Home > The Kiss Thief(13)

The Kiss Thief(13)
Author: L.J. Shen

Now, as he stood in front of me, I realized that my reaction toward his fling with Emily didn’t matter or earn me any extra points in our battle. He did hold all the cards. I instinctively took a step back, swallowing hard.

His tyrannical cold eyes ran along my body as if I was naked and offering myself to him readily, his lips still pressed in a hard line. He wore casual mouse gray dress pants today, neglecting the blazer in favor of a white shirt rolled to the elbows.

“Miss me?” he asked flatly, brushing past me and moseying deeper into the room. I let out a shaky laugh of dread when I realized he might notice the broken facedown framed picture I’d knocked over in my bid to escape and the ruined clothes waiting for him in his closet. The second his back was to me, I began to tiptoe out of his room.

“Don’t even think about it,” he warned, his back still to me as he poured himself a generous drink at the bar by the window, overlooking the main street. “Scotch?”

“Thought you said I couldn’t drink,” I mocked, surprised at the sarcasm that dripped freely from my voice. This mansion was changing me. I was hardening, inside and out. My soft skin clung to rigid bones, my attitude turned from bright to cynical, and my heart frosted over.

“You can’t outside these walls. You’re about to marry a senator and have yet to hit twenty-one. Have you any idea how bad that would look for me?”

“How is it fair that you can marry at eighteen but not drink until twenty-one? One life choice is significantly more monumental than the other,” I blabbed nervously, rooted in place and watching his broad back. He worked out regularly, and it showed. I heard his personal trainer singing songs from the eighties as he walked into the foyer at five o’clock every morning. Wolfe exercised in his basement for an hour every day, and when time permitted it, he went for quick runs before dinner.

He twisted toward me, two tumblers of scotch in one palm. He handed me a glass. I ignored his peace offering, folding my arms.

“Are you here to discuss the legal age of alcohol consumption, Nem?”

There went that stupid pet name again. It was ironic he’d called me Nemesis. Because he was vain as hell, and just like Narcissus, there was nothing I’d love more than to throttle him to his eternal slumber.

“Why not?” I continued talking in a bid to distract him from his walk-in closet and the mountain of destroyed ties and clothes at the center of it. “You can change things around, right?”

“You want me to change the law so you can legally drink in public?”

“After yesterday, I think I earned the right to a stiff drink anywhere you’d be.”

Something glimmered in his eyes before he turned it off completely. A hint of a pleasant feeling, though I couldn’t detect what it was. He slammed the glass he’d poured for me on the bar behind him, leaning a hip against it and examining me. Swirling the amber liquid in his tumbler, he crossed his legs at the ankles.

“Was it to your satisfaction?” he croaked.


“My walk-in closet.”

I felt myself reddening and hated my body for its betrayal. Wolfe slept with someone else yesterday, for goodness’ sake. And had quite a bit of fun rubbing it in my face. I should be yelling at him, hitting him, throwing things at him. But I was physically exhausted from the lack of food and mentally beat from the news of our engagement. Throwing a fit, appealing as it might be, was something I did not have the energy to do.

I shrugged. “Seen better, bigger, and nicer walk-ins in my life.”

“I’m glad you’re underwhelmed since you will not be moving to this bedroom after the wedding,” he delivered the news wryly.

“But I suppose you do expect me to warm your bed when you’re in the mood for some domestic bliss?” I stroked my chin thoughtfully, giving him the same sardonic sass he dished at me. I enjoyed a moment of triumph when his eyes skimmed my fingers, only to find that his engagement ring wasn’t there.

“I take it back. You do have a bit of a spine. Granted, I could snap it like a wishbone.” He smiled proudly. “Nonetheless, it’s there.”

“Why, thank you for the recognition. As you know, there is nothing I value more than your opinion of me. Other than, maybe, the dirt under my fingernails.”

“Francesca.” My name slid from his mouth smoothly as if he’d said it a trillion times before. Maybe he had. Maybe I’d been his plan since before I came back to Chicago. “Go into my walk-in closet and wait until I finish my drink. We have much to discuss.”

“I don’t take orders from you,” I said, elevating my head.

“I have an offer for you. One you’d be a fool not to accept. And since I do not negotiate, it will be the one and only offer I make to you.”

My mind began to reel. Was he letting me go? He slept with someone else. He saw me nearly making out with my childhood sweetheart. And surely, after he’d seen the mess I’d made in his closet, his feelings toward me would only take a nosedive, if that were even possible. I made my way to the walk-in closet, crouching down and grabbing the shears for protection, just in case. I plastered my back against a row of drawers and tried to regulate my breathing.

I heard the clink of his tumbler as it hit the glass bar, then his approaching steps. My pulse kicked up a notch. He stopped on the threshold and stared at me emotionlessly, his jaw granite, his eyes steel. The pile underneath me mounted up to my lower thighs. There was no mistaking how I’d spent the better half of my afternoon.

“Do you know how much money you just destroyed?” he asked, his tenor reserved and detached as ever. He didn’t care that I ruined his clothes, and that made me feel hopeless and lost. He felt completely untouchable and out of reach, a lonely star hanging in the sky, twinkling bright, galaxies away from my violent hands that demanded retaliation.

“Not enough to cost me my pride,” I snipped the air with the shears, feeling my nostrils flaring.

He stuffed his hands in his pockets, leaning a shoulder against the doorframe.

“What’s eating you, Nemesis? The fact that your boyfriend had a date yesterday, or the part where I fucked said date?”

So now I got an admission out of him. For whatever reason, part of me wanted to give Senator Keaton the benefit of the doubt about what happened with Emily behind closed doors. But now it was real, and it hurt. God, it shouldn’t hurt as much as it did. Like a punch to my empty stomach. Betrayal, no matter by whom, cracks something deep inside you. Then you have to live with the pieces rattling in the pit of your stomach.

Senator Keaton was nothing to me.

No. That wasn’t true, either.

He was everything bad that’d ever happened to me.

“Angelo, of course,” I huffed incredulously, my fingers tightening around the shears. His eyes darted to my white-knuckled grip over my weapon. He shot me a smirk that said he could disarm me with only a blink, let alone his entire body.

“Liar,” he said tonelessly. “And a lousy one at that.”

“Why would I be jealous of you being with Emily when you were hardly jealous when Angelo cornered me?” I fought the tears that clogged my throat.

“For one thing, because she was a fantastic lay, and Angelo is a very lucky guy to have her sweet, expert mouth at his disposal,” he taunted, unbuttoning the first button of his dress shirt. Heat slashed through my veins, making my body hit temperatures more fitting for a furnace. He’d never spoken any sexual words to me, and until now, our marriage felt more like a punishment than a real thing. When the second button released, a hint of dark chest hair peeked back at me.

“Second, because I was not, in fact, happy with your little display of affection. I gave you a chance at a proper goodbye. Which, judging by the way you two held each other when I left the restroom, you took in both hands. Did you enjoy it?”

I blinked, trying to untangle the meaning of his words. Did he think that Angelo and I…? Christ, he did. His passive expression did nothing to hide the earlier emotion I caught in his eyes. He thought I’d slept with Angelo at the wedding, and he was reacting against a crime he did not even try me for.

Fury gripped every bone in my malnourished body. Walking into this room today, I couldn’t believe I’d ever hate him more than I did. But I stood corrected.

Now this? This was real hatred.

I didn’t correct his assumption. It made the humiliation of being cheated on a tad less painful. The balance between our sins now more even. I squared my shoulders, owning up to this for no other reason than wanting him to hurt as much as I did.

“Oh, I’d slept with Angelo plenty of times,” I lied. “He’s the best lover in The Outfit, and of course, I personally checked.” I laid it on thick. Maybe if he thought he’d gotten himself a rotten deal with an easy woman, he’d let me leave.

Wolfe cocked his head, his stare stripping me of whatever leftover confidence I’d had in me.

“How peculiar. I could have sworn you said that you wanted to kiss him at the masquerade and nothing more.”

I swallowed, trying to think fast. I could count on one hand the amount of times I’d lied in my life.

“As per the note. I was only following tradition. I’d kissed him a thousand times before,” I quipped. “But that night was about fate.”

“Fate brought you to me.”

“You stole my fate.”

“Perhaps, yet it doesn’t make it any less mine. Consider yesterday a one-off. I let you get the little menace out of your system. An engagement gift from yours truly, if you will. From here on out, I’m your only option. Take it or leave it.”

“I suppose the rules do not apply to you,” I arched an eyebrow, snapping the shears again. He glanced at them with an expression dripping of boredom.

“Quite clever, Miss Rossi.”

“Then, Senator Keaton, I’ll have you know they do not apply at all. I will sleep with whomever I want, whenever I want, as long as you continue to do so.”

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