Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Girl I Didn't Kill For, Chapter 10



ONE YEAR LATER

Jessie

I’m about to go onstage at Cleopatra’s in five minutes and I’m not even nervous.

I used to get nervous.  A few times in the beginning, I actually went to the bathroom and threw up prior to my performance.  I didn’t tell anyone about it though, because, I mean, how embarrassing is that?  Here I am, about to go onstage in a nightclub in a sexy dress and strut my stuff, and I’m dry heaving in the ladies’ room.

But now? I’m totally cool. My palms aren’t even sweaty.

Alice is doing her makeup next to me.  Because the name of the club is Cleopatra’s, she’s recently decided to give her eyes a bit of an Egyptian look.  She doesn’t need the gimmick because she’s absolutely beautiful even with no makeup, but you can’t tell that to Alice.  Her cosmetics are an extension of herself.  I’ve become friendly with Alice in the last nine months and she’s started doing my makeup too—she’s a genius with an eyelash curler.

“Is Seth here tonight?” Alice asks me.

I shake my head no.  “I think he’s sick of me performing the same songs over and over.”

For a while, Seth was coming to my performances frequently, but I can’t blame him for not wanting to watch me rotate through the same twenty or so numbers again and again. The only thing I really need him to show up for is the wedding ceremony booked for three months from now, in a small church in front of our close friends and family.  That’s all that matters.

“Funny how Nick never seems to get sick of it,” Alice muses.

I give her a sharp look, although she’s right.  Nick Moretti has been present for every single one of my performances without exception.  And if Seth isn’t here, I usually join him for a drink afterwards and then he drives me home.  If I try to protest I can make it home myself, he says, “It’s not safe for a lady to be wandering around your shitty neighborhood at night. I’m driving you.” It reminds me of when we were kids and he used to walk me home every day.

“Nick likes my singing,” I say simply.

Alice gives me a sly smile. “That’s not all he likes.”

Alice has confided in me that between Tony and Nick Moretti, the two brothers have hooked up with every single girl who works at Cleopatra’s, with a small degree of overlap.  I’ve noticed Tony sniffing around Alice all the time, and I asked her about it once.

“I’m always up to have some fun with Tony,” she told me.  “But to be honest, if I had my choice, I’d pick Nick.  He’s crazy sexy, even if he can’t walk.  Plus Nina who works on Fridays told me that he gave her the best orgasm she’d ever had in her whole life.”

I had to bite my tongue from telling Alice that Nick gave me the first orgasm I’d ever had in my whole life.  And yes, to this day, I still count it as the best. But considering he did it while I was lying on a desk and he was standing up, nearly climbing on top of me, I’d imagine he’d have to do things differently now.  Either way, it’s clear he still has skills.

Skills I will never experience again.

“Alice,” I say patiently, “I’m engaged.”

She shrugs. “So?  Nick doesn’t mind.”

I just shake my head.  Alice always seems to be dating four or five men at once—she doesn’t seem to understand the concept of fidelity.  I don’t know how she even manages to keep all their names straight.

“I just find it interesting,” she says, “that Nick broke up with his girlfriend right around when you started here and he hasn’t been dating anyone else regularly since then.”

She’s right.  And it’s a fact that hasn’t escaped me.

I push thoughts of Nick Moretti out of my head as I navigate to the stage in my too-high heels. I wouldn’t say that I’m the star headliner at Cleopatra’s, but there are plenty of customers who love me.  I don’t even get self-conscious anymore about the fact that I’m multiple dress sizes larger than Alice.  (To be fair, she’s a zero.)  There are men out there who like that I’ve got curves and natural tits.  And I’ve gotten good at giving my usually clear singing voice a sexy edge.

The new song I’ve added to my repertoire for tonight is Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”  I sang it for Nick last week and he really liked it.  It’s a sweet song that can be sexed up a little.

The tempo of my version is slower than the original.  I get close to the microphone, but not so close that it smears my dark red lipstick that Alice carefully applied.  I know everyone in the room has their eyes on me, which used to scare the hell out of me, but now I love it.  This gig is the best thing in my life right now—I love getting up here and singing twice a week.  I didn’t know how much I missed singing until this opportunity came along.

Of course, there’s no chance of keeping thoughts of Nick Moretti out of my head when the first thing I see when I scan the audience is him sitting at his usual table, his dark eyes watching me intently.  He’s always there.  Always.

For I can’t help

Falling in love with you

It’s funny how when you’re singing a song over and over, you stop listening to the words—it becomes rote.  But now that I’m performing it onstage and trying to dredge up emotion behind the words, I realize how ironic it is I’m singing this to Nick. But then again, I think that about every song I sing. 

I can’t help falling in love with you…


Nick

Jessie is about to go onstage in five minutes and my phone is buzzing.  It’s Chrissy.  I don’t know what the hell is wrong with her—she knows I don’t like to be disturbed when Jessie is singing.

Which means it’s probably important.

I pick up the phone and bark into it: “What?”

“Good evening to you too, boss,” Chrissy says cheerfully.  “A pleasure, as always.”

I take a deep breath, trying to calm myself down enough that I won’t be yelling at her.  “What’s going on?  Is something wrong?”

She hesitates.  Shit.  Did Pop have another heart attack?  No, she wouldn’t have made her smartass comments if he did. 

“I got a message from John Lombardi,” Chrissy says.  “He urgently wants to set up a meeting with you and Tony.”

Fucking John Lombardi.  I let him have that property in Jersey, but he’s made a play for a couple of other places since then.  I let him have them, because it wasn’t worth the fight.  But now I feel uneasy.  Why does this asshole want a meeting?

“With me and Tony?” I repeat. 

That doesn’t sound right either.  People always deal with just me. 

“He was very specific,” Chrissy says.

My gut is telling me something’s not right here.  But at the same time, I’m curious.  Maybe this will give me some information about Lombardi’s intentions.  And worst comes to worst, Tony will have my back.

“Set it up,” I tell her.  “But I want it on my turf.  He comes to me.  Got it?”

“Okay, boss,” she agrees.  “Consider it done.”

I put down the phone but still feel unsettled.  In the last nine months, since I lost the Jersey deal, I’ve done a lot of checking up on John Lombardi.  He’s like me in a lot of ways—the son of Italian-Americans who took over the family business when his father died ten years earlier.  But while we got some ties in the underworld, Lombardi is right in the middle of it. He knows everyone, and everyone owes him. He’s been arrested a bunch of times for drug trafficking, but none of the charges stuck, partly because the witnesses had a way of disappearing. 

My father was right—Lombardi is not a guy to mess around with.  No fucking way I’m giving him whatever he wants, but at the same time, I have to be very careful how I handle this meeting.  Tony being there is a wild card, because even though he looks like a tough guy, he can be an idiot.  The last thing I want is for him to fly off the handle and antagonize Lombardi—that’s a great way to get yourself killed.

Luckily, when Jessie comes onstage, I forget all about Lombardi.

I’ve been watching her sing here for the last nine months, and I’ll never get sick of it.  Never.  She’s always got a new song, but even if she sang the same songs every time, I’d still watch her.  I can’t stop staring at her in that clingy blue dress, the lights bouncing off her golden hair so that it almost glows.  I know it’s dumb, but I always feel like she’s singing to me.

“I can’t help,” she breathes into the microphone, “falling in love with you…”

Every song she sings gets me right in the gut.

Jessie is the one to blame for my love life, or lack thereof.  Since Natalie, there’s been no one.  Okay, I had a few hookups here and there—all the waitresses at Cleopatra’s and my other club are usually willing, and a guy’s got needs.  But I don’t like one-night stands.  The girls don’t know what I like or the extent of my disability, and it’s an awkward conversation to explain I can’t always get it up.  It keeps me going home alone most nights.

Jessie always ends each set with “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  It’s a girly song, but she sings it real good.  I must have heard it a couple hundred times now, and I never get sick of hearing her belt it out. 

And then comes the best part of the night: when she joins me at my table for a drink.

We have fun together—me and Jessie.  We usually stick with one drink because she’s going home to her fiancé and I need to monitor my alcohol intake now that I don’t have that catheter in me anymore, but that doesn’t mean we don’t stick around talking for sometimes an hour or longer.  I don’t even know what the hell we talk about sometimes, but whenever I see her, I feel like I got a lot to say.  Although I’d be happy to spend an hour staring into her eyes without saying a word.

One thing we never talk about though is business.  She tells me about her job, although it’s obvious she finds it boring as shit, but I never talk about my work.  If I do talk about it, I tell her about the mundane details that make me seem as little like a gangster as possible.  She’s still freaked out about finding me with that gun, but I think she’s finally realizing the rumors are mostly untrue.  

Mostly.

She plops down into the seat next to me now, her face flushed and happy.  Her hair is loose and glowing in the overhead lights of the club.  I know she loves singing up there more than anything.  I like that I was able to give that to her. 

“What did you think of the new song?” she asks me.

I swish the remains of my beer around in the glass.  “Not bad.  I might have to hire you.”

“Don’t be a smart ass,” she says.  “You know, I could probably parlay this job into a spot anywhere in the city.”

She probably could.  The name Cleopatra’s Lounge goes a long way.

“You know what you should do?” I say.  “You should try out for American Idol.  Become a pop star.”

Jessie smacks me on the arm.  “I’m too old for that show, you idiot.”

“Really?”

She rolls her eyes.  “You’ve got to be under thirty.”

“You’re over thirty?” I blink at her in surprise, even though she’s obviously the same age I am—thirty-two.  There are some days when I look at her and still see the same fourteen-year-old girl that I decided I wanted to marry when we were in ninth grade.  She looks different now, but still the same.  I know that doesn’t make sense, but it also does. 

“You’re going to be so sorry when I’m singing at Singapore instead of here,” she says.

I laugh.  The Singapore Club is a club downtown that’s gotten almost as popular as Cleopatra’s, but we still got the edge.  Anyway, I know Jessie would never defect.  She loves it here.  And I make sure Alex pays our girls better than the ones at the other clubs.

I signal at the waitress, who immediately snaps to attention, and I order Jessie her usual.  She loves the mojitos here—best in town.  And the fact that she’s sitting with me means she’ll get her drink fast, in spite of the crowd tonight.

“Seriously though,” I say to Jessie.  “You were great tonight.”

Her skin turns pink with the compliment.  “Well, you think so.”

“I happen to have pretty good judgment.”

She smiles at me.  I get so turned on just from that smile. But even though I spend hours with her every week, I’m no closer to winning her back than I was nine months ago.  Worse—she’s going to get fucking married in three months.  Three goddamn months.

What the hell am I going to do?



Jessie

Nick is taking me out to lunch today.

It’s entirely innocent. Nick hasn’t made any advances since he kissed me nine months ago, and he knows our wedding date is set.  At this point, he recognizes the two of us are friends and that’s all that we’ll ever be. 

And sometimes that thought really depresses me.

Nick picked me up at my building in his BMW at a quarter to noon and now he’s driving me to a restaurant, but he won’t reveal where.  Traffic is rough at this hour, but he’s completely unfazed, weaving in and out of the crowded lanes without breaking a sweat. Two minutes ago, a taxi cut us off to run a red light, and Nick didn’t even give the guy the finger (although he did honk aggressively).  He’s really good at navigating midtown traffic, especially considering his has to use his hands to both steer and control the gas pedal.

“Am I dressed okay for wherever we’re going?” I ask him, brushing some lint off my black skirt.  The truth is I usually wear slacks to work, but on days when I’m going out to eat with Nick, I wear a skirt.  That’s a tidbit I wouldn’t share with my fiancé, even though there’s nothing behind it.  Really, it’s just that Nick always dresses so well, I feel obligated to keep up.  Right now, he’s wearing a dark gray suit that makes him look so freaking handsome, I actually blushed when I first climbed into the car. 

“Absolutely,” he says, without even glancing at my clothes. “You look great.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “Where are we going?”

“Somewhere good.”

“Why won’t you tell me?”

He winks at me. “You’ll know soon enough.”

We pass Fiftieth Street, heading up Madison Avenue. I can’t imagine why he won’t tell me where we’re going.  Usually we just eat at one of his restaurants.  It’s making me nervous.

Just as we get into the sixties, a biker glides into the crosswalk against the light.  Luckily, Nick never takes his eyes off the road, so he’s able to brake with his right hand in time to avoid a collision.  I wince as I hear screeching wheels behind us and the sound of crunching metal in the lane to our left. 

“Idiot bikers,” Nick mutters under his breath.  “Asshole runs right into traffic.  Wasn’t even wearing a helmet.”

The light has turned to red now, and Nick rolls his window down, craning his neck to see the damage to the cars behind him.  It looks like a black sedan crashed into a blue Honda.  The owners of the two cars have gotten out of their vehicles in the middle of the street and are gesturing angrily and yelling curses at each other.  Nick is watching them with more interest than I’d expect, his dark brow furrowed.

“Jessie,” he says.

“Yes?”

“Write something down for me, will ya?”

I take a scrap of a napkin out of my purse and dig out a pen.  “Go ahead.”

Without explanation, he reads off a bunch of numbers to me.  I scribble them down as fast as I can.  After the fifth number, I realize that he’s giving me a license plate number.

“What’s going on?” I ask him.

The light changes to green and Nick zips through, focusing his attention back on the task of driving.  “Listen,” he says, “can you call Chrissy and ask her to get Ricardo to run that plate number for me?”

I shove my pen back in my bag.  I’ve had enough of Nick and his secrecy for one day.  “No, I won’t.  Not unless you tell me why.”

“Fine.  Give me the number and I’ll call myself.”

“Nick!”

He takes his eyes off the road for a split second to glance at me.  “Okay, okay.  I just… I think I saw that black sedan behind me when I picked you up at your office.  And the driver looked familiar to me somehow.  So… you know.”

I cover my mouth with my hand.  “You think he’s following you?”

Nick shrugs. “Nah.  Probably not.  But… well, just making sure.”

I raise my eyebrows at him. “And why would someone be following a legit businessman such as yourself?”

He doesn’t answer that one.  It’s just as well because I don’t want him to lie to me—I now know for a fact that whatever Nick does is not entirely legal.  Maybe the newspapers were unfairly accusing him of crimes he didn’t commit, but I’ve heard enough stories around Cleopatra’s to feel confident that at the very least, he’s got significant mob ties and his business isn’t entirely above board.  Hell, just that guy Cardoza being in his office is enough of an indictment, based on the impressive arrest record I found online for the man.

The funny thing is, I don’t care as much as I used to.  Maybe he does some things that aren’t entirely legal, but after all the time I’ve spent with him, I’ve realized he’s still Nick.  He’s still the same guy I’ve known and loved since I was fourteen.  Well, the same except about ten times as sexy as he used to be—not sure how that happened.

I call Chrissy to give her the license plate number, and she promises to call back within the hour.  Just as I hang up the phone, Nick is pulling into a handicapped parking spot on Sixty-Fourth Street and Madison.  I don’t see any promising restaurants nearby.  More worrisome, I can see that we’re right in front of a huge Chanel store.

“You’re taking me shopping!” I say accusingly.

“Jessie.” His dark eyes meet mine.  “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t want you on my stage anymore wearing cheap shit from Walmart.  Cleopatra’s classy and I want you to be dressed nice.”

“I don’t buy clothes from Walmart!” I cry.

He grins at me. “So… Target?”

I glare at him.  I don’t want to admit that he’s right.

“Anyway,” I say, “there’s a wardrobe backstage.  There are lots of dresses there.”

“Right.” He nods.  “Except Alex arranges the wardrobe and all he gets is size zero.”

Again, he’s absolutely right.  I’d need two of most of the dresses in that closet to cover me completely. 

“Fine,” I grumble.  “I’ll get one dress.”

He smiles. “Grazie.”

Nick gets his chair out of the back, pops the wheels back on, and climbs back into it.  He’s really fast at it, which makes sense considering he’s been in that chair for fourteen years now.  Fourteen years since he’s walked, since that night at prom when we spent the night making out—sometimes it seems like yesterday. I watch the way he quickly adjusts his body in his chair when he thinks I’m not watching, like it’s something he doesn’t want me to see.  Except all I can think about is how damn good he looks. Even after all this time, I still can’t used to how handsome he looks in a suit.  It doesn’t matter to me one bit if his legs don’t move—it never did.  If only he had let me stay with him when he first got hurt…

But then I wouldn’t be with Seth, my fiancé, preparing to get married in three months.

God, I’m confused.

“Okay,” he says.  “Let’s get you the sexiest dress in that store.”

“To sing in at your club,” I add hurriedly.

He lifts his dark eyes to meet mine.  “Right.  For my club.”

I let him lead the way into Chanel.  The entrance to the store is all windows and the sparse offerings in the front of the store are handbags and scarves that look too expensive to even touch.  The entire store reeks of wealth and I feel like I shouldn’t be here. Nick looks like he belongs in a store like this—I don’t.  If I went in here alone, they’d probably ask me to leave quietly without making a scene.  As it is, I couldn’t buy anything in this store even if I emptied my bank account.  Even one of those flimsy scarves is surely out of my price range.

A young, blond-haired woman with a gleaming gold nametag that reads Georgia scurries over breathlessly when she sees Nick.  She looks like she’d easily fit into anything in our backstage wardrobe.  “Nick!” she exclaims.  “Hello!  Welcome back!”

How the hell does Nick know the salesgirl at Chanel?

“Hello, Georgia,” he says, returning her smile. “I’m looking for something sexy for Jessie here.  Something she can wear at Cleopatra’s.”

Georgia gives me a once-over, a skeptical look on her face. “Cleopatra’s?”

“She’s a singer,” Nick explains as he shifts in his chair.

The salesgirl looks like she might laugh at loud.  “Oh.  How nice.”  She rolls her eyes so quickly that I don’t think Nick sees it.  “What size are you?”

“Um.” I bite my lip.  “An eight?  Or maybe…” I’m almost afraid to say it out loud in this place. “A ten?”

Georgia looks traumatized and now it’s my turn to roll my eyes.  Get over yourself—a ten is not that big!

“I’m not sure if we carry anything that large,” Georgia sniffs.

“Really?” Nick raises his eyebrows at her. “Isn’t the average size for a woman a sixteen?  You really don’t carry even an eight? Sorry, but that seems nuts.”

I want to throw my arms around Nick and hug him. For the first time since we walked in, Georgia appears flustered. She tugs at her tiny blouse. “Let me check in the back and see what I can find.”

As soon as Georgia disappears, I shake my head at Nick. “How does she know you?”

He shrugs sheepishly. “Natalie used to come here a lot.  A lot. I got dragged along sometimes.”

“Oh.” I glance at the back room, where Georgia is still hidden.  “That was a while ago though, wasn’t it?  I’m surprised she still remembers you.”

“Yeah.” He averts his eyes. “She and I also went out a couple of times.  Oh hey, here she comes.”

Before I can get out another word, Georgia is bustling toward us with an armful of gowns. I watch Georgia sort through the gowns, showing them more to Nick than to me, which is fine because my head is suddenly spinning.  Nick seriously went out on a date with this obnoxious girl?  When exactly did that happen?  Before or after Natalie?  Did he cheat on Natalie?  Is he still interested in Georgia? Why is she touching his arm?

“Don’t you think so, Jessie?” Nick is saying.

“Huh?” I missed everything that was just going on.  Why am I getting so obsessed with Nick and Georgia?  Whatever Nick wants to do with other women is his own business.  It’s not like I want him to be sitting home at night, pining for me.  He ought to be going out with other girls.  In fact, good for him!

He grins.  “Wake up, Jessie.  We’re trying to buy you the dress—not me.”

I smile crookedly.  “Right, sorry.”

Georgia is holding up what is actually a very beautiful dress. It’s short but not too short—it hits me several inches above my knees, but luckily, my legs are one of my good features.  It has a V-neck and goes off the shoulders.  The sleeves are sheer and the entire white dress has a sheer layer of blue lacey flowers. 

I reach out to finger the material.  “It’s really nice.”

“And I know you like blue,” Georgia says to Nick as she rests a hand on his shoulder.  Her fingernails are long and deep purple.

He nods. “It’s great.  Try it on, okay?”

Georgia jerks her head to the rear.  “Changing rooms are back there.”

I suppose it goes without saying she will keep Nick company while I’m gone.  God, she’s practically salivating over him.  I know he’s hot, but she could use a little restraint.

The changing room in Chanel is tiny, which makes sense if most women who shop here wear nothing larger than a six.  I wriggle into the blue dress, trying not to bang my elbows against the dressing room wall, and even before I manage to get it zipped properly in the back, I can see it fits me perfectly—like it was made for me.  When I lean forward, my cleavage taunts me the mirror.

I love this dress more than anything I’ve ever worn in my entire life.

To this point, I hadn’t dared look at the price tag.  But now I brave a quick peek—if I’m going to let Nick buy this for me, I’ve got to know.  After all, how much could this dress possibly cost?  It’s just a dress!  And…

Oh my God, I’m sorry I looked.

My hands are shaking now.  I love this dress, but there’s no way I can let Nick spend this kind of money on a piece of clothing.  No way.  I’ll just have to explain that to him, then we can go to Macy’s and buy something more reasonable.  We can buy five dresses there for what this dress costs.  And still have money left over to pay my rent.

Except when I step out of the dressing room, Nick is waiting for me right outside. The second he sees me, his mouth falls open.  I watch his olive skin turn pink and he tugs at his shirt collar. I have a feeling I’m going to have trouble convincing him that I shouldn’t buy this dress.

“Wow,” he gasps.

I pull on the hem of the dress, feeling suddenly self-conscious.  “It’s not that great.”

“No, it is,” he insists.  “It’s really… you look really…”  He pauses and takes a breath. “We’re taking it.”

“I’m not so sure,” I mumble.

“Yeah, but I am.”

I adjust the sleeve, trying to think of an excuse to put it back. “It’s a little snug. I’m not even sure if it will zip up in the back.”

He makes a spinning motion with his finger.  “Turn around.  Let’s get it zipped.”

He wheels closer to me and for a second, I feel his knee brush up against the back of my thigh.  His fingers find the zipper and I feel the dress tighten as the edges come together.  It’s snug but not too tight—it’s perfect. 

As the zipper meets its target, I feel Nick’s fingers linger on my back.  Since the night he kissed me at the club, he’s touched me from time to time, here and there—a hand on my shoulder, our knees brushing against each other, fingers touching momentarily on the table when we have a drink at the club.  And every time, without fail, my entire body starts to tingle.  I feel it now: his fingers on my back, making lightning bolts zigzag down my skin.  It doesn’t stop until I turn around to face him.

Nick gazes up at me with those dark eyes. I get the feeling that if he were able to stand so that we were eye-to-eye, he’d lean forward and kiss me right now. And if he did, I don’t think I’d be able to push him away.  Not this time.

But he can’t stand.  So whatever he wants to do to me is out of his reach.

“So how do you feel?” he asks.

My mouth goes dry for a second, until I realize he’s asking about the dress.  “It’s… um…”

“It fits perfect, right?  I’m buying it for you.”

I glance around to make sure Georgia isn’t listening.  “Nick, it’s really expensive.”

“How expensive could it possibly be?  It’s a dress.”

I fold my arms across my chest. “Go ahead.  Take a guess.”

“Five million dollars?”

Five million dollars?”  I don’t think that was a serious guess.

He shrugs. “That’s how much the property I just bought cost.”

I shake my head.  “Dresses don’t cost five million dollars.”

“Right.  Dresses are cheap.  So enjoy it.”

I give him an exasperated look, but I don’t argue with him.  I have a feeling no matter what I say, he’s going to insist I buy the dress.  And I have to admit, I really, really love it.  If he can afford it, well… why not?  Anyway, it’s not like I’m wearing it to a party.  I’m wearing for a performance at his club.  It’s a business expense.  It’s deductible.  He could probably just… you know, write it off.



Nick

I shouldn’t have mentioned to Jessie that I went out with Georgia.

I knew it was a mistake the second I said it.  But she was asking me, and it would be just my dumb luck Georgia would blurt it out and then I’d look like a liar.  So it was a choice between being a liar and being a guy who took out the bitchy girl who works at Chanel. 

I only took her out once. Maybe twice—I don’t remember. We had dinner somewhere expensive then I took her back to Cleopatra’s and she sat in my lap and we made out a while.  We didn’t even go back to my place. I got the sense she liked me for my money and my reputation and not for me.  It was one thing when I had Natalie to be my arm candy, but I don’t like to make a habit of it. Anyway, it was before Jessie was around. I have no interest in doing it again, no matter how many times she touches my shoulder and laughs like I’m so goddamn witty. 

If there were any chance in hell Georgia’s charm was going to work on me, even for a night, it’s lost when I see Jessie in that blue dress.  She looks so good, I almost choke when I see her.  It’s the sexiest thing I ever seen aside from if I got to see her naked, which I’m beginning to worry might never happen.  And then I get to zip her up.  It’s hard to keep myself from touching that soft, white skin on her back as I pull the zipper into place.

Christ, sometimes I think I might get a heart attack from this girl.  Or a total eclipse of the heart.  Something that might require CPR.

“You better change,” I tell her, trying not to let on how much she’s getting to me.  “I’ll take you to an actual restaurant this time.  Anywhere you want, since I tricked you into coming here.”

A smile plays on her lips. “Would you take me to McDonald’s?”

“Sweetheart, I’d even take you to Arby’s.”

I wouldn’t really.

Jessie goes to change back into her work clothes and I wheel myself out of the dressing room.  Georgia is folding some clothing, but I can tell she was just waiting for me to come out.

“Will your… friend be taking the dress?” she asks me.

“Yeah,” I say.  “I’ll pay for it now.”

“Excellent.”  Georgia hurries over to the cash register and I get out my credit card.  She’s smiling brightly at me as she runs the card.  “We missed you over here, Nick.”

I’ll bet.  I’ve dated some real big spenders.  Not having a girlfriend for the last nine months has saved me a fortune.  “Can’t say the same, unfortunately.  This place is expensive.”

Georgia bats her eyelashes at me as she leans over the counter, giving me an eyeful of cleavage.  I knew her tits were fake even before I felt them—there’s nothing I hate worse than squeezing silicone. Why don’t I just hook up with a blow-up doll while I’m at it? “Have you missed me at all?”

Before I have to answer that one, I’m saved by the sound of my phone buzzing.  I get it out and see Chrissy’s name on the screen. I hold a finger up to an annoyed-looking Georgia and take the call.

“The car belongs to Frank Nucci,” Chrissy says before she even says hello.

Frank Nucci… that sounds really familiar…

“I checked him out,” Chrissy adds.  “He’s one of Lombardi’s thugs.”

“Shit,” I mutter.  I glance at Georgia, who is clearly trying to listen to my conversation. I lower my voice several notches.  “That asshole was following me.  I’m sure of it.”

“Why would Lombardi get one of his goons to follow you?”

I shake my head. “I don’t know.  Maybe it’s time to pay him back the courtesy.”

“You want me to call Steve?”

“No, I’ll do it.” I see Jessie emerging from the dressing room, dress in hand.  “Later.”

I take a deep breath, trying to compose myself.  I’ve spent the last nine months trying to convince Jessie I’m not a gangster, so the last thing I want her to know is that I’m getting shadowed by one of the most influential mobsters in the city.  I don’t have much time left to get her back.  I can’t let her know anything about this.

To be continued….

24 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh, I can’t wait for this book! Thank you for this wonderful chapter. Can they just get together already? So we can have the steamy stuff??

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    1. Haha, the story does have a happily ever after, don't worry :)

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  2. Wow, just wow! I'm on pins and needles wondering how much longer the title of this book can remain true. How much danger are Nick and Jessie in? What might he have to do to protect her? Will he be able to change her mind about him?
    Pleeeease post more of this next week!!!

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  3. I love this story. I'm really bad at remembering to comment. Usually I'm reading on my Kindle or phone and those tiny keyboards are such a pain... Anyway, by the time I get back to my regular keyboard, I forget. I do apologize. I think I've read every story you've written! And have several on my Kindle.
    I read "The Girl I didn't Marry" and have been very much anticipating this extension. I know we can all wait until Dec. when it comes out as an e-book, but being able to read it little by little like this has been such beautiful torture. I am so hoping for a HEA for Nick and Jessie. Feel free to "beautifully torture" again next week.

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    1. So glad you liked the original and I promise there will be a HEA! The comments keep me going, so I do appreciate it :)

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  4. "Georgia looks traumatized"
    Poor girl XD

    Now I really can't wait to read the rest of this story...

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  5. Georgia only cares about Nick for his reputation and his money! I don't care if she is traumatized! But I do hope that Jessie will follow both her heart and the tingles running through her back to . . . you know where.

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    1. I think Jessie will come to her senses soon :)

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  6. I’m just loving this. I tried to stop reading so I could enjoy it as a book when it comes out but I can’t helo myself. I love all your stuff and this is no exception. Just brilliantly written. Thank you

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    1. Thank you :) I keep waffling on how much I should post here. I keep thinking "just one more chapter".

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  7. I just want to buy the book...like right now.

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    1. Well, you *can* but it just won't be available for another month ;)

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  8. This was a good long chapter! ��

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    1. Thanks, the next one won't be quite as long.

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  9. Terrific chapter. Can't wait for the book. So I can read it all again together. Fantastic characters.

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  10. I absolutely love this story!! I've been slowly reading the first book because I'll be oh so sad when it's over. Thank you Annabelle!

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    1. Don't worry, I've got four manuscripts literally sitting on my computer and waiting to be published. No shortage of writing!

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  11. I think it"s ME who needs CPR

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  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I am obsessed with this story, I just can't get enough...what a fabulous surprise to see another chapter posted!

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    1. I really wasn't going to post another chapter, but everyone was so surprisingly enthusiastic that I think I'm going to post next week again. I do have something else I wanted to start posting, but I'm a sucker for praise.

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