Home > The Kiss Thief(4)

The Kiss Thief(4)
Author: L.J. Shen

Three hours into the masquerade, I managed to slip out the entrance of the museum and stood on the wide concrete steps, breathing in the crisp spring night. My last dance had to leave early. Thankfully, his wife had gone into labor.

I hugged my own arms, braving the Chicago wind and laughing sadly at nothing in particular. One yellow cab zipped by the tall buildings, and a couple huddled together were zigzagging giddily to their destination.


It sounded like someone shut down the universe. The lampposts along the street turned off unexpectedly, and all the light faded from view.

It was morbidly beautiful; the only light visible was the shimmering lonely crescent above my head. I felt an arm wrap around my waist from behind. The touch was confident and strong, curving around my body like the man it belonged to had studied it for a while.

For years.

I turned around. Angelo’s gold and black masquerade mask stared back at me. All the air left my lungs, my body turning into goo, slacking in his arms with relief.

“You came,” I whispered.

His thumb brushed my cheeks. A soft, wordless nod.


He leaned down and pressed his lips to mine. My heart squealed inside my chest.

Shut the front door. This is happening.

I grabbed the edges of his suit, pulling him closer. I’d imagined our kiss countless times before, but I’d never expected it to feel like this. Like home. Like oxygen. Like forever. His full lips fluttered over mine, sending hot air into my mouth, and he explored, and nipped, and bit my lower lip before claiming my mouth with his, slanting his head sideways and dipping down for a ferocious caress. He opened his mouth, his tongue peeking out and swiping mine. I returned the favor. He drew me close, devouring me slowly and passionately, pressing his hand to the small of my back and groaning into my mouth like I was water in the desert. I moaned into his lips and licked every corner of his mouth with zero expertise, feeling embarrassed, aroused, and more importantly, free.

Free. In his arms. Was there anything more liberating than feeling loved?

I swayed in the security of his arms, kissing him for a good three minutes before my senses crawled back into my foggy brain. He tasted of whiskey and not the wine Angelo had been drinking all night. He was significantly taller than me—taller than Angelo—even if not by much. Then his aftershave drifted into my nose, and I remembered the icy pebble eyes, raw power, and dark sensuality that licked flames of anger inside my guts. I took a slow breath and felt the burn inside me.


I tore my lips from his and stumbled back, tripping over a stair. He grabbed my wrist and yanked me back to prevent my fall but made no effort to resume our kiss.

“You!” I cried out, my voice shaking. With perfect timing, the streetlamps came back to life, illuminating the sharp curves of his face.

Angelo had soft curves over a defined jaw. This man was all harsh streaks and cut edges. He looked nothing like my crush, even with a demi-mask on.

How did he do that? Why did he do that? Tears pooled in my eyes, but I held them back. I didn’t want to give this complete stranger the satisfaction of seeing me crumple.

“How dare you,” I said quietly, biting my cheeks until the taste of warm blood filled my mouth to keep from screaming.

He took a step back, sliding Angelo’s mask off—God knows how he got his hands on it—and tossing it on the stairs like it was contaminated. His unmasked face was unveiled like a piece of art. Brutal and intimidating, it demanded my attention. I took a step sideways, putting more space between us.

“How? Easily.” He was so dismissive; he was flirting with open disdain. “A smart girl, however, would have asked for the why.”

“The why?” I scoffed, refusing to let the last five minutes register. I’d been kissed by someone else. Angelo—according to my family tradition—was not going to be the love of my life. This jerk, however…

Now it was his turn to take a step sideways. His broad back had been blocking the entrance to the museum, so I failed to see who was standing there, his shoulders slack, his mouth agape, his face gloriously unmasked, drinking in the scene.

Angelo took one look at my swollen lips, turned around, and stalked back in with Emily running after him.

The Wolfe was no longer in sheep’s clothing as he made his way up the stairs, giving me his back. When he reached the doors, his date poured out as if on cue. Wolfe took her arm in his and led her downstairs, not sparing me a look as I wilted on the cement stairs. I could hear his date murmuring something, his dry response to her, and her laughter ringing in the air like a wind chime.

When the door to their limo slammed shut, my lips stung so bad I had to touch them to make sure he didn’t set them on fire. The power outage wasn’t coincidental. He did it.

He took the power. My power.

I yanked the note out of my corset and threw it against the stair, stomping over it like a tantrum-prone kid.

Wolfe Keaton was a kiss thief.

A WAR RAGED INSIDE ME as I studied every cobweb and imperfection on my bedroom ceiling that night, puffing on a cigarette.

It was just a stupid, fun tradition. Hardly a scientific fact. Surely, not all the predictions written in the notes turned out to be true. I probably wouldn’t even see Wolfe Keaton ever again.

However, I was bound to see Angelo soon. Even if he canceled our date next Friday, there were many weddings, holidays, and community functions we were both attending this month.

I could explain everything, face to face. One stupid kiss wasn’t going to erase years of verbal foreplay. I’d even gone so far as imagining his remorse once he found out that I only kissed Senator Keaton because I thought it was him.

I put out my cigarette and lit another one. I didn’t touch my phone, resisting the urge to send Angelo an over-apologetic, hysterical message. I needed to talk to my cousin Andrea about this. She lived across town and, since she was in her early twenties, was my sole, albeit reluctant, advisor when it came to the opposite sex.

A curtain of pinks and yellows fell over the sky as the morning rolled in. Birds sang outside our limestone manor, perched on my window ledge.

I flung an arm over my eyes and winced, my mouth tasting of ash and disappointment. It was Saturday, and I needed to leave the house before my mother got any ideas. Ideas like taking me shopping for expensive dresses and grilling me about Angelo Bandini. For all the tacky clothes and shoes in my wardrobe, I was a pretty simple gal by Italian-American royalty standards. I played my part because I had to, but I absolutely hated being treated like an invalid, airhead princess. I wore little to no makeup and liked my hair the best when it was wild. I preferred horseback riding and gardening to shopping and getting my nails done. Playing the piano was my favorite outlet. Spending hours standing in a dressing room and being assessed by my mother and her friends was my personal definition of hell.

I washed my face and slipped into my black breeches, riding boots, and a white pullover jacket. I went down to the kitchen and took out my pack of Vogues, lighting one up as I nursed a cappuccino and two Advils. A plume of blue smoke rose from my mouth as I tapped my chewed-up fingernails over the dining table. I inwardly cursed Senator Keaton again. Yesterday, at the dinner table, he had the audacity to assume that not only did I choose my way of life, but I loved it, too. He never once contemplated that maybe I merely made peace with it, choosing instead to pick my battles where I would emerge the victor over those that were already lost.

I knew I wasn’t allowed to have a career. I’d come to terms with that heartbreaking reality, so why, then, couldn’t I have the only thing I still wanted? A life with Angelo, the only man in The Outfit I actually liked.

I could hear my mother’s heels clanking upstairs as she fussed about, and the whiny old door of my father’s office pushing open. Then I heard Papa barking at someone in Italian on the phone, and my mother bursting into tears. My mother wasn’t a spontaneous crier, and my father wasn’t in the habit of raising his voice, so both of these reactions piqued my interest.

I scanned the first floor with the open-plan kitchen and large living room bleeding into an immense balcony and spotted Mario and Stefano whisper-shouting between themselves in Italian. They stopped when they saw me looking.

I checked the overhead clock. It wasn’t quite eleven.

Know that feeling of an impending calamity? The first shake of the ground beneath you, the first rattle of the coffee mug on the table before the brutal storm? That was what this moment felt like.

“Frankie!” Mama called out, her voice pitching high, “we’re expecting guests. Don’t go anywhere.”

As if I could just up and leave. This was a warning. My skin began to crawl.

“Who’s coming?” I hollered back.

The answer to my question presented itself not a second after I asked, when the doorbell rang just as I was about to climb upstairs and ask them what was going on.

I flung the door open to find my new archenemy, Wolfe Keaton, standing on the other side, wearing a spiteful sneer on his face. I recognized him without the mask even though he’d worn one for most of the evening yesterday. As much as I hated the man, he was born with an unforgettable face.

Decidedly aloof and infuriatingly elegant, he bulldozed into the landing in a Regent fit plaid suit and a tailored blazer. He immediately shook the morning dew from his loafers as his bodyguards trailed in after him.

“Nemesis.” He spat out the word as if I was the one to wrong him. “How are you feeling this morning?”

Shitty, thanks to you. Of course, he didn’t need to know that he had any impact on my mood. It was bad enough that he deprived me of my first kiss with Angelo.

I closed the door behind him without sparing him a look, welcoming him as much as I would the Grim Reaper.

“I’m doing fantastic, Senator Keaton. In fact, I wanted to thank you for yesterday,” I mentioned as I slapped my grossly polite smile on.

“You did?” He arched a skeptical eyebrow, getting rid of his jacket and handing it to one of his bodyguards since I hadn’t offered to take it.

“Yes. You showed me how a real man shouldn’t behave, proving Angelo Bandini is the man for me.” His security guy hung Wolfe’s jacket on one of our hangers, ignoring my presence. Keaton’s bodyguards were different than Dad’s. They wore actual uniforms and most likely had a military background.

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