Francesca drops her fork, shoving her plate away from her. “People are going to get hurt.”

“Of course they are,” he says evenly.

Her eyes flash. “You could get hurt. You’re not invincible.”

“I’m not exactly on the front lines, Francesca.”

Vince takes a drink and slams it down a little more forcefully than he needs to. Cutting Mateo a pointed glare, he says, “Speaking as someone who is, I think maybe this isn’t where we fucking discuss this.”

“Seconded,” Adrian says, like it’s a democracy.

Mateo doesn’t push, though. I get the impression he’s accomplished whatever he set out to, and as he drops my hand to take a drink, I’m more than a little afraid of what that was.


Since Mateo rained havoc down upon the dinner table, my first Sunday night dinner is not what I would call a success.

Mia and Elise, having heard their respective love interests may be on the front lines of Mateo’s war, are not talkative in the least. Francesca, apparently worried over the danger her entire family will be in, borders on hostile the entire time. I avoid Mateo’s gaze far more frequently than is standard, and even though I can feel myself being abnormal, I don’t know how to stop it.

The men don’t talk a lot, so it’s a mostly solemn meal.

After it’s over, Mateo gives Mia a present. I can’t help thinking he should’ve done it prior to dinner, so she would’ve been more excited over the cute brown leather messenger bag he got her for her first semester of college—though even after dinner, she’s quite relieved by the envelope of cash he stuck inside for her textbooks.

After everyone leaves, Mateo takes me to his room. I’m pensive the whole way there.

There’s tension in my shoulders, and as if he knows that, Mateo moves behind me, his strong hands kneading the muscles. As his hands relax me, he drops a kiss along the nape of my neck, then drags those perfect lips across my skin, leaving kisses at every stop. My head lolls to the side and I bring my hand behind his head, urging him closer.

So slowly that I ache with impatience, he tugs down the zipper of my dress, sliding the fabric down until my back is bare to him, but for the red lacy bra he bought me.

“I like red on you,” he murmurs, his lips brushing across my shoulder blade.

“Is it your favorite color?” I ask.

“No. Gold is, but any color that’s stretched across your breasts has my attention.”

“Blue’s my favorite, in case you were wondering,” I tell him.

“I was losing sleep wondering.” Firmly grasping my shoulder, he turns me to face him. I search his face for some sign of preoccupation, but he seems singularly focused on me.

“Are Sunday night dinners usually like that?” I ask.

Releasing a drawn-out sigh, he shakes his head. “Not usually, no. I don’t like to talk business at dinner. Typically, I like to keep the women out of it altogether.”

“Well, I’ve never known you to do anything by accident,” I remark with a little smile as I loosen his tie.

“No,” he replies, pensive. “I have a leak.”

My heart misses a beat, but I try to remain calm as I tug his tie over his head and drop it onto the floor. “A leak?”

“Somebody’s been in contact with the other family—Castellanos himself, maybe.”

A vision of Antonio Castellanos standing in my doorway flashes to mind. “Someone in your family?”

“Someone at that table.”

It’s a subtle correction, but it gets my heart pumping all the same.

I’m not a part of his family, but I was at that table. He made sure I was at that table.

“Can’t you just—” I pause, looking for a more delicate way to word it, but my mind is too scattered right now to come up with anything. “Can’t you take him out?”

Mateo’s eyebrows rise in surprise, and a helpless smile crosses his lips. “Listen to you, all bloodthirsty. You wanna issue the hit?”

I roll my eyes, turning my attention to unbuttoning his shirt, but sweating at how unsteady my fingers are. “I’m just saying. If the guy’s a threat to you, if he wants you dead, maybe… I mean, it’s kill or be killed, so kill him. I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“You’ve sure changed your tune since we first met,” he says lightly.

I look up at him, not knowing what he knows, not knowing how he’d react if I told him, but looking at him now, I want to. I want to come clean, tell him Castellanos sent me that first night, that I had no choice. Surely he’ll understand that. He regularly traps people into doing things in the same way Castellanos trapped me; if anyone in the world could understand the pressure I was under to do it, it would be him.

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