When I was a child, my mother blamed the emotional distance on my intelligence. She referred to me as an “old soul,” blaming our lack of connection on my mature, wise-beyond-my-years outlook. In my teens, our distance was blamed on hormones, my friends or my heavy academic schedule. It’s not that she and I fought; we just didn’t speak, at least not about anything emotionally fulfilling. We were two opposite souls, coexisting in a home with my wonderful father, who robotically went about his day while trying his best to not irritate my mother.

A death threat seemed like a valid reason to break the silence. I’d spent the first three years of college acclimating my mother to accept occasional calls as normal college student behavior. Initially, our lifeless conversations occurred weekly, then biweekly, then monthly. It had been a while since I had called home, longer than usual. I leaned back in the chair, trying to think of the last time we had spoken. It had been over two months, the extended silence my doing. I hadn’t yet figured out how to break the news to her that I had ended my engagement. Mother had adored Luke, my ex-fiancé, and would not take our breakup well. So I had handled it as immaturely as possible, by simply avoiding the conversation.

The ringing stopped and voice mail picked up. I frowned, wondering what to say, then left a generic message, asking them to call me back.

Thirty-Five

An hour later, I again sat at Brad’s kitchen table. He had come up to Martha’s, finding her reading and me pacing. Now, after fifteen minutes of discussion, I looked at him with something akin to panic.

I had told him everything I knew—Broward’s angry words, Genovese, Magiano, the connection I had made to mob activities, the voice mails I had left Parks. In return, he had told me nothing. It was beginning to really piss me off, and I told him so, my hysteria held off by my anger.

He groaned in exasperation, leaning back and looking to the ceiling as if for help from God. “Julia, the little that you know—that alone almost got you killed! Are you stupid enough to want to know more, to endanger yourself further?” He slammed his fist on the table, his dark eyes smoldering.

I stood quickly, my chair scraping against the stone floor, and snarled at him across the table. “According to you, I’m on the kill list regardless. I think I deserve to know what the f**k I’m being killed for! And you! In case you forgot, with all the hit men, and dead partners, and police interviews—I’m in love with you. You, who I apparently know nothing about. I know you think because I’m young that I don’t know what love is, that I attached myself to you because of your big dick and fancy house, but that is bullshit! I know that I should run, run far away from your untamable sex drive, your Mafia friends and your pain-in-the-ass self. That is the logical, sane thing to do. But I’m not! I’m sitting here, in your f**king kitchen, waiting for the next person to walk in and blow my brains out! For you, you selfish prick. Because I love you!” I was screaming now, my mind emptying out through my mouth, my throat hoarse from the effort, and I leaned on the table, taking a deep breath, waiting for his response.

He looked at me, started to say something and stopped. Then, “Julia, you don’t want to f**k with these people.”

I sat down, looked at him across the table, begged him with my eyes. “I need to know more.”

He cradled his head in his hands, then looked at me. “All you need to know is that Broward was helping one family gain power. It was supposed to be done discreetly, without alerting those who the power was being taken from. Something went wrong, and the situation was discovered too early. Broward was collateral damage, killed to erase all evidence of their involvement. He was a weak link, someone who would have yielded easily to persuasive questioning.”

Persuasive questioning. Torture. “So now I’m the weak link,” I said softly.

He nodded, his face grim, handsome features almost pained in their seriousness.

“And you are involved...how?”

He ran a hand through his thick hair, and the traces of gray in it picked up the light. “I have a lot of...connections to local organized crime families. I was originally approached for a family takeover a couple of years ago. I was not interested, wanted no part of it—plus, corporate structures are not my area of expertise. When I refused, they looked elsewhere.”

Genovese. “Broward.”

“Yes. I’ve heard about a few other clients of this variety he has taken on. I approached him, several times, telling him to refuse the business, to get out of this situation, but he has always shut me down. Whether it’s because of our history, or his own ego, I don’t know.” He blew out a burst of air and looked at me, frustrated. “From the sound of the conversation you overheard, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was me he was speaking to. We just argued last week about it.”

I nodded, absorbing the new information. “Will they know I’m here?”

“They’d be idiots not to, and they are not idiots. Dangerous, impulsive, but not stupid. By now they know everything about you, and that is the biggest problem we have.”

“Will they use you to find me?”

He laughed wryly. “Not in the manner you might think. But, Julia, you are looking at this the wrong way. There is no way to hide. If they don’t already, they will soon have your Social Security number, your car registration and know when your next period is due. There is no point in hiding. There is only one thing to do.”

“What?” Hope had entered my voice, a small glimmer, and I was afraid of giving it too much credence.

“It’s something I have to do on my end. It’s better if I don’t tell you any more.” He rose, taking his empty glass to the sink. I ground my teeth in frustration and rose, following him and grabbing his arm.

“And what, I’m just supposed to be a sitting duck while you ‘try’ something out without clueing me in on it?”

He growled, grabbing my wrists hard and pinning them together behind my back. His face, inches from mine, was tortured. He stared in my eyes, reading them, then lowered his mouth to mine, hesitantly at first, then harder and deeper, his hands releasing my wrists and sliding down my waist to my ass, which he gripped tightly, a hand on each cheek, squeezing and kneading the muscles there. I felt his emotions through his mouth, his kiss possessive, protective. I wrapped my arms around his neck and he lifted with his hands, picking me up easily. Our kisses frantic, I wrapped my legs tightly around his waist, my hands in his hair, and he carried me to the table and laid me down, leaning over me. His mouth left mine, me gasping, my hands reaching for him, but he held me down and trailed his lips down my body, pulling up my tank top and exposing my br**sts and pink ni**les.

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