I knew it was wrong. If someone found out, if my Father found out, he’d never let me leave Chicago again. He wouldn’t even let me leave the house anymore. It was vastly inappropriate and unladylike. People were still bad-mouthing Gianna after all that time. They’d jump at the chance to find a new victim, and what could be better than another Scuderi sister getting caught in the act?
And deep down I knew that I was exactly like Gianna when it came to resisting temptation. I simply couldn’t. Romero’s door wasn’t locked. I slipped into his bedroom on tiptoes, holding my breath. He wasn’t there but I could hear water running in the adjoining bathroom. I crept in that direction. The door was ajar. I peered through the gap.
In the last few days I’d learned that Romero was a creature of habit, so I found him under the shower as expected. But from my vantage point I couldn’t see much. I edged the door open and slipped in.
My breath caught at the sight of him. He had his back turned to me and it was a glorious view. The muscles in his shoulders and back flexed as he washed his brown hair. Naturally, my eyes dipped lower to his perfectly shaped backside. I’d never seen a man like this, but I couldn’t imagine that anyone could compare to Romero.
He began to turn. I should have left then. But I stared in wonder at his body. Was he aroused? He tensed when he spotted me. His eyes captured my gaze before they slid over my nightgown and naked legs. And then I found an answer to my question. He hadn’t really been aroused before. Oh hell.
My cheeks heated as I watched him grow harder. It was all I could do not to cross the distance between us and touch him.
Romero slid the shower open with unhurried movements and wrapped a towel around his waist. Then he stepped out. The scent of his spicy shower gel wafted into my nose. Slowly he advanced on me. “You know,” he said in a strange voice. “If someone found us like this, they might get the wrong idea. An idea that could cost me my life, and you your reputation.”
I still couldn’t move. I was stone, but my insides seemed to burn, to liquefy into red-hot lava. I couldn’t look away. I didn’t want to.
My eyes lingered on the edge of the towel, on the fine line of dark hairs disappearing beneath it, on the delicious V of his hips. Without my volition, my hand moved, reaching for Romero’s chest, needing to feel his skin beneath my fingertips.
Romero caught my wrist before I could touch him, his grip almost painful. My gaze shot up, half embarrassed and half surprised. What I saw on Romero’s face made me shiver.
He leaned forward, coming closer and closer. My eyes fluttered shut, but the kiss I wanted never came. Instead I heard the creak of the door. I peered up at Romero. He’d only opened the bathroom door wide. That’s why he’d moved closer, not to kiss me. Embarrassment washed over me. How could I have thought he was interested in me?
“You need to leave,” he murmured as he straightened. His fingers were still curled around my wrist.
“Then let me go.”
He did instantly and took a step back. I stayed where I was. I wanted to touch him, wanted him to touch me in turn. He cursed and then he was upon me, one hand cradling the back of my head, the other on my hip. I could almost taste his lips they were so close. His touch made me feel more alive than anything ever had.
“Leave,” he rasped. “Leave before I break my oath.” It was half plea, half order.
I still cringed when I thought about my first embarrassing attempt at flirting with Romero. Mother and my sister Aria had always warned me not to provoke men, and I’d never been as daring with anyone as I’d been with Romero that day. He’d seemed safe, like there was no way he could possibly hurt me no matter the provocation. I’d been young and stupid, only fourteen and already convinced I knew everything there was to know about men and love and everything else.
It had been only a few days before Aria’s wedding to Luca and he’d sent Romero to protect my sister. It was a big deal to choose a bodyguard for your future wife; only someone who was deserving of your absolute trust could be allowed that close, but that knowledge wasn’t even why I trusted Romero.
Romero had looked terribly handsome in his white shirt, black slacks and vest that hid his gun holster. And for some reason, his brown eyes had looked kinder than what I was used to from men in our world. I couldn’t tear my gaze away from him. I wasn’t sure what I’d been thinking, or what I’d expected to achieve, but the moment Romero sat down, I’d settled in his lap. He’d tensed under me, but something in his eyes had made me fall for him that day. Often in the past, when I’d flirted with my father’s soldiers, I’d seen in their eyes that they wouldn’t hesitate to have their way with me if it wasn’t for my father. But with Romero I knew I would never have to worry that he’d take more than what I was willing to give. At least, that’s how it had felt that day. He’d seemed like a good guy, like the guys I ever only got to admire from afar because you couldn’t find them in the mafia. Like a knight in shining armor, someone dreams of silly girls were made of – girls like me.
Only a few months later, I found out that Romero wasn’t who I thought he was, who I wanted him to be and had made him out to be. That day still haunts me after all this time. It could have been the moment that my crush on Romero disappeared for good.
My parents had taken Gianna, Fabiano and me to New York with them to attend Salvatore Vitiello’s funeral, even though I didn’t know Luca’s and Matteo’s father. I’d been so very excited to see Aria again. But that trip turned into a nightmare, my first real taste of what it meant to be part of our world.
After the Russians attacked the Vitiello mansion, I was alone with my brother Fabi in a room where Romero had taken us after the Famiglia under Luca’s lead had come to our rescue. Someone had given my brother a tranquilizer because he’d completely lost it after he’d seen our bodyguard getting shot in the head. I was oddly calm, almost in trance as I huddled beside him on the bed, staring at nothing and listening for noises. Every time someone walked past our room, I tensed, prepared for another attack. But then Gianna texted, asking me where I was. I’d never moved as fast in my life. It took me less than two seconds to jump off the bed, cross the room and rip the door open. Gianna stood in the corridor, her red hair all over the place. The moment I jumped into her arms, I felt better and safer. Since Aria had moved, Gianna had taken over the role as substitute mother while our own mother was busy taking care of her social responsibilities and catering to Father’s every whim.