“Eh, lemme in!”
Brianna jumped at the knock that rattled her dressing room and the harsh demand of a ballsy New York Italian man who wasn’t used to being kept waiting.
She slipped on her robe and jerked the door open to find Tony De Luca filling up the once empty space; tall, broad and muscular, he looked more than a little imposing in his black leather jacket and jeans.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be laying low while you’re at the theater. It looks weird for you to follow me every day,” Brianna snapped under her breath as she went back to the large, well-lit vanity. He walked in and closed the door while she worked on her stage makeup, doing her blush with more force than necessary. “Are you sure you swept it this morning?”
Tony just gave her a droll, annoyed look rather than answer as if the words leaving her mouth were a personal affront. Seeing as Tony was the Moretti Borgata’s current lead enforcer it probably wasan insult.
She stared at him through the mirror. “You’re not going to answer me?”
“No, I’m not.” Tony sat on the vanity next to her, completely oblivious to personal space.
Since it was decided Brianna should go back to work rather than raise suspicion while the Moretti civil war kept silently brewing, Tony had been constantly underfoot.
Because Tony was a Lost Boy first, and enforcer second.
Nova decided he trusted Tony, bringing him into their small circle of rebels, and Brianna understood the inner workings of Cosa Nostra well enough to know Tony’s assignment wasn’t an option.
Not when it was coming down from the boss.
So she tried not to complain—too much.
“You don’t think it looks strange that you’ve come with me to the last eight shows?” she asked. “Everyone’s getting suspicious.”
“No one’s getting suspicious.”
Tony reached over and picked up one of her eyeliner pencils. Then he leaned in and actually started to apply it, drawing one simple, straight line under his left eye.
Brianna stopped working on her blush and just watched, because there was something about the way it looked on him that was captivating. He had long, thick eyelashes and the black eyeliner made his eyes appear even more compelling as he started on the other one.
She worked in theater. She saw makeup on men all the time, but Tony made it look phenomenally good. Sexy. Like the eighties, glam rock stars, if they were six foot-three and over two-hundred and twenty pounds of pure muscle rather than thin and strung out on drugs.
He was one of those men that could literally wear glitter and eye shadow and have women throw themselves at his feet. Not her, but others. Brianna’s heart was stolen a long time ago by a different enforcer. She loved Tino with everything in her, but she was an artist, and while she wasn’t attracted to Tony, she couldn’t help but appreciate his appeal.
Tony set the pencil down and sorted through her supplies until he found her hair gel. He started slicking his hair back, so that it showed off his enhanced eyes, so dark and mysterious, making him seem almost hauntingly beautiful.
“What?” he asked as he looked at her in the mirror, like it was all very normal for a mafia enforcer to be using her make-up.
“What are you doing?” she mumbled, still staring at him under the bright lights. “God, that looks amazing. You should be on stage.”
“I have been on stage. I spent most of my teen years on one,” he said dismissively, and went back to playing with her make-up. “You don’t have any clear mascara?”
“I don’t have eyelashes that are three miles long. Clear doesn’t work for me,” she complained, because it really wasn’t fair and then she had to add, “And that wasn’t the stage I was talking about, Tony.”
“Oh, what?” He let out a bitter laugh. “You don’t think it’s a genuine stage. It’s not a true performance to you? Everyone was into it. So, what’s the difference?”
“The stage you were on wasn’t a nice stage and I know you understand that.” she pointed out, which made her a bitch, but Tony did this a lot. He brought up his past as a former slave in the underground sex market to make her uncomfortable. She refused to play along, because doing so felt like an insult to what he and so many others had endured. “And I get paid for what I do.”
“Ouch,” Tony said in a sardonic voice, making it obvious he couldn’t care less. “Twenty bucks says I’m a better actor than you. Let’s test it.”
She would’ve answered, but another knock sounded on the door. She left Tony there, using just enough clear lip-gloss to make his lips look slick, which like the eyeliner, worked almost too well. He had lips like Tino, a little fuller, a little more sensual somehow, and something about them always left her unnerved.
She wanted to tell him to stop with the lips. It bothered her to see him enhancing them like that, as if someone taught him to do it. Instead she saw him raise his eyebrows in the mirror, and say, “Cherry. You naughty girl.”
“Stop it!” she snapped at him as she opened the door, because Tino used to call her a naughty girl all the time and it never occurred to her Tino might have picked it up somewhere else. Everything about this past week was putting her on edge especially since she didn’t know where Tino disappeared to and her entire life was shredded at her feet. She’d just been playing at normalcy since she got back and claimed injury over missing work. It hadn’t been hard to do, because she still had the bruises her husband left her with. “Stop messing with my makeup! You know I’m stressed and—”
Brianna’s breath caught when she turned back to see the two police officers at her door. Somehow, Tony had distracted her to the point that she’d missed them. Which was pretty amazing, because she was raised to fear the government above all things.
“Yes,” she whispered.
She turned back to Tony on instinct, expecting him to do his enforcer thing and make the danger go away. He just raised surprised eyebrows again, looking like a rock star ready for a cover shoot. He slipped the lip-gloss back into the makeup caddy and asked, “What’s going on?”
“And you are?” one of the officers asked.
“One of her best friends.”
Brianna frowned at Tony, first because while she knew him, and she was currently staying in his apartment, she wouldn’t consider him a friend. Let alone a best friend, but more than that…he sounded so sassy. Polar opposite from the intimidating, intense enforcer she’d been staying with.
It hit her like a ton of bricks.
He’d seen the cops get here.
He was blending, making himself have a purpose in her Broadway dressing room rather than leave her alone to face questioning.
Maybe they were friends.
Or maybe his loyalty to Nova extended much farther than she anticipated, and he was there to make sure she behaved. She was really hoping they were friends though because cops made her nervous. It wasn’t the FBI, but it was enough to steal her breath with a rush of blinding fear.
If only Tony’s last name was Moretti instead of De Luca.
She’d feel a little safer.
Brianna was raised to automatically distrust other borgatas, even Sicilian borgatas like the De Lucas, but the truth was her own borgata had turned against her. It’d turned against all of them, even if they were currently pretending it hadn’t.
Carina was in Kentucky.
Tino had disappeared.
There was no one left to truly trust, except Nova.
Perhaps Chuito and Alaine, because Tino trusted them.
But it was Tony De Luca who was here now, so she knew she’d have to work with it as she opened the door farther.
“Please come in. Is there an issue?” She gave the police officers a wide-eyed look of innocence she imagined young women who hadn’t been raised inside Cosa Nostra would give them. She tried to look at them as help rather than possible attackers. “Has something happened?”
“Perhaps you should sit down, Mrs. Brennan.” One of the police officers gestured to the couch in the dressing room.
“It’s Ms. Darcy,” she corrected, because she’d used the excuse of her stage career to keep her maiden name. Everything legal had Darcy on it, so she had to ask, “How’d you know my husband’s name was Brennan?”
“Your husband was involved in an accident.”
She sat numbly on the couch, and Tony sat by her, like the good best friend he was supposed to be. He wrapped one muscular arm around her shoulder and pulled her tightly into the curve of his body.
“He had a flat tire,” the officer went on. “He was changing it when the jack gave out and the car came down on him.”
“I don’t understand,” she mumbled, not feigning her shock. It was completely genuine. David wouldn’t know how to jack up a car if his life depended on it. He had road side assistance for a reason. There was no way on earth David would try to change a tire by himself. “What are you saying?”
“He was in a rural area. By the time someone spotted him—” The police officer shook his head. “It was just a very tragic accident and I’m truly sorry.”
“Oh wow,” Tony whispered next to her, though Brianna thought she heard that hint of bitter sarcasm, like the rest of them were too naive to share the same air with him. Then he squeezed her arm again and whispered, “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t understand,” she said again. It wasn’t that her husband had died. She expected David to end up dead the moment Tino disappeared with the knowledge that David tried to kill her, but not like this. “Is he—” She looked to Tony in confusion. “What?”
“I think they’re saying he’s gone, sweetheart.” Tony sounded nothing but compassionate.
Brianna let out a sob, and it was mostly honest. She’d been so stressed. Every moment since she got back to New York had her on edge. Tino told her before he left that he was breaking bad from the borgata, and anyone who lived through the first war knew what happened when an enforcer got pushed too far.
She anticipated bullets and bloody surprise attacks. The FBI questioning each move she made since she got back and digging into her every affiliation.
A flat tire and a broken car jack?
She was shaking as she cried. Finally, she leaned down to place her forehead against her knees when she realized they were tears of relief. She wanted to hide the way the next great sob was for Tino. That he was still much more together than they gave him credit for when he disappeared in the name of revenge. The posttraumatic stress made them doubt him…all of them.
“They were having problems,” Tony explained, sounding crushed. “She’s been staying with me, but I think she was hoping they could work it out.”
Brianna kept her face pressed against her knees, crying her secret tears for Tino while the police officers gave Tony the card to the coroner’s office.
Someone in the theater called her a car when the news spread like wildfire. Tony stayed in her dressing room as she pulled off her robe and put on her street clothes. Then the two of them walked out the back of the theater, wearing sunglasses despite the sunset streaming hues of pink and purple across the late November sky.
Tony gave the driver his address, and Brianna swiped at her eyes, seeing the black mascara on her fingers. She was still staring at them, feeling the stain like blood, when Tony dropped a twenty-dollar bill on her thigh in a casual gesture the driver didn’t see.
She stared down at it, remembering the bet he made with her before the cops showed. Twenty bucks on who was the better actor. Tony was looking out the window rather than acknowledge it, then he scrubbed at his mouth so furiously Brianna thought she saw him almost gag. Like everything in him had been waiting until that moment to do it, making it obvious he did not like the lip-gloss.
“Keep it,” she whispered
He took the twenty dollars back, like even he couldn’t deny how much it took for that act. Then he used it to tip the driver, tossing the bill at the man like it was burning his fingers.
He wrapped an arm around Brianna and said, “We’ll call it even.”
Tony lived in the same building as Tino’s brother Nova Moretti, who was the current Capo Bastone of the Moretti crime family. That could change, since it was obvious Nova’s grandfather, the don, wanted him dead. Like Brianna, Nova was still doing his job and pretending not to know what was about to go down.
There was another empty place downstairs since Romeo, Tino’s eldest brother, had owned an apartment in the building too, but hadn’t been back to New York since he got married and settled in Kentucky. So Chuito and Alaine had been staying in the extra one.
Now they were all set up waiting for war, together in the high security building… A luxury, high-rise in Harlem that Brianna found out Nova actually owned.
Brianna had gotten to the point that she really didn’t want to know what Nova was worth, not that any of them would have the ability to gauge. There was so much, it was impossible.
They took the elevator to Nova’s penthouse, even though Brianna would rather be alone. That was the one thing about staying with Tony. He was great at giving her space. He didn’t blare the television or rattle around his apartment like her best friend Carina would.
Tony didn’t need to talk or have company.
He was just quiet.
In that respect, he was a different enforcer than Tino.
Tino’s cover was the noise. The chaos. People didn’t see Tino for who he was, because he had this fun, outgoing personality that covered all sorts of sins. He told jokes. He danced. He made himself obvious wherever he went so no one would notice that he was hiding out in the open. The jokes were Tino’s camouflage.
Tony was invisible instead.
He made himself easy to dismiss, which was no small feat, considering how tall and powerfully built he was and more so, how absolutely gorgeous. Yet, Brianna had been watching him. Even Chuito and Alaine, who had been stuck with him almost as much as she had, didn’t seem to really seeTony.
Brianna saw him.
There were too many scars like Tino’s, ones she spent years trying to heal. She failed miserably with most, but she couldn’t seem to stop seeing them, to stop trying, even if Tino was gone and Tony was stuck in his place as her mockup best friend. Maybe that’s why Tony tended to say the things he did to her. She left him feeling exposed when his defense was being hidden until he was ready to be seen.
They probably weren’t the best set of roommates for their misfit crew, but it was either Tony or Nova, since Chuito and Alaine were newlyweds and there were only three safe apartments in the building. Choosing Tony was a no-brainer. No matter how much attitude he had Tony was still light-years easier than Tino’s brother.
There was just way too much baggage with Nova.
Too much pain…for both of them.
The memories were still so vivid for Brianna, and she couldn’t imagine what it was like for Nova. The posttraumatic stress was enough to do either of them in individually, combined it was a potential disaster they couldn’t afford. They needed buffers from it and from each other.
She was better off with Tony.
Nova’s penthouse didn’t require a key. It had a code access. Tony typed the long code into the pad, and when he opened the door a quick, sharp, alarm blared inside.
“What happened?” Nova barked, appearing sweaty and shirtless at the door, showing off his tattoos that were unique on a Sicilian gangster. It made him look very different without his usual three-piece suit. He wore only karate pants, making it obvious he’d been practicing when they got there. His breathlessness was clearly more panic than exhaustion as he looked to Brianna, who was supposed to be on stage in an hour. “Cazzo.”
Brianna used the excuse of closing the door to look away.
“Heat showed up at the theater.” Tony took off his sunglasses. “Her husband had an accident.”
“What sorta accident?” Nova’s voice was a rasp of fear. “Did they question you? Were there feds? Did they ask you about Tino?”
They were all honest questions, since Brianna’s tie to the Moretti Borgata was well known. There were a dozen articles on the internet about it, most speculating that Brianna’s connections helped further her career. It used to make her mad, but now she was starting to wonder if they were true, especially knowing Nova was the one who got her all that scholarship money in college.
Brianna took off her sunglasses rather than answer him, stalling for time. She wiped under her eyes, knowing her stage make-up was probably a disaster.
“It was the jack her husband used on his car.” Tony clearly grew tired of waiting for Brianna. “He got a flat tire and it gave out. Car came down on him.”
“A jack?” Tino’s best friend Chuito questioned as he walked up, also sweaty and shirtless, wearing MMA shorts, and showing off his tattoos like Nova. It was obvious Chuito had been training with Nova to work off stress. “Really?”
“Is he dead?” Nova asked, though it was obvious.
“Yes,” Brianna whispered. “They gave me a card for the coroner and—”
“Give it to me.” Nova held out his hand.
Brianna pulled it out of her pocket and handed it to Nova without question, because she knew that was one of the benefits of being in a Borgata. Things like that were usually taken care of. The mafia was very experienced at planning funerals and the organization usually handled all those unpleasant details when someone in the Borgata lost a family member.
Nova was still Capo Bastone, second man in charge, and easily the one who would at least take the card and make sure things got done. They were all stuck in this game of pretending none of them knew the organization likely wanted them dead. The don still called Nova twenty times a day as if everything was business as usual and Nova still answered like he was excited to do his bidding.
The Moretti Borgata handling the funeral wasn’t unusual.
Brianna wiped at her eyes again. “I should notify his parents. His brother.”
“Carina’s an appropriate person to do that. She’s your best friend and you’re too distraught. I’ll call her.” Nova looked at the card rather than meet her gaze. “But I don’t want her to come back for the funeral. That’s just another target to worry about and the complication of her with the don, it’s too much. The don’s buying her fresh air story about Kentucky. She’s flighty enough that an unexpected trip to Garnet makes sense and the don doesn’t know Tino’s not there. It’s a double alibi, completely by accident, but that’s usually how the two of them do it. Let’s stick with it instead of tempt fate.” Nova headed towards his bedroom, looking dazed, but then turned around to stare at Brianna. “I understand this is difficult for you for a lot of reasons. My condolences. I’m sorry.”
“Thank you,” she said numbly as Nova walked away.
“The cops believed it was an accident?” Chuito asked once Nova was gone.
“Yeah.” Tony sounded shocked too. “Said it was in a rural area. By the time they found him—”
“Wow.” Chuito raised his eyebrows and looked to Brianna. “Am I supposed to say sorry too?”
Brianna shrugged. “You don’t have to.”
“Okay.” Chuito nodded. “I’m gonna go. Alaine’s studying for the bar, and I—” He pointed to the door behind Brianna. “I’m just gonna go.” He walked past them, but then stopped and looked back at Tony. “Are you wearing make-up?”
“Yes.” Tony sounded unapologetic about it.
Chuito looked at him, as if waiting for more of an explanation, but Tony obviously had nothing else to say, so Chuito just frowned at him and said, “Whatever, bro.”
When he left, Tony looked at the closed door, raising his eyebrows with a snort of disbelief, making it obvious the death of Brianna’s husband was easy to forget for a seasoned enforcer.
“How gay is that MMA shit?” Tony asked her. “He’s wearing those shorts and worried about my eyeliner. For real, bro?”
Brianna looked back at Tony, who was still looking too sexy to be human with those dark eyes enhanced to make him seem even more beautiful. In a lot of ways, he reminded her of Tino, not the make-up, but the raw sexuality that came from such a dark place.
She sighed and whispered, “My life is so fucked up.”
“I hope you don’t expect me to say sorry he’s dead.” Tony sounded disgusted. “Is that why you’re looking at me like that? You want me to say sorry the motherfucker who tried to kill you is dead? You want me to say sorry Tino squished him like a bug under his own car?”
“Okay.” Brianna needed a break from Tony and his bitterness, even if it was horribly warranted. “I’m staying up here for a little while.”
Turned out Nova wasthe better choice for the time being.
Tony let her, because he was good at fading into the background and not forcing his opinions. Brianna found Nova in the bedroom sitting on the edge of his king-sized bed. The view of the city was breathtaking behind him, but he didn’t seem to notice or care.
He just stared at the television, watching the local news.
Nova surprised her by moving over and making room for Brianna to sit next to him. The setting was different, missing the musty smell from hiding in basements, but it still felt the same. No matter what the backdrop, war was horrible, the waiting most of all, but the others didn’t understand that.
It was just all too similar, eerily so.
“History has patterns. There’s always a pattern,” Nova whispered over the drone of the weather report that announced snow for Thanksgiving. “But I guess some things can’t be changed. Delayed, not prevented. He loves you too much.”
“Yeah, he does,” she agreed, because her husband was laying cold and dead in a morgue because of it. “But, a car jack? That’s not the same.”
“Nope,” Nova agreed, gaze still on the television.
“It’s not like there’s mafia carnage raining down on the city,” Brianna went on, desperate for a silver lining. “It was revenge, but it was sensible revenge.”
“I know.” Nova didn’t sound comforted by it. “But if Tino’s crushing motherfuckers under cars for touching you, can you imagine what would’ve happened if that cretino you married had actually killed you? It wouldn’t be the same as last time…it’d be worse.”