"There she was just a walkin' down the street. Singing 'do-a-diddy-diddy-down-diddy-do," I sang softly while strolling down the sidewalk.
I received an odd look from a disheveled businessman striding past me, but just continued swinging my bag and singing. The streets were basically deserted, as most people in this city had better places to be at 10 in the morning on a Monday.
"Snappin' her fingers and a shufflin' her feet. Singing 'do-a-diddy-diddy-down-diddy-do," I snapped my fingers and threw in a quick shuffle move for emphasis, scaring a grazing pigeon into flight.
It was a beautiful day outside with a modest amount of Toy Story clouds in the sky, and I was on my way to the park to make the most of it. While the park itself was a dump, there was a nice swing set that sat abandoned most of the time because apparently everyone above the age of five is too cool for playgrounds these days.
I was passing a rusted, lopsided set of monkey bars when I heard the scrumptious voice of JT's Sexyback serenading me from my bag. After letting the beat continue for a few enjoyable moments as I wiggled my hips, I looked down to see my brother on the Caller ID.
Reluctantly, I pulled the phone out of my bag and answered.
"What do you need?" I drawled into the phone, suddenly doubting that today would be as good as I had hoped.
"Hey to you, too, sis," Nathan's voice muttered back to me.
"Nathan, what do you need?" I demanded, narrowing my eyes at a tree.
"Geez, you're in a good mood," I heard him sigh. "I just haven't seen you all weekend, which is a little weird considering we live in the same house. You wanna catch dinner together tonight?"
"Sure," I agreed after a moment, wondering what in the world he wanted. My brother and I have always been close, but he's a man of few words and never voluntarily calls me unless it's business. "Pasta sound good?"
"Always," I could hear his smile. "I'll make the reservations. Oh, and Scottie finished that book you let him borrow. He was gonna bring it to the garage next week, but he said you could stop by in case it needs to go back to the library before then."
There it is. Work.
"Sure thing," I let out a breath. "I'm pretty sure it's due tomorrow, so I'll run by his place this morning. He home now?"
"Probably," Nathan replied in his low voice. "Anyways, I'll see you tonight for dinner, baby girl. Let's aim for seven." With that, I heard a click and the call was over.
"Bye, Nate," I whispered to the dial tone before hanging up. Turning around, I began backtracking through the park. After ducking behind the corner bakery, I wove through a few alleys. Ten more minutes of walking and I found myself in the somewhat sketchier part of our city. Graffiti, drugs, domestic arguments being broadcasted through thin apartment walls, and the occasional lady on the corner. Unfortunately, I felt more at home here than at mine and Nathan's place near the nicer end. Sending a quick wave to Abraham, the friendly neighborhood bum, at his spot on the sidewalk I found myself in front of Scottie's shack.
Feeling a sudden burst of inspiration, I let a wicked smirk take over my face. I slipped my jacket off and wrapped it around my fist. Stepping up to the door, I pounded on the door three times as hard as I could, shouting a gruff, "POLICE! OPEN UP!"
I immediately heard movement and yelling on the other side of the door, a suspicious crash, muffled cursing, then complete silence.
"Um, guys?" I knocked twice more with less force, trying to stifle my laughter. "Are ya gonna open the door for me?"
More shuffling, then the lopsided blinds on the door where moved aside and I found myself looking into Scottie's bloodshot, violet eyes.
"The one and only," I beamed at him. He blinked twice.
"You fucking bitch!" He yelled at me, while opening the door and pulling me inside.
I shoved away from Scottie and walked into the dining room that doubled as his office. There was smoke everywhere and the smell of weed hit my nostrils with such force I'm surprised I didn't get high off it.
"I'm here for pickup," I told Scottie while leaning against the table and setting my bag down. A sudden coughing fit from beneath the table made me leap off it. Leaning down, two sets of hazel eyes peered back at me.
"Oh my God, Badger! Jones! You two almost gave me a heart attack." I clutched my shirt and glared at them.
"Serves you right," Jones muttered and ran a hand through his dark, shaggy hair. "You'll be the death of me with your dramatic entrances like that. What's next, you pretend to be S.W.A.T. and fly in through the window?"
"Oh, Jonesie," I grinned at him and crouched down to shove his shoulder. "Don't go giving me any ideas!"
"Here," Scottie came up behind me and shoved something into my hands. I looked down to see a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. "This covers last week. We had a good start this week, so we might need more product."
"Sure thing, buddy," I put the book in my bag and stood up, grinning. "You guys up for some Call of Duty?"
The rest of my afternoon was spent screaming obscenities and shooting Nazi zombies. Scottie's crew is pretty small time and they only deal weed, but they're a fun group. My brother's gang let's them do business in our territory, as long as they play a flat fee for being here. That means I've probably got around one grand chilling in my bag right now. Other dealers have to give Nathan a percentage of their profits, but Nathan let's Scottie off since they're our friends and don't cause any trouble. While Scottie's group can be a little spotty on paying sometimes, they're absolutely harmless. Just a bunch of guys trying to afford their smoking habits without getting high school diplomas.
At five, Nate texted me to be ready for dinner at six because we'll be driving out of town. When I asked why we're driving so far, he said it's a business dinner with some guys who live in another territory. When I asked if they were rival gang members, suppliers, dealers, or something else, Nate just hung up.
After stopping at Quiktrip to grab a couple candy bars, I walked into our house to find Ryan Alvaro and Blake Gino sprawled on the two couches in the living room. While the house belonged to me and Nate, these two practically lived here. Ryan is my brother's number two in the gang and your typical thug with tattoos and a blonde buzzcut, while Blake is his number three. Blake has a more approachable look, with his light brown hair and green eyes. Don't let that fool you, though. I've seen him make countless grown men cry for their mamas. Ryan deals with most internal operations and makes sure our own guys stay in line, while Blake leads external operations with dealers, suppliers, women, etc.
"Gracie-Lou," Ryan smiled at me and scooted his feet up on the couch. "How was your day off?"
"Spent at Scottieville." I rolled my eyes and kicked off my sneakers. "Nate home?"
"Yeah, mami, In his office." Blake said, not taking his eyes off the TV.
I opened Nate's door and walked in to see him typing on the computer. He looked up with a scowl as I tossed the book onto his desk.
"Learn to fucking knock, Gracie," Nate bit out while opening the book and starting to count the bills inside. I just walked over to his bookcase, because we both know he can't focus on counting and talking at the same time. Taking the twix bar out of my pocket, I chewed on it while perusing his book collection.
"They're fucking two dollars short…." Nate growled from his desk.
"Nah," I gave him a cheeky grin and waved the Twix wrapper in front of his face. "I decided to reward myself for a job well done."
Nathan gave me a flat look, then crouched down to put the money in his safe. "If you weren't my sister, you'd get shot for stunts like these," he muttered while locking the safe back up.
"Hey," I scowled at him. "Consider it over-time pay, because today was my day off. I wanted to enjoy the park, and you knew that when you called!"
I leaned on the edge of Nathan's desk and pulled the skittles out of my bag. Ripping them open, I tossed a few to Nathan's open hand.
"If you need more money, just tell me," Nate fixed me with a stern look while popping the skittles in his mouth. I rolled my eyes as he continued, "Seriously, Grace. What do you need?"
I almost burst out laughing at the suddenly concerned look on his face. "Nate, you give me more than enough money. You know I end up putting most of that into my Savings, anyways."
"Fine," he took a seat at his desk and began shuffling through papers. "But the second you need something, you let me know."
"Sure thing, Bubba," I poked my tongue out at him and popped a few skittles in my mouth.
"Don't fucking call me that."
"I swear, it's a miracle you're still alive."
We ended up at Tre Bellezze for dinner, which is one of my favorite Italian places. It's quiet and cozy and slightly more on the romantic side, but also perfect for sketchy business dinners.
Nate spoke with the hostess, who showed us to our table in the back of the restaurant. There were seven seats in total, and Nate pulled out one for me between him and Ryan.
"Thanks, Natey-Boy," I pecked his cheek and sat down.
"Grace, please tell me you didn't get lipstick on my cheek," Nate sighed as he sat down, rubbing his cheek.
"Don't worry, brother dear, your cheek is just as manly as it was five minutes ago. So who are we meeting with? Are any of them targets?" I asked the boys.
"Some guys from Jersey," was all Nate offered. "You just enjoy your dinner, you're off the clock tonight."
"Nice," I grinned and grabbed a packet of crackers from the middle of the table. I turned to Ryan, "Ever heard of the saltine challenge?"
Five minutes later, Ryan and I were still coughing up a lung each and spitting out cracker crumbs while Nate was talking in low tones with Blake beside him. I hit my chest a few times to calm down when I noticed the hostess leading three guys in our direction.
Three dangerous looking guys.
Life or death dangerous, not dangerous for my ovaries.
Well, maybe dangerous for my ovaries.
The one in the middle caught my attention right off the bat. His walk was more of a prowl, and his aura was absolutely predatory. I looked over his handsome face and admired his messy, dark hair as his gaze roamed over the other tables. From this distance, his eyes look incredibly dark. Black? Maybe grey?
The boy to his right drew my attention next. With an almost preppy look, I could immediately tell he was a Cowboy Casanova. Running a hand through his blonde locks, he made eye contact with almost every female he passed and offered each one a panty-dropping smirk.
I tried not to squirm.
They were approaching our table fast, so I looked away before Casanova could make eye contact with me. The third guy had a boy-next-door look to him. Clean cut brown hair and brown eyes, but no smile on his face. Just a blank expression as he walked slightly behind the other two, looking straight ahead.
They walked up to our table and took the seats straight across from us. I ended up locking eyes with the middle one as they sat down, and held his gaze for a moment.
Yep, definitely grey eyes.
"Damn, where do you find your groupies? She is fine. Do you share?"
It's a good thing I wasn't drinking anything, because I would've sprayed it all over the table in front of me.
"Excuse me?" I spit out, and glared at Casanova. "She has ears, and she can kick your sorry ass all the way back to the doucheland rock you crawled out from." I scowled.
His smile was frozen in place, and the loser blinked twice before looking at me in disbelief.
I scowled angrily at him before looking to Nate. His face paled a little, but then he leveled a glare at the douchenozzle and placed his hand on my knee in an iron grip.
"This is my sister, Gracie. I'd appreciate a little respect," he drawled to the newcomers before turning to me and muttering a little louder than I would've liked, "Gracie, what the fuck did we talk about in the car?"
On the half hour drive here, Nate warned me to stay quiet and be respectful during dinner. The main reason I was even invited to dinner was because this is my favorite restaurant and Nate was feeling guilty for not spending time with me this weekend. Apparently these guys are pretty important, despite me never meeting them before. Nate doesn't want to form any bad blood with them, so he wants us on our best behavior. I heard Ryan audibly swallow on my other side.
"Hey, I'm chill," I quickly defended myself and raised my hands in mock surrender. I pulled his hand off my knee and gave him a warmer look to let him know I'll behave. "As long as they keep a leash on their bitch," I couldn't help but add under my breath. Nate's low growl let me know he still heard me, and the soft chuckle I heard across from my seat alerted me to someone else hearing as well. I looked up to see those grey, amused eyes staring at me with his lips starting to form a small smirk.
Well, at least I didn't offend another one of them. From the scowl on Doucheboy Casanova's face next to Grey Eyes, I could tell he heard me as well. He looked at me with pure murder in his eyes, and I fought the urge to stick my tongue out at him. I also fought the urge to shiver and hide behind my brother, because his glare was downright terrifying.
"So, what do you do for the gang, then? If you're not a groupie?" The boy on the other side of Grey Eyes asked me. He body and expression screamed military, but his soft, brown eyes looked like they hadn't seen anything worse than a paper cute.
"I sing them lullabies and hold them when they cry," I drawled with a straight face, while patting Ryan's shoulder next to me. "I also buy their tampons."
"For the love of God, Gracie, shut the fuck up," Nathan bit out, before turning his attention to the other gang. "She does a lot of filler stuff for us, but mainly she's a distraction."
"Distraction?" Brown Eyes furrowed his eyebrows. "She distracts your gang? How is that a job?"
"Not us. Our targets," Nathan shortly explained, obviously wanting to drop the subject.
"What?" Douchenozzle asked, and I gave in to the urge to sneer at him. He narrowed his eyes back at me. "What do you mean by 'distract?'"
"Gracie can keep people occupied while we do a job or bait out people we need to speak with that are normally hard to get a hold of," Nate said, pursing his lips.
"How?" Douchenozzle asked, eyeing me up and down as if looking for something. I wrinkled my nose at him.
"However we need her to. She keeps their attention, and we get the information we need or get the jump on the person."
"But how do you distract them?" Brown Eyes cocked his head to the side and looked at me.
"She just keeps their attention," Nathan explained. Then he cleared his throat and added dryly, "Kind of how Moretti's eyes haven't left her since you guys sat down."
Confused, I looked around the table and saw those grey eyes piercing into mine. I raised an eyebrow and a slow smile formed on his face before he turned to my brother.
"My apologies, Carvelli," he nodded at my brother, and I noticed a hint of huskiness to his voice. As if he'd spent last night singing and shouting along at a concert. "It's been a few years since someone insulted Luca to his face, and I'm a little intrigued by her death wish."
He looked back at me, and it suddenly hit me who these people were. Moretti, my brother had said. Then Moretti called Douchenozzle "Luca."
As in James Moretti, leader of the The Panthers gang.
I'd just insulted Luca Ferrazo, one of the Top 3 in the biggest, most dangerous gang on the East Coast. I felt my throat go dry and tried to stop myself from hyperventilating. How could I have not noticed, or recognized them? I guess it makes sense, since I've never actually met them before, but their reputation precedes them. James Moretti took over The Panthers when he was 17 years old. A 17 year old cold enough to lead a mutiny and run all types of illegal operations? He was the youngest leader of a formidable gang, and he doubled the gang in size and tripled its profits. Now, at 24, he's known as one of the top dogs in the United States and abroad. He's absolutely ruthless, and I'd just told him to keep a leash on one of his top two men.
How do I not currently have a bullet lodged in my temple?
Nathan was saying something to James, probably some sort of apology or excuse on my behalf, but I was focusing too much on trying not to puke.
"Ah," I heard James chuckle, and I gulped before looking up to see him sporting a wide grin and looking at me with a wicked glint in his eyes, "I see she realizes who we are now. You alright, bella? You're looking a little pale."
I quickly cleared my throat and glanced at Nate before meeting James' eyes. It's not in my nature to back down and I never beg forgiveness, but even I knew this was thin ice I was treading on. I should probably be begging for my life right now. I tried to form an apology in my head that wouldn't make me look like a total wimp, but when I looked at Luca and opened my mouth I'm not sure what was controlling my voice, because it definitely wasn't my brain.
"I'm sorry you were offended by me implying you were a female dog, but it's not my fault your face looks like one." I immediately slammed my mouth, absolutely mortified, wishing I could stuff my foot in it instead.
To my extreme surprise, after a tense moment of Nathan gaping at me in horror, Brown Eyes burst out laughing. Douchnozzle continued looking like he was out for my blood, but even James had an amused smile on his face. That didn't stop my heart rate from increasing and palms getting slightly sweaty, though. Apparently it didn't reassure Nathan that I wouldn't end up six feet under by the time tonight was over, either.
"Gracie, go take a walk. Blake, keep an eye on this idiot, will ya?" Nathan asked while glaring at me. I avoided his eyes, but sighed and stood up.
"No, no," James held up a hand and flashed us a charming smile. "Please, stay. We'll get down to business now."
Nathan hesitated, but then motioned for me to sit back down. "Alright," he spoke. "You've met Grace now. I know you've met my second, Ryan Alvaro, before. I don't think you've met Blake Gino yet, though."
Ryan nodded at the boys, while Blake shook their hands. I continued fiddling with the cracker wrapper.
"I'm James," James introduced himself while sending me a small smile. "This is Luca Ferrazo," he pointed at Douchenozzle then at Brown Eyes, "and Dylan Kain."
I nodded at both of them as the waiter came over to take our drink orders.
"As you know," James continued in a businesslike tone while looking at Nathan, "the game is changing. Both our territories are being infiltrated, and there's no sign that we've seen from who's behind all of it. Just a red dye on the drugs and the fucking stupid 'Lucifer' name floating around. Usually these things are easily squashed, but this guy has more heads than a hydra from what we've seen. We've taken out four small time dealers, but more keep popping up. He's already taken over three other smaller territories, but we're the two biggest in the state."
Territories being invaded? I hadn't heard anything about this. I risked a glance at Nathan and noticed his hard expression. This is probably what he's been so stressed about these past few weeks.
"We haven't had any luck either," Nathan sighed. "We caught a dealer the other day and he didn't talk. He didn't know a shit about this guy, besides the name 'Lucifer' and that he receives a note whenever there's a drop for him. His men go to the address, switch out the product with an envelope, and walk away. Trust me, if he knew more, he would've talked. But he knew jack shit."
"A dealer?" James snorted. "Dealers never know anything. Why even bother asking? They're basically sheep. Of course he didn't know shit."
"Nah, not just any dealer," Nathan lost the tension in his expression and let a smug grin slip out. "We're talking trucks of product when he picks it up. He was tier two."
That silenced the other three boys for a moment.
"Tier two?" James asked in disbelief.
"Yep," Nate smirked.
"How the fuck did you find a tier two, let alone get ahold of him for questioning?" James asked, disbelief and skepticism still evident on all three of their faces. "They're locked up in their penthouses and mansions. Security detail of at least a dozen men."
"Well," Nate's smirk focused on me. "That's where Gracie comes in."
The three questioning faces all turned to me, and I tried not to fidget under the gazes of three very dangerous men. One of which currently wanted me dead. Men who make my brother look like a teddy bear.
Nate is no teddy bear.
"What? Are you some sort of drug-dealer whisperer?" Luca asked me, an edge still evident in his tone.
"That's not even a thing," I scoffed at him. "However, I am a female."
"No shit," Luca rolled eyes. "Stop playing around, and explain what the hell this distraction business is. What, you get guys alone and fuck them so your boys can come in and ask questions?"
"Not quite," I fixed him with another glare. "There are rare occasions where I've had to sleep with someone, but it's the exception. Yes, the majority of the time I'm seducing them, but there's also other forms of distraction that work. Usually we're trying to get access to their homes. Other times, like you said, it's just getting them alone at a secluded part of the club until the boys get there."
"But how do you get away from their houses without fucking them?" James cut in. "I'm sure we would've heard about this if multiple dealers' places are getting raided after they invited a girl over."
"Oh," I sent him a slightly smug grin, "that's cause they don't remember it. I usually act a little more on the tipsy side, so they know the deal is sealed and get a little more relaxed with their own drinking. We get home, I ask for a nightcap and slip one of these-" I dug through my purse and pulled out a little white tablet "-babies into his drink, and he's passed out a few minutes after we hit the bed. By morning, I'm gone and he's under the impression he got a little more plastered than usual and blacked out."
"We make copies of the information we need, and he doesn't notice anything missing," Nathan finished explaining. "That's just one scenario, but you get the gist."
I let a proud smile slip onto my face, thankful I've been able to do my part in helping my brother. Nate and his gang have done so much for me, I'm glad that I have an important role in the gang. I looked over at James to see him looking between us with a thoughtful expression.
"Not a bad idea," he said after a long pause, looking towards Dylan. "We might need to look into having our own...'distraction.'"
"I'm still curious, though," James continued and looked towards me. "What do you do when they're not interested? You have other girls doing this, too? Or you just try something else?"
"Not interested?" I felt my eyebrows raise, and couldn't help but feel a little stung from his comment.
Nate chuckled beside me. "Trust me, Moretti, interest has never been an issue."
"And Gracie is our only Distracter," Blake added.
"I still call bullshit," Luca said from his side of the table.
"What?" I crossed my arms and glared at him. "You want proof? I can give you proof."
"Gracie-" Nathan grabbed my arm.
"Yeah, I want proof." Luca leaned his elbows on the table and fixed me with a challenging look.
"Fine," I narrowed my eyes at him. "Pick someone. Right here. Anyone in the restaurant. I'll distract them enough for Nate to grab their wallet, car keys or whatever they have in their pockets, and I'll get invited back to their place. Since we won't need anything from them, I won't actually go. It'll just get the point across."
I looked at Luca with pure challenge in my eyes before sliding my gaze to James. He had a calculating expression, before an evil grin threatened to split his face in half.
"Okay," James agreed and leaned back in his own seat. "But let's make this a little more interesting."
"How much are we talkin'?" Nate jumped in with his game face on. Nate has had quite a past with gambling and betting. He discovered horse races at the age of 18 and hasn't slowed down in the seven years since.
"Five grand," James said with an expressionless face. Nate's face broke out in a smile and he held out a hand to shake on it, when James continued, "and a favor."
"A favor?" Nate slowly retracted his hand and sat for a moment. I sucked in a deep breath, before letting it out slowly. A favor. Favors are a big deal between gangs. You can call almost anything in. Need help against a rival gang? Call in a favor, and the other gang will send at least 50 of their best men to help out. Drug profits going down? Call in your favor and we'll send our best dealers to work their magic. Need to cross our territory with a shipment? When this normally gets the truck ransacked and rival members shot, call in a favor and we'll personally escort you through. One time a gang member got caught in bed with a rival gang member's wife. The bastard's leader called in his favor so no revenge would be taken and so the wife could move to the rival gang without repercussions. That's pretty fucked up.
Nathan thought it over for a total of two seconds before winking at me and sticking his hand back out.
"Really?" James' expression seemed to grow more amused as he shook Nate's hand. "She's that good?"
"Hasn't failed me yet," Nate drawled while throwing his arm around the back of my chair. "Now pick your victim."
"Pfft," I playfully punched Nathan in his side. "I'm not a predator, silly."
"You haven't seen the look in your eyes when you strut towards these guys, baby girl," Nathan raised his eyebrows. "You definitely look like you're cornering prey. Somehow it fucking turns them on."
James and Luca were looking around the restaurant, while Dylan sipped on his water. James was keeping his gaze on the same spot for awhile, so I turned around to see who he was looking at when he suddenly spoke.
"The waiter," James turned his gaze back to me with a knowing look while a smirk grew on his face.
"Our waiter?" Nathan asked.
"Yes, the blonde one standing by the water pitchers," James clarified.
I turned around to get a look and saw our waiter filling up empty pitchers with water. He looked between 20 and 22, so around my age since I'm 21. His hair was perfectly gelled with a styled curl above his right temple. He wore the standard waiter uniform at Tre Bellezze: black dress pants, white button down dress shirt, and designer black shoes. I hadn't paid much attention to him when he took our drink order and served our drinks awhile ago. Now I was noticing him glance at our table every few seconds while filling up the pitchers and thought this might be too easy.
So why did James look so smug when he picked him?
"I don't get it," Nathan sounded skeptical as well. "Why not pick more of a challenge? Someone Gracie will have to seek out? This guy will have to come over here and talk to her."
"I choose him," James stated with that infuriating smirk. "Not changing my mind."
"Alright," I sighed and started to mentally prepare my game. I'd worn my skinny black pants, a dressy green halter top that brings out my eyes, and a cream blazer to dinner. Nothing too fancy, but I took my hair out of it's french braid and slipped off my blazer to try and look a little more appealing.
"Damn," Luca cursed under his breath and stared at my chest. I must admit, the halter top might be showing just a little bit of side boob. Even Ryan kept glancing at it from my left side. A quick stomp on his toes with my heels stopped him, though.
"Well, I can definitely see where this distraction strategy comes from," Dylan said while appraising my body, before clearing his throat and taking a drink of water.
"We'll see," James crossed his arms, and I wanted to punch that smugass smirk straight off his face. I couldn't help but notice how his gaze kept slipping below my eyes as well, though.
I quickly gulped down the rest of my wine and set it in clear view between me and Nate. The game came pretty naturally to me and there's no way to really prepare for on-the-fly targets, so all I can really do is wing it once he comes over.
No more than twenty seconds later, the waiter walked quickly to our table and stopped between me and Nate. He plucked up my wine glass and slowly poured another glass while I did a slow appraisal of him. Starting at his shoes, I saw they were absolutely spotless and shined to perfection. Gucci. Pressed pants, simple black belt, plain white dress shirt, and colorful cufflinks. Looking up at his face from under my lashes, I saw him smiling politely down at me before glancing over my head.
Strange. From where he's standing and the angle I'm sitting, he has the perfect view down my shirt. So perfect he could probably see my panties through the gap in my breasts if the lighting was strong enough.
And he wasn't even trying to sneak a peek.
Either he has the strongest perseverance known to man, or he's….
"Are you ready to order dinner?" The waiter interrupted my thoughts and set my wine glass down. He pulled his notepad and pen out of his apron. He took another glance over my head and I used all of my willpower to not turn around and see who or what was at the table next to our left side.
"I'll have the chicken alfredo," James ordered while looking at me. His knowing look was really starting to drive me up the wall.
I tried to look unaffected and just raised an eyebrow back at him.
As everyone else ordered, I tried to figure out what was going on with our waiter. Looking at his nametag, I saw his name was Charlie. As Dylan ordered, Charlie moved over to stand between me and Ryan. As he moved closer, I snuck a glance to get a better look at his cufflinks. They looked to be diagonal stripes made up of rainbow colors. Not something I'd expect at an upscale Italian restaurant, but cute nonetheless.
As Charlie kept writing down orders, I noticed him taking more glances. But now I saw where he was looking.
Or rather, who he was looking at.
And it all made sense.
Charlie's pen froze mid-writing when Ryan put his napkin across his lap. The waiter's eyes were zoned in on Ryan's hands smoothing the napkin down on his thighs. It lasted barely longer than a second, then he began writing again. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, and I knew my play.
Moretti, you sly bastard.
After Dylan finished ordering, Ryan ordered a simple plate of spaghetti. Charlie, for his part, did a great job of not giving anything away by flirting. He spoke professionally and didn't spend any extra time on questions. He turned to me next, and I upped the wattage on a friendly smile.
I sneaked a glance at James, and he looked like a lion enjoying the view of a thousand antelope prancing around in his enclosure.
Predator, meet your prey.
"Hi!" I grinned at Charlie. "Sorry, I noticed right away and just can't help myself. I love your shoes! Gucci, right?"
Charlie paused for a moment, then beamed at me. "Thank you! Yes, they're pretty old but I do my best to keep them in shape." We both looked down and admired his shoes.
"Oh, they look to be in perfect condition to me," I admitted. "If I hadn't seen the style last year, I would've guessed they were in the line this fall. But I only know that because Ryan here has the same pair. Yours are in brown, right Ryan?"
I gestured at Ryan, whose blank face blinked back at me. Charlie turned towards him and his grin grew three sizes.
"Really?" He smiled at Ryan.
"Um, yeah," Ryan coughed and shuffled uncomfortably. I put my heel on his toes in warning, and I think he got the message. "Yeah, I uh...love them. Very comfortable and...stylish?"
"Yes, I have a tan pair, too!" Charlie continued to beam at Ryan with lovestruck eyes. He put his notepad and pen back in his half apron and pulled the ends of his slacks up. "I found these socks at Gucci recently, too. Really fine wool and a snug fit with the shoes."
Phase One Complete.
"Oh, Charlie! Do you like fashion shows? This might sound really odd, but I work for a magazine that covers runway shows, and I can tell you really appreciate style which is rare in this area. There's a show tonight in Manhattan that I'm covering and I've got some extra passes. So far Ryan and Nate here are joining me, but I've got a few more from my sisters who cancelled on me earlier today. I haven't found anyone to fill in," I told him.
"Really?" Charlie's eyes bugged out of his head and for a second I worried his heart stopped beating. "That would be...oh my gosh! That would be incredible!" He beamed back at Ryan.
"What magazine do you work for?" Charlie asked while bouncing on the balls of his feet. I felt slightly bad for lying to him, considering how excited he was getting.
"I work for NYC Girl. Here, let me give you some information," I turned around and began digging through my bag on the floor between me and Nate. "And you're more than welcome to meet up with us beforehand! We'll have to meet up at a coffee place or something, since my apartment kitchen is being redone and these two are staying in a hotel, but it'll be fine." I pulled a pen and blank business card out of my bag, and thankfully Charlie had moved over to stand between me and Nate. He still looked to be soaring on Cloud Nine.
"I'd love to!" He grinned and looked down at the card I was writing on, before looking back at Ryan. I definitely saw some longing in that look as he seemed to be thinking. "Actually...why don't you come over to my place? We can meet up there?" He offered and smiled at Ryan.
"Wow, Charlie!" I smiled. "That sounds great! Here's my number, just text me your address and we'll meet you at 7?"
"Perfect!" Charlie practically squealed. I handed over the card and turned back to my seat. Charlie held the card tightly and started skipping away, completely forgetting about my order.
The anticipation of looking at James had been killing me once I realized Charlie was gay and interested in Ryan, so I let the feeling bubble up in my stomach before I turned my gaze to him.
His face was completely void of expression.
No smile. No defeat. No glare.
But praise the Lord, no goddamn smirk!
I couldn't quell my own smirk from forming, but I quickly turned it towards Nate.
"Do the honors?" I asked him. He smirked right back at me and laid a notepad, three pens, a cell phone, two condoms, and an inhaler on the table.
"Condoms?" Ryan raised his eyebrows and shivered. "I feel even dirtier now, after he was looking at me like that."
I laughed and gave him a side hug. "Welcome to my world. Thanks for playing along, babe. You really sealed the deal there."
"Whatever," he grunted and slouched in his chair.
"When did you notice?" I heard James' deep voice question, still void of emotion.
"That I'd won?" I raised an eyebrow. "The second this became a challenge. That he was gay? Between the time he didn't immediately look down my shirt and when he kept making doe eyes at Ryan."
"Hmm," James kept his eyes trained into mine, before turning them to Nate. "Well, I guess I owe you a favor. Very impressive."
"Don't forget the five grand," Nate grinned back.
"I feel kind of bad about the inhaler," Blake chimed in from Nate's other side while picking up Charlie's inhaler. "Shouldn't we give this back?"
"I'll leave everything on the table when we leave," Nate said as he gathered everything and put them under the table.
The talk went back to business after that, and while I didn't pay as much attention, I felt a certain pair of grey eyes boring into my skull anytime I wasn't looking directly at him.
It was about ten minutes later when Charlie came back, looking decidedly sheepish. "I'm sorry, everyone. I seem to have misplaced my order pad, so I'll need to retake your orders. Please accept my sincerest apologies and know that you'll be receiving a sizeable discount and complimentary wine."
This night is turning out a lot better than I expected.
Five grand. A favor. Free wine.
And I'm still alive after insulting Luca Ferrazo to his face.
A/N: There you go! Unedited and not exactly thought out, but I wanted to throw a new story out here. :) I'll probably edit and clean up this Chapter before starting the next one, but it's a start! I've always wanted to do a gang/mafia/fighter type story.