Thursday, August 31, 2017

New Beginnings Chapter 34

Hi friends,
this was a busy week for me and I almost couldn't get the chapter edited on time but I won't leave you hanging especially when we are nearing the end of NB. I hope the editing was sufficient for this chapter.
Thanks for everyone who is reading along still and thanks for all your comments. You guys mean a lot to me.
I give you Chapter 34 of NB. It starts out "wet" as someone called it before and hope you enjoy Anna and Shane getting close once again.
Thanks everyone,
Hugs, Dani
TOC   New Beginnings

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

In/Exhale Continues

I apologize that it took so long for this final episode of the day to get to you guys. I'm also sorry it's being posted so late.

For those of you who don't know, I live in the Houston metro area, which was recently hit very hard by Hurricane Harvey. Fortunately, our home didn't flood, but we had power go in and out and water come far too close for comfort (especially for someone who lived through Hurricane Katrina).

The bad news is I haven't been able to work much lately on any of my writing because of my health. So I don't know if I can promise a new episode of I/E next week or even in two weeks. But I'll do my best.

Previously on In/Exhale: Kai has had a long weekend. He went to Omaha to visit the hospital there, and although he agreed to check himself in in a couple days, he has his reservations. Despite his anxiety, he went to dinner at Frankie's house and was hit by a rush of emotions about the fact that he wasn't adopted. The dinner capped off with Frankie kissing Kai and revealing his long-time crush, that set Kai whirling.

This Week on In/Exhale: Kai reacts to the dinner and everything he's been struggling with lately. When powerful suicidal thoughts hit him, he makes some potentially devastating decisions.

Next time on In/Exhale: The aftermath of Sunday night. David has his important job interview with the Deaf man he met at the meeting, but circumstances in Kai's life may prevent him from making that interview despite its significance....

I hope you won't hate me too much after this episode!!

In/Exhale - February 11, 2001 - Part IV

I have to admit I'm really nervous about how you guys will receive this episode... I'm looking forward to your comments... (or maybe not?)

Thank you again for those of you who continue to support my crazy stories despite how erratic my posting has been. I have been feeling better relatively with my current med regimen and I'm hoping this will mean more time to write. As always, your comments and support really help motivate me to keep going.

-CA

PS: If you need to catch up, check out the Table of Contents. Or, if you'd like to try reading my other story, try Love UnSeen's Table of Contents.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Update to The Girl I Didn't Kill For

Hi all!

Thank you a million to everyone who commented on the last chapter.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to post next weekend, so I'm going to make this one extra long.  Jessie and Nick finally meet up again for the first time since his injury.

Chapter 4

Please let me know what you think!

And I finally made a Table of Contents!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

New Beginnings Chapter 33

Hi NB friends,
I hope you enjoyed last week's long chapter. Thanks to all my loyal NB readers for commenting and reading.
I give you another long chapter this week as Anna convinces Shane to look into getting a wheelchair.
Here is Chapter 33 of NB. Let me know how you like it and as always thanks for reading.
Hugs, Dani

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

No story today

I'm sure you guys are tired of hearing that. I will have the next episode of I/E next weeek... after that, it'll depend on how I'm doing. I'm really sorry... I miss Kai and Jackson too, lol.

Thanks for understanding.

-CA

Sunday, August 20, 2017

UPDATE to The Girl I Didn't Kill For

Thank you so so much to everyone who commented on the last chapter. It really means a lot to me, honestly. I know it seems silly that someone just writing "Hey, I enjoyed this" would be motivating, but I promise it is.

And to anyone who felt the last chapter was too short, this one is definitely longer. And involves a massage....

Chapter 3

For those of you who haven't read the beginning, here's the first three chapters together.

P.S. Crazy in Love is supposed to be on sale today for only 99 cents in US and UK.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

New Beginnings Chapter 32

Hello NB friends,
another week, another chapter. This week I give you a monster chapter...it is pretty long. I tried to cut it in half but then I was like oh well, they can have it all. Anna and Shane are back together and can finally catch up and be very close again. They spend some intimate moments together and are looking into a future in which they will never be apart.
So, I read over the chapter, made changes, edited and took away and I hope it's good to go. I give you Chapter 32 of NB. Enjoy and as always, thanks for reading, commenting and having been there for this long. We are nearing the end but I still have a few chapters in store for you before Anna and Shane ride into the sunset together :-)
Hugs, Dani
TOC New Beginnings

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Girl I Didn't Kill For -- UPDATE

Well, I want to start out by saying thank you to everyone for the little pep talk in the comments. When you're in love with something you wrote and it feels like other people aren't loving it as much as you'd hoped, it's a downer. I was like, "Well, maybe nobody wants to read about a mobster in a wheelchair." But you guys poured on the love so I thank you for that. So so much. So much that I worked hard to add in some extra devvy stuff.

Chapter 2!!!!!

Note that it starts out in the past for the first scene for the "how they met" story, but then comes back to the present day and will stay there.

(In case you missed it, here's chapter 1)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Our Choices

This is the conclusion of Our Choices. I hope you enjoyed the story, thanks for playing, reading and commenting. I really appreciate that! Special thanks go to Annabelle for beta reading this last chapter! You are awesome :) All remaining mistakes are mine.

Your choice: Let Jim free.


Hugs
Lovis
Table Of Content

P.S. I'll be without internet for at least three weeks and when I come back I want to see hundreds of new stories and updates on the blog!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

New Beginnings Chapter 31

Hello NB friends,
hope you had a great week and are ready for another chapter of NB. Shane is back in Anna's life and they are slowly getting closer again but realize quickly their feelings are just as strong as ever. I give you Chapter 31 of New Beginnings. I thank you very much for reading and commenting, love you guys,
Hugs, Dani

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

In/Exhale Continues

I'm sorry this is so late. It seems whenever I try to make plans--just like with Kai--the world and my body seem to rebel against me. Didn't have internet for the past couple days, and very high pain so I wasn't able to get the work done I'd hoped. Started a six-week course of steroids that will hopefully help, though. I really hope they will and I'll be able to get back to posting more consistently.


Previously on In/Exhale: Kai and Jon visited Harbinger Clinic in Omaha and Kai agreed to check himself in after Valentine's Day, but he's struggling to keep things together until then. Jon discovered a tape of their mother revealing her revulsion for her younger son, and Renee helped Kai prep for dinner at Frankie's, when his nerves threatened to overwhelm him.

This Week on In/Exhale: Kai almost catches Jon with the tape, but he's called away to an emergency. Kai goes to dinner at Frankie's, suspecting that all isn't right in the Hoffmann household despite appearances, and uncovers something shocking he never expected.

Next time on In/Exhale: Sunday comes to an epic conclusion as Kai deals with the fallout of the dinner and makes some poor decisions that may have some drastic consequences for his future.

February 11, 2001 - Part III


Thank you for all your support and patience. I am definitely continuing both stories but I'm not sure what schedules are going to be like. I'll do my best to keep up but I have to say no guarantees.

-CA

PS: If you need to catch up, check out the Table of Contents. Or, if you'd like to try reading my other story, try Love UnSeen's Table of Contents.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Girl I Didn't Kill For: New Story

Hi all! It's Annabelle, back with a full length story this time! It's definitely a departure from my usual stuff, but I was trying to expand my horizons. I hope you guys like it!

Prologue: 2012

The cops have come to arrest me.

I know it’s them the second I hear that knock on the door. Cops have a knock I’d know in my sleep. That solid firm knock that you can hear anywhere in the apartment—they don’t bother with the doorbell. I heard that knock many times before. I heard it when they took my father away. I heard it more times than I can count on my hands each time my brother Tony got busted.

But I never thought it would ever be me.

There’s two of them standing at the door—a man and a woman. The man’s got a pair of cuffs on his belt and it makes me sick.

“Nicolas Moretti?” the male cop asks me.

“That’s me,” I say. I’m playing it cool—acting like I’m not scared as shit. This is actually happening. These cops are taking me to jail. It’s not a summons, which I got a bunch of times before—I’m going to jail. Jail.

“Mr. Moretti, we have a warrant for your arrest,” the male cop says.

This is the part where they’re supposed to cuff me and take me away in front of all my neighbors. Except the two of them just stare at me dumbly like they’re not sure what they’re supposed to do. You’d think when they came to arrest Nick Moretti, they’d have come better prepared. It’s not like they don’t know who I am—I’d bet every cop in the city knows my name.

The male cop—his badge I can now see reads O’Neil—pulls the cuffs off his belt. And that’s when I really start shitting my pants. They’re going to cuff me. They’re really doing this.

But O’Neil hesitates. He looks at the female cop, Conti, and she looks equally baffled. They should be reading me my rights now, although come to think of it, they didn’t read Pop his rights when they busted him either. They got to do it before they question you though. I know that much. But the confusion of how to arrest me has thrown them off.

“You don’t gotta cuff me,” I tell them. My Brooklyn accent is slipping out because I’m nervous. I lost it during all those years in college and when I went to Harvard Business School. I worked hard not to sound like some two-bit street gangster. But when I’m stressed or anxious, it comes back like it was never gone in the first place. I hate it. I don’t want to sound like a thug—I want to sound like what I am, which is one of the most successful businessmen in the city. A guy who they’d allow the dignity of not being forced out of his home in shackles.

“We do,” Conti tells me, although she sounds apologetic. She’s young, maybe early twenties, and she’d be pretty if her hair weren’t pulled back in the most severe bun I ever seen. Not as pretty as Jessie though. Nobody is.

I swallow a lump in my throat as I realize I can’t talk them out of this. They got their orders. Still, I give one last appeal: “But if you do, I won’t be able to…”

They look down at me, acknowledging the situation—the fact that I’m sitting in a wheelchair. I can’t walk, and if they cuff my wrists, that’s it. I won’t be able to move. The thought of it makes me sick.

“We gotta,” O’Neil tells me.

I take deep breaths, trying not to panic. I pull off the tie that’s hanging loose around my neck and suddenly feels like it’s choking me—they won’t let me keep a tie in a jail cell anyway. It doesn’t help me now that I’m wearing an expensive shirt and pants, and shoes that cost more than the shirt and the pants put together. It doesn’t matter when they’re busting me for Murder One.

“I need stuff if you’re going to take me,” I tell them. “Medical stuff. Okay?”

O’Neil nods and Conti looks embarrassed. I can see they’re trying to figure out if they should trust me to get the stuff on my own or if they should go with me. Do they think I’m going to grab some gun I got hidden away and start shooting at them? Yeah, I got a gun hidden away—two, actually. But I’m not dumb enough to start shooting at some cops. I’m Nick Moretti, not some loser on the street selling crack.

Or maybe they think I’m going to make a getaway. I’m in an apartment on the thirty-second story. Do they think I’m going to jump out the window and fly away to a Caribbean island? I’m in a goddamn wheelchair—even getting out the window if I were on the first floor would be an impossible challenge. All I want is to get my pills and shit out of the bathroom in privacy, but it’s getting obvious I won’t even get that.

O’Neil follows me to the bathroom down the hallway. It isn’t going to take long because I already got a month’s worth of extra supplies stuffed into a duffel bag under the bathroom sink. Sometimes I gotta go fast, so I’ve got it all packed. It wouldn’t work to be rushing on some trip and discover that I forgot one of my medications.

O’Neil eyes the bag with suspicion. “I got to check that out.”

I don’t want him to, but not because I got a gun or drugs in there. I don’t want him rifling through my bottles of pills. Maybe I’m in a wheelchair, but I try to project to the world that I’m a tough guy. A tough guy doesn’t take five medications. He doesn’t need a bunch of catheters whenever he goes on a trip.

But I can’t say no to a cop, so I thrust the bag in his direction. “Be my guest, Officer.”

He gives it a cursory look while I stare down at my hands. I don’t want to be cuffed. Christ, it’s bad enough they’re doing this to me. Soon as I get to the cell, I’m going to ask to call my lawyer. I’ll be back home in an hour—not even long enough to use the contents of this bag. I’ll make these assholes sorry they did this to me.

“It’s fine,” O’Neil says, handing me back my bag.

And then we’re back in the living room and it’s the moment of truth. O’Neil gets out the cuffs and my heart is slamming so hard in my chest, I think I could drop dead of a heart attack. No. Fuck no.

“Hold out your hands, Mr. Moretti,” O’Neil says.

“Don’t do this,” I appeal to them one last time.

O’Neil shakes his head. “I’m sorry.”

I do as they say. I hold out my hands, and O’Neil snaps the cuffs into place. He makes them loose, but they still bite into my wrists. My brother Tony says he’s still got a place on the back of his left hand that he can’t feel on account of his handcuffs being too tight once. But Tony was a thug and pissed off the cops. I’m no thug. I’m one of the most important men in the whole goddamn city. And now the cops wheeling me out of my apartment building with cuffs on my hands will be all over the front page of The New York Post tomorrow morning.

I rest my hands in my lap, on top of the duffel bag. A sweat breaks out on my forehead, and I try to calm myself down. But it’s hard. The cops will have to push me down to their car, and they’re going to have to lift me inside. And the media sharks downstairs will get it all on tape.

“How do we push the chair?” Conti asks me.

“The handles are folded down,” I tell her.

I didn’t want handles on my chair, but there are rare times when they’re necessary. Like now. When my hands are cuffed and the cops need to push me to their car.

I feel myself moving—Conti is pushing me. This is really happening. I’m really going to be booked on a Murder One charge. I’m going to sit in a jail cell just like my brother did and my father did. I got the best lawyer in the city, but I’m not sure if even he can get me out of this one. The evidence is damning.

And the worst part?

I’m innocent.


Chapter 1: 1994

Nick

Today is one of those days that started out ordinary. First my older brother Tony got into a fight with Pop because Tony won’t stop hanging around what Pop calls “the low lives.” Then Ma started yelling at Tony to eat his breakfast of sausage and scrambled eggs. Finally, Pop told Tony he needed to get a haircut and that’s when my brother stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

And I just sat there, eating my own eggs and sausage and thinking about what an idiot my brother is. Pop don’t ask much of us—why can’t he just do it?

“At least Nico’s a good kid,” Pop said to my mother.

I am a good kid, as far as Pop is concerned. I get good grades, I don’t get into trouble, and I keep my hair cut short. Anyway, nobody messes with me. In this neighborhood, everyone knows you don’t want to mess with Angelo Moretti’s son.

That’s a normal morning for me—Tony storms out, I eat breakfast, then I ride my bike to the middle school where I’m in ninth grade, in time for homeroom at a quarter to nine. But today is different. Because today Mrs. Leary tells us that there’s a new kid in the class. Some girl who just moved here from Milwaukee. I don’t even know where the hell Milwaukee is, but when Jessica Schultz stands up in front of the room to introduce myself, I suddenly get very interested in Milwaukee and everything there is to know about this girl.

“Tell the class about yourself!” Mrs. Leary barks at the girl in her crackly voice. Mrs. Leary’s ancient and deaf, so she yells all the freakin’ time. But you can get away with a lot in her class because she can’t hear anything going on in the room.

Jessica Schultz squeezes her fists together and looks up at us with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. Bensonhurst has got a lot of Italians, so most of them have dark hair and eyes like I do. We got a couple of kids in the class with blue eyes—nothing like Jessica’s though. And her hair—shit. I’ve never seen hair so blond before. It’s like somebody spun gold out of her scalp. I can’t quit staring at that hair.

I can’t quit staring at Jessica.

“I come from Milwaukee,” Jessica tells us in a voice that’s barely a squeak. “I lived there all my life. But my dad got a new job here, so… now we live here.”

A few kids snicker. Jessica tugs on her green sweater, which is too small on her. All her clothes are bordered on too tight, but the sweater is the worst. Or the best, considering how you’re looking at it. I don’t think it’s on purpose though. I think she grew out of it and hasn’t had a chance to get one that fits better. Or maybe can’t afford it. Lotsa kids in this class are wearing clothes that are too tight because they can’t afford something bigger yet.

I don’t got that problem. At all. Pop buys me all new clothes because he says I should have better than Tony’s shitty hand-me-downs.

Jessica’s bluer than blue eyes meet mine from across the room, and for a second, it’s like I can barely breathe. I never looked at a girl and felt this way before. I kissed a couple of girls before, like Mary Castellano in the bushes behind the basketball court last month. That was fine—I liked kissing Mary. Since I grew four inches over the summer, girls seem a lot more willing to go behind some bushes with me. But I never wanted to kiss a girl in the bushes as much as I want to kiss Jessica right this minute.

And while I’m staring at the blue eyes, the gold hair, and the tits nearly splitting the seam of her old sweater, I get the craziest thought in my head:

This is the girl I’m going to marry.

I wouldn’t say it to anyone. If you’re fourteen years old and you go around telling your friends you want to marry some chick you just saw for the first time five minutes ago, they think you’re nuts or a pussy or something bad. But I’ve never wanted anything as bad as I want this. Aside from wanting to take over my father’s business someday.

“You can take a seat, Jessica,” Mrs. Leary tells her.

Jessica scurries to a desk two seats in front of me. Good thing it’s just homeroom because no way I’d be able to concentrate with her straight in the middle of my field of vision.

I glance over at Kevin Price, my best buddy here at school. He’s looking at Jessica too, and when our eyes meet, he winks at me. Kevin loves new girls. I don’t try too hard to imagine what he’s thinking about.

The bell rings and Jessica stands up, looking uncertainly down at her schedule for the day, her pale hands shaking. I should offer her help finding her first class. I should, but for some reason I can’t. I’m glued to my seat.

“Nice tits, new girl!” Kevin leers at her.

Jessica looks up at him, her blue eyes widening like she’s never heard that kind of language before. Maybe kids are nicer in Milwaukee than they are in Bensonhurst. Welcome to Brooklyn, New Girl.

Kevin might have a smart mouth, but I don’t talk to girls that way. Ever. One of Pop’s words of wisdom that he tells me all the time:

Always treat women with respect, Nico.

So I do. Always. I treat ladies the way they deserve to be treated, whether it’s some chick on the street or hundred-year-old Mrs. Leary. I don’t yell dirty things at them when they walk by the way other guys in my class do. Maybe Jessica don’t count as a woman yet, but I figure close enough.

I smack Kevin in the arm and hiss at him, “Shut up, you idiot. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“What?” Kevin looks at me, wide-eyed. “She does have nice tits.”

Well, he’s right.

“Just don’t talk to her that way,” I say.

Kevin smirks at me. “So, what? You into her? Because it’s fine if you are. She’s too chubby for me anyway.”

“Shut the fuck up, Kevin,” I mutter.

I look at Jessica’s seat and see that she’s gone. She probably hurried off after Kevin shouted at her. I can’t blame her.

But even though she’s gone, I know I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about her.


Jessie

I have been walking for twenty minutes now and I’m lost.

I thought I knew how to get home. I practiced it once with Mom, and I thought I had it down. She asked me if I wanted a ride home today, but I insisted that I could do it myself. It’s only a ten-minute walk. I’m fourteen years old—I could handle a ten-minute walk on my own!

Except I must have gone straight when I was supposed to go left, or right when I was supposed to straight, or maybe I went in the wrong direction altogether. And now I have absolutely no idea where I am aside from lost.

This wouldn’t have happened in Milwaukee. I know every inch of that city. There’s nowhere I can’t get to on my bike. I wish I had my bike now. My parents said they didn’t feel comfortable with me riding it around here. Too many cars. Except every other kid in the school hopped on their bikes at the end of school and rode home.

At least it’s not very cold out and my stupid itchy sweater is keeping me warm. The French braid that Chrissy did during lunch has been coming apart all afternoon, and my hair is now mostly loose around my face. The wind intermittently lifts it in the air, which feels nice.

I could enjoy the walk if I wasn’t so frustrated about being lost. And also a little scared—this neighborhood is really seedy. I passed a filthy homeless guy lying on the sidewalk who smelled like urine. He asked me for money, and when I said I didn’t have any, he asked me if he could touch my hair. I started walking faster after that. But I think I’m just making myself get more lost faster.

I need to find a payphone. I can call my mom and ask her to come rescue me. I didn’t want to do it, but I don’t have much of a choice.

I see a payphone at the corner and dig a quarter out of my pocket. I’ve got one quarter, two dimes, and one penny—that’s all the change in my pocket. On top of that, I’ve got four dollar bills.

I stick my quarter in the payphone. I’ve only used a payphone a few times in my life, and I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, but I figure it can’t be that hard. Except when I dial my home number, all I hear in the receiver is silence. It’s not ringing. I think this stupid payphone is broken.

Great.

I slam down the receiver and keep walking. The neighborhood I’m in is looking increasingly sketchy, but I’m not sure what to do. I see three teenage boys up ahead. Maybe I should ask them for directions home. It’s clear at this point that I’m not going to manage to wander home without help.

“Hey, honey,” the tallest of the boys says to me as I approach them.

Another boy snickers, “Nice ass.”

Now I think maybe I shouldn’t ask them for directions.

“I never seen you around here, baby,” the other boy says to me. “You new in town?”

I get this sick feeling in my stomach. Something in my brain is telling me to run, but my legs are frozen.

The tall boy saunters over to me, grinning. “You got pretty hair.” He reaches out to touch my hair and I jerk away, horrified. My reaction makes the other boys laugh. “What are you so scared of, baby? We’re just looking to have a little fun.” He looks me in the eyes for a split second before I look away. “Don’t you like fun?”

“I have to go,” I croak, backing away from them.

I turn to leave, but there’s another boy behind me. They’ve surrounded me. Oh my God, I can’t get away from them. Even one of them is stronger than I am, but I have no chance against all three. There’s nothing I can do—I can fight but I’ll certainly lose.

The tallest boy creeps closer to me, a terrifying glint in his eye.


To be continued…

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Our Choices

And here comes episode 13! Thanks, guys, for still being with me. This is the last chance to make a decision because, yes, this is the second to last chapter of this story! I hope you enjoyed it, I am certainly looking forward to your comments and your last decision.

Your choice: Burn her


Cheers
Lovis
Table Of Content

Thursday, August 3, 2017

New Beginnings Chapter 30

Hello my friends,
I am back with another chapter for NB. I didn't have much time to edit and go over the chapter a couple more times like I usually do but I have had a friend visiting so we did some road trips and lots of sightseeing and I didn't have much time to do anything for myself really.
I appreciate all of you and will not leave you hanging though. There is a light at the end of the tunnel for Anna and guess what....Shane. I give you Chapter 30 and hope you will like it and keep coming along. Thanks for all the lovely comments. I guess I will have to write a prison story one day....:-)
You guys are great, thanks so much,
Hugs, Dani

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

No post today

I'm really sorry to those of you who waited all day for the next installment of In/Exhale. I was hoping I was going to be able to post it but was unable to.

Next week I will definitely post it and I hopefully can also add another episode of Love UnSeen for your trouble.

Thanks for your patience and understanding.

-CA

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Girl I Didn't Kill For, Chapter 2

1994
Jessie

I feel the tall boy’s hand on my sweater and I jerk away. Again, he laughs at me, “What are you so scared of? I told you we’re going to have fun.”

Could I run? There’s no way. They’d catch me. Could I scream and get someone’s attention? I glance at the windows of a nearby building, which are all boarded up. Who in this neighborhood would stop these boys from doing what they want to do? The bum who wanted to touch my hair? Nobody, that’s who.

“Hey!” The voice comes from all the way down the block, but it carries loud and clear. “Hey, assholes! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

They back away from me, if only just to see who’s yelling. I look down the block and I blink a few times in recognition.

I noticed the boy with the dark hair and eyes staring at me across the cafeteria during lunch today. I was sitting with two girls from my class, Ashley and Chrissy, and I asked them who he was.

“That’s Nick Moretti!” Ashley exclaimed.

“Nick Moretti,” Chrissy repeated and smiled secretly.

Ashley wagged her finger at me. “You want to stay away from Nick, Jess. Everyone knows his dad’s in the mob.”

I frowned at her. “The mob?”

“Like he’s a gangster,” Ashley said. “Like, you know, Al Capone. Or the Godfather.”

“That’s just a stupid rumor,” Chrissy snorted.

“It’s not a rumor—it’s totally true,” Ashley insisted. She glared at her friend. “Just because you think he’s cute, that doesn’t make it not true.”

“Nick’s a little more than cute,” Chrissy said.

Chrissy was right—Nick was a little more than cute. He was way cuter than any boy I ever met back in Milwaukee. He was cute enough that I didn’t mind the intense way he was staring at me.

And now he’s walking toward me.

He’s walking with his bike, striding closer to us every second. His eyes are pools of darkness, staring at the tallest of the boys. He’s got to be at least a year or two younger than that kid and a couple of inches shorter, but he doesn’t look scared at all. Nick walks right up to the kid and glares at him.

“You leave her alone,” Nick snaps at the tall boy. “You got me?”

“Look who it is!” The tall boy flashes a toothy grin. “Nick Moretti! ‘Sup? How’s your brother doing? He in juvie yet?”

Nick doesn’t flinch or budge. “Shut up, Mike.”

The tall boy, apparently named Mike, pats my ass affectionately. I flinch, and I can see Nick’s hand ball into a fist. But still, he just stands there, his dark eyes staring down the older, bigger boy. Mike is the one who hedges first.

“Relax, Nick,” Mike says. “We were just joking around with the new girl.” He smiles at me, “Isn’t that right, new girl?”

I don’t say anything.

Nick shakes his head in disgust at the older boy, and then nods his head in my direction. “Let’s go.”

I follow him blindly. Really, I have no reason to trust Nick more than those other kids, but somehow I know that he’d never do anything to hurt me. After all, he just saved me. Plus, I might be a little prejudiced based on the way he looks. Up close, Nick Moretti is even more handsome than he was across the length of the classroom. Every time he glances at me to make sure I’m following him, I get that fluttering in my chest.

We walk next to each other, him leading his bike along next to him, not saying a word. When we get to the end of the block, Nick focuses his dark eyes on me and says, “Where do you live?”

I tell him my address and his eyes widen. “Well, what the hell were you doing in this shitty neighborhood?”

“I got lost.” I shrug helplessly. “What are you doing in this shitty neighborhood?”

I wonder if he was following me.

“They got a good arcade,” he says. “I was meeting my friend there. But then I saw those assholes giving you a hard time. So I stopped.” He motions to me and we both turn left. “And now I’m going to walk you home.”

“You don’t have to,” I say, even though I’m desperately glad he’s here and I’d probably cry if he left me. “Just point me in the right direction.”

“You’re crazy if you think I’m leaving you alone here,” he says.

The neighborhood may be terrible, but I feel a hundred percent safe with Nick Moretti by my side.

“I’m Nick, by the way,” he says.

I suppress the urge to say “I know,” and instead say, “I’m Jessie.”

“You’re new.” He kicks his sneaker into the sidewalk as he acknowledges this piece of information. He’s got expensive-looking sneakers. Air Jordans. “Where you from?”

“Milwaukee,” I say. Then I remember how confused Chrissy and Ashley got, and I add, “It’s in Wisconsin. The Midwest.”

He raises his eyebrows, which are as dark as his eyes. “What’s it like there? Is it a lot different than Bensonhurst?”

“Yes,” I answer quickly. “Totally different.”

“How?”

I don’t want to start complaining about how much I hate it here, so instead I say, “It’s colder there.”

Nick raises an eyebrow. “Colder? Sorry to disappoint you, but it gets pretty cold here in January and February.”

“Not like in Wisconsin,” I say. “It’s really cold there. Like, they have to close school sometimes just because it’s cold. Not snow—just cold.”

“Close school because of the cold,” he muses. He smiles at me and it makes my heart do a little flip. “You know, I think you’re just a bunch of wusses out in Wisconsin.”

I laugh. “You know another thing that’s different here? You guys all have accents.”

He blinks at me. “Accents? What are you talking about, Jessie? I don’t got an accent. You do.”

“No, I don’t!”

“Yeah, you do.”

“Come on.”

Except maybe I do. Maybe to him, I have a raging accent. Either way, he doesn’t seem to mind.

“Also,” I add, “you guys don’t have Friday fish fries here.”

He looks at me blankly. “Friday… fish fry? What the hell is that?”

“It’s great!” I smile as I conjure up memories of years of fish fries. “Every Friday night, we’d go to a restaurant and they’d have this fried fish meal.”

“We got fried fish in Brooklyn,” Nick says. “We got it at McDonald’s.”

“Yeah, but this is different,” I explain. “It comes with, like, French fries or potato pancakes, a little cup of tartar sauce, a little cup of cole slaw, some lemon slices, and a slice of rye bread. It’s sooo good.”

“I’m sure there’s a place here that can make you up some fried fish and French fries.”

“But what about the rye bread?”

“There’s a Jewish deli two blocks over.” He points in off to the right. “Don’t worry, we got good food here. And better pizza, that’s for damn sure.”

He could be right. I loved the local pizza place in our neighborhood in Milwaukee, but we got delivered pizza two nights ago that was way better than Sammy’s Pizza at its best.

Nick turns a corner and I finally recognize the neighborhood as my own. I want to fall to my knees and kiss the ground. I didn’t think I’d ever make it back here in a million years. Nick is officially my hero.

“That’s my building up there,” I tell him, pointing to the short, ugly brownstone that I now call my home.

“Okay,” he says, but he keeps walking next to me.

“You don’t have to walk me to the door,” I tell him.

“I don’t have to,” he concedes, “but I’m gunna.”

I don’t object further. I let him walk me to the steps of my building. Apartment 2A is where I live these days. I’m almost embarrassed for him to see. I wonder what kind of place Nick lives in. If his dad is some big important guy, he probably lives in a place a whole lot nicer than this.

“Thank you,” I say to him.

“No problem,” he says.

“I’m sure tomorrow I’ll be fine,” I add.

He frowns at me thoughtfully. “I’m gonna walk you home again tomorrow.”

I squeeze my fists together. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Yeah, I do.” He shakes his head. “It’s not safe for you to be wandering around here. I’ll walk you till you know the way.”

I don’t suppress a smile. “Okay. If you don’t mind.”

“It’s my pleasure, Jessie,” Nick says. And even though he has an olive complexion, I swear I can see him blush.

I stand at the steps to my building, watching as Nick hops on his bike and peddles off in the direction of his own house, wherever that is. I’m glad he’s going to walk me home tomorrow—it’ll be a relief not to have to worry about getting lost. After a week, I’m sure I’ll have the hang of it though, and we can go our separate ways.


2009

Nick


It’s a business lunch, but I can see that my guest is having trouble focusing on business. The waitresses in this joint are wearing skirts so short that you can nearly see their underwear and shirts so low-cut that you almost get a flash of nipple. Carlo Bianchi is old enough to be the father of any one of these girls, but he can’t stop staring.

And that’s just fine. Anything that makes Bianchi happy works for me.

“I can’t believe I never been here before!” Bianchi says to me, although his eyes are trained on the ass of a blond waitress. He’s even forgotten about the juicy, medium-rare steak sitting in front of him. “Where’d you hear about this place?”

“I own it, actually. The building, at least.”

My family owns a handful of buildings that house restaurants, and this is one of them. It’s good when I want to take a suit out for a meal and make sure we get the VIP treatment. I’m hitting Bianchi up for a lot of money right now, so he’s gotta know I’m important—someone he can trust to hand over his money to.

And he can trust me. I’m not some idiot who’s gonna lose him his money.

“You got great taste, Moretti,” Bianchi says with an approving nod that causes his jowls to shake.

“Thanks.” I grin at him. “Means a lot coming from you.”

While Bianchi’s attention is distracted again by a passing waitress, I do a quick weight shift in my chair. Because I can’t feel where I’m sitting, I need to shift my position in the chair every fifteen minutes or so to keep from getting a pressure sore. But I don’t need Bianchi to see that. Right now, I can’t afford anything that will make me look weak. The chair is already a strike against me—I’m trying my best not to call attention to it, but it’s not like I can hide the fact that I need it. That’s not an option.

When I shift my weight, my legs shift too. Since I can’t move them on my own, they just move with my upper body. Thankfully, they usually shift back into place on their own. If they don’t, it’s another quick movement to make sure they’re not crooked—like I said, I don’t need anything to make me look weak. I can’t hide from Bianchi that I can’t walk, but I don’t have to let on that I can’t move or feel anything from the mid-chest down.

“So I had my lawyer look over the papers you sent me,” he says as he chews on a chunk of his steak. A droplet of blood trails down the side of his chin and he wipes it off with the back of his hand. Carlo Bianchi isn’t known for having great manners, but he is known for being very, very rich. I asked Pop once how a guy like Bianchi made himself so much money, but he wouldn’t say. I’m guessing it was through activities a lot less legal than the hotel I’m asking him to front money for.

“Yeah?” I say, like I couldn’t care less. Even though I’m hanging on his every word.

“He knew all about you,” he says between swallows.

My stomach sinks. “Yeah?”

I got a reputation that’s good and bad. Good because I made a lot of money for a lot of people. Bad because I don’t put up with bullshit. You make a deal with me, you’re holding up your end of the deal to my satisfaction. End of story. I got plenty of guys to make sure that’s the case, and I’ve got enough connections now to back myself up, even without my father’s help.

Nobody disrespects me. Nobody calls me “kid” anymore. They better never call me “cripple” if they want to keep their balls.

“Yeah, he knew about you,” Bianchi says darkly. But then his face breaks into a smile. “He said you were one smart sonuvabitch. He said I’d have to be outta my mind not to invest.”

I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. I had other guys I could’ve hit up for money, but once word got out Bianchi said no, it would get a lot harder.

Bianchi holds out his hand and I shake it, making sure my grip strength just matches his. He’s a big guy, but I’m younger and I got a lot more upper body power than he does from my years of pushing my chair around.

“Now that we got business out of the way.” He licks his lips greedily. “You know any of these girls?”

“Sure I do.”

He raises his unruly black eyebrows at me. “You been with any of them?”

I scan the restaurant. My eyes briefly rest on a brunette with big tits carrying a bottle of wine, who I remember having a good time with one night a few months ago. I was here late doing some deal and she joined me after my dinner guest left and her shift ended. We had a couple of drinks together, then before I knew it, she was on my lap. It was just one night, but it was a good night. She told me after that no guy’d ever made her scream that loud.

The waitress notices me looking and she winks at me. “Yeah. A couple,” I say.

He grins. “Got any recommendations?”

Another perk of renting to the owners of this place—I could fix up a date between Bianchi and his waitress of choice. None of them will say no to me—I’m their boss’s boss. Even so, I can’t resist saying, “But isn’t there a Mrs. Bianchi?”

He roars with laughter. “Oh, you’re a funny guy, Moretti! I like you.”

I return his smile. I don’t usually joke around with my business partners, but this deal put me in a good mood.

“How ‘bout you?” Bianchi asks me. “You married?”

I shake my head no. There have been plenty of girls—I don’t even want to admit how many—but I’ve never been married or even close. There’s only one woman I ever met that I wanted to get hitched to. And that’s Jessica Schultz.

I really blew that one.

I fell in love with Jessie nearly twenty years ago. From the moment I first saw her, I knew she was the girl I wanted to marry. For three years, her father kept us apart because he didn’t want his daughter hanging around a gangster—not that I was one. Not then, anyway.

And then… well, this happened to me. I ended up in this goddamn chair and I couldn’t face her anymore.

It took me ten years to get up the nerve to try to see her again. I drove all the way back to Brooklyn for her father’s funeral. And then…

I did the dumbest thing I’d ever done in my whole life. Something where you can’t just send a dozen roses and put it behind you. But I thought I could get her to forgive me. I really believed I could do it.

Yet here I am, three years later. Alone.

“You got the right idea, Moretti.” Bianchi shoves a bite of garlic mashed potatoes into his mouth. “Hold out as long as you can. Enjoy your freedom.”

I don’t want my freedom. I just want Jessie.

But I’m worried that ship has sailed.

To be continued...

The Girl I Didn't Kill For, Chapter 3

Jessie

Today my best friend Chrissy shows up for our lunch date ten minutes late wearing a tight red dress that makes every patron of the diner turn and salivate. It’s not just tight—it’s clearly expensive. The same could be said about her shoes, which I remember coveting in the window of Jimmy Choo’s last week and feeling nauseated when I saw the price.

Her boss, Nick Moretti, is clearly paying her well.

Before Chrissy can get to the table, I fiddle with my hair self-consciously. Over a year ago, I went through the trauma of the big three-oh. I’m noticing more lines around my eyes when I smile, and yesterday, I nearly fainted when I discovered a gray hair. I agonized over what to do about it, because they say if you pull out a gray hair, ten more will grow back. But I couldn’t just let it stay there—it was a gray hair! So I pulled the damn thing. I’ll probably be all gray by next winter.

Chrissy is the same age as me, but she’s just getting more gorgeous each year. I don’t get it. By the time she’s forty, she’ll be so utterly beautiful that I probably won’t even be able to bear looking at her any more. And don’t get me started on the men she dates. Each one is more handsome and muscular than the last. Seth doesn’t like to double date with her, because it makes him feel insecure.

Chrissy falls into the seat across from me, swiping strands of silky dark hair from her face. She looks tired but exhilarated. Whatever she does during her days at work, she clearly enjoys it. Unlike yours truly—I’m still working in data analysis and hating every moment of it.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” she breathes. “Things were crazy this morning.”

“Nick keeping you busy?” I ask.

Chrissy looks at me in surprise. Probably because I make a point of never mentioning Nick’s name—ever. I don’t know why I mentioned Nick today. It just popped out. I don’t know why I even thought of him. I never think of him anymore—as far as I’m concerned, he’s part of a completely different life. I haven’t seen him in a very, very long time. I’ve moved on.

“Sort of,” she says. “He just opened another new hotel a few weeks ago and he’s already trying to put together financing for a third—it’s just been so much work. Everyone is working nonstop.” She pauses to finger the menu. “But enough about me. How are you? What’s new?”

I shrug. “Nothing.”

Sadly, it’s true. In addition to being at the same old boring data analyst job, everything else is equally old and boring. There’s literally not one new thing going on in my life, aside from the fact that I’m a few weeks older than I was last time I saw her.

“How about the wedding?” Chrissy leans forward, eyes wide with excitement. “When are you and Seth getting hitched?”

“Never,” I say with more bitterness than I intended.

I’ve been engaged for three years with no end in sight. The year after Seth and I got engaged, we talked about how we didn’t want to rush into an expensive wedding because money was so tight. The second year, we started getting ribbed by our friends about how we hadn’t set a date yet. The third year, Seth started making excuses—weddings are a waste of money, he wants to be further in his career before we settle down, and for God’s sake we’re barely in our thirties, what’s the rush?

These days, I can’t even bring up our engagement without a blowout fight. I mentioned it two weeks ago, when a friend of mine booked her wedding at a local church. Seth completely lost it—he was yelling and screaming about how I was always pressuring him about the stupid wedding.

All the while, I kept thinking that I was also starting to feel sorry he proposed in the first place. Because if he hadn’t, I probably would have left him by now. But it’s hard enough leaving the person you live with—much harder to leave the person you promised your life to.

“How long have you guys been engaged anyway?” Chrissy asks.

“Twenty million years,” I say. “When he proposed, dinosaurs still roamed the earth.”

She laughs. “You know my opinion. I’m not getting married until I’m at least thirty-seven.”

Chrissy pushes back the arbitrary age that she’s willing to settle down each year. I don’t think she’s ever going to get married and have kids. She has too much fun without either. I can’t imagine her with a bunch of rug rats hanging off her legs.

“Got any candidates in mind?” I ask her.

Please don’t say Nick Moretti. If Chrissy showed up to a meal one day with a big rock on her finger courtesy of Nick, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest. Whether or not they’re currently an item, I know how she feels about him—I suspect he’s the one guy in the world who might be able to convince her to settle down. After all, she’s had a crush on him since they were in first grade.

But she never loved him the way I did.

“There are always candidates,” she says. “I’m going to have to interview every guy in the five boroughs before I can make any sort of informed decision.”

I put up scare quotes. “Yeah. ‘Interview.’”

“Fine.” Chrissy laughs. “I’m going to fuck every guy in the city. Happy?”

The timing couldn’t be better—just as she says that, our young waiter comes over to announce the specials, and is so flustered that he drops his pen three times while trying to take our orders. It doesn’t help that Chrissy flirts with him mercilessly the whole time.

“Is he next?” I ask her after the poor waiter nearly trips over his own feet walking away.

“No time right now.” She whips a compact out of her purse and checks her makeup. “As soon as we’re done eating, Nick needs me at a meeting.”

“How about Nick?” I blurt out. “Is he one of your candidates?”

Before Chrissy can answer, I feel my cheeks turning red. Why did I ask that? I meant it to be teasing, but it doesn’t come out that way. It sounds like I’m digging for information. And I don’t even know why. Why do I keep thinking about Nick today?

Who the hell knows? Maybe I’m ovulating. Maybe this is the first sign of a malignant brain tumor.

Or maybe when your relationship is going down the toilet, it’s normal to think about the only other guy you’ve ever loved. Even if he won’t see me because he’s too scared to face me in a wheelchair.

“No,” Chrissy finally answers. “Not Nick. Christ, Jess, he’s my boss.”

As if that would ever stop her if she really wanted something. Chrissy, who was widely known to have slept with our eleventh grade English teacher, Mr. Pizarro. (He was, in her defense, really cute.)

“Your boss who you’ve made out with,” I remind her.

A tiny smile plays on her lips. “Yeah. But that was a mistake.”

Sure it was.

“I don’t know, Jessie,” she sighs. “If Seth is dragging his feet and you really want to get married for some reason, I say just dump him.”

“But I’m thirty-one,” I protest. According to my mother, I’m an old maid at this point. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but it’s starting to feel like nearly all my friends are married or engaged at this point. I suspect that any guy willing to make a commitment has already been ensnared.

“Exactly!” Chrissy says. “You’re only thirty-one! Live a little.”

I just shake my head at her.

“Come out with me tonight,” she says. “I reserved a table at Cleopatra’s Lounge. We’ll have so much fun.”

“Cleopatra’s Lounge?” That is a tempting offer. Cleopatra’s is a nightclub in the city that recently got a mention in the Times as being one of the hottest places to be. I’m way too old to go to a dance club where someone would probably spike my drink with Ecstasy, but Cleopatra’s is an old school club with singers, comedians, and even drag acts. I’d been dying to go there, but the times that Seth and I have tried, there’s been a line out the door and wrapped around the block. “How did you get a table reserved?”

She waves her hand. “I know a guy.”

Of course she does.

“Can I bring Seth?” I ask. He’s been dying to go to Cleopatra’s, even more than me.

Chrissy picks up a sugar packet from the table and flicks it at me. “No, you may not. The whole point is we get a girls’ night out. And you, my dear, get to see that there are plenty of cute guys out there who don’t live in your apartment.”

I suspect any cute guys we meet tonight will only have eyes for the stunning brunette in the red dress, but I still want to see this place. So I agree to go out with Chrissy. She’s always good for a good time.



Nick

You don’t expect to see a six-foot-tall woman with long white-blond hair barging into your office carrying a folded up table.

“Hey!” I snap at her. “Who are you?”

The woman doesn’t answer me. She unfolds her table in the corner of my office like I hadn’t even spoken. I’m not used to people ignoring me, especially in my own goddamn office. When I talk, people listen. I wheel around my desk to confront her directly.

“Hey!” I say again. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

The woman lays a sheet on top of the table and points at it. “Get on table!” she instructs me in heavily accented English. She sounds Scandinavian.

“Listen,” I say to her, “I don’t know what you’ve been told but…”

“Get on table!” She points to the table more vigorously.

Goddamn Chrissy.

The door to my office cracks open and I see Chrissy peeking in. When she sees the Amazon woman has set up the table, her face breaks into a smile. I want to be furious with Chrissy, but it’s hard when she smiles like that. Since I hired her three years ago to help her pay off her gambling debts, she’s become one of my favorite people.

“Oh, good!” she says. “You’re all set up for your massage! Sonja is supposed to be the best, Nick.”

“Chrissy,” I say in a low growl. “I don’t have time for this shit.”

“Yeah, well.” She glares right back at me. “I’m sick of listening to you whine about your back.”

She’s right. I’ve been complaining a lot about my back, which generally feels awful. Not that it’s surprising, considering the sheer number of hours I spend sitting in my wheelchair every day. I do weight shifts like I’m supposed to, but I still wake up at five in the morning and don’t go to bed till past midnight—later on weekends. I’m not tired—I’ve never needed much sleep—but my spine can’t take it.

It pisses me off. I’m only thirty-one and I ought to be able to work all night if I want without getting limited by pain. My older brother Tony can be in meetings all day, then go out and party the rest of the evening till two in the morning, and he’s fine. No pain. Meanwhile, I’ve been transferring to the sofa in my office for periods during the day just to take some of the pressure off.

I hate the fact that my body can’t keep up with me.

“Sonja is the best.” As she talks, Chrissy leans in close enough that I can smell her floral shampoo and takes the liberty of undoing my tie for me. Nobody else in the whole world could get away with what she’s doing right now. “I did my research, believe me. Got the lowdown on every masseuse in all of Manhattan.” Chrissy pulls off my suit-jacket and I let her. Mostly because my back is already sore and it’s only two in the afternoon. “I know you have a million things to do, but this needs to take priority.”

I sigh and look warily at Sonja. “How long is this going to take?”

“Massage is one hour!” Sonja informs me.

“An hour!” I shake my head. “Chrissy, I gotta be in midtown in—”

“No, you don’t.” Now Chrissy is unbuttoning my collar. “Tony said he’d cover the meeting for you.”

“Great,” I mutter. “I was hoping to fuck this deal up.”

That’s not entirely fair. Tony has gotten slightly better at not fucking things up. Slightly.

Chrissy yanks my shirt out of my pants, and I decide things have gone a little too far. I’m not in the habit of getting naked in front of Chrissy. That’s not something that’s ever happened or will ever happen. There was a time when it seemed like it might, but that time has passed. These days, Chrissy and I are more like brother and sister.

“I can take it from here,” I tell her. “Thanks.”

She eyes me warily. “Are you going to let her massage you?”

“Yes, if you leave.”

So she leaves. It’s a relief for about five seconds, until I realize that now I’m all alone with the massive Sonja.

Sonja frowns at me. “Take off clothes! Get on table!”

Fine. My back is aching, so I may as well see what this woman can do. I unbutton the rest of my shirt and pull it off while Sonja looks at me appraisingly. She might be a six foot tall masseuse but she’s also a woman, and I’m not pleased with the way I look shirtless. From my ribs up, everything is good. But without working abdominal muscles, I got a gut. Tony’s never been to a gym in his life and he’s got a washboard stomach, but I got the belly of a middle-aged drunk. Nothing I can do about it though.

I usually take my pants off in bed and it’s a little tricky in the chair. Sonja offers to help but I brush her away and do it on my own. The challenging part is going to be getting on the table. The height isn’t too bad, but the table isn’t entirely stable. I’m worried that if I try to do the transfer, I’ll knock it over. Maybe we can do the massage on my sofa.

Before I can contemplate it further, Sonja says, “I lift.” And then she grabs me under my neck and legs and lifts me right out of my chair. She does it so quick, I don’t even have a second to protest before I’m in the air. And you can bet I would have protested if I’d known what she was going to do. I really don’t like being lifted that way.

Once I’m lying on the table, Sonja attempts to turn me onto my belly, but I shove her away. I can at least turn myself. But I appreciate she holds the table steady while I do it.

There’s a donut shaped cushion in front of me and I lay my face in it. I never had a massage before in my life. It seems like something rich ladies do. I hope Chrissy doesn’t tell anyone about this. She better not have told Tony—he’ll never let me hear the end of it. I’d have to lie and tell him I was paying Sonja for sex instead of a massage.

I smell something that’s vanilla. Christ, am I going to smell like a bakeshop after this shit? If I do this again, I’m going to have to ask her to bring some more manly-spelling lotions. Something that smells like the woods or gasoline.

I lift my head from the cushion and crane my neck to look at Sonja. “Hey,” I say, “not too much lotion.”

“Put head back down,” she says stubbornly.

I don’t oblige.

“Not too much lotion,” she reluctantly agrees.

“Also,” I add, “keep your hands off my legs.”

This rule is not negotiable. I don’t want her hurting me in a place I can’t feel and set off the spasms from hell. Or worse.

“For entire body massage—” Sonja begins.

“Keep your hands off my legs,” I say in a voice that people don’t argue with.

She is quiet for a moment. “Okay,” she finally says.

Sonja lays her fingers on me. At first, it’s fine. Almost good. But then all of a sudden, it’s not fine. I’m used to pain—I live with it every day of my goddamn life, but not pain like this. When I start seeing stars, I shake Sonja’s hands off my back, and snap at her, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“You have many knots in back,” Sonja says crossly.

“What—are you putting your elbow on me?”

“Just fingers.”

I shake my head at her. “This was a mistake.”

“No.” Sonja pushes me back down, gently but firmly. “I be more gentle. We try again.”

An hour later, I have to admit, I’m feeling a lot better. I won’t say the massage didn’t hurt like a mother, but now that it’s over, my back feels better. I also let Sonja know in no uncertain terms that she is never to lift me on or off the table ever again.

I’m buttoning my shirt back up when Chrissy barges in with a cup of water. She shoves it in my direction, but I ignore her. I want my shirt buttoned more than I want a drink of water.

“Drink this,” she orders me. “Sonja said you need to keep hydrated after the massage to clear the toxins from your body.”

I roll my eyes. “Oh, did she?”

But she keeps pushing the water at me, so I take it. I gulp it down while Chrissy works on my tie. Chrissy Cagliari can tie a tie better than anyone I know. Anytime I’m going to an important meeting, Chrissy fixes my tie for me. It’s my secret weapon.

“She’s great, isn’t she?” Chrissy says.

“Not bad.” I shrug. “What did she cost?”

“You don’t want to know.” She winks at me. “Anyway, you can afford it.”

That’s true. Our new hotel is doing just as well as the first one did. All of our properties are doing better than they’ve ever been doing. And now that the housing bubble has burst, there are bunch of properties going real cheap. That’s what the meeting Tony covered for me today was supposed to be about—there’s a place I’m dying to get my hands on.

At the thought of that meeting, I ask Chrissy, “Tony’s coming to Cleopatra’s tonight?”

“Your table is booked for four,” she says.

Cleopatra’s Lounge is the hottest night club in the city right now, and I own the place. It was my pet project from when I first got started—a dying club that featured tired old acts and watered down drinks. Tony said it was a lost cause—that people wanted to go to bars or dance clubs. But I could see the potential in Cleopatra’s.

I hired Alex Mitchell, the owner of a successful club in Atlantic City, away from his old position. Alex and I worked together to come up with a roster of fresh new acts that would drive in crowds, including some up-and-coming sexy, young singers and edgy comedians. I wasn’t sure about the drag act that Alex wanted to book, but he ended up being right about that too. Business steadily increased until I arranged some good mentions in the paper and Internet buzz, and now we got lines around the block.

Tony loves Cleopatra’s now. Half the time when I meet with him, I gotta go there to do it because he won’t meet me anywhere else. It’s not the greatest location to have a quiet business discussion, but it’s easier than dragging Tony’s ass to my office. And it’s good entertainment.

“Natalie confirmed?” I ask.

Chrissy wrinkles her nose when I mention my latest girlfriend. “Yes, but I’m sure it’s not too late to cancel on her. Or break up with her.”

I smile. Part of the fun of dating Natalie is how much it pisses Chrissy off. That and some of Natalie’s other attributes.

“That’s not going to happen,” I tell Chrissy.

I have no intention of breaking up with Natalie now or any time in the near future. Natalie might offend Chrissy’s sensibilities, but I got my reasons.

To be continued....

The Girl I Didn't Kill For, Chapter 4

Jessie

I don’t know what to wear to Cleopatra’s tonight.  Everything in my closet is woefully inadequate.  Especially my dresses.  But especially my shoes.  And oh my God, does every pair of pantyhose I own have a huge rip in them?

Yes.  Yes, they do.

I’m starting to question my decision to do most of my shopping at Target.  But that’s what you get when you’re poor and happy.  Or just poor.

I do have one silky little black dress that might work.  It belonged to my mother, who claimed it would look great on me.  When she gave it to me, the neck was lined with fur, but I removed the fur in an attempt to make the dress look less ridiculous.  And it worked, more or less.  It’s plain and not a name brand, but it looks sleek and classy.

My eternal fiancé Seth comes home just as I’m checking myself out in the little black dress.  He does a double-take when he sees me.  “Hey, sexy lady.  We going somewhere I don’t know about?”

“I’m going out with Chrissy,” I say.  “You remember Chrissy, right?”

“She’s the hot brunette, right?” Seth raises his eyebrows.  His hairline has been receding the last couple of years, which makes the wrinkles on his forehead more prominent.  “Where to?”

I hesitate, scared that if I tell him Chrissy got us a table at Cleopatra’s and he’s not invited, he’ll flip out.  I don’t feel like starting an argument right now.  But on the other hand, it’s going to be hard to hide this from him.

“Cleopatra’s Lounge,” I finally say.

Seth grins at me. “So… you want to spend your night waiting in line?”

On two separate occasions, Seth and I spent half our night waiting in line to get into Cleopatra’s.  The second time, we were out there for four hours and moved roughly half a block.  During the third hour, it started to rain, but we both wanted to get in so badly that we refused to leave—especially Seth.  He took off his jacket at one point and held it over my head to convince me to stay.  He got another thirty minutes out of me by doing that. 

“Chrissy thinks she can get us in.”

“She’s not that hot, Jess.”

I don’t argue with him.  Better he doesn’t know how well connected Chrissy is.

Seth loosens his tie with his thumb and wanders into our tiny kitchen.  We’ve moved a handful of times in the last few years, but never somewhere substantially better.  We always just moved to escape a horror that eventually became unlivable. 

For example, in our last apartment, there was an unidentifiable stench that clung to the place.  At first, it was a smell, then it became an odor, and finally it evolved into the horrible stench that drove us out.  We checked every crevice of the apartment to figure out where it was coming from with no luck.  Seth was convinced there was a decomposing body buried beneath the floorboards.  It’s too bad because it was otherwise a nice place.

Seth’s law practice is finally turning a small profit, but that hardly means we’re rolling in dough.  After all those lean years, we have zero savings, and neither of us have made a dent in our loans. So I’m still inventing creative ways to serve ramen.  And I’m hoping that at Cleopatra’s some guy will buy us drinks because I can’t afford more than one margarita.

“So I guess I’m on my own for dinner?” Seth asks me.

“Yeah, sorry.”

He rifles through the kitchen cabinet, looking for food.  “Christ, there’s nothing to eat here.  When’s the last time you went shopping?”

“You know,” I say, “you can go shopping.”

“But you always do the shopping,” he points out as he pulls a bag of Cajun-flavored instant rice from a cabinet.

I fold my arms across my chest. “Since when?”

“Since forever?”  He tosses the bag of rice in our microwave and types “90” into the cook time.  “That’s one of your jobs.  Like cooking.  And the dishes.”

“And what’s your job?”

“Taking out the trash.”

It seems like every day we end up having some stupid little quarrel.  If it isn’t over grocery shopping, it’s over changing the toilet paper roll or leaving an empty carton of milk in the fridge.  (Seriously, if you finish the milk, throw out the carton!  How hard is that?) It’s not that I don’t love him, but… is it possible that after living together for nearly ten years, we’ve gotten sick of each other?

That said, we’re used to each other.  I know everything about Seth, like the way he brushes his bottom teeth first, then the top.  I know his favorite television shows (mostly cop dramas).  When we eat together, it’s easy.  I don’t have to stress out about impressing him and being sexy.  It’s like we’re family.  I feel closer to him than to anyone else—even my mother, these days.

And that’s why I stick around, even though Seth has his flaws and it’s not the most exciting relationship anymore.  Nobody’s perfect.


Nick

“I can’t believe I’m in Cleopatra’s!”

Tony’s new girlfriend Daphne is star struck.  A little too star struck.  I came here tonight for the sole purpose of discussing business with Tony, but the silicone-breasted Daphne won’t shut the hell up.  (I know a pair of fakes when I see ‘em.) And when she’s not talking, she’s climbing all over Tony, licking his ear and neck, and pressing those fake tits all over him.  I appreciate that she’s excited and apparently infatuated with my brother, but I’m not in the mood for this shit.

“Tony,” I say in a low voice, “we need to talk about the meeting today.”

“Hang on, Nico.” Tony waves me away.  “Just let Alice finish.”

Alice is the chick singing onstage right now.  She’s one of Tony’s favorites, and I’m fairly sure he’s fucked her.  Which is fine.  I can’t throw stones—I’ve hooked up in one way or another with just about every waitress who works here.

I glance over at Natalie, who is sitting demurely beside me.  Natalie has been my girlfriend for six months, and I’m not sure we’ve ever had a conversation in that time.  She’s twenty-three years old, model beautiful, and I’m essentially paying her to be my girlfriend—I’m not even trying to fool myself on that one.  I pay Natalie’s rent, I buy her clothes and jewelry, food, whatever.  In exchange, she goes out with me wherever I want to go at night and does whatever I want when we go back to my place. Because I’m in the chair, having a beautiful girl on my arm balancing things out.  People don’t feel sorry for me if I’m with Natalie.

Does this make her a prostitute?  No.  Well, maybe.  It’s a fine line.  The fact is that I don’t have time or desire for a real relationship, so what I’ve got with Natalie works.  Also, when you’re in my situation, you start to wonder if the girl you’re with only wants you for your money and power.  This way is better since I don’t have to wonder.

But then I look over at Daphne and Tony.  Daphne isn’t with Tony because he’s loaded—she’s clearly into him.  Not that he gives a shit, but still.

I struggle to think of something to say to Natalie, but come up blank.  I have no idea what she likes besides the clothing and jewelry stores that come up on my credit card statement.  Luckily, I’m rescued by our waitress.

“Is there anything I can get for you?” Our waitress is a cute little thing named Carrie, who’s been working here for a few weeks.  I like the twang in her accent.  I also like the way she addresses the table but keeps her eyes pinned on me.  “Another glass of wine, Mr. Moretti?”

“No, thanks, Carrie,” I say.  She blushes when I say her name.  Maybe I’ll send Natalie home early tonight and see what happens with Carrie.

“I want another of those yummy mojitos!” Daphne says, even though she has already had one too many mojitos.  But I don’t care.  She’s Tony’s problem.

“I’ll have another glass of red,” Tony tells her.

I shake my head at him. “Not till we discuss business.”

Tony rolls his eyes dramatically and I want to punch him.  I’ve been sitting here nearly an hour, and he knows I’ve been waiting for this. All the tension that left my back after my session with Sonja is returning.

“Fine,” Tony grumbles when Carrie runs off.  “Let’s talk business.”

Finally.  I lean in toward him so that the girls can’t hear us, “So did they accept our bid?”

Tony taps his fingers on the table.  “Not exactly.”

“Not exactly?” My right hand balls into a fist.  Tony is so goddamn frustrating to talk to.  “Explain to me what that means.”

He shrugs.  “There was another bid.”

I massage my temples with my fingers.  “And you couldn’t tell me that till now?”

“What’s there to tell?”

My brother’s an idiot.  I don’t know why I bother to send him to meetings at all.  It would be better to send a blow up doll. The price on this property in Jersey was dirt cheap because nobody else wanted it, but I saw a lot of potential. I weight shift in my chair, trying to keep my temper under control. “Who made the bid?”

“Lombardi.”

“John Lombardi?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit…” I didn’t see that coming. John Lombardi’s been around a while—he’s nearly as old as Pop, but he isn’t interested in properties the way we are.  Lombardi mostly traffics drugs (and girls) and does gambling and loan sharking.  Those are things I try to stay far away from—I figure it’s just asking for trouble.  Sometimes I worry that Tony might do some of that stuff on the side, but I know my own hands are clean. “I didn’t know Lombardi was getting into real estate.”

Tony nods. “I was surprised too.  What do you think he wants it for?”

“Money laundering, probably.”

He frowns.  “What do you mean?”

 “You know how it works,” I mutter.  “Come on.”

He just looks at me. Sometimes I’m not sure what universe my brother lives in.

“Lombardi owns, say, an apartment somewhere actually valued at a million dollars,” I explain.  “But banks don’t really know how much the apartment is worth.  So if a guy pays him five million for the apartment, that’s a clean transaction that won’t leave a dirty paper trail the way it would if the guy handed Lombardi four million dollars.”

Tony mulls that one over.  Finally, he smiles slyly.  “How do you know so much about this, Nico?”

I ignore the question. “I want that property, Tony.” 

“So we gotta make a higher bid,” Tony says.

“I’ve got to crunch the numbers.” I shake my head. “See how high I can go.  This is a pain in the ass though.  I thought it was in the bag.  We had it.”

Tony claps me on the shoulder.  “Don’t worry about it now, Nico.  Just enjoy yourself.  We’re at the hottest club in the city.  Our club.”

Technically, Cleopatra’s belongs to me alone and not Tony.  But who’s counting?

My phone buzzes with a text message.  I look at the screen and see that Chrissy is the one texting me: Manny just dropped us off at the door to C’s. 

I smile in spite of the situation.  There’s nobody I’d rather talk to right now more than Chrissy.  I can run the whole Lombardi situation by her and see what she thinks—I trust her opinion over Tony’s any day of the week.

I’ll tell the waitress to bring another chair to our table, I write back to her.

Her reply comes quickly: We’d need two.  I’ve got company.

I grin and write: Another one of your lovers?

She writes back: No, yours.

I frown and push my chair back, craning my neck to look at the back entrance.  I can see Chrissy easily in her striking red top and black leather skirt—she’s easy to spot in any crowd.  But her friend is harder to see.  I can tell she’s wearing black, which makes her nearly invisible in this dark room.  The only part of her that’s easy to see is her hair, which is…

Golden blond.

Holy shit.

It’s Jessie.

My phone slides out of my hand into my lap.  My tie feels like it’s choking me, and I have to loosen it by several inches before I suffocate.  I haven’t laid eyes on Jessie Schultz since I got my wheels.  And I’m not ready to see her right now.

What the hell does Chrissy think she’s doing?  I don’t need this shit right now.  I’ve got enough stress from work.

I pick the phone up off my lap and type with fumbling fingers: Get her out of here.

She doesn’t respond.

I add: Now. 

Then: I mean it.

And finally: I want her out or you’re fired.

I see her pull her phone out of her purse.  She reads my messages off the screen.  She knows exactly where my table is, so she’s able to look right at me, wink, then put her phone back in her purse.

At least they don’t come to our table.  Our host Duke seats them at a table close to the stage, but far enough away from us that I could probably be inconspicuous if I wanted.  But at the same time, they’re close enough that I can see them really well.  That is, I can see Jessie really well.  It’s the first really good look I’ve gotten at her since… well, since high school.

Christ, she looks fantastic.

She dropped the baby fat she had back in high school, although she’s curvy as hell and she’s still got those tits that are practically spilling out of her tight black dress. Her golden blond hair is loose around her face and runs down her back, picking up a purple tint from the overhead lighting.  I still remember the first time I laid eyes on her when I was only fourteen years old, how she’d made me feel like I was willing to do anything for her. 

It turns out nothing has changed.

Would you like to join us? Chrissy texts me.

Of course I would.  What kind of dumb question is that?  But Jessie hates me.  That’s what happens when you refuse to see your girlfriend because you’re too ashamed to let her see you in a wheelchair.

Best case scenario if I go over there is that she won’t speak to me.  Worst case is she starts yelling at me.

I really don’t need this shit.

“You okay, Nico?” Tony asks me.  “You look a little… sick.”

I undo the top button on my shirt.  “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Natalie looks at me with disinterest.  I wish she’d at least pretend to like me when we’re in public.  “Do you need to go home?” she asks.

“I said I’m fine,” I mutter.

It’s clear that Chrissy is not taking my threats seriously. She and Jessie have placed their drink orders with Carrie.  As soon as the waitress scurries away, Chrissy picks up her phone.  Before I can wonder, my phone buzzes again:

If you don’t join us, I’m bringing her to you.

Shit.

To date, Jessie still has never seen me in my wheelchair. Not once. And the truth is I’m not excited for her to see it.  She’s the love of my life—I don’t want her to see me as any less of a man than I used to be.

But Chrissy is forcing my hand.  And it’s stupid to think I can avoid her ever seeing me like this. This is what I am now. I should just go over there and get it over with.  Maybe in person, she’ll finally accept my apology and we can put the whole thing behind us.

I signal to Carrie, who races to our table like her life depends on it.  She leans over the table to give me an eyeful of her cleavage. “What can I do for you, Mr. Moretti?”

“Those two ladies over there,” I say to Carrie.  “They just ordered drinks.  When the drinks come, tell them it’s on me.  Okay?”

Carrie nods, looking less than thrilled by my request.

I sit there, my stomach turning.  I wait for the drinks to come out, all the while considering making a run for the door.  When Carrie puts the two colorful margaritas on their table, she points in my direction.  I see Jessie craning her neck to see the guy footing the bill.  When she sees my face, her eyes become huge.  She lifts her hand in a half-wave.

I nod back.

I can’t break eye contact with her after that.  Another singer is on the stage, but I don’t hear a word of it.  Jessie is all I can see or think about.  And the way she’s looking back at me, I wonder if she’s thinking the same thing.

I should go over there.  I know I should. Maybe she doesn’t hate me anymore, even though I can’t figure out why she wouldn’t.

Eh, fuck it.

“I’ll be back,” I mutter to the other people at my table, as if any of them care.

And then I’m wheeling myself over to their table.  My disability is in full view—there’s no way I can possibly hide it from Jessie at this point.  There’s no way to fake being able to walk.  It would be handy if I could, but I can’t.  This is inevitable.

When I get to the table, the two of us just stare at each other.  She looks even more beautiful up close than she did from across the room—she’s only gotten hotter over the years.  I want her so bad, it’s physically painful.

But then I realize she’s looking me over just as carefully.  I wince when I think about what she sees.  I look down at my legs and see they’ve gotten slightly off-kilter while I was wheeling across the room.  I want to fix them, but it would be worse for her to see me fixing them.  Even if she knows I’m paralyzed, it’s a different thing for her to see my adjusting my lifeless legs.

I wish she could be looking at the old Nick Moretti.  If there would be one time when I wish I could magically be my able-bodied old self again just for an hour, it would be right now.

“Nick,” Jessie says breathily, breaking the silence that penetrates the space between us.  “Hi.”

“Hi,” I say back, because I’m that suave.

I can’t quit staring at her and it looks like she’s got the same problem.  Except I assume she’s staring at me for a different reason.

Well, at least she’s not yelling at me.

“Thanks for the drinks,” Jessie manages.

“You’re welcome,” I say.  “I hope you’re enjoying our club.”

“Our…?” Jessie blinks her blue eyes.  “You own this club?”

“Right,” I say.  “How else d’you think Chrissy got in so easy?”  I take a deep breath, angry at myself for letting the Brooklyn dialect slip into my speech.  When I’m with old friends from the neighborhood or when I’m nervous, I can’t hide the accent. It’s never really left—in my head, “d’you” is still one word, not two.  But I wanted to show Jessie that I’d changed—that I’m better than that idiot from Bensonhurst I used to be.  Even if I can’t walk anymore like he could.

At the sound of her name, Chrissy stands up and brushes off her dress. I take advantage of the distraction to quickly readjust my legs. “I hope you’ll excuse me,” she says.  “I’m gonna go to the ladies room and let you both catch up.  I bet you got a lot to talk about.”

We do.  I have about a million questions I’d like to ask Jessie, but I can’t make myself say anything.  At least I see that her left hand is bare—no wedding band or engagement ring.  That answers one of my questions—the most important one.

I lean in closer to talk to her, and I can see her lean in too so that her golden hair falls forward.  I remember the first time I kissed her, how I could smell her shampoo—some kind of flowery smell.  That was nearly twenty years ago, but I’d still know that smell anywhere.  It always reminds me of Jessie.

“Look,” I say quietly, “I just want to tell you that… I’m sorry for what I did in the past.  All of it.  I was just a stupid kid, and… if I could take it back, I would.”

“Oh,” she says.

“Is that an ‘oh’ of forgiveness?” I try to joke.

She breaks eye contact with me to stare down at her drink.  “I’m not sure.”

“I just…” I take a breath, wishing I could’ve had more to drink before I came over here.  “I wish I’d done things differently.  I want you to know I never stopped thinking about you.  Never stopped regretting the way I left things.”

Jessie gets a tiny smile on her face, and I breathe a sigh of relief.  I used to be good at making Jessie smile.  I miss it.

“So you really own the hottest club in the city, huh?” she muses. 

“Seems that way.”

“I guess you’re as successful as you always wanted to be then.”

I nod slowly.  “In business—yeah.  I’ve done okay.”

“More than okay.”

I wonder how much she knows about my business dealings.  I wonder if she ever sees my name in the paper.  Considering some of the stuff that gets said about me, it’s better if she doesn’t. “Yeah, more than okay.”

Jessie is quiet for a minute, and I take the cue from her to shut the hell up.  If she’s decided to forgive me, I’m not going to wreck it being saying something dumb.  I’m going to sit here and listen to the music playing until Jessie decides she wants to talk to me.

“That singer is really good,” Jessie finally comments.

I glance back at the stage, where Alice is singing an old song that I recognize but can’t name.  She does have a great voice for our stage—throaty and sultry.  “Yeah, she’s talented,” I say.  I can’t help but add, “You’re better though.”

Her cheeks turn pink in a way that makes my chest hurt.  “Stop it.”

“You are,” I insist.  And I mean it.  Jessie could sing circles around Alice.  I went to see her in every single performance she did of West Side Story in high school, and I’ll never forget it. “Do you still sing?”

“In the shower,” Jessie gives a strangled laugh.  “I used to go to karaoke night at a bar downtown, but… I haven’t been there in over a year.  I felt like I was getting too old for it.”  She shrugs. “Anyway, the answer is no, I guess.  Not professionally, anyway.”

Even with Alice crooning in the background, I can still imagine the sound of Jessie’s singing.  I can’t believe it’s been over thirteen years since I’ve heard it.  The thought of never hearing it again pains me.

“I’ll hire you for the club,” I say.

Jessie’s eyes widen.  “The club?  You mean… this club?”

“Sure.” I shrug.  “Why not?”

Actually, the more I think about it, it’s a perfect idea.  And a perfect excuse to see her again.  At a time when Tony and Natalie aren’t across the room watching us, and Chrissy isn’t on her way back from the bathroom any minute.

“No…” She covers her cheeks with her hands.  “I’m not… Nick, come on.  I’m not right for this club.”

“You think I don’t know what’s right for my own club?”

She just shakes her head.  “Are you just doing this so I’ll forgive you?”

“No,” I say, “because you already forgave me.  Right?  This is just a smart business decision.”

She shakes her head again.

I glance back at our table, where Natalie is clearly watching us.  Although she and I have an arrangement, she doesn’t like it when I flirt with women right in front of her.  Not that I really give a shit about what Natalie thinks, but I don’t want her to make a scene.  It’s the last thing I need right now.

“Listen,” I say to Jessie, “have lunch with me tomorrow.  We’ll talk more about this.  Okay?”

Jessie chews on her lip.  I feel suddenly self-conscious again about the fact that I’m on wheels, but there’s not much I can do about it now.  If I want her, I’ll have to win her over the way I am.  And I do want her.  I’ve fooled myself for this long, but now that I’ve seen her again, I’ve realized something I wish I’d known years ago:

I can’t be happy without Jessie Schultz. 

I should never have given up trying to get her to forgive me.  I should have gone to the ends of the Earth to get her back.  And now that I’ve got another shot at it, I don’t intend to fuck it up.

“Okay,” Jessie says finally.

“Great.” I let out a breath.  “How about Blue Moon?  Do you know it?”

She nods.  “It’s… very expensive.”

It’s also wheelchair accessible.  I know it because it’s another restaurant where my family owns the building.  So we’ll eat for free, although I’d happily pay for any meal with Jessie.  “Noon?”

“Sounds perfect.”

I can’t stop staring at Jessie. I’m reluctant to leave the table, but I glance over and see Natalie is making a face.  She says it makes her look like a fool when I hit on other girls in front of her.  I better go back.

“Is that your girlfriend over there?” she asks me.

“I…” I glance back at Natalie.  “Yes, but… no.  Sort of.”

“Sort of,” Jessie repeats.

“Nothing serious,” I say quickly.  Nothing I wouldn’t end in a second to be with her.

She nods and looks like she’s going to say something more, but then she keeps her mouth shut.  “So I’ll see you for lunch tomorrow.”

“Noon,” I say again.

I’m not sure I can wait that long.



Jessie
 
My head won’t stop spinning after I see Nick.

When he refused to see me all those years ago, all I felt was anger.  But tonight… I don’t know if it was the years that had gone by since then or the fact that we were finally face-to-face, but I felt anything but angry. 

I want him.

I always thought that night we were at prom was the most intense night of my life but this was a close second.  My heart literally skipped a beat when I saw him looking at me across the room.  And then he came out from behind the table and I could see that he wasn’t able to walk, confirming what I had heard from everyone I knew, yet never entirely believed until that moment. 

He seemed so nervous when he was trying to apologize to me.  I’m not used to Nick being nervous.  I’m good at being nervous—it’s my specialty.  But Nick always seemed so confident. 

He’s the same and he’s also different.  Obviously, he’s different in that he used to be able to walk—that’s clearly not a possibility anymore based on the wheelchair and the ease with which he used it.  He was obviously a guy who had over a decade of practice maneuvering a chair. But there were other differences too—he spoke differently.  Aside from a few slips, I could barely hear the Brooklyn accent that used to be so pronounced.  And the clothes he was wearing were so obviously expensive.  He looked every bit the part of a successful businessman.

But he’s also the same Nick.  He still has those same penetrating, sexy dark eyes.  He’s still so freaking handsome, I wanted to throw myself at him. No, more handsome. And that confidence he always wore was still there—except when he was talking to me.

Also, the way he looked at me was still the same.  That hadn’t changed at all.

When I came out with Chrissy tonight, I genuinely hadn’t expected to meet somebody.  Much less The Somebody.

For the next hour, I have trouble focusing on the acts onstage.  I keep looking at Nick, and most of the time, he’s looking right back at me. But sometimes he’s talking to his brother, who looks like an only slightly classier version of the gangster he used to be in high school.  Other times, he’s talking to the girl next to him.  The one he reluctantly admitted was his girlfriend.

That girl?  She’s gorgeous.  No, she’s moved beyond gorgeous.  She looks like she should be in her own species of woman, because no regular human female could possibly look like that.  Nick claimed it wasn’t serious, but God, it’s really hard to imagine that he or any male in his right mind could choose me over her.

“Look at the way that new waitress is fawning over Nick,” Chrissy comments. “She wants him so bad.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” I say, even though I absolutely had.  Every time that girl went over to their table, she would smile at him like he was a movie star. Nick barely seemed aware of it though.

“Oh please,” Chrissy laughs.  “The two of you have been staring at each other nonstop since you saw him there.”

“No, we haven’t,” I lie.

“You’re blushing, Jess.”

I duck my head down so she can’t see my face.  “Anyway, he has his girlfriend over there.”

“Natalie?” Chrissy makes a face. “She’s the most repulsive person I’ve ever met. He’s only dating her because…”

I narrow my eyes.  “Because what?”

“Because he doesn’t have you.”

I groan.

“Well, it’s true.” Chrissy shrugs.  “I finally got sick of watching the two of you being miserable.  Obviously, neither of you are capable of finding a decent relationship on your own, so here you go.”

“I’m engaged, Chrissy.”

I know Chrissy dislikes Seth, but she has to understand that he and I have a history together.  Nick is… well, intense.  But I can’t throw away thirteen years for a guy I just reconnected with an hour ago.  That would be ridiculous.

To be continued...