Home > The Kiss Thief(11)

The Kiss Thief(11)
Author: L.J. Shen

“Sweet Jesus!”

It was Mama. Up close, her face looked too wary, too old, and too unfamiliar. It looked like she’d aged a decade overnight, and all the anger I’d harbored toward her in the past three days flew out the window. Her eyes were bloodshot and swollen from crying. Her normally proud, brown mane was littered with gray hair.

“How are you holding up, Vita Mia?”

Instead of answering, I flung myself into her arms, releasing a sob I’d been holding since Wolfe ushered me into his sleek black Escalade tonight. How could I not cut her some slack? She looked as miserable as I was.

“I hate it there. I don’t eat. I barely sleep. And to make matters worse…” I sniffed, disconnecting from her so I could hold her gaze for emphasis. “Angelo is dating Emily now.” I felt my eyes bulging out of their sockets with urgency.

“It’s only their first date,” Mama assured me, patting my back and drawing me into another hug. I shook my head in the crook of her shoulder.

“I don’t even know why it matters. I’m getting married. It’s done.”


“Why, Mama?” I stepped out of her embrace again, dragging myself toward the imperial sinks to pluck some tissue before my makeup was completely ruined. “What possessed Papa to do something like this?”

I watched her in the reflection of the mirror behind me. The way her shoulders wilted in her slightly oversized black dress. I realized she hadn’t been eating much, either.

“Your father doesn’t share many things with me, but trust me when I tell you this was not an easy decision for him to make. We are still shaken by what happened. We just want you to give Senator Keaton an honest chance. He is handsome, rich, and has a good job. You’re not marrying beneath you.”

“I am marrying a monster,” I drawled.

“You could be happy, amore.”

I shook my head, before throwing it backward and laughing. She didn’t have to spell it out for me. Her hands were tied. I harbored many bad feelings toward my father but thinking them openly—not to mention uttering them aloud—was like pouring cyanide onto an open wound. Mama looked back and forth between the door and me, and I knew what she was thinking. We couldn’t stay here much longer. People would start asking questions. Especially when they saw that I’d been crying. Keeping up appearances was vital in The Outfit, and if people suspected Papa’s arm had been twisted by a young, ambitious senator who was new on the scene, it could kill his reputation.

Mama opened her purse and produced something, shoving it into my hand.

“I found this buried under a pile of dirty laundry in your room. Use it, Vita Mia. Start easing into your new life because it’s not going to be a bad one. And for the love of God, start eating!”

She dashed out, leaving me to open my hand and inspect the recovered item. It was my cell phone. My precious cell phone. Fully charged and stocked with messages and missed calls. I wanted to inspect them all—privately, and when time allowed for it. I knew that my assumption that Senator Keaton had taken my phone privileges without asking him was a little extreme. Then again, blackmailing my father into giving him my hand was not exactly subtle courting, so no one could blame me for jumping to conclusions.

I threw the used tissue in the trash can and stormed out to the dim alcove under the staircase, my five-inch Louboutins slapping against the marble floor. I made two steps outside before I was cornered against the mirror overlooking the back of the stairway by a tall, delicate-boned frame. I groaned, slowly opening my eyes as my spine recovered from the collision with the mirror.

Angelo was boxing me in with his arms on either side of my head, his body flush against mine. His chest brushed the exposed, tender flesh of my cleavage, and our hearts crashed against each other in unison, our breaths mingling together.

He sought me out. He came after me. He still wanted me.

“Goddess,” he whispered, cupping the side of my face and pressing his forehead to mine.

His voice was so drenched with emotion, my hands quivered their way to his face, holding his cheeks for the first time. He pressed his thumb to the center of my lips.

I held onto the lapels of his jacket, knowing what I was asking for, and asking for it anyway. The need to be held by him was stronger than the need to do the right thing by us. I longed for him to tell me that Emily meant nothing to him, even though it wasn’t fair to her. Or him. Not even to me.

“I’ve been worried sick.” He nuzzled his nose against mine brazenly. This was more physical contact than we’d had since we were born, and that—combined with my hunger strike—sent my head spinning in a dozen different directions.

I nodded but didn’t say anything.

“You haven’t been good at picking up the phone.” He clutched my hand that held my phone, squeezing it for emphasis.

“I’ve just recovered it for the first time since the masquerade,” I breathed.

“Why’d you do that?” Angelo asked, his body practically grinding over mine. Panic licked at my conscience. What if Angelo was touching me the way he’d never dared before because he had nothing to lose anymore? My father would never frown upon him for taking it too far—because he would never have to stand in front of Arthur Rossi and ask him for my hand.

I desperately wanted to explain everything about my sudden engagement. But I also knew that if my father couldn’t do anything about it, Angelo sure wouldn’t be able to help me, either. I didn’t want us to be star-crossed lovers, stealing moments and sneaking kisses. Drowning in forbidden love. I didn’t know much about my future husband, but I did know this—if I caused him a scandal, he’d retaliate and hurt those I loved. I didn’t mind taking his wrath, but Angelo didn’t deserve to be punished.

“Angelo.” I raked my hands over his chest. I’d never touched a man like this before. So openly. His pecs flexed under my fingertips, and he felt hot, even through the fabric of his suit.

“Tell me,” he probed.

I shook my head. “We fit.”

“We fit,” he countered. “He sucks.”

I laughed through the tears lodging in my throat.

“I want to kiss you so bad, goddess.” He grabbed the back of my neck—no longer nice and understanding and teasing—leaning down for the kill. He was trying to prove a point. A point I was already sold on.

“Then I suggest you do it right away because eighteen days from now, she will be a married woman, and I will have every right to break your fingers for touching her,” a dry, menacing voice grumbled behind Angelo.

Stunned, I slipped my hands from Angelo’s chest, my legs giving in from surprise. Angelo caught me by the waist, righting me. He snapped out of the dark lust blazing in his eyes, twisting to look at Wolfe. My future husband casually made his way to the men’s restroom, his swagger completely unperturbed by the affectionate display in front of him. He was much taller, broader, and darker than Angelo, not to mention nearly a decade older, dripping with the air and power of a force you shouldn’t cross. The authority he possessed was almost tangible. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to stop from apologizing for the scene unfolding in front of him. I looked up instead of down, refusing to declare defeat.

Angelo looked straight at him.

“Senator Keaton,” he bit out.

Wolfe halted between the two entrances of the restrooms. I could feel his imperial body as he looked back and forth between us, assessing the situation with cool disinterest.

“I meant every word, Bandini,” Wolfe said huskily. “If you’d like to kiss my fiancée goodbye, tonight’s your chance to do it. In private. Next time I see you, I will not be so forgiving.”

With that, he brushed his fingertips over my engagement ring, a not-so-subtle reminder of whom I belonged to, sending a shockwave through my body. He disappeared behind the restroom door before I could catch my breath. I thought Angelo would run away the minute Wolfe gave him his back, but he didn’t.

Instead, he caged me against the mirror with his arms again, shaking his head.

“Why?” he asked.

“Why Emily?” I countered, raising my chin.

“You’re the only woman I know who’d bring Emily up right now.” He balled his fist, slamming it beside my head. I swallowed a gasp.

“I came with Bianchi because you are engaged to be married.” Angelo licked his lips, trying to gain control over his emotions. “And also because you made me look like an idiot. Everyone was expecting an engagement announcement would be made any month now. Every single asshole in The Outfit. And here you are, sitting across the room at the table with the secretary of state, in the arms of Wolfe Keaton, playing the dutiful fiancée. I needed to save face. A face you walked all over with your pretty, seductive heels. Worst part, Francesca? You aren’t even telling me why.”

Because my father is weak and is being blackmailed.

But I knew I couldn’t say it. It would ruin my family, and as much as I despised my father right now, I couldn’t betray him.

Without realizing what I was doing, I held his cheeks in my hands, smiling through the tears that were running down my cheeks, chasing one another.

“You will always be my first love, Angelo. Always.”

His harsh breath came down on my face, warm and laced with sweet, musky wine.

“Kiss me right.” My voice shook around my request because the last time I’d been kissed—the only time I’d been kissed—was all wrong.

“I’ll kiss you the only way I can without giving you my heart, Francesca Rossi. The only way you deserve to be kissed.”

He leaned down, his lips pressing on the tip of my nose. I felt his body shuddering against mine with a sob that threatened to rip through his bones. All those years. All those tears. All the sleepless nights of anticipation. The countdowns of the weeks, and days, and minutes until we saw each other every summer. Playing too close to each other in the river. Fingers knotting under the table at restaurants. All those moments were wrapped inside that innocent kiss, and I wanted so badly to execute my masquerade plan that night. To slope my head up. To meet his lips with my own. But I also knew that I would not forgive myself for ruining this for him with Emily. I couldn’t tarnish the beginning of their relationship just because mine was doomed.

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