Tino jumped when Heather slid into the booth next to him. He’d been paying attention to everything else and getting caught off guard made him feel like he was slipping. Immediately, he thought about blow—that he didn’t have—but he wished he did.
“So, now that we got your brother busy, you wanna buy a girl a drink?”
Tino licked his lips and nodded. “Sì. Yes, of course.”
He bought Heather a drink and listened to her talk about the possibility of taking classes, since Tino had mentioned he was in college. He honestly knew jackshit about college, and even less about going to university in Sicily, but he was good at letting women talk and pretending to be interested.
He kept glancing at the hallway Nova and Carmen disappeared behind, wishing the music wasn’t so loud. He noticed the bouncer went into different door and realized he must watch what happened in the rooms on a feed. Tino kept his hand casually behind his back in case he needed his gun. He was second guessing this entire plan now that Nova was unreachable, with no backup, and no weapons.
“Why do you keep looking over there?” Heather whispered conspiratorially. “Are you jealous of your brother? You want a dance too?”
“Can you?” Tino asked quickly, his hopeful look totally genuine. “Would you?”
“Yeah.” She nodded with a smile. “You might have to pay for it though. Using a room means someone else can’t.”
“I’ll pay for it,” Tino promised, because that meant he would be that much closer to Nova and Carmen. “I’ll pay double.”
“Okay, then.” Heather looked unabashedly pleased and slid out of the booth. “It’s two-fifty. We’ll get the other VIP room.”
Tino was starting to feel like an asshole over Heather, who was obviously taking lessons from Carmen. No one should be this fucking excited about giving a lap dance.
“Ready?” She grabbed his hand before he could answer. “I’ve been practicing. Sammy said I could take some shifts during the day when it’s slow until I get better at it.”
Tino followed her, inwardly cringing at the idea of this sweet, pretty, if not extremely naive and trusting girl getting sucked into the sex market because of a little money.
He paid for the room.
He bought Heather a drink but passed on one himself.
There was no alcohol anyway.
He would’ve paid ten grand for blow though, because this shit was all way too intense to be sober for. He was about to crawl out of his skin from anxiety, and he could’ve used a massive dose of false invincibility about right now.
The light in the hallway was deep red, erotic and sexual, reminding him of Carina’s birthday party at the Mills Basin mansion. That was such a good memory, one of his favorites. It felt like a million years ago that they all danced and drank and partied their asses off in the ruby colored mist on the water.
Nice of the Brambinos to pick Mills Basin as a dumping spot.
They had such a gift for taking beauty and twisting it.
“You know, the management doesn’t check on these rooms,” Heather was explaining. “The other ones, they peek in, but in a VIP they’ll leave us alone.” She turned in his arms and placed both hands on Tino’s chest when they stopped in front of a curtained off room. “We can do whatever we want and they’ll never know.”
Tino swallowed hard, most of his thoughts on cocaine and how desperately he needed it. This would be so much easier blitzed. With his luck, this will be what he goes down for and he’ll end up sitting in a courtroom with Brianna behind him listening to the details.
A scream echoed down the hall.
“Stop it!” Carmen’s voice was shrill, the fury of it nearly shaking the walls. “I was protecting you! Now you’re lying! You’re lyingto me?”
Tino heard it, that crazed Brambino female entitlement that scared the ever-loving fuck out of him. He was kind of hoping Carmen had the colder, more calculated Mary and Lola version. The Carina variation just went fuck nuts on everyone.
Tino grabbed his gun, pulling it out from the holster and looked towards the entrance to the hallway, waiting for Carmen’s bouncer to show up.
“What is going on?” Heather sounded stunned. “Why do you have a gun?”
“Listen, sweetheart, don’t start dancing on weekdays. Go to college instead.” Tino reached into his pocket and grabbed his entire roll of cash. He handed it to Heather, eighteen karat gold money clip and all. “Take off.”
Maybe Heather wasn’t as naive as he thought.
She took the money and ran just as Carmen fell past the curtain. It was obvious she was trying to get away from Nova but tripped. She ended up tangled in the curtain on her hands and knees still wearing her blue dress. Nova pushed the curtain away and tried to help her up. His shirt hung open and unbuttoned, but other than that, he was fully dressed. Tino wasn’t surprised Nova didn’t let it get too far.
Carmen slapped Nova’s hands away, hard, violent, like she wanted to hurt him as she shouted, “LIAR!” Then her voice cracked, part of the fury fading into something much more sinister. “Tell me you’re a liar! Tell me!” She grabbed his wrist this time rather than push him away, clinging to it, clearly desperate as she begged, “Please tell me! I want you to tell me! Be the one to tell me it’s okay.”
“I can’t,” Nova choked. “I’m so sorry.”
Carmen just stared at him, light eyes wide and horrified, her breathing harsh and labored as she silently shook her head. “No.”
Nova swallowed hard, and held up his hands, looking sick as tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Fix it.” Carmen wasn’t crying, she was frantic instead, like she truly believed Nova somehow had the ability to roll back time. “This isn’t fair. It’s not fair to her. I’ll take care of you, just--”
Nova leaned down and picked her up, then he gave up on their cover and started speaking English, “Come on, bella, let’s get outta here.”
Carmen curled into him instead of shoving him away. She wrapped her arms around his neck as Nova stood with her, even if she was on a gangster diet, she did it anyway.
There was a lit exit sign at the end of the hallway, and Tino gestured at it with his gun. Then he pushed past Nova and shoved at the bar to open the back exit. An alarm blared, but Tino simply kicked the door open wider.
From behind them, someone shouted, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Tino let Nova take Carmen and turned around as he stepped into the parking lot with his gun level at the door.
Carmen’s bouncer had his gun out too, and Tino warned, “Watch out, pal. My trigger finger’s twitchy tonight.”
“She’s protected!” the bouncer growled. “Tell your guy to bring her back right now or this night is gonna end badly for both of you!”
A second bouncer showed up, and both of them stepped out into the parking lot with Tino as the new arrival said, “You can’t just take off with one of our girls, bro, especially not that one. Do you know who she is? They will destroy you, your entire family, and anyone who even remotely likes you.”
Just because two guns made Tino nervous, he decided to even the odds and clip the second bouncer. He aimed at the gun but got him in the hand instead.
The guy shouted and crumpled. There was more blood than Tino planned on and he realized they needed to get lost—quickly.
This whole situation was getting less awesome by the second.
Tino kept backing up, sparing one quick glance at the rear lot, silently thanking his intuition about parking the Bentley in back. He was the one with the keys, so he was forced to awkwardly reach into his pocket with his left hand. He pushed the button to unlock the door, and heard Nova jerk the door open.
Carmen’s head bouncer was following him, step by step, the two of them doing a slow, dangerous dance towards the car. Tino didn’t want to bring him closer to Carmen and Nova, but he also didn’t want to go to prison for murder after shooting this asshole in the parking lot where anyone could see.
The guy with the bleeding hand was bad enough.
Tino felt like the bouncer was getting too close to the Bentley, so he stopped walking. He was trying to figure out how he was going to get into the car and leave without more blood on the pavement when a new problem showed up.
“Think you’re tough with that 9mm?” Nova shouted from behind Tino in a voice shaking with fury. His footsteps were stomping and heavy on the asphalt, like he suddenly became bigger, denser, meaner. “Think it makes you a fucking boss now?”
“Yeah, I think I’m a boss.” The guy had the balls to laugh. “What the fuck are you gonna do about it?”
Did that stronzo just dare him to do something about it?
Nova was a made man.
A full blooded Siciliano gangster in his prime.
And a motherfucking zu.
Tino couldn’t believe it, but he decided right then, the white pants were a bad idea.
This was one of those rules of society Carlo always talked about.
The world needed Nova in a suit, with clear, un-crossable lines of respect and power that scared dumb button men into staying very quiet—especially when the zu was having a really bad week.
“Hey!” Tino shouted because he didn’t dare say Nova’s name and growled in Italian, “Get in the car!”
Tino reached out blindly, trying to catch his arm, but Nova slipped through his grasp as he stormed at the bouncer like a man with a death wish. Tino’s heartbeat was thundering in his ears with fear and he decided to play his last card.
“I’m an enforcer, man, and I’m a great fucking shot. Ask your pal over there. I will shoot you deader than a fucking doornail! He’s made! Touching him is a death sentence! Drop your gun, motherfucker! Right now!”
The guy wasn’t listening too closely, probably because Nova was coming at him like a bull.
The bouncer froze like a fucking statue.
Tino was frozen too, because what the hell were either of them supposed to do with this? This was broken protocol for rules Tino didn’t even know were in place until right then.
The only man with a plan was Nova, who was easily one of the smartest people on the planet, but for reasons only he understood blocked Tino’s clear shot.
And just when he did it, a single gunshot echoed through the parking lot.
Tino’s stomach jolted.
But Nova didn’t seem to notice as he reached out to the bouncer and grabbed the gun in the man’s hand like it was a plastic toy.
“How tough are you now, bitch?” He slammed the butt of the 9mm so hard against the other man’s skull a crack resonated across the parking lot.
“Cazzo!” Tino ran at them as Nova fell over the bouncer and started beating on him with the very clear intent of murdering him.
There was blood everywhere and a fucking witness in the middle of a parking lot, two if they counted Carmen.
It would’ve been easier to pull the trigger on the witness and deal with two murders.
That’s how much of a hurricane Nova was.
Prison sounded like an easier option, but Carmen was watching, and Tino didn’t want her any more traumatized.
He tackled his brother, forcing him off the bouncer.
Obviously running off pure fury and adrenaline, Nova promptly coldcocked Tino with the bloody gun in his hand. He did that sometimes, hit first, and shouted later that it was a reflex. Tino always thought it was bullshit, but in that instant, he knew it was one-hundred percent true.
Nova’s reflexes were dangerous.
And this was the moment when he finally ended it for Tino.
It wasn’t an altogether bad thing.
The sound of his heartbeat thundering whooshed out and there was just silence.
End game silence.