Authors: Vanessa Waltz
Tags: #mafia romance, #Contemporary Fiction, #vanessa waltz, #alpha male romance, #Contemporary Romance
The phone dies in my hands.
Glad for a reason to get out of bed, I slip out and pad into the bathroom to take a shower. Just thinking about how I’m going to be raining my fists on some fucking asshole’s body makes me deflate. Janice never approved of my job. When I became a made guy, we had a celebration at my house. Everyone was there—all the captains in the family, Jack, my mother, but not Janice. She was furious.
What you do for a living is horrible. You
re just a thug, Joey. A goddamn piece of muscle for Jack.
It’s not just about beating down people who won’t pay up. When I was captain, I organized heists. I tracked shipments of expensive suits or designer shoes—I’d give a few to my ma. Sometimes, I’d help Vince with his card games before he became underboss. And of course, there would be hits. When I did my first guy, I threw up right beside the body. Bits of his brains splashed on my shirt when I shot him. Disposing of the body is even worse. If it’s a body Jack doesn’t want to be found, then I usually use the electric saw at the pork sausage deli that Jack owns. You get used to it quickly. A lot faster than you’d realize.
I never dwelled on the morality of it all for very long. The only people I killed were connected. If you go into business with mafia, and you fuck with us, prepare to get clipped. They deserved it, each and every one of them. A few made the grave error of insulting a made guy or his girlfriend, fucking an ex, or touching a current flame. Yeah, there’s a lot of that. It can get out of hand, I’ll admit it.
I never had a crisis of conscience about it, but Janice hated it. Half the guys who grew up in the neighborhood entered the life. Those who weren’t full-blooded Italians became low-level street thugs. Associates. I joined because it was a fast, easy way to get money and I hated school. They made me feel like I belonged. Plus, I never had any brothers so it was nice to be surrounded by them. It felt like a family.
Twisting the taps, I shiver as the cold air strikes my body.
Family that’ll get rid of me if they sense an iota of weakness.
I was naive to think that Jack cared about anything other than money.
* * *
The sonovabitch kneels prostrate in front of me like a man begging for slaughter. I rip my fist across his jaw and he barely sways on his knees.
Fuck, I’m not into this today.
I stand in a shitty, run-down apartment with broken light fixtures and shards of glass all over the crappy carpet. It has the stale smell of old farts and my eyes water from just five minutes of this.
Stupid piece of shit.
I rake my hands through my hair and give a violent kick to his couch.
“Come on, for Christ’s sake! I’m going to get the money from you anyway. Why do you wanna make me do this?”
His coked-out eyes widen. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
A flash of irritation makes me want to hit him again. Why do they all do this? “I’m here for a reason, and I won’t go until you give me the money you owe Jack.”
I don’t want to beat the shit out of him. I really don’t. All the heart left me after the other day, when that girl told me I was no better than her sister-beating piece of shit brother, and she’s right, isn’t she?
would have never hit my sister. I didn’t tell her that. I never got to say that, and it’s bugging the hell out of me. I’ve never doubted myself this much.
There’s nothing in me that wants to hurt her, but I’ve a job to do.
s a way around it. Maybe you can get her to like you.
All I know is that ever since that day, I haven’t been able to sleep because I keep thinking about what she said and the way she looked at me. Like I was scum. I’m not. I’m a good guy who does bad things out of necessity. I don’t enjoy it.
Okay, fine. That’s a stretch. I’m not a good man, but I’m not
The junkie sways on his knees from vertigo. The temptation to let this guy’s nonpayment slide is irresistible, but I can’t do it. There’s no room for mercy in this business. I muster up all the rage I feel over Janice’s death and I channel it into a black ball in my chest. It burns my insides, and then it’s easy to picture him as the devil. My foot lashes out, kicking his abdomen. It connects with his ribs in a sickening thud. He cries out and falls to his side, and I kick him over and over again until his voice rises into a scream.
“Couch! It’s in the couch!”
The junkie cries as he rolls on the filthy floor.
“Was that so fucking hard?” I bellow into his face. Shaking my head, I step over his body and flip over the cushions, unzipping them all to find stacks of cash inside. I find more cash than what’s owed to me, but because the prick tried to lie to me, I take it all.
“Next time, don’t fucking lie.”
He nods, face pressed against the floor as I make a sound of disgust and leave the shitty apartment. The dark cloud follows me even after I’ve left the stench of that place.
I’m supposed to give the money to Vince, but I drive to my mother’s house first. She lives in Long Island in a nice, quiet suburb. She sits out in the front porch, a cigarette smoke trailing from her lips. She buries the cigarette in the overflowing ashtray as she sees me exit the car.
“Joseph!” Her bony arms reach out for me as I climb up the steps, and the stench of cigarettes overwhelms me as I give her a hug.
“Hi, Ma. How’s it going?”
Ma gives me a feeble shrug and a quivering smile. Between the two of us, she took the death of my sister the hardest. She hit the bottle a lot, and I had to pay for her rehab. Now she’s chain-smoking, but at least she’s sober. It still makes me upset to see the lines in her face.
“Did you go to the doctor this week?”
She makes a noncommittal sound and I wince as I hear her deep voice croak. “Yeah, I went.”
She sighs under my stare. “Doc says I have early stages of emphysema.”
I slump into the chair next to her, heaviness in my chest. Fuck. “You’ve got to take care of yourself, Ma. Here, I brought this for you.” I reach into my pocket and give her the extra money I pinched from that junkie.
“I can’t accept this, it’s too much!”
My hands close around hers, forcing her to take the cash. “Just take it, Ma. I had a really good week.”
She stares at the wad of money in her hands. To my astonishment, I see tears beading on her eyelashes. One drops on her hands.
The hell just happened? “What’s the matter?”
Her lip quivers and she carefully avoids my gaze. “Nothing, I’m just thinking about your sister.”
The mention of my sister brings back everything I’m trying to avoid. I make a face and my mother notices.
“I can’t help it,” she says in a small voice.
Her voice wavers unsteadily. My heart feels sluggish, as though it pounds with molasses running through the arteries.
“She was so young.”
I can’t do this. I can barely handle my own thoughts.
Ma looks at me with an extremely wounded expression as I stand up.
“I—I’ve got to go.”
“But you just
The pain of her loneliness strikes me hard, almost as if she threw a heavy object at the back of my head.
I’m lonely, too. It shames me to admit it.
I slide into my car and shut the door, but I have nowhere to go, really. There’s no one I can call my friend. Marisa’s tear-stained face flashes through my mind again.
a terrible person.
Fuck it. I’ll just go see Vince.
I start the car and leave my mother’s house, driving towards Vince’s place in Manhattan. It’s always a bitch to go there because there’s hardly any parking, but what can I do? He calls the shots.
It’s Friday night and the Upper West Side is already packed with people. I park the car and take my time towards Vince’s place, strolling among dozens of happy, oblivious people who I’d love to strangle. I shove my hands deep inside my pockets so that my hands are preoccupied. It would be nice to get into a fight and break open someone’s skin with my fists.
Why am I so pissed off?
It’s because of that girl. She really got under my skin.
I shrug off thoughts of Marisa as I take the elevator to Vince’s apartment, trying to bury my intense dislike for the man before I see him. I knock hard on his door and it opens up to reveal a pretty woman, her face halfway done with makeup.
Must be his wife.
“Hey, I’m here to see Vince.”
She smiles at me and then yells over her shoulder. “Vince! Joe’s here!”
I step into the rich motherfucker’s apartment, my eye wandering all over the deep blue-gray walls, the dark wooden floorboards, gleaming in the setting sun.
“Can I get you anything?” she asks me as we wait for Vince.
Vince appears in the hallway in a suit and he gives me a grin. He wraps an arm around his wife’s waist and gives her a kiss on her head. “Joe and I have to talk. I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
“Okay.” She beams at him before turning around and giving me a small wave. “Nice to see you, Joe.”
He watches her disappear into the bathroom with a small smile that looks entirely out of character for Vince.
I adjust my face when Vince turns back to me, the happy look gone from his face. He gestures his head to the office, and I follow him inside. It’s a dark, richly decorated study with a varnished, oak desk that’s splayed with textbooks. His lean body rests against the desk as I reach inside my jacket to pull out the envelope of cash.
“Did he give you any trouble?” Vince asks as he takes it from me to count the cash.
Asshole still doesn’t trust me.
He stuffs the envelope in his jacket and his dark eyes flick towards me again. “I heard about you visiting that restaurant.”
Fuck you, Nicky.
The dark, forbidding look in his eyes incenses me.
I fold my arms across my chest. “So?”
He reaches out with a long arm and smacks the side of my head. Heat blazes over the skin where he struck my face.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He hisses between his teeth. “Why can’t you let this go?”
My ribs feel like they’re going to break. I step forward and snarl in Vincent’s face. “Fuck you. She’s my sister. How would you like it if something like that happened to your wife? Would you let it go?”
The heat in his eyes drops somewhat and I set my jaw in grim satisfaction. I turn around to leave, but he catches my arm.
“I’ve lost people close to me, too. I have sympathy for you, I really do, but you’re taking this way too fucking far. Leave the guy alone. He didn’t do anything, anyway.”
“An eye for an eye.”
“If there wasn’t such a big news story, I’d let you kill the prick, but we can’t afford to get you arrested. Jesus, be smart.”
This has nothing to do with the family, or being smart, or whatever the fuck they care about. It’s about justice.
I pace in front of Vince, moving back and forth to keep my legs busy, anything to keep me from lunging at him. He watches me; his eyes trained on me like a cat’s precise gaze.
“I know that you’re still pissed at me for taking your position away, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never get it back. You need to show me that you’ve moved on.”
ll never fucking move on, you stupid fuck.
Vince stands up straighter. “Go out with Nicky tonight. He’s at The Tangled Vine. It’s only a few blocks from here. I’d go with, but I’m going out with my wife.”
“No thanks,” I say coolly.
I’d rather get kicked in the balls than hang out with that prick.
Vince grabs the scruff of my neck and pulls me close enough so that I feel his warm breath on my face. “I’m not asking you. You’re fucking going,” he says in a quiet, deadly voice. “You’ll hang out with Nicky and have a good time. You’ll talk to some girls and get laid, and maybe that will convince you to move from this self-destructive path.”
It almost makes me want to laugh. My lips pull into a smirk and Vince’s expression softens.
“Whatever.” This is ridiculous.
“I mean it, Joe. You’re going to get yourself whacked if you aren’t careful. The boss has already lost faith in you. Don’t put it past him, or any of us.”
That sounds like a threat. I bristle under Vince’s fierce gaze.
Go ahead and fucking try.
* * *
The Tangled Vine is an upscale, frumpy wine bar where women like to prowl for rich sugar daddies. I hang outside, gritting my teeth against the crowd of well-dressed people inside. My insides fight between my will to live and my contempt for small talk and crowds. Nicky is at the edge of the bar, chatting up a leggy woman wearing a sequined cocktail dress. The last thing I want is to hang out with him, especially when he blabbed to Vince. Anyway, I’ll just be a cock-block for him. I tend to avoid places like this.
If I don’t go, I know that it’ll get back to Vince.
My breath billows out in a cloud in front of me as I make my decision and grab the brass handle of the bar. Squeezing inside, I make my way toward Nicky. I slap his shoulder and he turns around with a delighted grin. There’s an unoccupied stool next to him. It’s loud as fuck and I want to leave immediately.
“Sit down, you crazy fuck.” He motions towards the broad beside him. “This is my friend, Joe.”
The blonde extends a manicured hand towards me, which I shake briefly. “How you doin’, hon?”
“I’m doing great, thanks. I’m Karissa.”
She beams a little too brightly at me and inwardly I laugh. I’m not the slightest bit interested.
I knew I would be a cock-block.
Nicky’s small frame shifts towards me. “What are you doing here?” he shouts over the noise.
Vince thinks I need to hang out with you.
“Vince thought that I should see you. I was delivering a package at his place.”
The blonde scoops one of her friends out of thin air, it seems, and shoves her towards me. Ah, fuck. She’s just as tall and has a pretty smile, but she doesn’t really do it for me. Maybe I ought to fuck her anyway.