I’m also not super secure about leaving Mateo’s home. As long as Lily and I are inside, I have no doubt we’re safe from Antonio Castellanos, but I’m much less sure of that if we leave these walls.

Prison and sanctuary, all-in-one.

Cherie approaches me quietly, since Lily has fallen asleep on the couch beside me. “Mateo wants you again.”

“Of course he does,” I murmur, my eyes still trained on the movie.

I’m much less enthusiastic an hour later when I show up in Mateo’s study to prance around, filling glasses. I don’t stay long and I don’t ask permission to head to the kitchen once everyone has something to drink.

Mia glances up as I enter the kitchen again, not paying attention as her knife comes down and completely misses the carrot she’s chopping. Setting it aside, she grabs a towel and dries her hands, taking a few tentative steps in my direction.

“Hey.”

I offer back a measured smile. “Hey.”

Once she’s close enough, she says, “I’m sorry about last week. Did I get you in trouble with him?”

I hold up my thumb and forefinger and indicate just a smidge. “No biggie.”

“I’m really sorry. I just… Mateo caused a lot of trouble in my relationship with Vince before, and Vince and I are in a really good place right now…”

“You don’t have to explain. It’s fine.”

“If you still need advice, I thought about it, and maybe I do have a little.”

I open my mouth to tell her I don’t need it anymore, but I’ve never been one to turn down added knowledge. “All right.”

“What Mateo wants is someone he can rely on. Someone he can trust. You may have noticed he’s a suspicious guy, he doesn’t let people close, and… well, I still think he leads an ultimately lonely existence. He doesn’t understand when people are kind to him without an agenda, but if you are, it’ll throw him off, catch his attention.”

Shaking my head, I tell her, “I have been. I am nice to him, all the time, and it isn’t working at all. It’s not making him trust me more; if anything, it makes him trust me less.”

Mia frowns. “Then he must not believe you. He thinks you have an agenda.”

Sighing heavily, I nod my head. “Yeah, that’s what I arrived at, too.”

“Do you?”

My eyebrows rise as she studies my face. “No. I mean, I was interested in potentially sleeping with him, but I wouldn’t call that an agenda. Anyway, I’m sort of over it at this point. I’m not going to throw myself at someone who doesn’t want me. Not my style.”

“Hm…” Mia taps her chin, considering. “Maybe you should flirt with someone who does.”

My eyes narrow. “I don’t like that look.”

Backing up a few steps, Mia touches Francesca’s arm. “Are you okay in here for a minute?” At her assurance she would be fine, Mia comes over and loops her arm through mine. “Let’s go see the boys.”

“I don’t want to see the boys. I just left the boys.”

“Vince said last week Joey was checking you out,” Mia points out, leading me down the hall.

Already shaking my head, I tell her, “I don’t want to play games.”

Mia looks over at me and laughs. “Then you shouldn’t have set your sights on Mateo Morelli.”

I’m more than a little uneasy when we enter the study. Mia still has her arm linked through mine, and she keeps close to me long enough for the guys to notice. I try not to notice, but Mateo in particular seems interested in our proximity.

Once he gets a good, long look, she lets me go and heads over to Vince, climbing on his lap and giving him a kiss. “Hey, baby.”

“Hey,” he returns, his tone warmer than I’ve heard it thus far.

“I missed you,” she tells him, leaning her head on his shoulder.

Dread spills over me, inch by inch, but I’m already here, so I head back to the decanter. “Anyone need topping off?”

Alec raises a hand, so I head over to him. Joey’s in the arm chair next to Alec, closer to the fireplace. I can’t help noticing he’s pretty much diagonal from Mateo. From Mateo’s perch at the edge of his desk, he has command of the whole room—which I assume is why he always stands there instead of sitting—but he would have to make an actual effort not to see Joey’s seat.

I glance back at Joey, still not in love with Mia’s suggestion, but I offer up a pleasant enough smile. “What about you?”

“Of course,” Joey says amiably, taking a big gulp of his drink to make room for more. Since I’m not in a hurry to get away from him this time, Joey asks, “How you like it here?”

“It’s nice,” I say, shrugging. “I’ve had better gigs, I’ve had worse.”

“Maybe you’ll marry out of it like Elise,” he tells me, winking.

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