“I wanted to tell you something. It’s gonna hurt, Spin. Gotta admit.”
“This thing we have—”
“You," I said. "This is your grudge.”
He admitted nothing. He’d already said everything he was going to say the night he burned the shop. He wouldn’t tolerate me with a woman so deep in the establishment’s pockets. He would never trust her. He would never trust me. I had to choose between him and Theresa. I tried to understand why he’d make such an ultimatum but came up empty-handed.
“You heard about the Sicilian virgin’s fiancé?”
“Stupido?” I said.
“Nice Neapolitan kid. But yeah, a little dumb. He and his girlfriend just washed up in Malibu. You know why? He refused to marry a nice Sicilian virgin because he already had a girlfriend. Stupido is right. Made enemies on two continents.
“And?” I didn’t want to talk about it in front of Theresa.
“Numbers Niccolò. Our accountant. He’s mine. I’m the future of this side of town. You know why?”
“Is that what you shot at me for? The accountant?”
“Niccolò’s playing the odds. I got the bloodline for the virgin. She’s mine now that Stupido is dead.” Paulie glanced up. The helicopters had gotten closer. “I know you’re there, Princess,” he called out. He jumped from the hood of the car to the uneven ground of the alley. “Don’t get too comfortable. This asshole’s shit’s gonna be mine in a few months.” He got too close. Not to me, but to her.
Something took over me. It was the old Tonio-botz, the man who wasn’t much more than muscle, bone, and rage. Even if Antonio was a thoughtful man, Tonio moved quickly because he didn’t think.
Paulie had never seen that side of me. He didn’t know how swiftly I’d react to him addressing Theresa, even if there was a wall between them. He didn’t know I didn’t give a shit about his restraint, and he didn’t have his guard up when I grabbed the front of his shirt. The defense came up, but it wasn’t fast enough.
I heard the thunk of his head on the brick wall. When he tried to push away, I leaned all my weight on him.
“Don’t talk to her, Paulie. Not a word to her.”
It was too late. She came out from behind the wall and leaned in the doorframe with her arms crossed.
Had I gone through my adult life without once thinking I was going to die? Had I never been threatened? Never almost been in a car wreck? Had I never been in the wrong place at the wrong time?
When Antonio threw himself on top of me, while his chest rose and fell as the gunshots broke the windows, I knew I’d never tasted life as closely as I had with that man. The blood rushing between my legs, the juice collecting there, every point of light in my life dropping to that point was painful in its speed and intensity. I thought I’d explode from the desire for his cock before a bullet could even touch me.
Then it stopped, and all I could think about was his mouth and his neck and his sweat, scented with worry and adrenaline. I knew we were in grave danger, and I’d follow him through it. I’d follow him anywhere.
I’d followed him through the store, my ears dulled from the shots, while outside, Paulie waited with his threats and talk of the virgin, the wedding, and a poor, stupid boy sold into a marriage he didn’t want and who was killed along with the woman he loved.
Even after that, when Antonio pushed himself against Paulie, close as a lover and angry as a pit bull with the stink of savage rage coming off him, I didn’t panic because I didn’t need to. All my passion, rage, panic, and arousal stayed tightly confined behind a hard, black shell.
Antonio and Paulie were evenly matched physically, but my Antonio was stronger in his fearsomeness and clarity of purpose. He would never back down. Not until he stood over his enemy in victory. His determination was clenched in his jaw and held fast in his fists.
Leaning in the doorframe with my arms crossed, I saw the meaner man take advantage of the weaker one and the force of their bodies against each other, the intensity of Antonio’s face, the force of his arms, and I wanted those tight lips and that rigid cock between my legs.
“Antonio,” I said.
“Get inside,” he growled, his fingers resting on Paulie’s cheek and tensing, tensing, until a shadow of a divot appeared in the skin. Their bodies were so close they could have been one person.
“This what you like, Princess?” Paulie grunted. “You like a thug? You think you can make him into a gentleman?”
Antonio pulled his gun out and leaned it against Paulie’s head. “I should kill you for what you did already.”
As if knowing where his bread was buttered, Paulie relaxed his body and kept his eyes on me. “Theresa, you see what he is? Go back to your lawyer. It’s safer.”
I didn’t move. I couldn’t. He was going to shoot him. It was clear as day.
Antonio leaned his elbows on Paulie and chambered a bullet. “This is for the good of everyone,” he said.
“After what we been through, it comes to this? You’re going to shoot me for a woman? I killed for you, man. I stuck a dead dick down a dead throat for you.”
“Antonio. Don’t.” I was whispering, but I knew he heard me. At least, his ears heard me. There was nothing less than murder in his eyes. “Please.”
“I wish I coulda tasted that magic pussy, Princess,” Paulie said. “Must be something.”
“Inside, Contessa. Don’t make me say it again.”
I stepped back into the doorway, into the shadows, shaking my head and mouthing the words don’t do it don’t do it…
“Pray, Paulo,” Antonio said. “Say it with me. Ave Maria, piena di grazia.”
I could still see them in the slit of light between the jambs. Paulie cringed. “The Lord is with thee.”
Antonio stepped back and aimed the gun.
“Tu sei benedetta fra le donne.”
“And blessed is—” Paulie’s voice hitched, and he continued. “The fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” He leaned into the wall, but sagged, eyes shut tight.
“Santa Maria, Madre di Dio, prega per noi peccatori.”
“Now and… now and…”
I stepped into the sunlight, softly. Antonio had moved backward, to the Ferrari. He leaned in the window and quietly removed the gun, his own weapon still trained on his partner.