WARNING: PART ONE.
Copyright © 2018 A.D. Justice.
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WARNING: PART ONE
Jillian Hart didn’t belong in our world. She was an innocent, blinded to our ways and seduced by the charm of the mafia. I was a capo in the Marchetti Family, groomed to take control one day, and my father was the Boss, the Don. Damon Marchetti was a well-known name in the mafioso.
We never would’ve crossed paths if not for a fender bender with the wrong truck on the expressway. But one thing led to another, and she became more than my charge. I gave her one warning about my life. One chance to decide to stay or leave. She chose to stay.
Until all hell broke loose.
Then my ever-present alter ego took control, and I pushed too hard.
If she thought I gave up easily when the chips were down, she had another warning coming.
“Any last words?” With a quick click of the slide, a round was chambered, and the gun was ready to fire.
“Damon, I didn’t betray you. Please don’t do this,” Milo begged from his position on his knees. He was an associate, not exactly part of the family, but someone we’d trusted to work for us. He broke that trust. So, I had to fucking break him. There was no going back once trust was broken. “You know I’m loyal to the Marchetti family.”
Without further conversation, I put the gun against his forehead and pulled the trigger. Only cowards shoot a man in the back of the head. If a man deserved to die, he also deserved to be looked square in the eye so he had no doubt who pulled the trigger. In Milo’s case, this low-level associate tipped off the firm’s management about us dipping our fingers into the nurses’ union benefit plan fund. I suspected this particular snitch worked for the Sanfratello family, our most active rival, and double-crossed us for them. But there were still a few loose ends to tie off before I could put a lid on that problem.
“Damon, we have a situation.” Benny, my first level soldier and trusted driver, scraped a hand down his face while pocketing his phone with his other.
“What the fuck happened now?”
“Two of your guys were moving goods on the expressway and hit another car. The other driver insisted on calling the police. They’re in the dump truck.”
“What is it with this fucking day? Let’s go see what those two idiots have done.”
We left the dead snitch for the cleanup crew to dispose of his body while we maneuvered through traffic until we reached the crash site. Benny opened my door and I stepped out, quickly assessing the situation and sizing up the scene. Our dump truck sideswiped another car, leaving enough visible damage to negate any reasonable doubt.
Some petite brunette looker stepped into my line of sight, followed by an NYPD traffic cop. He looked up at me, and recognition lit in his eyes. With the traffic noises, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I saw him pull her aside, leaving his partner alone to deal with my associates. One look from me and both of my guys knew I’d deal with them later, and those cops couldn’t save them from what awaited them. After a couple of minutes, the brunette and the other cop joined us in mid-discussion about the damage.
The closer she got, the smaller she became. In four-inch heels, the top of the beauty’s head barely reached my shoulder. The waves of her long brown hair framed her face, highlighting her emerald green eyes that gave away her every thought and feeling. Though petite, her legs were toned with feminine muscles.
“She can still drive the car. It doesn’t even need a tow truck. It’s fine,” Luigi, my associate, argued.
“Look, I already told you. We got dispatched out here to work this wreck. The lady says she needs the police report, I gotta write the report. There’s no way around it,” Officer Ryan explained the procedure to my other associate, Paulie.
“I’m really sorry to do this,” she offered. Though she was surrounded by big, burly men, she didn’t shrink away. She stood her ground with a mixture of poise and respect. “I’m here for a few months on business, and this isn’t my car—it’s a company car. If I don’t turn in the police report, I’ll lose my job. I’d be more than willing to leave the insurance and police out of it if I could, but I can’t afford to lose my job. I hope you understand.”
Luigi spoke up. “Lady, all you had to say was you didn’t know what happened. Someone in the parking garage must’ve hit it.”
“There are security cameras in the parking garage. Besides, I’m not going to lie about it.”
“Shit, lady,” Luigi huffed.
“That’s enough.” I cut my eyes at him, and he immediately got the message. I took a step toward the beauty and purposely flashed her a reassuring smile. “I’m Damon Marchetti. And you are?”
“I’m Jillian Hart.” She offered me her hand to shake, but I turned it and placed a soft kiss on her knuckles.
“Are you injured, Jillian? Anything hurt or sore?” I took a half step back and looked her up and down. For both my own pleasure and to inspect her for injuries.
“No, I’m fine. Just a little shaken up.”
“I’ll escort you to the emergency room and have you checked out to be sure. I insist.”
She chanced a look at the cop she’d been talking to privately, and he gave a slight nod of approval. “It’s really not necessary. I don’t want to be any trouble.”
“You’re no trouble at all. Think nothing of it. I’ll take care of everything. No need to worry.” My gaze drifted to the two cops, who shifted nervously under my watch.
“Thank you for understanding. I really appreciate it.” A warm, genuine smile I seldom saw in my line of work lit up her face. “Okay, then, should I just follow you to the hospital?”
“My mother would have my head if she found out I let you drive yourself to the hospital, in a damaged car no less. You can ride with me. Luigi will follow us in your car to ensure it’s safe for you to drive later—after the doctor has cleared you.”
“Such a gentleman,” she said when I opened the back door of my car for her. After I slid in beside her, she continued. “Your mother must have raised you right.”
“You’re definitely not from around here, are you?” I found myself smiling at her in return, something I rarely did outside of the company of my immediate family.
“How’d you guess?” She laughed, her eyes twinkling with amusement.
“That accent gives you away. Louisiana, isn’t it?”
“Exactly. New Orleans. Have you ever been?”
“No, unfortunately, New Orleans is one city that’s never been on my itinerary. Seems I’ll have to remedy that.”
She dropped her head, her long hair falling forward to partially cover her face. Modest. Beautiful, but she didn’t know it. Sexy, but she didn’t flaunt it. Confident and professional, but not pretentious. Sweet and sassy, without being bitchy. This little beauty seemed to be the perfect package.
“You should really come down for Mardi Gras. The biggest party of the year.”
“I’m not much of one for crowds or big parties,” I replied and her smile faded. “Unless you’ll be there.”
Her dazzling smile returned. “I go every year. Usually with several girlfriends, but if you make the trip to NOLA, I’ll give you the VIP tour.”
“It’s a date. You can count on it.”
In my mind, I’d already claimed her as mine. The second I’d stepped out of the car and saw her standing there, I decided she’d be mine. The trip to the hospital was standard protocol in the family—leaving no stone unturned and no way for an injury to come back and bite us in the ass later. But when she got into my car, that was an intentional move. She’d be seen with me, and everyone would know to leave her alone or they’d face my wrath for messing with what was mine.
On their knees in an abandoned building with a gun pressed to their forehead.
On sight, everyone associated in any way with me, good or bad, would know I’d staked a claim on her. She was protected by a powerful family that took shit off no one.
But she was naïve to the ways of my world. She had no idea how our businesses operated, what our men were instructed to do to succeed, or what it would mean for her future when she agreed to join me. She would be warned and given one chance to walk away forever. But she had to get to know me first. That was the extent of my grand scheme—find a way to spend time with her, make her fall for me, then spring my occupation on her, and convince her to stay.
Piece of cake.
We walked through the emergency doors, my hand splayed across the small of her back. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and I was leaving no doubts to the prying eyes that always lurked about. The nurse at the triage desk didn’t even bother looking up at us when we approached.
“She’s been in a vehicle accident. I need to have her checked out.”
With a bored sigh and barely acknowledging us, the nurse picked up a clipboard and thrust it at me. “Fill these out, bring them back, have a seat, and we’ll call you when we’re ready for you.”
“I don’t think you understand me.”
Her angry eyes flew up to meet mine, ready to fight, until she realized who I was. “I’m so sorry. I’ll escort you to an exam room right now.”
Jillian watched the exchange with a confused expression, then her gaze drifted around the waiting room full of patients who’d been there longer. The nurse jumped up from her seat, rushed around the counter, and opened the secure door to the bustling emergency room. The nurse settled Jillian into an exam room, and I waited outside the door until the doctor finished examining her. After several minutes, he reemerged to update me on her care.
“She’s fine. No injuries, not even soft tissue. She seemed more nervous about explaining the damage to her company car than anything.”
“Thanks, Doc. I’ll take care of the car, and you know where to send the bill.”
“Have a good one, Damon.”
Jillian stepped into the hallway and glanced up at me shyly. “Dr. Falco said I’m fine and can go now. Is my car safe to drive?”
I could’ve made up any number of lies about her car and she’d have been none the wiser, but something in her trusting eyes wouldn’t let me. “It is, but I have a guy who can fix the damage, and no one will ever know it was there. You’ll have your police report if you ever need it, but I promise you won’t.”
She hesitated for a moment. “Does your friend own a car repair shop or something?”
“Yes, a body shop. He can make anything look brand-new again. Luigi can drop it off today, and it’ll be ready for you in a couple of days max.”
“All right, if you’re sure. A couple of days of taking a cab to work won’t hurt me.”
She wrapped her fingers around my extended arm and walked through the hospital corridor close to my side. “No one said anything about you taking a cab back and forth every day. My driver will be at your disposal when I’m working. If I’m available, I’ll be the one at your beck and call.”
The reasons behind my offer weren’t selfless. In my line of work, trust was a rare commodity. Since I didn’t know her or her family, I wasn’t about to put blind faith in her that she’d keep her mouth shut. Whether I took her to work or my driver did, we’d know who she worked for, her whereabouts, and her daily patterns. Every piece of information could help in the future. Better to have the information and not need it than get caught with my dick in my hand and my pants around my ankles.
When she rattled off her address, my suspicions were immediately aroused, and I knew I was right to keep her close. There was more to her story than she told, I was sure of it.
“Very nice building. Private garage, a doorman and concierge desk, a private gym with a swimming pool. Where do you work?” I watched her carefully for any signs of uneasiness.
“I’m a consultant with Morgan and Bartholomew out of New Orleans. I’m staying in one of their corporate apartments. Since I’m here for several months working with a client, it’s more economical for me to live in their apartment than to put me up in a hotel. And it’s more like home than a hotel room. It’s a beautiful place—I wish I could afford it on my own.”
Her self-deprecating laugh was genuine. And charming.
“What exactly does a consultant do?”
“For this client, I’m setting up process improvements for their entire Human Resources department, including their compensation and benefits systems. Sometimes they just need a fresh pair of eyes to evaluate their current protocols. Different clients have different needs, though most everything I’m involved with is process improvement.”
“Interesting. Who’s the client?” I kept pressing for information under the guise of conversation, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“Blaine Financial Services.” My expression gave away my thoughts for the first time since I was a kid and learned to keep my poker face intact. “What’s wrong? Is there something I should know about them?”
“No, nothing like that. They’re fine. I used to be friends with someone who worked there, and we didn’t part on the best of terms. No need for you to worry about it though. That’s old news.”
The car stopped in front of her building, and my driver jumped out to open the door. I had the distinct impression she didn’t want to part with my company just then, and I wasn’t ready to let her go either.
“I’ve taken up so much of your time with my drama, and you’ve done so much for me. Not to seem forward, but would you like to come up? I’ll make dinner, and we can eat in tonight. Unless you’re married or have a girlfriend? Oh my God, I should’ve asked that first. You probably think I’m a terrible person.”
Another genuine smile broke free across my face. “Take a breath, Jillian. I’m not married. No girlfriend. And I’d love to have dinner with you. But since it was one of my trucks that hit you and sent you to the hospital, I wouldn’t feel right allowing you to cook for me.”
“Your truck didn’t send me to the hospital,” she countered with a flirty smile. “You did. I’m perfectly fine, and I’d like to repay your kindness.”
“Fair enough. By all means, lead the way.” The company was one thing, but the open invitation into her private life was better than one I could’ve orchestrated.
Once we were inside, her apartment was much what I expected from this building. Large and spacious, two floors, and with all the deluxe amenities half the people in this city would kill to have. No one moves directly into a three-bedroom apartment on 79th Street in New York City without having powerful connections. My initial thought was either she came from money or she came here under an offer of a way to make a lot of money quickly. I’d have my people check out the corporation-owning-the-apartment explanation first thing in the morning.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
She popped the top on a longneck bottle and handed it to me. “Make yourself at home while I start dinner.”
A slow perusal through the furnished rooms revealed little of her life. The decorations were obviously already there when she moved in. None of her personal pictures were anywhere to be found. Any information I gleaned about her would have to be obtained the old-fashioned way—a combination of charm and spying. When I made it back around to the kitchen, I found her cooking and singing. She was naïvely oblivious to the dangers she’d subjected herself to by inviting a strange man into her apartment then turning her back on him.
Especially a man like me.
“Jillian, how long have you been here?”
“About two weeks now. I’m still trying to get my bearings of which way is uptown, downtown, midtown, side-town.” She grinned broadly after the last, letting me know she was teasing. “Have you always lived here?”
“Yes, I have, so take this warning seriously. There are a lot of bad men who would love to do awful things to you. Inviting strange men up to your apartment and turning your back on them is a good way to become a negative statistic.”
“Are you saying you’re a bad man?” The expression on her face was both challenging and questioning.
“I have my moments.”
“So, let me get this straight. You insisted I get checked out at the hospital after a minor fender bender, just to later murder me in my apartment while I’m cooking your dinner?” She quirked one eyebrow up at me. “That doesn’t sound like a very smart plan, if you ask me.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you’ve been seen with me by too many people. You’re on security cameras at the hospital and walking into my building. There’s no way you’d get away with it. So, it only makes sense that you’re here for the food and the company.” She crossed her arms over her chest, confident in her assessment.
She clearly had no idea how those of us who worked outside the confines of the law could make evidence disappear with a flash of green.
“Interesting theory. But don’t put it to the test again. You don’t know what men are capable of doing.”
“Yes, sir.” She saluted and turned back to the stove.
I had to adjust my cock at the sound of her sweet voice calling me sir. So many erotic scenes flooded my mind. I didn’t trust her, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t fuck her.
After eating, I played the grateful guest and helped her with the dishes. “I should go, but let me see your phone first.” She handed it over without question, and I dialed my number. “Now you can reach me anytime.” We agreed on a time for her morning transportation, and I left with the promise to see her the following day.
The front desk called up to my apartment to let me know my ride had arrived. When I exited the building, I was surprised to find Damon leaned up against his car, waiting for me with a smug smile. The man was so damn sexy, without even trying to be.
When he first stepped out of his car on the expressway the day before, he stole my breath. The air around us changed, and every eye snapped toward him, watching his every move. His presence commanded attention before he spoke a single word. But when he spoke, he left no doubt about who dominated the scene. He had a hint of an Italian accent mingled with the classic New York style, giving the deep timbre of his voice a sexy edge to it. I was hesitant to get in his car for the ride to the hospital, but the slight nod from the cop reassured me.
That same cop had pulled me aside and warned me about the men who surrounded me, cautioning me to take care when dealing with them. Without revealing too much, he relayed they were not the type anyone should disrespect. Provided they were cordial to me, he said I should respond in kind. Then Damon was so nice to me and seemed genuinely concerned for my health, the cop’s warning felt out of place and contradictory to Damon’s personality.
That morning, he stood before me in his custom-tailored suit that fit his physique perfectly, dark brown hair with intermittent lighter strands, and those deep chocolate brown eyes that were both perceptive and engaging. The only warning I felt was the fluttering of excitement low in my belly.
“Good morning.” His sultry voice beckoned me with a simple greeting. With my thirtieth birthday fast approaching, I shouldn’t have been affected by him to that degree. I’d dated, been in long-term relationships, and had a couple of one-night stands along the way. But he made me feel completely inexperienced. “You are simply stunning. Maybe you should quit your job and come work for me instead. You’ll give me extra incentive to go into the office every day.”
“You are quite the charmer, Mr. Marchetti. What line of work are you in, by the way?”
“I own a commercial construction business. I handle the contracts and bids for jobs, while my crew of engineers and foremen oversee the worksites.” He stepped to the side, opened the passenger door for me, then strode around to the driver’s side. While watching him walk, I noticed a few other women stop in their tracks to stare at him the same way I did—with deep desire. The expressions on their faces were obvious—they hoped he’d glance in their direction. When he didn’t, they moved on, disappointed but no less interested.
My smile remained in place when he slid behind the steering wheel and cranked the car. “What are you grinning about?” He finally cut his eyes at me over his shoulder, barely turning his head in my direction. “Don’t think I didn’t notice.”
“You didn’t notice the three women on the sidewalk who would kill for a just a glance from you. They were begging you to throw them a bone.”
He threw his head back and laughed. “That’s not entirely true. I noticed them watching me, working hard to get my attention. I just have no interest in giving any of them a bone of any kind.”
“I kind of felt sorry for them. You didn’t even flash them a smile.”
One side of his mouth lifted in amusement. “Jillian, I’m afraid you’re a little too soft-hearted to be in this city. You need to remember any one of those women would’ve killed you to sit where you’re sitting right now.”
“Does that mean you’re dangerous to my safety and well-being?” I asked playfully. Maybe more than a little flirty.
That question garnered a wide smile. “That is a guarantee, doll.” We stopped at a red light, and he looked straight into my eyes. “But you have nothing to worry about as long as you’re with me. Anyone who’s after you would have to go through me first, and that won’t happen.”
With our eyes connected, I felt something tangible pass between us. The flicker of desire was followed by a silent acknowledgment that we both felt it, and the knowledge we would give in to the craving. My days in the Big Apple were numbered. But at that moment, I wanted Damon to fill my nights.
“What about when I’m not with you? My car will be fixed in a couple of days, and then you won’t have any reason to chauffeur me around. What if a strange man comes to my apartment for dinner, only to try to kill me?”
He pulled up to the curb in front of my temporary assignment and put the car in park. When he cut his eyes at me, I saw a flash of something feral and dangerous in them. And exciting. “We’re adults, so let’s be frank with each other. I know you want me as much as I want you. But you should know something else about me. I don’t share what’s mine, and I’ve already decided you belong to me. If I’ve read you wrong in any way, tell me now.”
“No, you haven’t read me wrong at all.” I was surprised I could reply at all. His blunt confession stole my breath and scrambled my brain.
“I’m glad to hear you say that. So that we’re clear, no strange men will be in your apartment. If I catch a man in there, he won’t live long enough to regret it.”
“We’re crystal clear.”
He reached up and threaded his fingers through my hair then stroked my cheek with his thumb. “You’re so damn beautiful. Call me when you’re ready for me to pick you up, and I’ll be here.”
“I just dropped her off. I want to know who she talks to and what she talks about. Tell me who she interacts with and how her demeanor is around the office. It’s too much of a coincidence that she also works there.” I hung up and allowed one of my most trusted soldiers to do his job. He was already on the inside, making matters much easier all around.
The one point I could always count on when dealing with broads was every single one was susceptible to flattery. Whisper a simple compliment, say it sincerely, and she became instant putty in my hands every time. Jillian was no exception to the rule. In fact, she even seemed a little easier to romance than the local women. Time would tell if that was because she was truly innocent, or if she was trying her best to play me first.
The day dragged by while I waited for information from Percy, my soldier in the trenches beside her. I tried to focus on my crews and the money they brought in from their jobs, but I found myself checking my phone far more frequently than usual. I had my own work to do, but my ability to concentrate was nowhere to be found. At the end of the day when Percy finally called, I was irritated and angry over everything and nothing at all.
“Boss, I’ve listened to her phone calls all day, eavesdropped on her meetings, and ran a thorough background check on her. This girl isn’t part of the Sanfratello family. She’s squeaky clean. I’ll keep monitoring her to make sure I didn’t miss anything, but right now I’d bet my life on it.”
I released a sigh of relief. At least Percy settled that doubt in my mind.
“But there’s something else you need to know,” he continued.
“They know she’s with you, and they’re already watching her very closely. One of their capos, Lorenzo, was in here earlier and met with her. He played it cool, pretended he was stopping by to welcome her to the team. But he started getting into personal questions about husbands or boyfriends, openly flirting with her and shit. When he left her office, he told his soldier to tail her when she gets off work to see if she meets you again.”
“Thanks, Percy. Good work. I’ll take it from here.”
From Lorenzo’s flirting and overt interest, I had no doubt the Sanfratellos were preparing to kill Jillian and remove her from the equation completely. If I picked her up after work, they would put out a hit on her, and their hitmen would most likely try to carry out the order before morning.
The problem was, she’d be in danger whether I showed or not. They’d approach her, coerce her to get close to me to gain valuable information, and use her as their informant. If she refused or was unable to help them, they’d kill her because they would’ve revealed too much of their plans to her.
Her company car was still in the body shop being repaired, but I could easily get out of chauffeuring her around. A quick phone call, a nonexistent excuse, and I’d be rid of the problem entirely.
Then I remembered her smile. Saw her face as plain as day.
“Motherfucker.” I jumped up from my office chair and sent it flying across the
floor in my wake. “I must be losing my fucking mind.”
Minutes later, I maneuvered my car through the city streets. Block after block passed while I sped toward her. They’d know the moment I pulled up to the curb. There’d be no turning back if I didn’t change my course right then. If she were with me when they made a move, it would ignite a war between the two families, and the casualties would be high.
But I didn’t heed the warning blaring in my head.
“For fuck’s sake. What the hell is wrong with me?”
Then I saw her standing on the sidewalk, waiting for me to whisk her away. When she saw my car, the same smile that captivated me the day before appeared. The dress she wore hugged her curves in all the right places, accentuating her best assets and drawing the eyes of every man who passed her. Desire and possession clashed inside me, followed by an uncertainty I hadn’t felt before.
The desire was obvious. I’d wanted to fuck her until she was unable to stand on her shaky legs since the moment I saw her. Possession came easy—what was mine was mine. Period. But the possessiveness I felt when looking at her bordered on jealousy. I didn’t like other men staring at her, thinking the same thoughts I had about her. They pictured her lips wrapped around their cock as she went down on them. They saw her on all fours when they fucked her from behind. They imagined her bent over, taking the punishing jabs that resulted in her screams of pleasure.
I knew exactly what their thoughts were, because I had the same thoughts about her.
When I brought my car to a halt, she slid into the passenger seat, and her sweet perfume wafted across the air, tempting me even more. “Hello, gorgeous. How was your day?”
“It was good but very busy. How was yours?”
“Fine. Except I couldn’t get one beautiful Southern belle off my mind all day.”
“You know, I’m kind of glad you had that problem.”
“Are you now?” I quirked one eyebrow, throwing the flirting vibe back at her.
“What kept you so busy today?”
“I started working on the retirement fund benefits, and I can already tell this part of the project will be a nightmare. From what I’ve seen, no one has actively managed the fund I’m assigned to in years.”
“I’m sure you’ll sort it out.” I made a mental note to have Percy make sure she didn’t unravel the trail. “I’m glad you had a good day.”
“There was something strange that happened today, though.” She scrunched up her face as she recalled what happened. “I’ve worked there for a couple of weeks now, but one of the senior directors came to my office today to personally welcome me to the team. I mean, I understand he’s probably very busy, but I don’t know why he decided to come to my office today and not when I first started.”
“I couldn’t even begin to guess,” I lied. “Is that all he wanted? To welcome you to the team?”
“I guess. He asked about my life—if I was married, had a boyfriend, things like that. Then he left. Makes no sense.”
“Maybe he saw you in the hallway and wanted to ask you out, so he was testing the waters with you.”
She laughed and shook her head. “No, I doubt that. Men in high management positions like his would be too leery to proposition a subordinate. That could too easily set them up for a sexual harassment lawsuit, even if he asked respectfully.”
I wanted to correct her. To tell her men like me didn’t concern ourselves with petty threats of a lawsuit. To tell her the man she talked to wouldn’t hesitate to fuck her then shoot her in the head while she slept in the same bed he’d just vacated. I wanted to warn her about these truths, but I couldn’t without revealing myself too early.
The world was much different from her point of view than from mine.
“You’re probably right. He’s most likely just been busy and finally had a break in his schedule. You’ll know soon enough if it’s anything different.” And I would know, too.
“Maybe. Anyway, thank you for picking me up. I feel like I’m such a burden—you have work to do too. I can take a cab back and forth tomorrow.”
Why did it seem she was suddenly trying to get away from me?
“Already bored with my company, huh?”
“No, not at all. You’ve gone out of your way so much for me already. I feel guilty for taking advantage of your generosity.”
“Doll, believe me, if I didn’t want to be your chauffeur, I wouldn’t be. I’m not afraid to say exactly what I think. And what I think is, I’m your driver again tomorrow.”
“Okay. If you say so.” She put her hand on my arm and gave it a light squeeze. “Thank you. I do appreciate what you’re doing for me.”
Checking the rearview mirror while driving was ingrained in me from my childhood. Our family members were taught to be extra vigilant about our surroundings at all times. After the same vehicle had followed me for several blocks, changing lanes and making rookie mistakes, I decided to test my paranoia. They tried to follow me on the first few turns I made, but I lost them when I doubled back on my route.
The game was afoot, however, and it wouldn’t end anytime soon. Percy would have to find a reason to stick to Jillian like glue if she went back to work the next day. The rest of the night would determine that outcome. If they forced me to make an aggressive move, I’d have to tell her who I was sooner than I’d planned. If they were still in the recon phase, I’d hold out a while longer to see what I could find out about their end game.
Keeping the sexy woman at my side was a bonus, regardless of the reason.
“Where are we going? I know I’ve seen that same restaurant three times now.”
“At first, I was driving you back to your apartment, but I decided to take you out to dinner instead. You cooked for me last night, so tonight is my treat.” I hit the Bluetooth button and called Benny to arrange for him to meet us after dinner for the drive home.
As we walked into the exclusive restaurant in the Time Warner Center, she looked down at her attire and back up at me. “I’m not sure I’m dressed for this restaurant.”
“You’re perfect.” With my hand on the small of her back, I guided her in, and we were seated immediately.
I ordered our wine and meals, and just as we engaged in conversation, a hush fell over the restaurant. When I looked up, I was surprised to see my father and his brother walking in. The Boss and Underboss of our family were known on sight by most people. The respect and fear they commanded were legendary. The goons that walked at their flanks and behind them were also unmistakable. When Dad saw me, he motioned for the soldiers to keep walking to their table.
I stood and greeted my father and uncle in the typical Italian family manner—a kiss on each cheek and a manly embrace. My father and my uncle were my mentors and were the two men I admired most in the world. “Father. Uncle Leo. It’s good to see you both. Would you care to join us?”
My father, Vincenzo, smiled as he eyed Jillian. “I mean no disrespect by rejecting your offer, but I’d never interfere during your date with such a lovely young lady.” He lifted Jillian’s hand and softly kissed the back of her hand. “What is your name, pretty lady?”
“I’m Jillian Hart,” she replied with a smile.
“I can see where Damon gets his handsome looks.”
“This one, you need to keep this one, Damon. I like her.” Dad lifted one eyebrow when he spoke to me, issuing his unspoken command.
“Jillian, this is my uncle, Leo Marchetti.”
Leo repeated my father’s performance, pouring on the charm and making her face blush red with his compliments. The two men walked away to their table, leaving Jillian and me to chuckle over their blatant flirting.
“I love your dad and your uncle. They’re so nice.”
I almost choked on my sip of wine. No one had ever referred to them as nice before. Then again, I’d never witnessed them trying to be so good-natured with a stranger before her. She seemed to have a way with the Marchetti men. I made a mental note to keep her away from my brothers for as long as possible.
“Yeah, they’re great. They seem especially impressed with you, too.”
“Were you close to your father when you were a kid?”
“Our entire family has always been close. I have several brothers and one sister, so you can guess who got the special treatment.” I laughed, recalling how my brothers and I harassed my sister when our parents were away. “She paid for it when they weren’t around, though. We’re still expected to show up for dinner every Saturday. We don’t miss it without a good excuse. What about you? Brothers, sisters?”
She shook her head. “I’m an only child. My parents had me later in life, but I was very close to them both. My dad died two years ago. But I’m still close to my mom. We don’t live too far apart, so I can check on her daily when I’m home.”
“Must be hard on you both, losing your father.”
“It was terrible. He seemed fine one minute, then a heart attack later, he was gone. My job is a challenge for both of us because I travel frequently. Mom’s health has declined in recent years, and I actually thought I’d lose her before my dad. When I’m away, a home health nurse is with her during the day, and a sitter stays with her at night.”
“That must be rough on you—shouldering all that responsibility alone.”
She shrugged it off. “At least I still have my mom, and I can afford to hire the best caregivers. I have it better than a lot of people do.”
We finished our dinners on lighter topics of conversation and rose to leave. My father and Uncle Leo were also finished, so Jillian and I walked out with them. Benny, my driver, had arrived and was talking to Joe, my father’s driver, when we exited the building. The distinctive rumble of a car engine revving caught our attention just before Benny and Joe tackled us to the ground. Shots rang out, and bullets peppered the glass behind us, shattering it with a piercing clamor, before the car sped away.
When we began untangling arms and legs, I realized Benny had covered me, but I had instinctively covered Jillian. Cocooned in my arms, her whole body shook from distress and fright. “I’ve got you, Jillian. You’re okay now.”
She nodded but didn’t speak, her teeth chattering from the adrenaline free-flowing through her veins. I stood and helped her up, my arms encircled her as she buried her face in my chest. My hands stroked up and down her back, soothing and assuring her she was safe.
My father met my livid gaze, his eyes burning with a mirrored vengeance. “Get her home. Leo and I will deal with this.”
“Don’t we have to give a statement too?” She stammered her question, though I knew she was looking for a way out of it. The last thing she wanted was to stay there.
“No, doll. My dad has a lot of friends in the police department. Once they have his and Uncle Leo’s statements, they won’t need ours.” I walked her to the car and helped her into the back seat. “Stay here. I’ll give my dad your number in case the police need to talk to you.”
“Okay.” The fear in her eyes was palpable, and she had a hard time releasing my hand.
“Benny, stand right here with her while I talk to my father.”
Benny stepped into the open door and began talking to her about her job, trying to take her mind off the frightening event as best he could while he kept a constant vigil for her safety. I joined my father and Uncle Leo and explained everything that had happened up to that point, including the precarious position she’d be in at work the following day.
“Let her go to work. Percy will be there to protect her, if needed. We’re not certain this attempt has anything to do with her yet, but we can’t rule it out either. They’ve been making obvious moves, like they’re taunting us. So, this could be related to something else. But if she changes her routine suddenly, they’ll know, and then she will be in danger. We’ll protect her for the time being, see if anyone makes another play. She should stay at your place tonight while we install extra security measures in her apartment.”
“Yes, sir.” I didn’t argue with my father on business matters.
His word was final, and he was the Boss of our family for a reason. I’d learned that the hard way many years ago, when I was a punk teenager who thought I knew better than my old man. Taking Jillian to my home tonight definitely wasn’t a hardship on me, though I wasn’t sure how I’d convince her to spend the night with someone she’d just met the day before.
I slid into the back seat beside her and immediately recognized the signs of an imminent meltdown. Her bottom lip quivered, and her hands shook uncontrollably, even through the tight clasp she held them in. The shaking traveled throughout her whole body, from her arms and legs and through her torso. The warm and friendly smile that lit up her face was gone. Instead, her skin was pale, and her eyes were wide with fear, startling at the slightest sound. At the simple gesture of extending my arms out, she flew into my embrace.
“I can’t stop shaking. Every time I close my eyes, I see the guns aiming at us all over again. Why would someone drive by and shoot at us like that?”
I gently pulled her away from me, but I kept my hands on her shoulders. With a heavy sigh, I leaned my forehead against hers. “Jillian, you deserve answers to set your mind at ease, but I can’t give them. All I can do is ask you to trust me when I say my family won’t rest until we find out who did this.”
“I won’t get a wink of sleep tonight. I can’t even imagine how scared I’ll be when I’m alone in that huge apartment.” She stuttered her words through her chattering teeth, and I knew the opportunity I was looking for had just presented itself.
“You’re coming home with me tonight. You won’t be alone.” I brushed my fingertips along her jaw.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” She didn’t even hesitate to accept my offer. The fear that gripped her overrode any bout of modesty.
“Of course not.”
“Am I sleeping with you? Or do you have a spare bedroom?”
“Doll, you’re definitely sleeping with me, even though I have more than a few spare bedrooms.”
“Don’t tell your mom I asked that, though. Okay?”
I couldn’t help but laugh over her request. “Okay, I won’t tell my mom you asked to sleep with me. But can I tell her you forgot your pajamas and had to sleep naked?”
My attempt at humor helped, and she at least chuckled. “No, you can’t tell her that either. She’ll think I’m a terrible person.”
“Doll, I’m a thirty-two-year-old grown man with older and younger brothers. My mother has no delusions that her sons are innocent little angels.”
“That may be, but she’s still your mother. She doesn’t see you as a sexy, irresistible man.”
“Irresistible, huh?” I looked down at her and wrapped my hand around the back of her neck. “Let’s put that theory to the test.”