“Yeah, fucker won’t die.”

My eyebrows rise, but I continue kneading his shoulders. “So, you’re close?” I ask lightly.

“He’s a bastard. I mentioned him—your necklace.”

“Yeah, I remember. I got the abbreviated version though. You said you told Beth about it when you gave her the necklace. I just sort of got the ‘don’t betray me, there’s a story, take this necklace, let’s have sex’ version. Which, not complaining, but…”

He leans back to smile at me. “Is that a direct quote?”

“Verbatim.”

He sighs, but remains tilted back, looking at me. “It’s a dark story.”

“I’ll bring my flashlight.”

He takes my hand and walks me back around the couch, tugging me down into his lap and holding me. “My father, also Mateo, but everyone calls him Matt. Anyway, he didn’t want to be in the business. He was more like Vince in that regard. He tried to leave the life behind, which isn’t a thing you can just do, especially if you’re the eldest son of the last boss and destined to take things over. He ran anyway. They found him. This girl Belle got mixed up in it—I think she was just a waitress. He was trying to steal her car and she wouldn’t get out, so she ended up mixed up in it. I always heard she did like him a bit then, who knows if it’s true? Regardless, she didn’t once she got stuck with him. The family trapped them together, tied her life to him. They ended up married. My father was okay with it, but she wasn’t. Instead of getting used to him, she actively rejected him. Got bad.”

“Sounds like it.”

“Our bakery, the one Francesca runs, she started working there just to get away from him. There was a male baker…”

“Uh oh.”

He nods. “They had an affair. She got pregnant. My dad tried to kill her, but his sister intervened. She was the paper person, made forged documents and that, so she helped Belle escape with my older sister and this baker. My mom was already on his hook at this point. He had started trying to punish Belle with unfaithfulness—which was a bad strategy, since she didn’t want anything to do with him, but A for effort, I guess. So he and my mom got together, and he spent years torturing her until she killed herself to escape him.”

“Jeeze. That is dark.”

“Not done,” he says, giving me a little squeeze. “So, years after my mom died, his guys finally found Belle.”

“Uh oh again.”

“Yeah. My sister Luciana was in school. My dad sent a car for her so she didn’t go home. He slaughtered everyone else—Belle, the baker, their twins. It was…” Sighing heavily, he says, “I’ve done some bad shit in my time, but my father derives life force from the misery of those around him.”

“Oh my god,” I say, stomach sinking at the scene he’s painted.

“I’m not saying I wouldn’t be vengeful in the same situation, but… I give you midnight ice cream and shopping sprees.”

I lean back to glance up at him. “You definitely do not make me miserable. I’ll put that in another card for you. Man, I’m so free with the—Oh, God, that first time I said I wouldn’t kill myself to get away from you, didn’t I?” I remember, turning to stare at him in horror. “I didn’t know about your mom. That was a horrible joke. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says easily. “So, that’s volume one. Then he did a whole bunch of other heinous shit. I’m more a mental tormentor; he’s always gone for the physical type. Unsurprisingly also not a great father.”

“You haven’t mentally tormented me—much,” I add, since there was that whole awful crate incident. We won’t speak of that.

“Give it time,” he says lightly.

“I think I prefer ice cream and shopping sprees to mental torture and manipulation. Let’s stick with what works.”

“I’ll consider it,” he says, glancing at the ice cream. “Did you finish that? We have a third thing to get to work on, remember?”

I grab the bowl, scooping up the mostly melted mess. “I’ve been training for this my whole life. Give me a minute.”

He checks the watch on his wrist. “I’m counting.”

“I love that you wear an actual watch,” I tell him, shoveling spoonfuls of melty ice cream into my mouth. “It’s so sexy and I don’t know why.”

“You’re so crazy,” he says, shaking his head, giving up the pretense of timing me. “Why do you like me so much?”

I give an exaggerated shrug as I finish the last of it, slamming it theatrically down onto the table. “I did it!” Without another word, I turn around and straddle him, right there on the couch in the sitting room.

“I thought we were going to bed,” he reminds me, though his hands are already sliding up under my shirt.

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