Spooning more frozen deliciousness into my mouth, I ask, “Why couldn’t you sleep?”
He shrugs, and I feel it since I’m wrapped in his arms. “Got a lot on my mind.”
“Adrian’s leaving and I don’t want to replace him. Got someone trying to kill me, don’t really want that to happen. Trying to sleep next to someone I just want to wake up and fuck all night long, but I’m trying to be nice and let her sleep.”
“Let’s unpack those first two,” I say, tilting my head back to look at him. “Then after I finish this ice cream, we can get to work on that third thing.”
“I’m not used to having someone like you to talk about this stuff with,” he states.
It’s a simple thing to admit, but it feels important. A man like Mateo has a lot of people around him all the time, but not a lot of actual friends. I remember Mia telling me something like that when I first asked her about him—how what he really needs is someone he can rely on.
I take his hand, giving it a little squeeze. “You never talked about this stuff with…” I trail off, actually not sure who I should ask about. Mia or Beth? Probably Beth, since Mia wasn’t a full-fledged girlfriend.
Not making me figure it out, he says, “I talked about stuff with Beth. Turned out not to be such a good idea.”
“Well, that’s not the case here,” I assure him. “Why is Adrian leaving?”
“Because his time’s up. Adrian’s never wanted to work for me; he was just working off a debt. Now that he’s free to leave, that’s what he’ll do.”
It’s weird to think about life without Adrian. Now that I think about it, Adrian is always around somewhere, usually with Mateo, but occasionally with me. Either way, he’s an institution in this household. “You can’t entice him to stay?” I ask.
He shakes his head and begins toying with the locket hanging around my neck. “I tried. None of his potential replacements are even half as good as he is. Adrian catches shit that most people don’t—sometimes even me, and I notice just about everything. People fear me, I’m the one with the power, but I keep it by having men like him. I stay alive by having men like him.”
“Then you’ve gotta convince him. Want me to talk to him? I’ll offer him ice cream.”
Cracking a smile, he twists the chain around his finger. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.”
“What happens once he leaves, then? I mean, will people stay in line, or…?”
“I don’t know. It would be a good time to make a move on me. Transition is never smooth.”
“You should stay home until you break someone else in.”
Mateo rolls his eyes, but smiles at my concern. “I can’t hide. Quite the opposite—when they’re looking for weakness, that’s when you have to show strength. I don’t want more, that’s why I’ve tried co-existing with Castellanos this long, but you can’t just bow out. At this point it’s more about maintaining what I’ve already got. This greedy motherfucker’s making that impossible though. I still don’t know who my leak is. Plenty to worry about right now.”
I set my ice cream aside and climb off the couch, getting on my knees behind him so I can rub his shoulders. “Well, I don’t know how to help, but if you think of anything I can do, let me know.”
“You just keep doing what you’re doing,” he says. “You’re the only part of my life I don’t have complaints about right now.”
“Yay!” I say, leaning down and giving him a kiss on the cheek. “That makes me happy.”
He catches my head, turning to give me a lengthier kiss.
When I pull back, I go back to his shoulder rub. “Anyway, so what about this Castellanos guy? Why can’t you just have someone take him out if he’s the problem?”
“Well, I can, and I’ll probably have to. Problem with that is that he’s the head of the family and if I move against them that way, it’ll start a war none of us wanted. And I lose that war as soon as I start it, because if I lose—well, self-explanatory, and if I win, I get control over territory I have no interest in. I don’t take control of it, someone else will, someone I can’t control, and then down the road I have the exact same problem. I want peace, and that’s hard to come by in this business.”
“Yeah, I can see that.” I wish I had more to offer than that. It does sound like a real problem, and a dangerous problem. “Can I ask you something sort of unrelated?”
“What’s the deal with your dad? Obviously not anymore, but I wandered upstairs when we were staying in the servant house, and, well, your dad’s apparently up there.”