“Four,” I say, watching him extract his phone from his pocket and tap out a text.

“Done.” He looks back up at me. “The room that will be yours isn’t ready, since obviously I didn’t expect any of this when I left the house tonight.”

Guilt wallops me, but I offer only a tired nod.

“Tomorrow, once we’ve all had some rest, we can get you settled in.”

“Will I be able to go back to my house? I need to get some of Lily’s things, at least. Some toys and clothes, her favorite bedtime stories, her baby doll, her blanket. She needs to have some of her own things so at least something feels familiar to her.”

Mateo seems to consider that. “Maybe Adrian can drive you over there. We’ll see. If you need a book for her tonight, I can show you where the nursery is. You can use one of Isabella’s.”

“That would be wonderful. After everything she’s been through, I don’t know if she’ll even want one, but maybe doing something as normal as picking out a bedtime story would be good for her.”

I don’t point out he’s directly responsible for everything she’s been through. Mateo rises, moving around his desk and offering a hand.

A bit cautiously, I take his hand and stand. It reminds me of earlier that night, back at the reception desk, when a similar movement made me feel dizzy with attraction. I don’t know if it’s the sedative they gave me or the weight of reality, but now I feel nothing. Mateo takes my drink glass and places it behind him on the edge of his desk, then releases my hand and plants both of his on my hips.

Given everything, I refuse to let my stupid, idiot body respond to him. It’s more or less closed for business anyway, malfunctioning due to high trauma and drug-induced exhaustion.

“I’ve gone easy on you. Things could be much worse,” he informs me, as if reading my mind.

I bow my head slightly. “I know. Thank you.”

“Hurry up, I’ve got other stuff to do today.”

I glance back toward Adrian’s voice in the hall, pulling open Lily’s dresser drawer and emptying the contents of our life into a cardboard box.

“I’m trying,” I call back. “I only have her summer clothes out. Should I dig out her winter stuff?”

Adrian pops his head in, watching what I’m doing. “You don’t have to do any of this. Mateo will buy your daughter new clothes. Just get the stuff you can’t live without and let’s get out of here.”

I cast a nervous glance at the window. “Shouldn’t you be keeping watch or something?”

“Why would I be keeping watch?”

“That’s why you’re here, right?” I ask, giving up on the rest of the drawers and going for her bedtime stories.

“No, I’m here to keep an eye on you,” he states.

“Well, I’m not going to be a problem, so why don’t you go make sure no one else is?”

He doesn’t respond, and when I turn back around, he’s gone.

A few minutes later, impulsively shoving a framed photo of me, Lily, and Rodney into the box, I lug the last of my things downstairs.

As much as I wanted to get Lily’s things, I’m terrified to actually be here. Antonio Castellanos obviously knows I failed my mission last night, and I can just imagine him ambushing us now.

“Okay, let’s get out of here,” I tell Adrian.

He takes the box from me and loads it in the car, then with one last look at my house, I climb into the back of Mateo’s car.

He’s not with me. He’s attending to business, whatever that means, but I sort of wish he was. It’s probably absurdly illogical, but even though he’s a monster in his own right, I’d feel safer if he was with me.

Once Adrian is back in the car and we’re safely away from my house, he looks at me in the rearview mirror. “What are you so worried about?”

“I think I have a lot to worry about,” I point out.

“You’re not worried about Mateo,” he says dismissively. “I’m Mateo’s guy; you were afraid of something else.”

I wasn’t as subtle as I wanted to be, but I’m not so good at deception. Gotta get better at that.

Looking out the window instead of at Adrian, I share just enough of the truth. “My husband owed a lot of people money.”

“Like who?” he asks, his tone even, not suspicious, more like he wants to take complete inventory of the problems so he can resolve them.

“I don’t know. It’s not like he kept me in the loop, I just… with him gone, I don’t know if those debts disappear, or if the loan sharks smell blood in the water and come to collect.”

“I take it he gambled a lot?” Adrian asks.

I nod, my spirits dipping. “Yeah. Rodney was a sinking ship, and I was the idiot with a bucket trying to dump out enough water to keep us afloat. But I couldn’t keep up. Every time I’d repair a hole, he’d create three more. I begged him to get help, if not for me, for Lily, and he just… refused.” I shake my head, remembering our many fights about it. “You have no idea how many times I wanted to leave him.”

Tags: Sam Mariano Morelli Family Erotic
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