A/n: Please read my author's note on my profile. Thank you for your endless, endless support.
32. Chapter Thirty-Two & Epilogue
The endless questions really were endless.
A cup of cold black coffee, which I wouldn't have even touched if it were warm, sat at the corner of the table. It was freezing outside, but just as cold inside the dank, sterile room. Paul Delve, the detective I came to view as both my ally and persistent interrogator, tried to make the room less of an interrogation room and more of a casual, let's-calmly-discuss-Mafia-business room. Despite having parents who are –were—lawyers, I wasn't exactly knowledgeable about this whole process.
Lucian was probably relaxed and at ease, wherever he was. Blaise and Marcus Collins too. I'm sure even Gabriele, despite the circumstances he landed himself in, was indifferent. That bastard probably had connections that would get him out in a matter of days, maybe even hours.
That thought made my insides turn cold. All that work we did, I did…
The door opened and I slowly looked up at my visitor. I had to take a piss, I had to stretch my legs, and I had to see if Lucian was safe. I'd been inside the room for hours, I'd lost track of time. My eyes burned for being so dry and tired. I was exhausted, but the very idea of sleeping scared the shit out of me. I didn't want to see the horrors of these past few days.
"It's cold in here." Paul Delve, stating the fucking obvious, slipped inside the room.
I glanced in the hallway, spotting Lucian lingering against the wall. We met eyes briefly before Delve slammed the door shut behind him. He gave my slouched and disheveled figure a once-over, clearly unimpressed.
"You could have turned up the heat." The man breezed past the table and approached a thermostat I had overlooked for god-knows how many hours.
"Oh," I mumbled, unable to feel embarrassed despite my lack of observational skills. "Are we almost done?" I whispered quietly. Rubbing a hand over my face, I tried to salvage what little energy I had left.
"We are." After increasing the temperature in the room, Delve slid out a chair and sat across from me. "We need to talk about witness protection—"
"No." I straightened from my chair and leaned my weight against my forearms. My suit was in disarray, the tie having been unknotted and my collar loosened. Even my perfectly arranged hair was unkempt, having been destroyed during the first hour of constantly running my hands through it.
Delve sighed, clasping his hands together on the table. "We've recovered good evidence from Gabriele's office." His pale eyes stared at my closed-off expression. "But I have to be honest with you, Afton. Without Luciano or you testifying against Gabriele in court, I don't know—"
"You can find a way," I interrupted again. "Lucian and I are done with this. We've both done our part. You can't ask for any more than that." I squinted at Delve. "When we hashed out this plan, I told you upfront that we weren't going to testify in court."
"Don't you want Gabriele behind bars?"
"Of course I do."
"Then you may have to step outside your comfort zone and appear in court. Prosecuting Gabriele Romano will carry more weight if his son and adversary are there." Delve held up a hand to stop my immediate retort. "You came up with this plan. I can have you and Luciano both in witness protection program during and after the hearing."
"No," I said again firmly. "Who knows who we pissed off for prosecuting Gabriele. Probably a lot of dangerous people, that's for sure. We helped you accumulate evidence, but we aren't going to throw ourselves in front of the Mafia any more than necessary. We want our roles to be as marginal as possible."
Plus, I needed to keep in contact with my family after this. I couldn't imagine not being able to choose where I would live, what identity I would take, and relying on the law enforcement for protection. Lucian already had a plan up his sleeve. We already had a house. We needed to be in control of our own lives.
Besides, despite how angry Gabriele was, I firmly believed he loved his son. He wouldn't hurt Lucian. Granted, he wouldn't have any qualms against killing me, but Gabriele would find me even if I were in witness protection. At least this way, I had a little more breathing room, a little more control. I refused to back down from my decision.
Delve clearly didn't agree with me, yet he bit his tongue. "At any rate, I do have to warn you. Gabriele knows how to work the system."
Inhaling, I nodded, clutching my hands underneath the table. It was to be expected and it only reinforced my decision to stay away from court. Even if we did testify, Gabriele would still find a way to slip from his sentencing. Testifying would only cement ourselves more firmly as enemies of the Mafia. We needed to cut ties, we didn't want to be spokesmen for the war against the Mafia.
"Another thing… the Conti Family…"
I looked up sharply, but kept my features schooled. "What about them?"
The detective shook his head. "There are going to be questions. I have questions. Marcus Collins already served his fifteen-year sentence for extortion and he's not talking now."
It shouldn't have surprised me that Marcus was eluding questions. In fact, I was surprised they even got their hands on him long enough to question him. I supposed Marcus wanted to accompany me to the station, even if we hadn't seen each other since being taken in.
"Benny Conti, my grandfather, was a Don, you know that. That's all there is to know about them—"
"Don't pretend I'm an idiot, Afton." Delve rubbed a heavy hand against his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Gabriele Romano was threatened by the mention of the Conti Family. I find it unlikely that he'd be persuaded by a family business that died with Benny Conti. Of course, we could always work with Gabriele and get information from him…"
I looked down at my untouched coffee, feeling caged, feeling hopelessly exhausted. "I get it," I murmured. "You got what you needed from me, so you aren't inclined to keep your end of the deal."
"I'm trying to tie up loose ends," Delve argued. "The Conti Family—"
"Are ghosts," I interrupted firmly, losing my tiredness. "This was part of the whole scheme to knock Gabriele off his throne. All made up. All brilliantly created to fool Romano."
Exhaustion, fatigue, hunger, sorrow… I drowned in the thick of it all and more. Yet, just as Delve argued, I knew this was a loose end that needed to be taken care of. Before Lucian and I could walk away completely, we first needed to cover our asses from the law enforcement bloodhounds.
I was not only covering our asses, but I also needed to cover Ellen. She'd been generous enough to help put Gabriele away with falsified documents. She'd put her business on the chopping block for me. And as much as she reassured a little surveillance from the American law enforcement wouldn't cause problems, I wanted to prevent as much of that as I could.
Paul suffered a sigh at my resilient expression. "Ok, Afton," he murmured softly. "I understand. My battle is with Gabriele Romano. For now. There will be no further investigation against the Conti Family, if only to repay you for your services." He pressed his lips into a stern line. "If you change your mind about testifying in court, I—"
"Can I go?" I persisted, relieved he'd let the Conti Family issue die.
The detective hardly nodded before I was out of my chair. I approached the closed door, knowing Lucian was on the other side. My heart was in my throat, eager to be with him. To end this nightmare. I could literally feel his presence. It was a beacon, a comforting light.
However, before I opened the door and embraced myself with Lucian's familiarity, I paused, turning back to Delve. The man hunched over a few papers, exhaustion lining his own features. At my lingering, he looked up, locking eyes with me.
"Thank you," I said sincerely. "You can finally go back to your family, Detective."
He blinked. An exasperated, but true smile lifted the corners of his mouth. "Get out of here, Conti," he said fondly. "I hope this is the last time I see you. Stay out of trouble."
There was nothing more to say. I opened the door to freedom, instantly looking to Lucian. As soon as he saw my exit, he straightened from his slouched position and took an advancing step forward. His eyes, always knowing, looked into me, through me. A concerned tightness settled across his lips.
"Afton," he breathed.
He held out a hand and I grasped it. He curled his fingers around my wrist reassuringly, running an assertive finger across my pulse point.
"Are you done here?" I asked carefully.
I wouldn't let down my guard yet. If Lucian wasn't free to go…
"Yes," he replied confidently. His eyes tore themselves away from my face and looked down the hall. Much to my surprise, there were several people waiting for us. "Marcus is bringing you back to your mother's house. I need to finish some business before we go. I will return to you immediately afterwards."
Panic coursed through me. "You can't be serious," I hissed, suddenly angry. "What business?"
Lucian's face softened, though it hardened a moment later when Delve exited the interrogation room. The detective paused, looking at us before shaking his head and retreating down the hall. As soon as he was out of earshot, Lucian took my wrist more firmly and nudged me against the wall.
"I promise it won't take long," he reassured. "Trust me, Afton. I'd rather be with you."
A part of me wanted to know what he had planned, I wanted to know why he would risk something right after our exoneration, only, I nodded tightly, not arguing on the subject. I trusted Lucian enough to be smart. He had to have something important planned, otherwise, he wouldn't have left my side.
For once, I didn't want to know his scheme. I had no qualms about being left in the dark.
I just wanted to go.
He clearly read my exhaustion. His eyes softened and he ran his fingers down the side of my cheek. "Soon. We'll leave soon. After your father is put to rest, we will leave. Just you and I."
I was so tired; I wasn't even surprised to feel the complete and utter angst at his imminent separation. More like trepidation. After all these trials and hardships, I couldn't believe I still ended up with Lucian alive and standing at my side. Now he was going to chance fate and do business.
"Afton," he said again, clearly troubled at whatever he saw on my face.
"Are we fucking leaving? I can only drink so much day-old coffee," a voice interrupted sharply. I turned, staring at Blaise Romano. The boy approached us impatiently. "I need to speak to Afton, alone."
Lucian hesitated, but I ignored his imploring gaze in favor of watching Blaise approach. The underboss sighed, kissing my turned cheek, and retreated down the hallway. I watched him go, feeling despondent and empty.
"He'll be fine. You'll be fine. We'll all be just fine." Blaise stopped in my line of vision and placed his hands in his pockets. "I know this is the last thing you want to do, you look dead on your feet, so I'll make it quick. I owe you an apology and I know I will never be able to make it up to you."
I refocused my eyes on Lucian's brother, uncomprehending his words. "I don't understand."
He pressed his lips together. "I was the one to egg Gabriele on, Afton. I told him about Lucian's attachment to you and how he'd leave the Family for you. It was because of me he threatened you. It's because of me all this happened. Catherine Moretti… your father…the things you and Aria went through…"
I took a step back and leaned against the wall. The feelings of shock and betrayal were sharp, but my exhaustion tempered my response. "Why would you do something like that?" I asked quietly, not understanding. I'd thought Blaise and his father didn't get along. I thought I had a companion in Blaise.
The other boy ran a hand through his hair in aggravation. "I wanted Lucian out of the Family business. I wanted him to see Gabriele's true colors. I thought… if Gabriele threatened you enough, Lucian would walk away from this sort of lifestyle. I never wanted all this to happen. I didn't think things through."
It was difficult, but I swallowed my initial response. He was right. A large part of these past few days were his fault, but on the other hand, they probably would have happened without his interference. Things turned messy and complicated because of him, and because of that, the players in the game acted instantaneously, forced to act ahead of schedule.
Perhaps the instantaneousness was a good thing. If the Gallo Family had more time to act, they might have been more difficult to take down. If Gabriele hadn't acted under pressure, he might not have underestimated me. People's true colors were revealed these past few days, and with that, revelations discovered.
"I'm testifying against my father," Blaise interrupted the silence, clearly uncomfortable when I didn't say anything. "I know you and Lucian hadn't planned on testifying, so I thought I could be as much help as possible. I need to remedy my mistake somehow."
Then I remembered how Blaise boldly stepped in Gallo's line of fire the day they'd taken me.
I sighed, rubbing the bridge of my nose and closing my eyes. It was difficult opening them again. "I don't hold anything against you, Blaise. I don't blame you for anything." He seemed surprised at my admittance. "No one forced the Gallos or Gabriele to do what they did. You were only doing what you thought was best for Lucian."
Blaise was silent as he stared at me. Over his shoulder, I spied the dark figure of Marcus leaning against the hallway, patiently waiting to take me home.
I wondered if my mom and Nick were there. Maybe even Tony. They'd been ushered to a safe house during the fiasco with the Gallos… I needed to know they were safe now.
Looking over his shoulder to see what caught my attention, Blaise turned back around, a contemplative gleam in his eyes. "I have disagreements with my brother, but I love him. I am glad he has someone like you in his life, Afton." He stuffed his hands more firmly into his pockets, trying to harden his expression. "Take care, kid, and keep in touch."
He winked and turned his heel.
There were too many farewells ahead, yet I knew I wouldn't see the last of Blaise Romano. If he insisted on testifying against his father, he'd be sticking his neck out. His guilt made him volunteer to testify, but I hoped he'd reconsider. The Romano Family was destroyed, but that didn't mean there weren't loyal members lurking nearby.
I pushed off from the wall and slowly approached Marcus. I fell into step with him as he led me out into the lobby. A few other men crowded around us as we walked from the station and out into the brisk night. At my side, the man was a comfortable presence. He sensed my fatigue and did not strike up a conversation.
Although, I knew he wouldn't be talkative even if I were up to par.
I glanced at him, studying his side-profile almost obsessively. I yearned to know more about him, this silent assassin. I wanted to know more about my real mother, about her relationship with Marcus. However, right now, I was content to stay in the dark.
Some things were just meant to wait.
It was a cold, grey day during Marcello Conti's funeral.
My mother and Nick informed me of the burial last night when Marcus dropped me off at home. They wanted it done as soon as possible, they said, and without much public scrutiny. Closed casket, of course. Realizing it was a lot to take in for me all at once, my mother offered to postpone the date. But I refused. I needed to get this done.
I hardly grieved over the bastard, yet here I was, standing amongst a sea of black in his honor.
A film of shock still cloaked my mind. I felt surreal. Everything felt surreal.
How long would this haziness last?
Last night, I had properly reunited with my mother and brother. There were tears, mostly from Kara, and apologies. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't hold grudges. Not right now. Life was too short to shout at my 'mother' and accuse her of something she hardly had any control over. Like Marcello, she claimed she wanted to raise me like her own son. She did carry me for nine months, after all.
She hadn't known the extent of the Conti Family's power. She thought the legacy died with Norah and Benny. How would she know my long-lost aunt and father would come knocking after years of silence and distance?
I had shrugged off Nick's apologies and concerns as well. They were innocent. They'd both been pawns, both dragged into this mess. I was just happy they were unharmed physically. Upon Marcello's death, and my current affairs, my mother clearly withdrew mentally. Yet, I knew Nick would stick close and take care of her until she got back on her feet.
Glancing to the side, I watched as Kara cried into her Kleenex, taking shelter under Nick's supportive arm.
I remembered bawling over Marcello's dead corpse. The shock still hasn't left me. But for the life of me, I couldn't shed another tear.
A hand landed on my shoulder, reminding me of the stifling presence on my other side. I looked up at Lucian, trying to offer him a small smile. Just as he promised, he'd returned late last night. He hadn't said anything as he curled behind me in the bed. I hadn't wanted to talk to him, still mildly peeved at his absence, but also too worn to converse. He'd respected the distance, yet he kept a solid arm around my waist throughout the night to remind me of his support.
I knew he'd eventually tell me what his business was about, but I didn't want to hear about it. I just… didn't care right now.
On Lucas' other side, Tony stood solitarily. He caught my eyes and winked. I was dreading the imminent conversation with him after the funeral. I had to say goodbye to him. But maybe goodbye was too strong of a word. I'd see him again. There was no doubt about it.
I glanced around at the other members. Despite the short notice, a good deal of people attended. Some I knew, some were relatives, and some were complete strangers. The Conti blood relatives were present and I caught a few of them eyeballing Lucian unhappily.
It disgusted me.
The lot of them.
And before I knew it, the service was over.
I stood stiffly besides my mother and brother, accepting condolences from people I hardly knew. In the back of my mind, I knew Lucian had a car parked nearby, packed with both our possessions. We planned to hightail it out of New Jersey as soon as the service finished.
As if reading my intentions, Tony approached me first. "You look like fucking shit."
I grinned, feeling a little flutter of life within me, but it was gone seconds later. In its place, an empty grimness settled, sucking every ounce of happiness I possessed. "You look pretty good yourself."
Lucian lingered nearby, his worry palpable, and his eyes as sharp as they'd ever been before. Tony offered his smothering presence a guarded look as he came to a stop in front of me. "You look ready to flee," he observed quietly. "Nick mentioned you were leaving town for a few months."
I felt guilty. I'd left him before for college and that hadn't turned out well at all. "For a few months," I confirmed just as quietly. I didn't want people outside my immediate family to know about my escapade with Lucian. "But that doesn't mean my phone will stop working." I stared at him seriously. "Was that a strong enough hint, Tony?"
"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Tony huffed, blowing a visible cloud of cold air towards me. "I will call, text, and keep in touch. It won't be like last time. I promise."
We stared at each other before Tony's lips twisted into a semblance of a smile. He bumped my shoulder with his fist. "Try to get some kind of relaxing in, will you? You seriously look like a fucking zombie. I got things covered here. You don't need to worry."
But I did worry. The last time I left for California, the cancer returned in Tony's sister and his father had a stroke. Which reminded me… "Gabriele Romano paid for Emily's treatments and also your father's medical bills." It wasn't a question, just a statement. Tony told me as much. "With him indicted, he won't be able to help your family anymore."
Tony exhaled, turning extremely grim. "I know—"
"I found funds for you," I interrupted. "Emily will have only the best care. Your father will be cared for in a prominent facility. I don't want repayment. You can go to school, Tony. Get a job. Do whatever the fuck you want to in life without a ball and chain."
He stared at me, disbelieving. "How did you…" he licked his lips. "How did you get that kind of money?" Briefly, his eyes rose above my head and considered Lucian. Little did he know that Lucian no longer had a penny to his name.
"Nick can tell you all about it," I responded briskly.
I wasn't proud that I asked Ellen Reed for another favor. But considering I vowed to return to Britain with her next December, I thought I'd milk the situation for all it was worth. I didn't feel right leaving New Jersey without Tony's family taken care of financially.
"I can't accept that, Afton."
"Keep an eye on my family," I countered. "That's what you can do in return. And keep in contact."
Tony did that lip and jaw thing again, as if he'd break down crying. He cleared his throat loudly and stepped forward, embracing me firmly. "I hope you can smile again, Afton. I'll hold Romano personally responsible if you're not back to your old self the next time we see each other."
I grinned into his shoulder, embracing him back. I wondered if I could return to my old self. It didn't even feel possible right now. With the adrenaline gone, without the immediate fear and panic, I just felt empty and dark. I hoped Tony was right. This emptiness didn't sit well with me, but I couldn't seem to shake it.
Lucian was there as soon as Tony pulled away. He curled a hand around the nape of my neck and escorted me away from the crowd of mourners. I already said my goodbyes to Nick and my mother that morning. I didn't want to look in their direction in fear I would run back and stay in New Jersey.
But we couldn't.
Things needed to blow over first. Gabriele would have vengeful followers who'd love to take revenge. Or maybe they would see Lucian as vulnerable right now and kill him off just for being a pain in the ass all these years. Who knew what the fuck people had in mind when they sought such destruction.
"How much sleep did you get last night?"
I looked up at his impassive face, grinning tightly. "Don't worry so much."
He looked down and his face was carved from stone. Cruel stone. "Don't tell me that," he whispered softly with a hint of menace. "Of course I worry. You haven't slept properly in days. You haven't eaten." His dark, fathomable eyes looked away angrily. "Don't tell me not to worry, Afton."
He was truly upset. I could feel his frustration through the hand around my neck. His fingers tightened, shackling my throat, before they loosened again. Fortunately, up ahead, the appearance of a dark car prevented Lucian's temper from going any further. Two figures leaned against the car, patiently awaiting our approach.
I exhaled softly, realizing their presence didn't surprise me.
"I'm sorry, truly, for your loss," Ellen consoled. "It was a beautiful service."
Next to her, a silent and brooding Marcus Collins stood. He didn't offer his condolences; they would have been empty anyway. I knew his thoughts towards Marcello Conti. He hated the man. Perhaps for deep-seated reasons, perhaps just out of pettiness, I didn't know.
"Thank you," I responded automatically, as I had with all the other mourners that morning. I then realized that Ellen Reed warranted a bit more appreciation than the others had. "I appreciate everything that you've done for—"
"Please, Afton," Ellen interrupted, shaking her head. "It was the least I could do. I understand this situation is difficult to come to terms with. You need time to register all that you've heard and seen. I just hope we can both keep to our end of the deal."
She was talking about December, the day of reckoning, or, at least that's what I called it. All of this was too hard to absorb. I didn't know what to think. I knew a mundane life would be excruciating for Lucian, which was why I agreed to go to Britain in the first place. However, there was a lot of time between now and then. Many things could change.
Ellen smiled sincerely. Her manicured hand opened the car door. "It was a pleasure to finally meet you, Afton. I wished it was on better terms, but we will make up for that at a later date."
With grace of a feline, the Conti Family Don slid inside the car. Marcus and I stared at each other. What did I say to someone like him? Nice to meet you, sperm donor? Impressive gun, by the way? Fortunately, Collins spared us both the awkwardness and simply nodded.
I watched as he got in the car and closed to door behind him. I stared at myself through the tinted car window, wondering at the odd sensation I felt. Disappointment? Yearning? Intrigue? The man was a complete enigma. I found myself actually looking forward to getting to know him on a personal level.
As their car pulled off, Lucas wrapped his hand around my neck once more. "We should get going."
I nodded, allowing him to pull me towards his car. I knew Lucian would have people watching the ongoings in New Jersey. I didn't feel too concerned with all their safety. Most of the danger passed for them, but the escape was just beginning for Lucian and me.
Our Florida home was dark when we finally stumbled inside. Both good and bad memories accompanied this place. It wasn't long since our visit, but it felt like ages ago. This was where I finally got comfortable with Lucian intimately, yet our first sexual encounter had been a mere smokescreen to distract me from Marcello's attack.
"We can get our stuff later. I want to get some food in you before bed." Lucian breezed past me and proceeded into the kitchen. "We don't have fresh ingredients for a truly home-cooked meal, but I suppose we can settle for something processed tonight."
I followed him into the kitchen and leaned against the wall.
This ordinariness and normalcy was odd… unfamiliar.
My body remained stiff and rigid, expecting things to go south any moment. Gunshots would ring out, bribes and blackmail would trade hands, death would occur, and the blood would be everywhere. The despair and the isolation.
Lucian dug through the freezer and pulled out a tray of frozen chicken breast. I watched his pleased grin, marveling in his presence. This couldn't be true. This couldn't be real. We both made it out in one piece, but when would fate rip us apart again? Should I get used to his presence? Our happy ending?
He turned to me, his smug expression freezing before morphing into stark concern. "Perhaps we can have the chicken for an early morning breakfast. You need sleep and a full stomach will keep you up." He placed the chicken breast in the fridge before grabbing some eggs leftover from our last visit. "I will make you a light omelet."
I pushed off from the wall and approached his lithe frame. My pulse raced and my palms turned clammy.
I took the carton of eggs from his hands and returned them to the refrigerator. He watched me zealously, always having the ability of stripping me down and seeing everything underneath. "I just want you tonight," I found myself requesting. "Just… you." I want to savor each second we have together before it's too late….
Without waiting for his response, I grabbed his wrist and pulled him from the kitchen. We turned off the lights throughout the main floor and retreated into the bedroom. I was nervous as hell, but I was afraid and desperate even more so. I needed him. He was a tall and solid anchor to reality. I wanted to consume myself with him.
"Afton," Lucian started quietly as soon as I shut the bedroom door. "Are you really ready for—"
"Will you stop asking me that?" I interrupted sharply, irritated. "I'm ready. I just want to feel something tonight instead of this fear. I want to be as close to you as possible." Too late, I noticed I wrapped an arm around my torso, a vulnerable gesture.
His dark, expressive eyes warmed. "I am not leaving you, Afton. I'm not going anywhere."
I closed the gap between us, leaning into his strength. "Then show me." I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him down for a kiss. Feeling him in my arms never felt this right. I didn't want to be sappy, fuck, I knew I was sappy, but I couldn't stop myself from marveling in Lucian's presence.
I'd been scared, downright shitless these past few days. If I turned around, even for a second, I was afraid Lucian would be taken from me.
Our kiss started tender, soft. I didn't know if he set that rhythm, or if I did. I didn't have much time to dwell over that, for our intensity increased a moment later. He was desperate. I was desperate. Our hands eagerly felt the other, grabbing at anything we could just to reassure one another we were there physically.
My clothes were off before I really noticed. His too. I complied with his light shove to the bed and eagerly intercepted his form as he prowled on top of me. My pulse continued to race, only it raced with anticipation and excitement. That just proved my feelings were not entirely gone; it just took a great deal of effort to climb past the oppressive emptiness.
His lips were everywhere; his hands were everywhere. He rubbed our erections together to create a thrilling sensation. I threw my head back and moaned, my hands anchored on his shoulders. His dark eyes brightened as they looked down at me, tracing over every one of my features.
"God, Afton," he whispered. "I love you."
His hand trembled as he reached for the lube in the nightstand. I occupied myself with tracing his collarbone with my fingers and then down across his stomach and hips. I paid special attention to his pelvic area, marveling at his perfection. I gave his cock a stroke, and then another when he moaned pleasantly in his throat.
He did not wait for me to lather him up with lube. Unlike last time, he did it all himself hurriedly, his hands clearly trembling with pleasure and anticipation. I smiled past my own pleasure, thrilled to see him so undone from his practiced stoicism. I could make him like this. I could unravel his barriers and his perfection.
With his slick hand, he grabbed my chin and delivered a bruising, possessive kiss. My mind reeled. My body stiffened. I thrust against him, needing him, needing that painful pleasure I remembered not too long ago.
He whimpered against my mouth, just as frantic as I was. He grabbed me by my shoulders and flipped me around on my stomach. My eyes widened at the unfamiliar action and then suddenly, he grabbed my hips and lifted my ass. He caked on the lube and positioned himself at my entrance.
And without a sliver of patience, he entered me.
Sharp pain exploded behind my eyes and I cried out, bending my upper torso against the mattress as he continued to hold my hips. His own hips planted against my ass, a furnace of heat against my body. I could feel his coarse hair and then our sweat entwine. He smelt musky and minty, engulfing me completely, just as I intended.
Nothing was in my mind but the pain, the possession, and Lucian.
His fingers dug into my hips with bruising intensity. Slowly, he inched out of me and thrust back in. His tempo was gentle, but choppy, as if he were impatient at the slow rhythm.
I eventually adjusted to his girth and the pleasure overtook the pain. He kept hitting such a sweet spot and the flashes in my eyes were not of sharp pain, but overwhelming desire. There was something deeply erotic about him mounting me from behind. I didn't understand it, it was entirely domineering and animalistic, but it strained my cock pleasantly.
To confirm my animalistic comparison, Lucian bent forward, draping himself over my back. His sweaty body nearly slid from on top of mine, but he kept one hand curled tightly around my hip, and the other curled possessively around my neck. His thrusts grew frantic and deep, as if he just needed to take me as hard as possible.
It was fucking amazing.
The sounds… the slapping, the suction, his heavy breathing in my ear… my eyes rolled in the back of my head and I climaxed.
Suddenly, he slipped out of me, yet I knew he hadn't climaxed yet. He hurriedly grabbed my body and flipped me around to face him. He dropped me on his lap, forcing his cock up inside me. I straddled his lap and stared at him, our chests flat against the other. It was another new position, and it had me reeling.
He encouraged me to bounce on top of him, forcing me to impale myself. I followed his lead, appeasing him. Only when he started to stroke me back to hardness did I realize just how much I liked this position.
I watched him as he watched me. His eyes couldn't get enough of me and I felt utterly worshipped. I remembered the last time we had sex, he'd been insistent of eye contact. This was an intimate position that required total attention on the other. Even if I wanted to look away, I couldn't.
He continued to stroke me as I continued to move.
It wasn't long before his expression wavered and crumbled into complete ecstasy. "Afton," he growled hoarsely. I watched as the raw emotion danced across his face and I came a second time that night.
Panting, I fell back against the mattress, completely spent. Lucian followed my decent and curled behind me. We took a long while to get our breathing under control, yet sweat continued to race down our bodies in rivulets.
"Afton," Lucian murmured into my ear. "That was…"
"Fucking amazing?" I finished knowingly. "Yea…" I trailed off, staring wide-eyed at the wall across from me. It had really been an eye-opening experience. I hadn't been hesitant like last time. While a part of me was vulnerable, it was vulnerable out of fear of possible loss, not out of Lucian's intentions.
I had never been this confident in our relationship before.
Lucian pressed his lips to the nape of my neck and wrapped an arm around my waist. There were no other words traded between us. There didn't need to be. I fell asleep with a stupid fucking grin on my face.
I woke up to his absence.
My pulse accelerated as I hurriedly stood up from the bed. I stumbled into my boxers and jeans, hardly bothering to button them. Escaping the bedroom, I raced wildly through the main level, stopping short when I heard the sizzle of the frying pan and the smell of a delicious, home-cooked meal.
Lucian looked up as I stumbled into the kitchen. His ever-knowing eyes took in my panic and the shadows that clung to me, yet he was considerate enough not address it. "Good afternoon, Afton," he greeted smoothly. "I took the liberty of going to the supermarket for some ingredients. I know we need to ration our money until we sell this place, but I wanted to make something special."
I looked at the clock on the microwave, noticing it was just after noon. I flushed hotly. "I didn't know it was so late."
He pressed his lips together. "You needed sleep." Turning back to the skillet, he added a pinch of spices. "Take a shower and get dressed. I have a bottle of Merlot we can share."
"Wine at noon?"
His dark eyes found mine and a smile curled his lips. "We are defying social norms, aren't we?"
I cocked an eyebrow and retreated to the bedroom. I felt like an idiot for rushing out of the bedroom like a man on fire. Lucian must think I was losing my mind, which wasn't so far from the truth. I was just so antsy and anxious. Just the slightest separation from Lucian got me all riled up. I hated it. I hated thinking the worse, yet I couldn't help but to be clingy.
Taking Lucian's advice, I took a shower and threw on some clothes. As I stepped out of the bathroom, I surveyed the messy bedsheets and thought back to last night. A warm flush stained the back of my neck and down to my groin. Despite the anxiety I felt, last night had been… it still was one of the most amazing experiences ever.
My stomach growled, reminding me I hadn't eaten anything significant for days.
"Things will eventually get better," Lucian murmured as I walked into the kitchen. His attention was on the wine bottle, yet I knew he was painfully aware of my presence. "It just takes time."
I shifted awkwardly, unnerved with how much he saw. "I hope so."
He looked up at me as he uncorked the wine bottle. "You've been though a lot. Don't be so hard on yourself." He poured the red wine into two glasses. "I will return the shine in your eyes if it's the last thing I do."
"I'm not broken," I insisted fiercely. "I'm the same person."
"You're the same person, yet it's the experiences that weigh you down." He motioned towards the chair. "The death of your father and Catherine Moretti will haunt you until you know how to carry it. What you went through, Afton, was hell. I can never undo what you saw, but I can teach you how to live with it."
I sat down, watching as he bustled around the kitchen. I knew he intended to do just that; alleviate the heaviness, the emptiness. If anyone had the ability to accomplish such a thing, it was Lucian.
"What's on the menu?" I asked, trying to change the subject.
"In honor of my mother's birthday, I made her favorite. Carbonara." He set a plate down in front of me and it smelt delicious. "An Italian pasta dish containing bacon, eggs, cheese, and black pepper. It's your first meal of the day, yet it's also lunchtime. Fitting, isn't it?"
"You're just so damn suave." I grinned, watching as he sat down opposite of me.
"Don't you forget it."
He watched as I took my first bite. The flavors were incredible and I complimented him. Just as expected, the compliment went right to his head and he preened throughout the meal. He was a good cook. I could get used to this sort of pampering the rest of my life.
We both ate in silence, reassured at each other's presence, but not finding it necessary to break the comfortable silence.
When he was sure I ate my fill, he broached the elephant in the room.
"We can't stay here."
I sighed, already realizing this, but not still not liking it. It was a beautiful and safe haven.
"It's too expensive and we don't have any source of income." He looked at me pointedly. "At least not yet." Lucian was hinting about the Conti Family funds, something I had access to, but not without Ellen's approval. "As soon as we get cash for this place, we should head up North someplace."
It was unfortunate we had to sell this place, our first home. "I understand."
He watched me, his gaze unrelenting. "That night, after imprisoning Gabriele, I attended to some business. I met with the De Luca Family and the Moretti Family. It appears as if they are the prominent Families left behind Gabriele's downfall." He paused, letting it sink in. "They won't hunt after us, Afton, but that doesn't mean there won't be stray Romano men hell bent on revenge."
"I understand that too," I insisted, finally comprehending Lucian's persistence to leave me that night.
He'd wanted to smooth things over with the up-and-coming Dons of New Jersey and New York. To establish a neutrality that guaranteed our safety and noninvolvement. We wouldn't have to worry about any more threats other than the Romano Family. I was thankful for his interference; otherwise, I'd have to add those two Families to our list of enemies.
"Why did you agree to go to Britain with your Aunt?" Lucian asked suddenly. "We didn't talk about it beforehand."
I lowered my eyes and stared at the leftover pasta. I could lie to him. Or, more appropriately, hide the truth. But I owed Lucian too much to lie to his face. "I don't know how you'll fit into a mundane lifestyle."
His expression altered into stony contemplation. "You agreed to go for me?"
It was difficult to discern what he felt. Insulted? Grateful?
"Yes and no. I thought a year would give us enough time to see how things played out. I didn't promise my involvement with the business, Lucian. If it turns out both of us can live an ordinary lifestyle, then I don't need to be involved with my Aunt's business." I stared back down at the table, my tone void of emotion. It was too soon to think about this just yet. "On the other hand, if one or both of us can't handle the ordinary lifestyle, the Conti Family is powerful enough to satisfy both our safety and… entertainment."
Lucian was silent.
And then he dropped a bombshell.
"You're a natural, Afton."
I looked up at him, not understanding his words.
He picked up his wine and sipped it. Over the rim of his glass, he stared at me lustfully. "With my father, you were a natural. It was… arousing watching you."
I should have been appalled that he'd think of something like that at a time like this. But oddly enough, the revulsion never came. I stared at him unseeingly, wondering why the praise felt appropriate. After mulling it over, I realized that it had been fun, toying with Gabriele and having the upper hand. I was completely unfamiliar with that sensation, and I was frightened of it.
"Do you have any regrets?"
I started at his question. "What?" I asked ineloquently.
Lucian smiled thinly. "With us. Do you have any doubts about our future together?"
"No," I responded without hesitating.
My eyes unfocused as I looked into the distance. I realized how utterly unfamiliar this feeling was, this wholesome love. I'd always been fascinated with Lucian, always intrigued with his adoration over me. And yet, I had always questioned it, I'd always questioned his commitment and his intentions. Oddly enough, those suspicions were no longer present. I couldn't conjure up those endless questions that always plagued me.
I knew he was committed to me utterly and completely.
I looked back at him and smiled. "No, this is exactly what I want."
It finally felt right.
"He's happy, you know."
Like a model specimen, Lucian placed his hand in his pocket and struck an indifferent pose. In the distance, he watched the young, blond-haired man as he played fetch with their newly acquired dog. He'd purchased the German shepherd in hopes of giving Afton a semblance of protection during his early morning runs.
No matter what reality they liked to paint themselves, they were never truly safe.
"I never doubted he would be otherwise."
Lucian looked towards the lurker, unsurprised when Marcus Collins stepped from the shadows. He'd noticed the man's presence for over a week now. The assassin had kept his distance, refusing to approach either Lucian or Afton. However, if Lucian was able to take notice of his presence, he was sure the older man had intentionally showed himself. He was convinced Marcus Collins could go undetected until he wanted his target to take notice.
"It isn't December yet," Lucian persisted, turning and giving Collins his full attention. "Only September."
Green eyes turned their attention from Afton and onto Lucian. "I'm aware of the month."
A man of few words.
Lucian smiled thinly, watching the assassin closely. Afton had picked South Dakota to put down their roots. It had seemed inconspicuous and cheap, as they only had a few million dollars from the sale of their Florida home, and yet, Collins clearly pinpointed their location. "I'm aware Gabriele was released yesterday."
"Was he?" Collins countered, looking again at Afton.
His face was inconspicuous, but Lucian saw through the mask. "Is that why you're here? To bring him to Britain?"
"I don't consider Romano a threat." The older man leveled Lucian with an unimpressed look. "It will take months before your father finds you and Afton here."
"Then why are you here?"
Collins raised an eyebrow. "I can't check up on him?"
Lucian smirked. He knew that was the reason Collins stuck around. The man wanted to see Afton for himself. The boy had a way with people, a way of entrapping the most unlikely of souls. Lucian would know. Afton had done it to him. He was completely in love —infatuated— with the other man and he'd be damned if he ever walked away.
"By all means." Lucian studied the side profile of Collins. "He'd like to see you, you know."
It had taken weeks for Afton to open up about the events with the Gallos, the Contis, and his family. Lucian hadn't pushed him to share his feelings on the topics, yet he'd been pleased with Afton's willingness to trust him. The past events clearly changed Afton, yet Lucian was confident he'd rekindled his lover's fire and zest for life.
They settled in a suburban area in South Dakota, not too far from the University. After purchasing a quaint townhouse, Lucian convinced Afton to sign up for classes. Meanwhile, Lucian had gotten a job at a bank, a silly, nonsensical position that earned enough money to add extra padding to their savings.
"The distance is fine."
"For you, perhaps, but forming an alliance might make the transition to Britain easier."
Collins narrowed his sights on Lucian. "He has expressed an interest in actually staying in Britain?"
"He has," Lucian confirmed. "I simply follow his lead."
Truthfully, he was looking forward to Britain and learning more about the Conti Family. He'd never divulge that much to Afton, if only so his lover would make his own decisions. Lucian was wholly content wherever Afton went. If South Dakota was the location Afton felt at home, at ease, then Lucian would accept the decision.
They said it was a fool's love, yet Lucian couldn't help but to feel at ease whenever Afton was happy.
Despite his insistence of keeping quiet about how brainless his job was, or how antsy he felt here in South Dakota, Lucian knew Afton noticed. No matter how much Lucian tried to mask his restlessness, Afton knew him well enough and determined he wasn't happy.
But that wasn't true. No matter how many times Lucian repeated it, no matter how many times he emphasized the fact that he was happy, Afton assumed otherwise. The blond-harried man just didn't understand that Lucian was happy if Afton was happy. Was that not enough? Why was it so difficult to comprehend?
However, Lucian had his suspicions that Afton wasn't satisfied in South Dakota either. For the first few months of their stay, it had been blissful. They were out of danger, out of constant fear, and with each other constantly. While the feelings had not disappeared, Lucian knew Afton was looking for more.
The younger man wanted to know about his family, that much Lucian determined.
No, Britain was the step to take. For the both of them.
"I have chicken primavera in the oven," Afton announced smugly from behind Collins. "There is more than enough for all three of us."
Lucian smirked at Collin's stiffening shoulders. The man hadn't noticed Afton's silent approach. Through lowered lashes, Lucian watched as father and son surveyed the other, both stiff, both uncomfortable with the other. They were two opposites, but more alike than they'd ever admit.
Slowly, as if to dare Collin's to refuse the offer, Afton turned his heel. He smirked devilishly at Lucian before walking up the steps to their townhouse. Lucian watched him keenly all the while, truly at ease. Truly content.
Yes, he was quite satisfied to follow Afton wherever he ran. He wouldn't have it any other way.