleeding Maria tucked into his side. “Got her, boss. We were halfway to your office when the explosion happened.”

  I run forward, scooping my wife into my arms and runn
ing back out through the emergency exit. I place her down when we’re outside. I can’t hear past the ringing in my ears and the blaring sirens. The screams can be heard above it all, though. I turn and face Maria, who is trembling, tears running down her face. I cup it between my hands and ask her, “Are you hurt?”

  “I don’t th-th- think so.”

  Blood trickles from a graze on her forehead, and her dress is torn and slightly bloodied. I feel around, making sure there are no badly bleeding wounds. It’s all superficial, thank God.

  “Benito, get someone to take Maria to the hospital to make sure she’s okay. I need to find out what the fuck just happened.”

  Benito nods, taking Maria and rushing off into the darkness. I turn to Vincent. “The cops are going to be all up in our business for this.”

  “Fuck,” he snarls, running a hand through his hair. “We gotta get down to the main common area and assess this.”

  I run a shaky hand through my own hair. “Yeah, we do.”

  We move around to the front of the building, where flames and smoke are still billowing. I close my eyes, taking a calming breath. Lives will have been lost—tens, twenties, possibly hundreds. How the fuck did I miss this? How. Did. I. Miss. It? I weave through the screaming people, some bloodied, others burned.

  This is bad.

  This is so fucking bad.

  “Rafael,” Riccardo calls, running towards me, covered in blood that’s hopefully not his own.

  “What happened?” I demand.

  “I don’t know,” he says, his eyes frantic. “Two men walked to the front doors, then they just . . . exploded.”

  Suicide bombers. That’s not something I’ve ever dealt with. My mind spins. “Did you recognize them?”

  He shakes his head. “No, I was on the balcony. I saw them—they were glancing around, looked a bit out of place. Then they just blew up.”

  My heart launches into my throat, and stress stiffens my shoulders as I turn to Vincent. “That man they brought into my office was a ploy. They knew he’d look suspicious. They knew we’d be looking for the obvious. It was a set-up to distract us.”

 
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