Chapter Eleven

Manhattan, New York

July 2nd, 2010

 

Brianna had been sleeping extra hard over the last few weeks. She was practicing full time for a performance at school. She had a lead, which meant it was hours and hours of work. She ached in ways she hadn’t since middle school and when she finally fell into bed, she passed out and slept like the dead. 

Which was why it took her a long time to be forcibly pulled out of the hazy fog of sleep as someone kissed her left foot and caressed her bare calf. Tino was out of state working, and she wasn’t expecting him home until sometime midweek. 

She didn’t fully notice he was with her until she felt his lips against the back of her neck. His rough hands ran down to the curve of her waist, and he pulled the blanket off her. Then he slipped a hand between her bare thighs.

“Naked,” Tino whispered against her ear. “Naughty girl.”

She smiled and buried her face into her pillow as Tino pressed against her bare back. He still wore a shirt and jeans. His hair was wet against her neck as he licked her shoulder. That should’ve been her first warning, but she was more than a little distracted by the tightening coil of need as he rubbed her clit, making her wet way too easily. 

He kept kissing her neck, and Brianna reached back, grabbing his wet hair and held him there. She shifted against him, quivering and fighting for release past the heaviness of sleep. 

“Sei bellissima.” He moaned and stopped caressing her clit to run his fingers between her folds teasingly, leaving her right on the edge. “So wet for me.” He traced the lines of her pussy, making her shift under him impatiently to the point that he laughed. “You wanna beg me for it?”

“Stop being a tease,” she panted, because he was terrible when he wanted to be. He could leave her sweaty and begging for hours. “’M’ sleepy. Please.”

“No, tell me how much you want it first.” He bit her shoulder, almost a little too rough, but she was more focused on the pleasure and he obviously knew it. “I think I need to hear you beg for it.”

“Oh my God.” She tugged his hair harder. “Tino, no—” She gasped when he pushed one finger in deep, making her arch into the thrust of it. She let go of his hair to grab at the sheets. “Jesus.”

“I’m mean tonight,” he confessed it like a crime, and laved his tongue over the wound on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

She missed the other warning signs, but that one was neon, like a red flag safe word and a cry for help all tied up in one. Her body went soft and submissive almost on its own accord, because this wasn’t the first time she had Tino crawl into her bed, hair still wet from a shower like he wanted to wash away his sins before he touched her. 

She spread her legs, letting him tease her rather than get her off, and asked in a gentle, but clear voice, “Tino, who am I?”

He didn’t answer her. Instead he pushed a second finger in deep, stretching her, making it ache so good she almost forgot. She tilted her head on the pillow and moaned, closing her eyes at the surge of pleasure, but still she fought to cling to sanity. Not for herself. She never minded it mean like he thought she should, but the fallout was always so difficult. 

“I want you to say my name.” Brianna bit her lip to keep herself level, to fight against the ecstasy that wanted to rise up and consume her. “Say it. I need you to say it.” If only he wasn’t so damn good at making her stop thinking, especially like this. Tino thought he was being mean, but that’s not exactly what she’d call it. Raw, maybe. Savage, most certainly. Unguarded and exposed, without a doubt and she never wanted him to be exposed in a way that made him upset the next day, so she panted and snapped, “Tino! Say it!”

“Mine. That’s what we’ll call you,” he breathed against her ear. “You’re mine tonight.” He kept finger fucking her, but then he started doing it in a way that made the ache almost too intense as he said, “Aren’t you?” 

She didn’t say anything, she was too caught up with everything to try. 

Tino fisted her hair with his other hand and growled, “Admit you’re mine.”

“I’m yours.” She gave up and let herself come instead. The ecstasy crashed into her and all she did was moan. “Oh God.”

She wasn’t sure why it always hit her a little harder like this, stealing her breath as the pleasure washed over her in wave after wave, leaving even her fingers and toes tingling. Maybe it was the extra edge of danger Tino exuded on the mean nights, like the rush from a rollercoaster, she was almost dizzy from the high of it. 

It left her weak in the aftermath, lazy and dazed as the glare of city lights glimmered in from her window, making her realize it was sometime past midnight, but nowhere near sunrise. 

Distantly, she heard the clank of a gun hitting her nightstand. Then Tino was pulling his shirt off, and kicking aside his jeans before he was back over her. His bare skin was warm against hers, comforting. Still, she knew better than to turn over and coddle him, to run her fingers through his hair and hold him while he fucked her slow, savoring having him in her arms as the pleasure built.

That was for another a night. 

Tonight he took her hard from behind, with his fingers tight in her hair and his grip bruising on her hip. Still so sensitive from the first orgasm, the pleasure was white-hot, and she cried out despite the fact that she had a roommate who probably wouldn’t appreciate it. 

She wanted to hide, to bury her face in the pillow and muffle how intensely he could drag the bliss out of her on his bad nights. There was a part of her that didn’t want it to feel so fucking good, not like this, when she wasn’t even totally certain he knew it was her. 

She couldn’t hide, not with his tight hold on her hair, so she grabbed the headboard, fisting it with white-knuckled determination. When he pulled out and pushed back in, making a second cry of pleasure burst out of her, Brianna still managed to suck in a hard breath and say, “Say my name, Tino. Say it. Please.”

He thrust in her again. 

And again. 

Claiming her. 

Making it so very good, and leaving her chanting, “Please. Please. Please,” as the headboard thumped against the wall until she finally climaxed again. 

Even if she didn’t want to. 

Even if she was shattering all the rules by doing it. 

And she dragged Tino down with her, until he was moaning against her neck and saying in her hair, “God, sweetheart.”

She squeezed her eyes shut tighter, because she knew then he didn’t know it was her. Not really. Not in that moment. He called other women sweetheart, but it wasn’t something he used romantically with her. Tonight she was a figment of Brianna, a fantasy Tino used for so long to protect himself. It didn’t happen often, but sometimes she lost him to the past. 

Life hurt him too badly, and he slipped through her fingers. 

Temporarily.

It was always temporary, she reminded herself, as she rolled over once the wave of bliss ebbed away and left them sweaty and sticky in the aftermath. Knowing now she could be anything and it really didn’t matter, she whispered, “I like to hold you, Tino.”

Tino fell over her and rested his face between her tits. Brianna wrapped her arms around him and caressed his wet hair while he worked on catching his breath. 

She stared at the ceiling, feeling angrier than she wanted in that moment. 

Not at Tino. Never ever at Tino, but she was still so very angry at the combined efforts of Cosa Nostra that did this to him. 

“You’re my favorite,” Tino said into the darkness as he ran his fingers up from the curve of her sides to the edge of her right breast. He circled her nipple, making it tighten for him. “You really are beautiful.”

She sighed and held him closer. “Thank you.”

He caressed her hair next, fingering it before he confessed not for the first time, “Redheads are my favorite flavor.”

She smiled, feeling the tears sting her eyes. “Then lucky me.”

“Don’t tell anyone though,” he added.

“I won’t.” She kept stroking his wet hair, pushing it away from his face. “It’ll be our secret.”

He let her hold him for a few minutes, though she understood it was mostly because she asked. She could feel the energy in him still humming under the surface, and she wasn’t surprised when he asked, “Can I use your shower?”

“Yeah, sure.” She let him go even if everything in her wanted to keep him close. When he slipped out of bed she suggested, “Why don’t you stay the night?” He hesitated, his dark eyes unnaturally bright as he stood there naked in front of her, so she pressed, “It’s what I want, Tino. You don’t have anywhere else to be. You can stay with me.”

He shifted and looked to the bathroom. “Okay.”

“Okay,” she agreed. “Go take your shower.”

He left like he couldn’t get away fast enough and she wondered if that’s what he used to do with his real clients. Years ago, when he was a slave to others needs instead of a slave to his gun and the bidding of the mafia. Surely, those women noticed how desperately he needed to wash the sex off himself. 

Though, she suspected none of them did. 

Likely none of them cared enough to notice. 

Brianna used a towel to clean up rather than get in the shower with him. She tied on her robe and opened her door. The smell of cigarette smoke hit her when she walked into the living room. She found Carina sitting on the couch, looking out at the five-million-dollar mid-town view her family’s dirty money afforded her. 

“He never said your name,” Carina whispered into the darkness.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to hear that.” Brianna felt her cheeks heat. “He’s just having a bad night and—”

“How high is he?” Carina cut her off. 

Brianna pulled her robe closed tighter and looked back to her bedroom. 

“Brianna!” Carina shouted at her. 

“Very high,” Brianna answered, feeling like she was betraying Tino on a soul deep level. “He’s completely wired.” 

Brianna felt like her entire face was on fire. She was mortified by the horrible feeling of selling out Tino. In their world, being a nark was the gravest of sins.

“Do you think it’s coke?” Carina asked. 

“I dunno.” Brianna shrugged, and gave her a look of annoyance. “How would I know?”

“You said you’d ask him after the last time!” 

“I tried, but it upsets him when I bring it up. He’s private about it.” Brianna could hear the whiny desperation in her own voice. “We both know it’s coke. Why do I have to embarrass him? And it’s only sometimes.”

“Coke is an extremely addictive drug. Only sometimes is gonna turn into all the time, I promise you,” Carina said with grim assurance. 

“Is it his worst problem, Carina?” Brianna threw up her hands. “Is it really his biggest issue in life? Why don’t you tell your nonno to pick a different job for him, then I’ll give him shit about the coke. You want to know when it happens? When he’s gone for three days doing whatever the fuck he has to do for the borgata. It’s always after the long jobs that I lose him. So if you’d like to go in there and give him shit about it, be my guest, ‘cause I’m not doing it.”

Brianna left Carina there and walked into the kitchen. She had tea she bought from a healer in Chinatown. The man behind the counter told her it was calming, but wouldn’t interact with street drugs. She wasn’t real sure why she was taking medical advice from a shop owner in Chinatown, but she had been desperate for something to help him on nights like this. 

Thus far it didn’t seem to hurt him. 

She wasn’t so sure it helped either. 

So she stood there silently making tea while Carina disappeared into her bedroom. Brianna was steeping the leaves with the metal diffuser when Carina reappeared. 

It wasn’t until Brianna heard a strange, thump, thump, thump behind her that she turned around and acknowledged Carina’s presence in the kitchen because she was still angry with her. Brianna wasn’t even sure why she was angry with her. It’s not like Tino’s reality was his sister’s fault, but at that moment Carina represented the borgata in Brianna’s mind and it was enough. 

She frowned as she watched Carina work on crushing a pill against a bowl, using a spoon and a lot of repressed anger. It was amazing Carina wasn’t breaking that bowl with the amount of abuse she was leveling at it. 

“What’re you doing?”

“They’re benzos. I stole them outta my mother’s medicine cabinet. She has bottles and bottles of them. She must be hording them for the apocalypse.” Carina’s scrunched her face up as she worked on pressing that spoon against the edge of the bowl as hard as she could, completely pulverizing the pill. “Gimme the tea cup.”

“You wanna give him more drugs?” Brianna asked in disbelief. She lifted the teacup to her chest, holding onto it protectively despite spilling some on her robe. “No.”

“They’re downers. They’ll help him come down. That’s what they do.”

Brianna shook her head. “Time fixes it. I’m not drugging him.”

Carina dropped her head back and rubbed a hand over her face. “Bri, it’s a thing. Everyone takes benzos after coke.”

“Not everyone,” Brianna assured her. “Obviously.”

“You want him to have a heart attack?” Carina held up her hands. “If he’s so wired he doesn’t recognize you, he needs to come down. He’s been gone for three days on this job. Do you know how long he’s been strung out? It could be the entire time. This is gonna help him sleep. That’s it.”

Brianna clutched her cup, looking at the little pile of white powder in the bowl that had once been a pill, and felt herself relenting. Sort of like taking advice from a shop owner in Chinatown, this felt like an act of desperation. A gamble Brianna didn’t want to have to make with Tino’s health. 

Fortunately, Tino was one of those people who could do just about anything to his body and show no wear and tear. He could eat whatever he wanted and never gain weight. Get drunk or high and wake up the next morning like hangovers didn’t exist in his world. All the Morettis had constitutions like that. It made them seem almost inhuman, like God knew they’d have to have far thicker skin than a normal person to survive the life they were cursed with.  

Anyone else, and Brianna wouldn’t do it, but Tino could bounce back from just about anything. She handed the cup to Carina, watching as she put the crushed pill in and stirred the tea. 

It took Tino a long time to get out of the shower. Brianna waited and gave him space instead of follow him in. She heard Carina go to bed rather than stay up. The shower water must’ve turned icy long ago and the tea was cold by the time Tino got out with a towel wrapped around his waist. 

Brianna picked up the tea off the nightstand and held it up. “I made this for you.”

Tino took it and looked at it. There was a scowl etched in his forehead that said he really didn’t want to drink it.

Brianna was flushed and sweating from the nerves. Giving Tino a strange herbal tea, crushed up prescription drugs from Carina’s mother’s medicine cabinet, and mixing it all with whatever had Tino practically vibrating where he stood made her feel like she was the one who was going to drop dead from a heart attack. 

Tino drank it rather than complain, which told her he was still not really in the room with her, because usually he was picky. He would’ve asked for coffee instead of tea like he had the last time she made it for him. He would’ve definitely asked for sugar if he did agree to the tea. This time he just gulped it down and set the cup on the nightstand. 

Brianna untied her robe when she saw him look to his clothes on the ground like he was going to try and leave. She knew he wanted to head home to his brothers, high as hell, which would cause even more problems. 

She suspected there was a very real reason why Tino always landed in her bed when he lost touch with reality. It was a safe place, one where it was okay for him to be fractured and vulnerable in a way it wasn’t when he was around Romeo and Nova. 

A part of him knew he was okay here. 

Brianna needed him to have that, even if her heartbeat was thundering as she slipped out of her robe and tossed it to the ground. Tino raised his eyebrows as he stared at her naked body. Then he got into bed with her like she knew he would. She opened herself up to him, thighs spread, arms wide. He crawled to her, and sucked one pert, pink nipple into his mouth. He laved his tongue over it one last time, before he sucked on the other one. 

Brianna fell against the pillows she had stacked against the headboard as she sat up in bed waiting for him. She let him kiss and lick her skin until he was nipping at her hipbone and pushing her thighs apart wider. 

She wasn’t in the mood—not even a little. 

The heart attack bomb Carina dropped was scaring Brianna to death, so she said, “Tino, no.”

The last thing they needed was for him to do anything that made his heart beat faster.

“I’ll make it good.” He licked the small Omertà tattoo at her bikini line. “Very good.”

“I know,” she said, because she did. “But, I’m sticky. I need a shower after the last time and—”

“I don’t care about that.” He pushed at her thigh again, trying to force Brianna to slide down the stack of pillows and be more available to him. “Make me be dirty for you.”

“No, I don’t want to make you dirty tonight. I want to hold you instead.” She fisted his hair, forcing his head against her thigh. “Like this. Lemme touch you and hold you. That’s what I want.”

Brianna stroked his hair once more, feeling that drug powered adrenaline humming under the surface like a raging inferno. Tino pulsed with pure, high-octane male energy when he wasn’t high. Brianna let Tino touch her while she waited for him to come down. She had to give him that indulgence or she would’ve never kept him pinned down, even with the sickening indoctrination from being a victim of sex trafficking that left him more inclined to cater to others needs instead of his own. 

He rubbed his fingers over the line of her pussy, teasing her, likely trying to get Brianna to give in and have his way with her because he wasn’t used to her denying him. When Tino tried to taste her, spreading her and making her stomach muscles clench in anticipation, she fisted his hair and pulled him back so that his head was resting against her thigh instead. They lay there for a long time, both of them high strung for very different reasons. She caressed him too. Brianna traced the scars on his back, feeling them like hundreds of tiny threads of pain. She used it as an anchor when the small voice in the back of her mind told her this relationship had skated past healthy before it even started and was well into completely fucked up after two years in. 

It didn’t matter, because this was Tino. 

They were allowed to be fucked up as long as they were together. 

Then Tino’s touch got a little softer, running up the long line of her other leg, from her ankle to her hip in a gentle, lover’s caress. It was similar to the way she touched his back, like he was memorizing something, looking for an anchor. Then he palmed her ass, and whispered into the early morning darkness, “You have nice glutes.”

“Thanks.” She smiled. “I think I’ve heard that somewhere before.”

“You have nice legs too.” Tino used his hold on her ass to pull her tighter against him. “Sexy dancer legs.”

“You like dancers?”

“Yeah.” He lifted his head on her thigh, giving her one of those dazzling bright Tino smiles that could steal her breath without warning. “I like this dancer.” He kissed her Omertà tattoo, and then rubbed his thumb over it, staring at it in the semi-darkness. “Only this one. You’re my dancer, aren’t you? Amore mio. My baby. My Bri. I feel good. It has to be you doing it. You make me feel good.”

“It’s probably not me,” she argued, but refrained from saying it was likely whatever Carina crushed up and put in his tea. Mostly, she was just glad to have him back. Even if she had to buy the clarity with more drugs, Tino saw her again. He knew it was Brianna loving him. “I’m pretty sure it’s something else.”

“No, it’s you. I know it’s you. Bad night.” He groaned and pressed his face into the crease of her thigh like he’d never left to begin with. “Jesus, Nova’s been planting all sorts of ideas in Carlo’s mind about bullets and evidence. Paranoid motherfucker. There’s just not enough fucking blow.”

So it was cocaine he was buzzing on. 

Brianna was silent for a moment, realizing that whatever Carina put in his tea was also loosening his tongue. His words were a little slurred, obviously hazed by a unique combination of drugs that were the unexpected key to a vault Tino kept locked down tighter than Federal Reserve, a key that should probably have stayed hidden.

Brianna was just going to ignore the comment about the bullets. 

“Bad night,” he whispered again. “Eat a bullet kinda bad night.”

“Tino,” she snapped when those words hit her like a knife in the heart. “You—”

He put his fingers over her lips before she could lecture him and said, “Suck them.”

“Fuck you, suck them. You’re not supposed to eversay shit like that.” She shoved his hand away. “You promised you’d come to me if you were thinking about it.”

“I’m here,” he reminded her. “And I feel good. You heal me.”

“Carina put something in your tea,” Brianna admitted, though she wasn’t positive he’d remember the confession. “Benzos. Whatever the hell that means.”

“No shit?” Tino rolled over, his head still on her thigh as he looked up at the ceiling. “She must’ve stolen them for her mother. Mary eats benzos like fucking candy and now we know why. Minchia, they mix nice with blow.”

Brianna’s body got tense at the mention of Mary, the woman who brainwashed this beautiful man in her arms and set into action a series of horrible events that forced Tino into being a hitman if he wanted to be or not. 

“I gotta get Dr. Acciai to write me a script for Valium,” Tino mused to himself.

Oh.

That’s what benzos were. 

If anyone deserved Valium, it was probably Tino, but still she had to say, “Probably a bad idea.”

“Why?”

“You were just telling me about bullets. You shouldn’t take anything that lets you do that. What if it was someone else besides me?”

“Oh fuck, I told you about that. I’m sorry, baby.” Tino stared at her, his dark eyes wide. “Cazzo, those fucking Russians, so hard to kill,” he mumbled, looking back to the ceiling again. “It’s not like you can just take a knife to them. You gotta shoot ‘em from a distance and hide the evidence. Fucking evidence. I hate the bravata. Dunno why the don keeps getting in these pissing contests with them. Goddamn bullets. I’m making Nova cut the next set out.”

Brianna gagged when she realized what he meant. 

She closed her eyes, trying to fight the image that one statement created. And she fought doubly hard not to think about the hands caressing her bare skin cutting bullets out of dead bodies, but it was impossible. 

“You should definitely skip Valium,” she said with grim certainty. “Never take it again.”

Tino just hummed in agreement. 

Then he was quiet, and it took her a little while to realize he’d fallen asleep. If only Brianna could be so lucky. She lay there for at least an hour, wide-eyed and paranoid. 

Eventually, when she was sure Tino was sleeping deeply and not having any sort of medical emergency, she rolled out of bed again. They had a machine to check for government planted listening devices and Brianna made a beeline for it. They had the entire building under video surveillance—inside and out—and guys watching those particular feeds 24/7. 

Cosa Nostra was good at protecting their compounds from outsiders, including the government.  

They hadn’t found a bug once in all the years she lived there.

She still scanned the entire apartment. 

The sun was up by the time Brianna got back in bed with Tino, finally content that the only one who knew his dark secrets was her. It should make her feel better, but when sleep finally claimed her Brianna dreamt about dead Russians and bloody bullets instead.

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