“I’m mad at you.” I spoke through the layers of fabric but didn’t pull away. Our bodies felt too perfect in the warm bed.
“I know,” he whispered, planting a soft kiss on my neck. “As you deserve to be. But go to sleep now, and lecture me in the morning.”
“I’m starving,” I said, my tired stomach growling, reminding me of my missed dinner. Thank God I’d had some mac and...
“Do you want me to get you something?” Brad asked from behind me. But I didn’t answer. I was already back asleep.
* * *
MORNING CAME, WITH the normal warmth of sunshine filling the room, smells of bacon cooking and sounds of Martha downstairs. I kept my eyes closed, and tried to avoid thinking, tried to pretend for a little longer that everything was normal. Unfortunately, my mental defense system was weak and out of practice. My eyes opened, revealing the well-appointed guest room, and Brad stirred behind me, sensing my movement. I rolled over, still nestled in the cocoon of his arms, and stared up at him. His eyes, heavy with sleep, blinked, and he looked at me warily.
“Good morning.” His voice husky and dry.
I skipped the pleasantries. “Brad Magiano.”
“Yeah, um, Martha told me that you found out about that.” His eyes held no shame but twinkled with something close to mischievousness.
“And that’s funny? You being part of one of the largest crime families in the country? The family that’s hunting me down like a wounded deer?”
“Hey, it’s better than me not having connections to the family that’s hunting you down.”
I frowned at him, pushing away from his chest. “Stop being cute. This is a major problem. I would have left your house last night if I didn’t think I would be gunned down in the street!”
He grabbed my arms and tried to tug me to him, a movement I wormed out of, propping my body up on an elbow. “I’m serious! What the f**k? You are the f**king enemy, and I have been sleeping with you.” The Julia Roberts reference popped out unassisted, and I hated the joviality it inserted into the conversation. But his face straightened, and I saw the seriousness enter his eyes.
“Julia—I know I should have told you. There is no excuse for that, and I’m sorry.”
I waited, expecting the declaration of no excuse to be followed by an excuse. “So? Why didn’t you?”
He groaned, lying back and staring up into the ceiling, avoiding my eyes. “I changed my name when I was seventeen, when I left that life. I have no connection to my family other than traditional obligations. Their business, their lifestyle, I left all of that behind, as much as I could. Sometimes, like now, it is inescapable. I had hoped to handle it without you ever finding out.” He blew out a breath and turned to me, his eyes finally meeting mine.
I narrowed my eyes at his, rolling away from him and standing up. “So you would have kept this a secret! You never planned on telling me!”
“It’s not who I am. It’s what I was born into, and what I made the conscious decision not to be. I’ve been pigeonholed by it my whole life. I didn’t want that from you.” His eyes, frustrated pools of exposure, captured mine, and he held me there as he stood, the bed between us.
“So you didn’t know about the threat? About Broward, about me?”
“I’m not in their circle. I wasn’t consulted or aware of any of those actions. Please know that.” I saw truth in his eyes, in his desperation for my approval.
“It doesn’t matter. I understand you not starting the relationship with that tidbit, but when the shit hit the fan—when one of your family showed up to kill me—that is when you should have told me this. We have enough hurdles to overcome in the relationship, Brad. Big hurdles that already scare the hell out of me. Your family...I don’t know how I would have taken that under normal circumstances. But now, in these circumstances...it’s a deal breaker, Brad.”
He physically swayed from my words, his eyes closing and head dropping. He stayed that way for a moment, solid, unmoving steel. Then he raised his head and met my eyes. “A deal breaker.”
“You. The woman who raised holy hell in my kitchen, who professed her love for me, love that seemingly had no bounds. You, who wormed her way into the life that I have so carefully constructed. Do you think I want this?” he asked harshly, his arms dropping, two tightly coiled expression of frustration.
“Want what, exactly, Brad?” I spat out the words, stepping forward until I hit the bed. “What exactly have I done to make your life so damn hard?”
“I didn’t want a relationship! Didn’t want to fall in love or be committed, or be required to share the intimate details of my life! But I’m here—with you, a curse of a woman who has taken all of my f**king walls and shredded them like f**king tissue paper in your tiny little hands! It’s been so easy for you, so effortless—and now, in the face of my darkest truth, you’re done. My family, the bane of my existence. A force I have battled my whole life, a fight I have won—and it means nothing to you.”
I opened my mouth, tried to cut in—to end this horrid rant—but stopped at the look in his eyes. It was desperation, it was rage, it was pure, uncontrolled anguish. I shut my mouth and did nothing but stare at him wordlessly.
“It’s not your fault,” he said quietly, his frame collapsing, the light fading from his eyes. “You’re young. You don’t know what love is. And this is a lot for you to handle.” He turned, running a hand through his hair, gripping his head with both hands, before releasing it and glancing back at me. “I grew up around this. I forget what it’s like for an outsider. I’m sorry.” He stepped to the door, opening it quietly, and then he left.
* * *
IT WAS TOO MUCH to take in my raw and confused state. The only thing I did know, among the fear, and stress, and frustration, was that the one solid presence I had, the man I loved, was leaving. The one thing I should be holding on to, I had pushed away. I ran after him, pushing open the bedroom door, seeing him on the landing, his body turned, our eyes meeting. He looked beaten and confused, a look that contradicted every ounce of the man I knew.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I was wrong.” He raised his head slightly, wariness on his face.
“I mean...” I stumbled, stepping forward until I stood in front of him, short in my bare feet. “You were wrong—you should have told me. But I was wrong for pushing you away for it. I do love you.” I rose on my toes, running my hand softly along the curves of his face, his eyes closing, face turning down to mine. “I need you right now, need you to tell me that everything is going to be okay, need you to be on my side of this. When I found about about your family, I thought that you were with them, against me. And I couldn’t take any more unknowns. I’m sorry.”