Authors: Vanessa Waltz
Tags: #alpha male, #alpha male romance, #bdsm romance, #dark romance, #mafia romance, #dark erotica
High Stakes (A Dark Romance)
Published by Vanessa Waltz
Copyright 2014 Vanessa Waltz
* * *
There are a million reasons why I should stay away from Vincent Cesare.
This was supposed to be temporary. I was supposed to deal for his illegal card games and get some quick cash. That was it. I wasn’t supposed to fall for him.
Little by little, I see the monster grinning at me through the cracks in his pretty suit. He won't tell me what he does, and I'm not sure I want to know. The darkness in his eyes terrifies me. He's seduced me into his web of lies with his charm, and now I'm trapped in his life. He's taken control over me without me even realizing...or resisting.
I'm in way over my head.
He promised that nothing would ever happen to me. The Vittorio family wants me dead and there's only one person I can turn to. But what scares me is what I'll have to do.
I'll need to become his.
High Stakes is a standalone novel with no cliffhangers, but will be followed with a sequel! Sign up for my newsletter,
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Daddy shoves me back inside my room when he hears noise near the entrance. Pounding fists, followed by the sound of snapping wood and my mother’s screams. I want to dive under my covers. I feel safer under there. Hidden. It’s what I usually do when I hear Mom and Dad shouting, but not tonight. Tonight, I can’t look away.
The door flies open and smacks against the side of the wall. I see Dad backing away into the kitchen as three dark shapes move inside swiftly, with purposeful strides. My heart hammers hard against my chest and I know that I should hide, I should run, but I can’t. Something is about to happen—something that makes the screams catch in my throat. I’m about to yell a useless warning.
He grabs my father by the throat and holds a knife to his neck. They’re shouting things—things that have been lost in memory. Everything’s a confusing blur, except I remember well how Mom begged them.
“Please, don’t kill him! He’ll get the money!”
At the word, ‘kill,’ I burst out of my hiding place and confront the three, terrifying men. They’re so bold that they don’t even wear masks. Time twists their faces into grotesque masks. They look like cartoonish villains.
My Daddy can barely speak with their hands wrapped around his throat. “Adriana, go back inside.”
He never says my full name. It’s always ‘Ade.’ For some reason, I fix on that detail. I scream as one of them steps towards me, and the shrill sound makes the man holding Dad jump a little, and then a thin, red gash opens in his neck as the knife slices him.
I’m screaming and screaming. The blood is so dark, almost like syrup. It bubbles from his neck and he collapses, grasping his neck as if he can’t breathe. And—
I jerk awake in my too-small bed, my heart pounding hard as graphic images burn in my head, as clear as they were thirteen years ago. My chest constricts until I feel I might pass out. Under the covers, I feel like a ten year old kid again. The covers stay over my head, even though I’m boiling under the sheets and sweat has soaked through my t-shirt. I’m shaking and the pain in my chest is sharp. I feel like I’m going to die.
You’ve been through this before.
Shaky breaths rattle through my lungs. My dorm room is completely silent, save for Maria’s snores next to me. She sounds like a freight train and I can’t believe I slept through her racket, but I still wouldn’t trade her presence for solitude. My head pounding, I grope in my sheets for my cell phone. 5am.
I still see it. The gaping wound vomits blood. The color leaves his face, drains out of his neck. I can hear him with that horrible gasp as he looks straight at me, his blood soaking through my pajamas as I kneel next to him.
I need a fucking drink.
I swipe my fingers over my eyes again and again.
Stop crying. He died a long time ago
But I can’t help it. Under the covers, I’m still a kid. I can feel everything—I can even smell his blood.
Under the covers, I wait hours until light filters through the blinds, illuminating the present. The yellow glare washes over the bland walls around my side, over the cheap furniture and over the glossy posters on Maria’s side and the dozens of photographs plastered to the wall. There are no photos on my side, no parents or friends, or anything that might indicate I exist.
I sometimes wish I didn’t. I flip the cover over and breathe in air.
Then I finally feel safe.
* * *
It’s only sophomore year, and I already feel overwhelmed. At my desk, I nurse a cup of piping hot coffee as Maria bounces in her chair next to me as her headphones blast pop music. It’s so loud that I can hear every syllable. My head pounds as I turn to the sheet of paper on my desk with the list of prompts my professor could ask on the final.
Describe Petrarchan conventions using the sonnets we’ve studied this semester citing specific examples.
Petrarchan conventions? My head swims as I try to remember what the hell that is. I flip through my notes, exhaustion and frustration building inside my chest. I should know this. I look outside the window, New York City’s traffic rumbling below as young people walk down the streets in the brilliant sunshine. More than anything, I want to feel the sunshine on my skin instead of being cooped up in this dorm. After weeks of rain, it’s the first nice day outside and I want to take a stroll through Central Park and go to my favorite pastry shop.
“How’re you doing?” Maria slides her headphones around her neck and cranes her neck, looking at my desk.
I gesture towards the blank piece of paper. “Shitty. Taking this lit class was a giant mistake.”
Maria gets up, stretches, and opens the window. A nice breeze flows inside and she gazes out with her arms crossed.
“Beautiful day. Too bad.”
“God, it would be so nice to blow off studying and go to the park.”
She turns around, grinning. “We should blow off some steam. Get margaritas.”
I glance at my watch. “It’s only eleven, you wino.”
Maria picks up a pencil off her desk and throws it at me. “Bitch! C’mon, let’s get a drink.”
Sighing, I stare at the prompts. “Wish I could.”
Except I’m flat broke. Living the dream. Going to college at an Ivy League. This is what my life has been leading up to. I spent so many hours in community service. So many fucking pointless days scrubbing tables at the homeless shelter, and being the President of the Golden Key Society, and Italian Club, and swimming competitively while working part-time at a shit job. Hell, I had to work for years supporting my Mom before I could leave her clutches long enough to go to university.
And I’m still supporting her. No wonder I’m miserable.
I just keep asking myself—When am I going to have
? Everyone always said that college was the best years of your life.
So far, I’m not feeling it.
Whatever. I need to shoulder through this last week of studying, and then I need to find a job for summer. My spirits sink even lower at the thought of flipping burgers all summer while everyone I know has the time of their lives barhopping in Manhattan, or hanging out at the beaches in Coney Island. Maria’s parents are paying for her to go to France with some of our friends.
Bitterness rises in my throat like acid. I can’t imagine going to France.
I grab the stack of cards sitting on my right and I shuffle them eight different ways on my desk. The tension in my shoulders eases as the plastic cards slip around my fingers effortlessly. I study their beautiful simplicity, the tiny printed hearts and spades.
I leave the door open as I bring my shit into the living room, trying to tempt some sunlight inside. Maria joins me and sits on the couch, wearing her Juicy sweatpants—her bona-fide
“Wanna play a game?”
“It’s not fun when you win all the time.”
A smile twitches over my face as I remember all the tournaments I won in high school. When Texas Hold’Em swept through my school, everyone played cards.
“Oh, come on. Let’s play. Ten dollars a game.”
She shakes her head.
A guy walks past our dorm outside, looking inside briefly. He backtracks and stands in the doorway. I’ve never seen him before. He has messy, dishwater blonde hair and his strangely warm gaze zeroes in on Maria.
I roll my eyes.
“Hey, want to play a game?”
He grins reluctantly. “You’re that girl who holds poker tournaments, right?”
My mouth twists into a nervous smile. Weeks ago I had the bright idea to plaster flyers all over the dorms, inviting people to our room to hold tournaments. It turns out college kids are cheap as fuck and no one wanted to bet with actual money.
“Used to. The RA made us stop because we were too loud.” I smile widely. “Come in! Let’s play a game. Ten dollars to start out.”
He hesitates near the doorway, looking suddenly reluctant to meet my gaze. “Nah, I’m good. I have to study, anyway.”
He’s gone before I can even blink.
Maria almost has her whole hand stuffed in her mouth trying not to laugh at me. “You were a little too aggressive. You almost had him.”
I blow out my cheeks. “My reputation precedes me.”
Frankly, it’s the only thing I excel at. Cards and school. At school, I have to work hard. It’s a daily struggle. Cards? Cards are fucking easy.
It’s really the only thing that brings me joy anymore.
That and booze.
My phone vibrates on my coffee table and I frown immediately as I lean over and recognize the number. Taking it in my hands, I let it ring a few more times before I answer.
“Hi, Mom.” I cringe at the sound of my weary voice.
“Adriana, I need to ask you a favor.”
Straight to the point. Whatever could it be?
“They’re gonna cut off my electricity.”
I sigh into the phone. How many times have I heard it? They’re going to cut off my gas. It’s the middle of December; I’ll freeze to death. Do you want your mother to die? I can’t pay my phone bill. My mortgage payment is due. I owe my friend two hundred dollars.
“I can’t keep doing this forever, Ma. I really can’t.”
“What the big deal? I’m just asking for eighty dollars. Eighty bucks will cover it! You have your grants—”
“Those were supposed to be for my education,” I explode. “Not to pay for your fuck-ups!”
Maria whirls around to look at me with a raised eyebrow. She knows all about my mother. I wave her off.
How dare you speak to your mother that way? After all these years and all I’ve done for you. I cooked and cleaned everyday, washed your laundry—
I hold the phone a foot away from my ear, having heard the speech many times before. Yeah, I know. It’s terrible to be disrespectful to your parents, but I’ve had it.
“I’ll send the money, but if you ever call me again asking for more, I’ll hang up.
I’ve said, “no,” so many times to her that it doesn’t really sound like a word anymore. It has lost all meaning.
Her sobs crackle through the speaker as she thanks me. She wouldn’t know what to do without me. She loves me. She knows she’s a terrible, terrible mother. And she is. But it still pulls at my heartstrings, even though she’s pulled this act so many fucking times, I can’t count.
I know how much money I have in my bank account, down to every last dime. And the eighty dollars that subtracts from it, the eighty I will have to budget around this month, eats at me like a disease.
“Ade,” Maria begins delicately, “you know that you can borrow from me any time.”
I blister at the suggestion. I will never be my mother. “Thanks, but I’m fine.”
Her doubtful eyes look away from me. She bites her lip as I gather all the cards back into my hands.
What a great way to start the day.
* * *
My brain is fried, but at least it’s all over.
I saunter up to the professor’s desk and slap my little blue book on the small pile, raising my fist in the air as I celebrate the end of my last final. Right beside the blue books is a gilded pen I’ve been admiring all semester, and I swipe it quietly, savoring the small thrill. Once I leave, I stuff the pen away along with the shame burning in my chest.
It’s almost four o’ clock, and I feel my phone vibrating in my purse with Maria’s call. As I open the door to the bustling hallway, I slap the phone against my ear.