It’s been so goddamn long since I kissed Jessie Schultz. Too long. But her lips feel familiar—like the ones I’ve been searching for every time I kissed a girl for the last thirteen years. I never want to kiss anyone else—nobody can possibly come close to this. Nobody else can get me worked up the way Jessie does. If she feels for me half of what I feel for her, she needs to dump her fiancé right now.
When we part for breath, she’s shaking and there’s a nervous smile on her face. But then her eyes suddenly widen and she pulls away from me. Something made her not want to kiss me anymore. Something that’s making her inch away from me like she’s scared for her life.
I look down and see what it is.
Shit. It’s my gun holster strapped to my chest. It became visible when I leaned forward and my jacket fell open.
It’s not like I’m the kind of guy who walks around all the time with a revolver. I don’t. After the situation with Eddie, Pop insisted I know how to use a weapon. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I saw the wisdom. You don’t want to be in a situation where the other guy’s got a gun and you don’t, Pop said. He and Tony took me to a firing range to show me how to use the gun. Pop was a decent shot, but it disturbed me how comfortable my brother was with his piece.
After a few times at the firing range, I felt comfortable enough if I ever got in a situation where I had to use it. Every year or so, Tony takes me back there to stay in practice. If I gotta use that gun, I know what to do. And like Pop, I’m a decent shot.
I keep a gun in my home, in my car, and also one in my office. You never know when you might need it—not that I’ve needed it yet. I don’t usually carry though, even though I got a concealed weapon permit. I only brought it today because I was in a heated meeting a couple of days ago where some things got said that made me nervous. So I figured better safe than sorry—just until things calmed down.
I wish I’d taken it off before coming to see Jessie.
“You carry a gun?” she gasps.
“Not usually,” I mumble, adjusting my position in my chair, which makes my goddamn jacket fall open again. “Just… sometimes.”
Jessie looks absolutely horrified. I forget that a lot of people don’t get close to guns in the course of their daily lives. It’s not like this is Texas.
“Look,” I say, “it’s not that big a deal.”
“Why do you have it?”
“From…” I shrug helplessly. “You know. Bad guys.”
“Like that guy I saw coming out of your office the other night?” Her voice has become shrill—almost hysterical. This isn’t good. “Nick, what do you do?”
“You know what I do, Jessie,” I say. “I own and manage properties.”
It’s not a lie. I do those things. It’s most of what I do. So I got connections. So the hell what?
Jessie shakes her head. “Stop lying to me. I saw those articles about you.”
I get this sinking feeling in my gut. I know what she’s talking about. Those asshole reporters started making all these allegations that I was mixed up in this murder case last year. I wasn’t involved, like I’m some kind of mob boss. But I had nothing to do with it. I never iced anyone. I never ordered anyone dead. That’s not what I do.
At the time, I wasn’t bothered seeing my name in the papers. Pop went crazy over it, saying I oughta sue the papers, but I figured anything that made me sound like a tough guy wasn’t a bad thing. I wanted people to know I meant business, even if I can’t walk. It’s all about getting respect.
And now those goddamn articles are wrecking my life.
“It’s all lies,” I say. “You know how the media is. They want to sensationalize everything.”
She keeps shaking her head, still looking down at my piece. I try to button my jacket, but it’s too late.
“C’mon, Jessie,” I say. “I’m not a criminal. I swear to you.”
“Are you in the mob?”
I run a shaky hand through my hair. “What the hell do you want from me? You want to see my taxes?”
“No,” she says. “I don’t.”
She doesn’t believe me. I can see it written all over her face. She thinks I’m a fucking mob boss. A criminal. There’s nothing I can say to convince her otherwise.
“I think,” she says quietly, “that this was a mistake.”
She stands up, although her legs are so shaky that she falls back into the seat. Christ, why did I bring a gun here? My whole life could have been different.
“Look,” I say, “go out there and sing. We’ll talk about this more later.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” she says.
It’s like a sock in the gut. “Jessie…”
“I’ve got a fiancé,” she reminds me, although I guarantee she wasn’t thinking about him when her lips were on mine. “This just… I shouldn’t have done this. Seth… he loves me.”
“Well, where is he?” I point out.
“He loves me,” she says again. And I know she’s right. He wouldn’t have busted into my office the other day if he didn’t. But who the hell cares? He’ll never love her half as much as I do. “And I love him. And you… I don’t even know you anymore.”
I shouldn’t have pushed her away all those years ago. If I’d given her more credit thirteen years ago, maybe she’d be mine now. Maybe I wouldn’t be sitting here, wanting to punch a wall.
But I made the mistake and it’s done. Can’t change it now. All I can do is try my best to get back in her good graces by trying to be a good guy. I’ve got to get to know her again and prove to her that I’m not a gangster—that I’m an upstanding citizen who’s worth dumping her fiancé for. It’s not something I’m going to do today, but someday. Before she marries that loser. I’ve got some time.
“It’s okay, Jessie,” I mutter. “I get it.”
I blew it for now. May as well tell Wilson to let Seth in if he bothers to show up.
“Do you still want me to sing?” she asks in a tiny voice.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I shake my head. “Jessie, I’m gonna go now, but you better get out there.”
She smiles crookedly. “If I don’t do it, are you going to break my kneecaps?”
She’s making a joke about it. That’s a good sign.
“I’ll give you a pass this time,” I tell her. “But next time you try to back out on me…”
She gives a strangled laugh. “You, uh… you don’t really break anyone’s kneecaps. Do you?”
“Come on, Jessie,” I say. “Of course not.”
I mean it. Nobody really breaks kneecaps. Fingers are a lot cleaner.
My lips are still tingling after Nick leaves the dressing area. I haven’t felt this way in… well, in thirteen years.
At this point, I may have to face the fact that nobody will ever make me feel the way that Nick Moretti does. Nobody else can make my whole body feel like it’s on fire or something clichéd along those lines. He’s the only man who has that power over me. And that’s probably why I’ve stayed with Seth all these years instead of looking around for someone else—because I know nobody else could ever compare to him.
But when I saw that gun, I felt sick.
Up until that moment, it was all just stupid rumors. That gun was very real though. Who goes around Manhattan with a concealed handgun? Who?
A crime boss—that’s who.
I don’t know Nick Moretti at all anymore. I know the boy he used to be. But the man he’s become is entirely different. Sometimes when I look at Nick, I still see a shadow of the boy who used to walk me home every day. But other times, I see something scary and unfamiliar in those dark, sexy eyes.
Nick has done terrible things. I’m certain of it now. He’s committed crimes that could get him locked away for life, although I’m sure he has good lawyers so that will never happen.
I can’t kiss a criminal. My brain is screaming to stay far away, even though my heart will always been drawn to him. My heart and what’s between my legs.
I stare at myself in the mirror for a good several minutes, trying to make sense of everything that just happened. I love Seth. But I can’t deny the fact that I kissed another man. Maybe staying with Seth all these years was a mistake. Maybe I should have been out there looking for another man I’d want as badly as I want Nick. Am I lying to him by pretending to love him as much as I did Nick?
And I can’t deny that Seth and my relationship has cooled off over the years. Whatever passion we used to have has faded. After all, he didn’t even bother to come tonight to see my debut.
I’m so confused…
I hear a voice echoing across the dressing room. I look up and my heart leaps into my throat.
Oh my God. It’s Seth.
“What are you doing here?” I stand up, wiping off the residuals of my tears from my face. “I thought you had an early case!”
“Are you kidding me?” he says. “You think I’d miss your debut?” He grins crookedly. “I wanted to surprise you.”
And then I see that he’s holding out a single red rose. The petals are slightly wilted, but it’s still beautiful. I take it and hold it to my nose. I love the smell of rose petals. It’s one of my favorite smells. That and whatever aftershave Nick was wearing tonight.
“I almost wasn’t able to get in!” Seth tells me. “I told that bouncer at the front that I was your fiancé and the place isn’t even that crowded, but he still gave me a hard time.”
“Oh?” I raise my eyebrows. “How’d you push your way in?”
“I slipped the bouncer a fifty,” he says. I look at him in surprise, and he adds, “I’m kidding. Your boss Nick Moretti saw me by the entrance and told the bouncer to let me come in.”
“Oh,” I murmur.
He leans in and kisses me gently on the lips. “Good luck, Jess. I know you’re going to be fantastic.”
I feel a rush of affection and throw my arms around Seth’s shoulders. He laughs and hugs me back. He may not make me feel tingly the way Nick does, but he’s warm and familiar and comfortable.
Maybe we don’t have as much passion as I would have with Nick. But Seth is a good man. I love him and he loves me. And that counts for a lot.
“Good luck, Jess.” He kisses my nose. “Break a leg out there.”
Five minutes later, when I step onto the stage to sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” I can make out Seth sitting at a table right in the front, waving eagerly at me. As for Nick, I can’t see him at all. But I know he’s out there. Somewhere.
To be continued in The Girl I Didn't Kill For