The sweetest torture is wanting what you can’t have.
Luke Saello walks a thin line, managing properties in Boston’s North End. He must remain cordial with the notorious Murabito family without being drawn into their illegal dealings. He could have left, returned to Miami after his girlfriend was murdered, but he is determined to find her killer. The last thing he needs is to deal with a mafia princess.
She wants to rent the old bakery space he owns and when Anthony Murabito asks; you make it happen. The woman is supposed to marry Murabito’s son Tony, who has made it clear to Luke he better keep his hands off. He figures this won’t be a problem since spoiled, vapid women were not his thing. Unfortunately, she isn’t at all what he is expecting.
Billie Palmieri has spent her life trying to distance herself from her father. When her parents divorced, she found solace with Nonna M, as all the kids had called her. She learned the joy of baking at the grandmotherly woman’s side, and now that she is grown, Billie wants to reopen the bakery that meant so much to her. That is the only reason she returned to Boston, certainly not to be manipulated and used by her father, so he can gain more power.
She has no trouble resisting Tony’s advances, but her new landlord is another story. The man looks more like an enforcer for Murabito, making her question his motives. She’s determined to keep him at arm’s length, but as trouble finds its way to her door, he insists on coming to her rescue.
Billie fights her attraction, fearing getting involved with her will put Luke in danger. Threats have been made, and she is determined to protect him, but there may be more to fear than the enemy they know.
Luke stands and starts pacing the room, finally stopping in front of me and kneeling down.
“You need to tell me. Whatever it is, I want to help.” His voice is gentle, his eyes holding mine. It’s painful to look at him, knowing I have to let him go before we even explore this.
“I need you to stay away from me, all of you.”
“The hell I will,” Luke grinds out as he takes my face in his hands.
“I won’t be responsible for anyone getting hurt again.” Pushing Luke back, I run to the door, grabbing my coat on my way out. I’m being a coward, but I can’t look at any of them right now, especially Luke. Downstairs, I raise my hand to hail a cab as Luke bursts out of the building.
“You don’t get to say something like that and then take off, Billie. We need to talk about this.” He holds one of my arms as I watch him trying to control his frustration.
“There isn’t anything to talk about. Tony made it clear. This won’t end well for you. For all I know, he set up the break in.”
“Well, I can’t live with you sacrificing yourself to that asshole, not when I… when we’ve gotten this close.” His hands are on my face again and he kisses me with a ferocity I haven’t felt from him before, and I can’t help but reciprocate. I want this, how he makes me feel as he presses close, lifting me from the ground, deepening the kiss. My feet dangle as I lose myself in him.
“I’m not letting you go.” He growls against my lips, setting me back down before pulling me toward his SUV. We drive in silence back to my apartment, each glancing at the other as we process what just transpired between us. When we reach the third floor of my building, I see a simple white envelope taped to my door.
The tape pulls a strip of paint off the door as I take it down. Something I’ll have to touch up since my landlord here is nowhere near as attentive as the one hovering behind me.
I unlock the door, but Luke insists on going before me to check if anything is amiss.
“Take it easy, cowboy. It’s probably from Falco announcing a rent increase.”
“You know… I have a guest room,” he says, bending down to nuzzle my neck. His beard tickles as his full lips brush my skin, then I feel his teeth. “Actually, I have a king-size bed that would be much more comfortable.”
“That’s sweet, but I would feel terrible making you sleep in your own guest room.” He growls, spinning me around to look up at him.
“Don’t worry, I’m not trying to rush things. Now, about you trying to get rid of me…”
“Luke, you know the sort of people we’re dealing with. Tony was very specific. You face down in the Charles river was the image he painted and I can’t live with that.” I’m trembling with rage, a little fear mixed in for good measure. I wrap my arms around myself, squeezing hard, but I can’t make it stop. “You need to go. This isn’t good for either of us. We should just stop this before it starts.”
“Before it starts. Are you serious? We are way past the starting line, Billie. At least I am. You telling me this isn’t real to you?” Luke is standing too close, crowding me. The smell of him, his warmth all threatens to take me under, where I’ll lose myself forever. “Well, you gonna answer me?”
Hurt and anger flash in his eyes as he stares down at me. I continue to shake, stepping away from him, needing the space to think.
“Please,” I whisper. I don’t even know what I’m pleading for, but he decides for me.
This night has not gone as I expected. I wanted to shake some sense into her, but she looked so broken at that moment. Arms wrapped around herself like a shield, I didn’t think she would let me touch her. Anger welled when she said we should stop before we start. Then she uttered one word; please. So I did the thing I said I wouldn’t. I walked out on her.
Now I’m sitting here with a half empty bottle of vodka in my hand watching the Celtics lose in overtime. How do I keep screwing things up? I know what I want, but it’s always just out of reach. With Jenny, I had the family, but not the love. With Billie, I can see the entire package. Not that I’m ready to bring the “L” word into things yet, but I already feel a deep connection with her I’ve never had with anyone else. There’s just too much bullshit circling around us. There has to be a way for us to be together without all this drama. Maybe I could talk to her father. If Joe Palmieri sees my intentions are honorable, would he intervene? Sure, and I could pitch for the Red Sox next season. Who am I kidding? Billie’s father doesn’t care what’s best for her. If he did, he never would have offered her up to a jerk like Tony.
Who’s the jerk now? I never should have left like that. She’s scared, trying to protect everyone but herself. There has to be a way to make this right. I start a text then think better of it. I know it’s late, and she’s probably in bed, but I need to hear her voice. The line connects and I wait. Two rings, three, four, then her voicemail kicks in. Damn it. I hang up and dial again. After three tries, my gut is tied in knots. This can’t be happening again. Get a grip, Saello. She’s pissed, so she isn’t picking up. One more try. Still going to voicemail.
I flick off the TV, leave the bottle on my coffee table and grab my coat. Not a good idea to drive, so I hoof it the two blocks to Billie’s apartment. Looking up, there are no lights on, so she’s probably asleep. I don’t care. Could be the vodka talking, but I need to see her. At her door, I hesitate, wondering if this is a bad idea. I know it is. Knock, knock, knock. My heart kicks up as I hear the deadbolt turn. One half of her beautiful face greets me as she opens the door as far as the chain will allow.
“It’s after midnight and I have to be up in a few hours.”
“Please let me in. I was an idiot.”
“You woke me up for that revelation? Wonderful. Go home Luke.” She tries to shut the door, but I jam my foot in the small space.
“I shouldn’t have left. I know you were telling me to, but I still shouldn’t have left like that.” She studies me for a minute before telling me to move my foot. When I do, she shuts the door and I figure I’m screwed, until I hear the chain rattle. The door swings open and I face Billie in all her warm, sleepy glory, her hair snarled like she’s been restless. She’s wearing purple pajama pants with fluffy sheep all over them. The sweater she’s wearing is too big, the neck sliding down to expose one shoulder. When she catches my stare, she tries to fix it, but I’m on her in a heartbeat.
My hands dive into her messy hair as I kiss her, dragging her against me. I kick the door shut, turning her so her back is against it, then turn the lock.
“This isn’t over cara mia. No one is running me off, so you’ll just have to deal with it.”