A lifetime of friendship…
When my best friend of almost twenty years was involved in a car accident that wasn’t an accident at all, I droppedeverything in my life thousands of miles away and came to his aid. Someone wanted him dead. The wreckage of his mangledcustom-built Porsche and his equally broken body were testament to that. I had to move fast because his family agreed tounplug his life support hours after the attempted murder.
The truth isn’t always convenient…
I didn’t have legal grounds to stop it, and I didn’t try. Working behind the shadowy scenes, the way my mercenary fathertaught me, I stole his fractured body, a body his family thought was dead and cremated. At least, they assumed that it was hisbody they had turned to ash.
Now I must do whatever it takes to keep him hidden and alive. Not only are we friends and business partners, but he is alsothe man that I have loved for what feels like forever. I knew that he could never love me the way that I love him. How couldhe? He has only known me as his male best friend, Pax. Never suspecting that the boy he grew up with, rough-housed with,fought alongside, and even picked up women with, was not a male. Not only am I a female, but I am also an African Princess exiled and hiding from relatives who would want me dead if they knew I existed.
But then, the truth will always set you free…
I wish that had been the last of the deceptions, but I later found out that my best friend had secrets of his own. With twenty yearsof friendship between us, our deceptions shouldn’t have been so flawlessly executed.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror, my fingers gripping my electric razor with unnecessary force inches away from the overnight stubble still darkening my jawline and chin. I didn’t need to see the vacant, dispassionate look in my eyes to know thatI was still brooding over what I could not have. What I shouldn’t even think about.
My thoughts, despite my best efforts, were on her again. On my best friend’s sister, Padma, who I had held in my arms almostsix months ago. It didn’t matter how inappropriate this constant brooding over my loss was; the point remained that I couldn’t forget the feel of her or the powerful emotions she made me feel. How could this woman I barely knew elicit such a response fromme? It was the antithesis of every emotion that I’ve ever felt toward women in the past. Sure, I had wanted other women in thepast, may have even lusted after some. But this biting, blistering lust, was something I had never encountered. No woman had ever made me feel this lack of control over my thoughts,my feelings, and even my body’s unwelcomed response. Never.
My mind was scorched by the memory of her soft skin and exotic beauty. The paper-thin silk dress had molded her body,accentuating each exquisite curve, her round perfect breasts, the indentation of her tiny waist, and the provocative swell of herfirm bottom. If she was wearing underwear, my fingers hadn’t been able to detect them. It had been impossible for me not toexplore her statuesque length. A length that had fit against my tall frame like a dream.
I closed my eyes as the memory overwhelmed me and swallowed back the bitter sense of loss I felt.
I couldn’t quite get over the fact that I had held perfection in my arms and let it slip away.
This obsession with Pax’s sister had started the first night that we met at my thirtieth birthday party. I ignored it then. But sixmonths ago, the night before my wedding, we met again, and the power of our attraction had knocked me for six. I was stillreeling now.
I have long since realized and accepted that my encounter with her irrevocably changed me.
My life used to run with minute precision. I used to wake up at precisely 5 a.m. every day, did a five-mile run on the track on my property, and swam two miles in my Olympic-sized indoor pool after. I showered, shaved, and was sitting at the breakfast table at precisely 7 a.m., where I caught up with any overnight emails and read all four of the top financial newspapers. Having already listened to the headline financial newscasts during my run, I usually skimmed through the periodicals quickly, efficiently. I would arrive at my headquarters by helicopter at 7:30 a.m., have my second cup of coffee while meeting with the top executive of my various international business segments at 7:45 a.m., and then have a meeting with the CFOs of those same segments forty-five minutes later. I reviewed and discussed a mountain of charts, analyses, and projections during each meeting.
My day would then progress with whatever scheduled meetings and calls were on calendar until my martial arts training,usually with one of my bodyguards, at 1 p.m., followed by a light lunch of high protein and raw vegetables an hour later, completewith an invigorating cooling shower in the bathroom attached to my office. The afternoon and early evening were again scheduledmeetings and calls. When the executive floor emptied at 6 p.m., that was when I was at my most productive, working well into thenight on emerging business ventures and making decisions on what had been delivered or discussed with me during the day.Dinner would be at my desk or at whatever business function my PA arranged that night.
I was a highly sexed male, who usually had a woman in my bed every other night. Sex was penned into my schedule with thesame level of importance and efficiency as my exercise regimen. Usually a few hours’ affair, my encounters always took place atthe nearby five-star hotel, penthouse suite. I never went to any woman’s home, and for damn sure they never came to mine.
My schedule had been what it was for years, essential to successfully navigating my complex business portfolio, with noalterations and no distractions until her.
Meeting Padma turned my world on its axis. It was disconcerting that six months in, I had still not been able to revert to my machine-like existence before her.
I can’t forget, I can’t ignore what I felt, and, worst of all, I can’t move on. I remembered and replayed our last encounterevery time I closed my eyes to sleep. It is all I’ve been able to dream about, on a repeat reel in my head, playing out in images andlove songs that I can’t escape. Hell, I think I know every lyric of Joe’s song, “Love Scene.” Never mind that it was a different love song that was the catalyst to my biggest fuckup with her.
It probably wouldn’t have been as bad if it was just during my sleeping moments. Now it was in my wakeful moments also,like now when my brain was dealing with the mundane. I couldn’t help remembering those few unforgettable and life-altering hoursthat had brought me to my knees.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” I had asked Padma gently.
That night, she seemed fragile, unlike the strong, confident woman that I had met the first and only time I had seen her. Asmy best friend’s little sister, she was completely off-limits to me. However, seeing her in that dress, which molded her slender bodylike a second skin with a slit high on her toned thigh and the metallic silver color that so closely matched her pale gray eyes, I washard-pressed in remembering why she was off-limits. The silk was almost as soft as her skin, and in fact, the fabric was soinsubstantial that it felt as though I was touching her naked, warm skin.
Her physical impact on my libido was shockingly inappropriate for an engaged man. She was above average height for awoman, almost six feet tall. She should have looked gangly, awkward even. However, she was anything but. Everything about herbody, her long, lean limbs, her small but perfectly round breasts and peach-shaped buttocks, the chiseled leanness of herstomach, and her narrow waist, which looked as though I could encircle it within my hands, all hit the fascination buttons for me.Her movements were graceful and elegant, almost as if she was moving to her own personal music. She had the body of aseductress, meant for loving, meant for a man to drown in. She lured me without even trying. Hell, I had never been so revvedup for a woman.
The fact that I wanted her, despite being hours away from becoming someone else’s husband, just highlighted how fucked up she had made me. It was a forbidden, impossible desire that I would never allow myself to acknowledge. And no matter how incredibly beautiful I found her, I would never breach the bro code to fuck my best friend’s sister as I so desperately wanted todo. Not to mention breaking my word to Giana. That engagement ring on Giana’s finger was an irrevocable promise that I hadno intention of breaking.
“What’s not to enjoy?”
Padma’s crisp British accent washed over me, reminding me of my best friend every time. It was incredible how alike thesiblings were. With the same toasted-almond skin tone and brilliant pale gray eyes. Even their voices sounded the same, husky,with a bit of a rasp that was incredibly sexy on Padma. Her voice, unlike her brother’s, fell on my ear like a soft caress and sent aslow, sensual shiver up my spine.
Although Pax never talked about his sister, and strangely enough Padma barely mentioned him either, Padma had all of Pax’s mannerisms and his reserved demeanor. And even though she had been giving a convincing imitation of a wallflower forthe past two hours at my and my fiancé’s stag/bachelorette party, she still appeared so self-assured that it left no one in doubt thatshe was alone and standing in a corner because she wanted to be. Her serene cool gaze didn’t stop men from approaching herthough. She was too damn stunning for that. I noticed, however, that she had sent every one of them packing with a calm
“I haven’t seen you on the dance floor,” I told her softly. “I’m sure when Pax sent you in his stead that he intended that you atleast have some fun.” We hadn’t spoken about why she was here instead of Pax, except for her apologizing on his behalf for hisabsence.
She gave me a cool stare that was incredibly unnerving coming from someone so much younger than me, and I sensed that she had far more innocence than I could hope to ignore. “Is that an invitation?” she asked in that accented, spine-tingle-inducing voice.
I smiled, trying to hide my discomfort. No, that wasn’t an invitation because I didn’t trust myself to touch her. I didn’t saythat though. Instead, I stood there staring at her like an idiot. At least I felt as though that’s how I looked.
“I think they’re playing our song,” she hinted.
The band was playing some random rap song that she must know I wouldn’t be caught dead dancing to. I couldn’t afford tochance my political career by dancing to such a derogatory song toward women. Even so, Padma looked up at me expectantly.
“Sure, why not?” I said after a heavy pause and giving a meaningful stare at the DJ. He knew to change that damn song onceI stepped on the dance floor.
Padma sensually gyrated her hips in time with the rap song as we weaved our way onto the dance floor. I knew that I was adead man, even before I pulled her into my arms to the DJ’s changed song. It was the much slower ballad that I needed. But as I expected, as soon as she was in my arms, my body became instantly jacked-up by her proximity. I was fucked.
I tried my best to play it off, even striving to engage her in conversation, but there was no denying the sparks that flew between us, the long stares, the heated silent pauses in conversation, and the instant ripple of searing heat when we touched. All caused a stunning coil of heat deep in my gut.
The feel of her in my arms, her lush softness against me was fucking nirvana. At well over six feet, I was a big man, and mostwomen standing next to me barely reached my chest. However, with Padma, everything was different. Her face lay just in the warm cavity of my neck, while the rest of her seemed to mold against me as though made for me. We fit just so, her curves, my angles, it all fit and melded together as though perfect pieces of an intricate puzzle.
I couldn’t hide the arousing impact she was having on my body. I was damn sure she noticed my flagrant lust too.
Her intoxicating scent captivated and lured me. It was a combination of expensive perfume and Padma’s own feminine essence. I knew that I would forever be able to find her in any crowded room even if I didn’t have sight of her. It was uniquelyher. I buried my face against the curly mass of her hair. It felt as though we were in a world of our own.
“I need to talk to you,” she said in that sultry, husky voice of hers, but with enough seriousness that she had me swallowing indiscomfort in both escalating arousal and trepidation.
I looked down at her, and her gaze immediately ensnared mine. I was so fucking lost it would take the fucking brigade tofind me. “That doesn’t sound ominous at all.” I tried to make a joke, but I knew that whatever she had to tell me was no joke.The emotions in her gaze alone warned me of that fact.
I suddenly didn’t want to hear whatever she had to say. It was probably some message from Pax, and he was one of the lastpeople I wanted to be reminded of while I was lusting after his sister. I simply wanted to hold her and feel, for perhaps the lasttime, a desire that I knew was once in a lifetime. A desire so spectacularly pure that it had both of us trembling with unspoken,but potent need.
Her body was almost melded into mine. The hard tips of her nipples stubbed my chest and her hips rolled subtly, but sensuallyas she cradled my erection, speaking a language of complete surrender and seduction.
I was hard as granite and knew that if we hadn’t been surrounded by my and Giana’s friends and family, I would give in to the compulsion to take her and feed our mutual need. And by the heated look in her eyes, I had no doubt that she would let me.
It was too late for us though. Whatever was between us was destined to remain unsated.
I was hours away from tying myself to another woman. Nothing could stop that, not even a potential forever love. Nothingshe had to say, or could have done, would have changed the world of hell I was willingly stepping into. My decision had life-and-death implications.
I should have ended our dance then. It probably would have ended whatever madness was taking control of my body. Butthen the DJ played a love song that I probably had never paid attention to before in my life. I certainly hadn’t rememberedhearing it before, and it certainly had no meaning to me before. It was only later when I was at my lowest point, and I had to listento the song again to convince myself that I had to have imagined it, that I looked the song up. “For Tonight,” by Giveon.
With the crowd around us, the house filled to the gills with friends and family, it had to be the alignment of those things,because I was not that guy. I convinced myself that it was the alignment of that song, at that time, with that incredibly sexywoman that had me acting so out of character. Had me breaking my word. It had to be something that caused me to take her tomy study on the pretense of hearing her out.
Even as we crossed the threshold, I stalked further into the room, breathing in and out slowly, trying to force somesemblance of equilibrium before I turned to look at her. Too bad I wasn’t as in control as I thought I was. With the rhythm of thesong still beating through my veins like a drug, and the sight of her pressed against the closed door of the study, looking at mewith those big gray eyes filled with undiluted adoration and surrender, my resistance snapped. There was only so much restraint aguy could mount when offered his wet dream on a silver platter.
One minute we were facing each other across the room, and the next, I was on her, kissing her in the hottest, most sexuallyexplosive kiss of my life. This amazingly sexy woman wanted me, and I sure as fuck wanted her. There was no contest. My hungerfor her had obliterated every thought in my head.
With no regard to my commitments, honoring my friendship with Pax, or the very real possibility of our being caught, I kissed, tasted, and nibbled every inch of her that I uncovered. She was so fucking sweet I suddenly wanted to taste all of her.
I forced myself back to the present. God, I shouldn’t go there again. I couldn’t think of what followed without experiencing again the pain of love lost.
And yes, for the first time in my life, I knew down to the marrow of my bones that I would love her always. Irrevocably.Completely. Love her.
I never heard what she had to tell me, because after we did what I am determined not to revisit, I returned to the party as thoughnothing happened and made sure that we were never alone again.
It took everything in me to ignore the wistful, confused plea in her eyes as she dressed before leaving my study. I ignored herpleas and ignored my annoyingly hard cock.
She had given me an unexpected gift, and I spent the remainder of the night next to my fiancé. Asshole move? Yeah, I know.I’m not even sure when she left.
Despite the over three hundred people in attendance at the wedding, I knew precisely where she sat in the third row fromthe back left side of the church. I could have sworn that I could smell her sweet scent. I was almost panting from the lack of oxygen getting into my lungs as I repeated my vows to another woman. I even missed my cue when the priest required my response because I had been so distracted by her.
The day after my wedding, I called Pax to assure myself that Padma made it back to London safely. I had made my decision and should have been able to live with it. A married man shouldn’t still feel like this about anotherwoman. At least, not an honest one. A married man definitely shouldn’t have compounded his sins by dancing with his wetdream at his wedding.
I used to think that my life had been fucked up from birth with no chance of redemption, no chance to change course nomatter how much I fought against the wave. However, I seemed to have added another layer of fuckery to my existence when Iignored the love of my life.
Third generation Italian-immigrant American, with more money than I could ever spend in my or my future children’slifetimes, educated, and blessed with an athletically built body and movie-star good looks, or whatever the fuck had females actinglike simpering idiots when they saw me. Who gives a fuck? All I know is that I am the spitting image of my father. And the fucker always had a legion of women hanging on his arm.
Some would be glad for that, but in my world, that perfect imaging had sealed my fate.
I stared at my overlong coal-black hair, which didn’t seem so remarkable, other than the length and style were unkempt for thebusinessman and politician that I had become. However, there was no hiding who I was or who I came from. Because what reallystamped me as my father’s son was my vibrant blue-green eyes, that particular clear shade that I also shared with my uncles andmale cousins on my father’s side. Every inch of my appearance was pure Sicilian like my pure Sicilian father. It was one of the things I hated most growing up. I was the stereotypical Italian boy from the Bronx. Had to be part of the mob, right? That assumption got me into fights almost on the daily from the boys who were actually part of the mob crew andthe other gang pricks who were just trying to come across as tough. I was in the worst cross-world because it often felt as thoughI had one foot in both worlds. As a child, I had lived in the world of middle-class, preppy America but was forced into the worldof crime and violence of my father’s making. And I often felt out of my element in both.
As an adult, I knew who I was, a ruthless asshole shaped and molded by my dysfunctional past.
It didn’t detract from my appeal to women though. Even the ring on my finger hadn’t stop women from throwing themselves at me. I didn’t doubt that my wealth was the real appeal because I did nothing to attract their attention. Hell, I usually wore a scowljust to force them to leave me the fuck alone.
Despite the hours at my desk, I was in the best shape of my life and feeling as though I could take on the world. Maybe thatwas why I had felt as though I could handle running my empire and running for mayor of New York City.
All the more reason why I shouldn’t be distracted by her. But I was though, distracted and in a perpetual stalemate, unable tomove forward because I didn’t understand what happened to me on the night before my wedding. She changed me. Just a glimpseof the reciprocal yearning in her eyes and the feel of her against me were enough to fill me with infinite regret for what I haddenied myself. I’d made this bed that I now had to lie in, night after night, next to a wife that I hadn’t touched since I held Padma inmy arms.
There were other reasons for that too. It was all wrapped up in why I was running for mayor in the first place. I couldn’t affordto make a mistake. I couldn’t afford to let my guard down or trust anyone, least of all my politically expedient spouse.
I honestly don’t know what my wife, Giana, thought about our unconsummated marriage. Hell, did this mean I could get anannulment? Just the thought of it had me clutching the razor even tighter in my fist. I twisted my lips in a disgusted smile. Yeah,even now I was looking for a way out, a way to claim Padma.
I was a wealthy thirty-one-year-old who had never had anything in my life come easy. I was fostered into a family that neverlet me forget that fact. Despite their attempts to make every moment of my life a misery, even sending me to a school to ensure my daily torture, I still came through. I still succeeded when others would have failed.
Success in my life meant my family and my lifelong nemesis were in a perpetual pissed-off state. I had wealth, socialconnections, and friends because people were drawn to me. Some even called me charismatic and a natural-born leader, but whatmost people saw as charismatic characteristics was my simply knowing instinctively how to interact and respond in any situation.
As if those attributes weren’t enough, I had resources few people could only dream of, even more than money, family, andsocietal connections. I had a best friend in Pax, who was my real- life secret weapon. At least that’s how I think of him because heis always there when I need him. He’s not just my best friend and business partner, silent partner, but he’s also the only real brotherI have. Pax has saved my ass more times than I care to think about. He hasn’t confirmed it, but his mysterious, never-in-one-place, never-physically-available, and lack of social media presence certainly made me more and more convinced that he was aBritish spy. Good or bad, I still wasn’t sure.
Hell, I wasn’t sure if I was good or bad either. The truth is that when I started down this path to become the next mayor ofNew York City, I did it because of the corruption that permeated from the very top and to topple my real father and his mafia family.
The corruption was everywhere and in everything. So much so that people didn’t even try to hide it anymore. I, too, hadignored it. What did I care? I was above all that. Both in social standing and also in the resources I had at my disposal. I had risenabove what my father had thought I would become, what he had been trying to force me to become.
And then the corruption started to impact my empire. No doubt by my nemesis’ design. The bastard started using some ofmy businesses in the city to launder money and traffic their new drug. They had even gotten to my foster siblings, or should I callthem my cousins? That got my attention, but even then, I wasn’t too worried. I thought I could extradite my siblings and mybusinesses from everything. I had the resources, right? But then they started peddling that drug more aggressively, a drug thatshouldn’t be, that was so exclusive, so expensive, only the elite could afford it.
The elite that had the same resources as I did. There was no way for me to stop the movement of the drug. This drug was toodangerous for me to turn a blind eye. It had the potential to abuse those that didn’t have resources to fight, giving a new dimensionto a date rape drug. My conscience couldn’t allow me to ignore that.
This wasn’t about me. This was about the innocence that was being targeted. This was about the depravity of those peddlingthat shit on the whole of New York. Hell, even my father agreed that point with me. Although he had initially been part of theproblem, this drug was so depraved he tried to stop the trafficking of it and paid for his opposition with his life days after mywedding. I couldn’t prove it yet, but I had become more and more certain with recent events.
I had to do something. Trying to get law enforcement involved only made matters worse because the corruption permeatedthe state. I knew, because I knew the strength of those involved, at least the head of the mob family responsible for it all.
My attempts to intervene brought not just threats on my life but also on my foster family. While there was no love lostbetween us, I still wouldn’t wish them that kind of death. I wasn’t afraid of that threat on my life. Hell, I’ve lived with it ever since Iwas a kid and realized who I was. No, the threat to my life would be there as long as I lived, or as long as that coward lived. I hadno choice. I had to do this for the city and the people that I had a responsibility to take care of. Becoming mayor wasn’t going tobe enough, but it was a start.
While I married for political expediency, I still married the kind of woman that was easily accepted in my Italian-Americancommunity. In truth, my foster family and my real parents were full-blood Italians. And despite not really growing up in atraditional family, I knew what was expected of me. Not just from my family but from my extended community. If I wanted tobe elected, I had to play this game.
I hated the necessity of it, but that was the main reason that I couldn’t take a chance with Pax’s sister. This was the one timethat love couldn’t save the day. I had to ignore what I wanted for what I must do.
I should be trying to stop the sudden escalation of the attempts on my life. It started in the days following my father’s death.The first time was an attack on my car as I was being driven to my office. I knew why and I knew who.
He was suddenly waking to the fact that I might be the next mayor of New York.
If Pax hadn’t recommended that I have my chauffeur-driven Mercedes fitted with bulletproof armor, armor that could withstand a bomb and, in this case, a high-powered rocket, I wouldn’t be alive right now. Nothing was bulletproof, but this carcame damn close.
Another time, I had almost been poisoned, but that time my beautiful Doberman had knocked over my wine glass and lappedup the red liquid from my carpet. He died almost instantly. The poison was in the bottle of red that, until that moment, I hadn’topened.
My nemesis had to be desperate and determined to insert poison into a beverage I rarely drank. The investigator Pax sentover found that my special bottle of whiskey had also been contaminated. This narrowed the timeline of when the poison wasinserted and narrowed down who in my inner circle had assisted him. Unfortunately, even when I removed every member of mystaff that I suspected, I knew that he would just find another way to achieve his end goal.
Even though I have never told Pax who was attacking me or why—that secret I couldn’t even share with my best friend—Idid discuss my safety measures with him after each incident. He was the expert after all. Instead, I made him think that I suspectedmy foster siblings, my wife, or my political rivals. It was a shit move, but there were just some things I couldn’t talk about. Noteven to my best friend, especially my best friend. I didn’t want to put him at risk as well. My nemesis was too powerful, and hisresources in Europe were even more substantial.
Pax made some significant changes to my protection detail, including hiring some foreign mercenaries to guard me for thetime being. Men that I was sure came from Pax’s father’s pool of employees.
Tonight, I needed a break from all of that though. I needed a break from my own brooding, from my wife, who I suspectedwas already cheating on me, and a break from how crazy my life had become. I was driving into the city tonight to meet up with my foster siblings, something I did once a month to satisfy my obligations to them.
I knew they were bringing their own problems that they wanted me to resolve, but those were usually solved with a wad ofcash and a whole lot of damn patience. No biggie.
I slid into my custom Porsche, intent on having an easy, if not a relaxing evening. Two of my bodyguards were piled into acar behind me. I needed to drive tonight. It was one of the few pleasures I still allowed myself.
I never made it to the restaurant.