Three more days until Daddy's Kitten is on the prowl!!! https://www.amazon.com/Daddys-Kitten-Coast-Daddies-Romance-ebook/dp/B09JYZWVRT
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Chapter One, Jessica
“Hey Jessica!” the cheerful greeting and honk of the postmistress’s horn snapped me out of my miserable mind, just in time to keep me from rushing right into a slim, birch barked tree trunk that split the sidewalk before me.
A lick of sweat trickled down my back.
I pulled my nails out of my palms, willing myself to calm down, telling myself somehow, someway, this whole crazy situation would someday make sense. “Hey, Peggy!” I hollered back, my voice sounding tired even to me.
All I had to figure out for the moment was tomato soup.
Cooking would help me relax, if I were any good at it. Instead, my favorite part of cooking was menu planning and the rare chance to escape to the grocery store.
I sucked at creating anything edible, a flaw which he reminded me of on the daily. I got around it, making a show of purchasing homemade ingredients, swapping them out for store bought whenever I could.
He liked to roll into the kitchen in his chair to monitor and critique my cooking.
Working as his caregiver meant my time was very limited, so I avoided extra trips to the store by planning meals for the entire week. If I had more free time, I’d stop at Sweetness and Light down the street and splurge on one of the handmade pieces of chocolate. I could tell my aunt Ambrosia was working since there was a chalk-drawn cross above her message, “Have a blessed day!” on the sandwich board outside. Ironic that they had named her after the dessert, or food for the gods, the bitter righteousness that followed her like an invisible cloud always left a nasty taste in one’s mouth. That was reason enough to avoid the shop today. Plus, I needed to get back to him as soon as I could.
Once I told my aunt I felt like giving up. That sometimes I just stood in the shower and cried or sat in the car and did the same. Last week I let her know I smiled and said “I’m fine” to everyone that asked how I was doing, when inside I was sick to death of being the strong one all the time. She said I should think about what I did to “piss God off, to have so much illness in one family.”
First mama, now him.
It was a low blow, and God forgive me, but I hadn’t forgiven her yet for saying it.
Shopping list prepared, it sat in my dinosaur decorated backpack, just one tool I used to keep from looking crazy.
A blast of frigid air hit my face as the automatic doors of Valley Grocery opened and I took my glitter pen out. “A fancy shmancy pencil,” he’d complained after I’d bought them on sale.
Crossing the ingredients off my list as I perused the aisles helped me to blend in, even though I kept a death grip on the shopping cart and could hear him chastising me, “pick your feet up!”
Everything I did brought to mind his verbal reminders for improvement. They echoed in my skull even when he wasn’t there.
Why did a twenty-seven-year-old woman wear clothes from the kids’ clothing department and sleep with stuffed animals?
Even worse, why did she call herself “sparkle pony” in the secret chamber of her mind?
Sparkle pony is brave.
Sparkle pony is strong.
Sparkle pony runs so fast, she can escape from anything just by traveling faster than the wind.
Yup, certifiable. That’s me.
Get your head out of the clouds, Jessica.
Pay attention to your list.
An announcement gushed from overhead, battering my ears, “To the owner of a black Lincoln-Continental, your lights are on in the parking lot.”
I placed one hand on my chest, breathing deeply, and scorned myself for startling at the sharp, magnified sound.
“Excuse me, Miss.” The rumble of a voice from behind hit me in a way that ramped up my erratic pulse and made it impossible to steady myself.
Only this time, being a scaredy cat wasn’t to blame for my quaking heartbeat. My mind was a crazy mixture of fear, yes… but the powerful, well-muscled body that passed me and walked through the front doors filled me with something like hope.
And that was a feeling I almost didn’t recognize.
Plus, he smelled like pine trees.
Every time I went out in public, it made me sweat and tremble; my heart acting like it was trying out for the hundred-meter sprint in the Olympic trials.
And my mind went blank whenever I had to speak to a stranger.
I’d been like this since mama passed away and he got sick right after. Too sick to take care of himself, so that it fell on me to do so. Making meals, driving him anywhere he wanted to go, running errands, cleaning house, yard work—heck, sometimes I even acted like Ms. Fix it around the house, but certainly never to his standards.
“Rabbit, rabbit.” I remembered at the last minute, whispering the words to myself.
Today was June first. Saying the words out-loud at the first of the month was good luck. I kept up the silent chant, careful not to move my lips too much as I pushed my cart away from the front of the store.
My backpack buzzed against my spine, making me jump.
He only let me have my cell when I went out, in case he needed to text me to get something he forgot. Otherwise, the phone was off limits. His random rules were just one of the many reasons the local senior center was helping me look into respite care for dad.
If he knew I was doing such a thing, he’d kill me.
But honestly, if I didn’t do it, the risk of killing myself was greater.
I was so tired.
I stepped out onto the sidewalk again to take the call, careful to avoid the straight lines that cut across the sidewalk like lines over the surface of store-bought brownies.
Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.
My stomach tightened like a fist and jealousy set fire to my chest as I watched a man help his partner into the passenger side of a car, reach over and fasten her seat belt for her.
“Jessica?” said the female voice on the other end of the phone. It was the social worker from the senior center. I could tell she was nice. It was just hard to feel it.
It was hard to feel much of anything these days.
“Speaking.” I answered and my voice sounded dull to my own ears, but I was powerless to pretend otherwise. The energy to be sunshiny and gay just wasn’t in me, not when my normal pulse dawdled like a sloth on sedatives, and answering the phone felt harder than solving a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute.
“Oh good, I finally caught you, you’re a hard woman to get ahold of.” It seemed like she expected some reply, but I was fresh out of words and sat there breathing through my mouth, hoping she couldn’t hear me.
“Anyway, are we able to have a private conversation right now?” she asked.
“Yes.” I answered, “I’m alone at the supermarket, shopping.”
“Good. Good.” She blew a rush of air past her lips on the other end of the phone. “I’m afraid there is no easy way to tell you this. In fact, it might be better if you could come on down to the center so we could speak in person.”
“I don’t have time today. I need to get the shopping done and get back home.” It was easier to do what he wanted than listen to the endless accusations of how he presumed I was spending my time. “Out hunting peckers like a panther on the prowl.” To use his words exactly.
“Well, I think you should know right away that when we called the oncologist’s office for a routine review of your father’s charts before he entered our program, we found they never treated him. I’m so sorry, but it looks like he hasn’t been honest with you.”
The hollowness in my chest dissipated as I filled my lungs with air, trying to hold back my scream.
“But that’s impossible,” I said.
I flinched as the parking lot attendant slammed a long row of carts into their container behind me with a “ka-cham”.
“The good news is, he may have a long life ahead of him if he’s otherwise healthy. Not only that, but given our past conversations about your need for relief, it may come sooner than you think. I’d still like to schedule an evaluation for your father. He’d benefit from our services and programs and qualify for psychiatric assessment given his feigned diagnosis.” She kept talking, but it all came through like the adult voices in a Charlie Brown cartoon, muffled and indistinct.
I swiped a hand across my forehead, wiping the sweat off. My tone grew even less certain. “But why is he so thin? He even lost his hair in the most recent round of chemo.”
“You said he preferred to take the free shuttle to the hospital for his treatments, right? Perhaps he didn’t go there after all.”
“That’s crazy, right? Telling me he had cancer when he didn’t? What for? To get attention? Or was it just so he could use me as his personal slave?” I bit both my cheeks, hard, and put my hand over my face, closing my eyes. “I can’t take this all in right now. He’s expecting his favorite tomato cream soup and I will never have it ready in time if I don’t finish shopping soon.”
“Jessica, I know this isn’t easy, but I don’t think you should try to handle this alone. I’m happy to arrange a home visit so that we can plan for your father now that we know the truth about his condition. He may still qualify for caregiving hours.”
Yeah right. She was a nice lady, but she hadn’t a clue about what it was like to deal with my dad. He’d mastered the art of getting what he wanted.
“I’ll call you later after I figure out what to do.” I told her and hung up.
What kind of sicko would fake their own illness?
I covered my nose, gagging and squinting my eyes shut—hard—for a moment.
Spinning around, I nearly ran into an older woman dragging a dolly for her groceries, stepping sprightly around her. I barely avoided a collision with the back of her hand-crocheted cardigan. It felt like someone was standing on my chest, and the pressure squeezed from my sternum to the base of my throat.
I breathed slowly, telling myself, it will pass. Breathe in, breathe out. All is well.
My list trembled in my hand and my eyes landed on the first item, two pounds of fresh tomatoes.
The letters swam, and I blinked my eyes remembering by rote, five things you can see: grocery list, glitter pen, fingers shaking, paper produce bags, grocery cart.
I could touch: a bag, red tomatoes, a twist tie, the inner sole of my sandals with my toes.
I heard: “Miss? Are you okay?”
Wait, that’s only one thing.
I clutched the bag in my hands so hard, that it tore, and heard glossy red, pulpy and delicious fruit tumble to the floor with heavy thumps, and bumps across the foam padding of the vegetable area, except for the distinct squelch of one such piece of produce which landed atop the most expensive looking leather loafer I’ve ever seen, splatting them with a horror film smear of tomato blood and gore.
And then his smell of pitch and pine hit me hard.
There was only one thing I could taste. Bile rose from the back of my throat, an acid taste which held the bitterness I felt thinking about my father spending every second of every day in his recliner. The daily abrasion of his accusations that I couldn’t do anything right, never did enough.
A gentle yet absolutely giant hand touched my bare arm, his touch feverishly hot against the air-conditioned temperature.
“Are you okay?” His soothing voice probed harder. The voice was velvet edged and forceful at the same time.
Tormented by confused emotions, I bit my lip until it throbbed like my pulse.
Anything to keep the ugly feelings inside.
There was a choked, desperate laugh, and I realized it was coming from me.
I swallowed the sob that was in my throat and bent my neck back to look up at him.
“It’s just a bag of tomatoes, Miss. Let me help you.” His brown eyes were full of life, pain, and unquenchable warmth, which he directed at me.
It was the nicest thing I could remember anyone doing in what seemed like forever, and I gulped hard and felt hot tears slipping down my cheeks.
He smiled benignly, as if dealing with a sensitive child. “What do you say to some comfort food at Splendor in the Grass Diner? Things always look better after a slice of apple pie with vanilla ice cream.”
The gesture of sympathy caused me to weep out loud, rocking back and forth, squeezing my backpack tightly in my arms.
The question was, which was the greater danger?
My lying father who’d fly off the handle if I was late making his soup, or this tall, black-suited man who looked as though he could crush me in one hand and wanted to have me laid out on a table, three meals a day?
Chapter Two, Lorenzo
I was a son-of-a-bitch, no denying, but I’d never tell her that.
Nor admit I already knew her name, learned it long ago at the Daily Grind, where I secretly paid for her coffee.
“So what will it be?” I asked, and she met my eyes, causing a shock to go through me.
As if I hadn’t uttered those syllables a million times like a filthy prayer, jacking myself to the thought of all the ways I wanted to praise her and make her mine.
I could run the fantasy scenes in my mind like a movie, so many times had I mentally played them out.
Jessica on her knees.
Jessica tied up, allowing me to have my way with her.
Jessica squeezing her tight, dripping pussy around my cock.
There was a pensive shimmer in the shadow of her eyes as she considered my offer. But at least she wasn’t running away.
A good sign.
Already I heard the excuses I was going to tell myself about why I should insert myself in her life, even though I couldn’t trust my judgement around her.
I’d use her distressed state as a reason to finally spend time with her in person, even though I knew it wasn’t fair to her. What future was there for her with a man who could never make up for the terrible things he’d done? She’d hate me if she found out that the hands which carefully picked up the scattered tomatoes had squeezed the life out of more than one windpipe.
Up close her facial bones revealed themselves to be delicately carved, like Michelangelo’s Pietà, her mouth full. Surprise had siphoned the blood from her features, making her look even more as if she were cast in stone. I wanted to plant kisses on her shoulders, neck, and face until the glow of arousal painted her passion-pink.
Instead, she barely managed a tremulous smile when I set the tomatoes back where they belonged.
“I guess it won’t hurt to have lunch. He doesn’t need me to get back home after all.” Her voice seemed to come from a long way off, though she were standing right beside me.
“Him?” I heard my own voice, stifled and unnatural. My thoughts raced dangerously, and I muttered under my breath. “Who the hell is he?”
She quickly texted something into her phone, “My father. I…” stains of scarlet appeared on her cheeks and she swallowed hard.
A cashier called for a price check on the intercom, and she gasped, releasing a shiver of panic.
She forced herself to settle down.
Someone hurt her or scared her.
I’d find out who, and deliver that person a message they’d either obey or breathe their last.
Leave her alone, or else.
They were better off not knowing what that “else” was. Any fool in Briarville, hell, in all the county knew not to cross a Drago.
Doing so was more than dangerous. It was deadly.
Which is exactly why this sweet girl, who shuddered at shadows, confused the hell out of me.
She was afraid of something, but I wasn’t it.
One meal. Let me have just that, and then she could go on her way. It would be enough to sustain me.
Lunch with Jessica.
I’d tattoo the date on my chest.
“Let me hold your backpack. It looks heavy,” I said.
She squeezed it protectively to her chest. “That’s okay. I’m used to carrying it.” She looked away hastily, her eyes locked on the colorful mounds of fresh fruit, and began to sway restlessly.
Gently, I placed my hand at her elbow and told her, “As you wish.”
Though no amount of good could ever balance the evil I’d done, I willed her to read my mind and my intention… Your daddy’s right here. He’ll protect you.
* * *
The waitress set the complimentary breadbasket in front of me, and I slid it towards Jessica. I had my usual Earl Grey tea, and she ordered “Just water, please,” her eyes full of remoteness. My brother Enzo sucked down espresso like water, but I preferred tea.
“Sure that’s all you want? It’s my treat.” An escaping blonde curl slid over her forehead, and I sat on my hands to keep my fingers from reaching out to lace her fingers with mine.
She tilted her head in a nod and gave a forced smile. “You don’t need to buy me lunch. I have money.”
We’ll see about that. When you’re with me, I pay.
We ordered, and I visualized Jessica on my lap, wearing no panties, the silky caress of her thigh on mine, letting me feed her. Her eyes were docile and contemplative, and she asked me, “What are you thinking about?”
My giveaway cheeks heated to crimson, and I heard my Nonna say , “You’re a Sicilian through and through. You speak with your body.” Usually, she referred to my volcanic temperament, but in this case, I’d been caught out having filthy thoughts about the melting softness of Jessica’s body against mine, and it showed.
“Tell me your name.” It felt so good, my first command to her. Even better when she peered at me intently and muttered hastily, as if quick to obey, “Jessica.”
Good girl. I praised her in my mind and noticed how her body was telling me with its every move that she was a girl who in her heart longed to be unafraid.
But something, someone, prevented that.
She reached over the table to pick up a French fry, hands trembling and face clouding up as if a quick and disturbing thought had struck her.
A glob of ketchup dripped from the fry and landed with a soft splat on her shirtfront.
“Dammit!” Her breath quickened and her cheeks turned deep red. “I’m sorry. It’s not polite to swear.” Her gaze dropped to her lap as if her eyelids were made of lead and stayed there.
Beneath the teak table, surrounded entirely by the good citizens of Briarville, my cock grew hard as a three-year-old Pecarino.
I cleared my throat, pretending to not be affected by her, and said, “You sure as shit don’t have to be polite with me. I’d rather you just be yourself.”
For the next two hours, she was exactly that. Stuck in the zone of drawing whimsical animals I didn’t recognize from any zoo or picture book, her brow furrowed adorably while she talked to me, filling the paper napkin with a colorful landscape sketched with glittering ink. I noted she signed it S.P., and wondered about this different side of hers. It was playful and frisky, and the first time I’d seen anything like it from her.
I wanted more of it.
My pulse rioted through me as I listened to her speak, like sparks flashing from a soldier’s .45, representing the terror I felt because she might at any second stop opening up to me.
Until she asked me, “What about you? What do you do?”
And then my heartbeat became a Vesuvius on the verge of erupting.
I’d given the answer so many times, it came more naturally than breathing.
But I couldn’t call myself a “businessman” and lie to her.
Not even a half lie.
So I chickened out, lifting the cuff of my sleeve, checking my watch, “Damn. I completely lost track of time being with you. I’m sorry but I have an engagement in just fifteen minutes. Let me take you home.”
Her soft eyes grew sharp and assessing the moment I said “engagement.”
“Let me carry this for you.” I picked her dino-sack off of the wooden chair and slung it weightless over my suit shoulder.
“Sorry for keeping you so long. I was a huge blabber mouth,” she apologized.
“Guess you needed to talk.”
I saw her brush away a tear, and I wanted to use my body to crowd hers close enough so she felt my arousal. I’d distract her from whatever bothered her with my dick.
“Here it is,” she stopped in front of an ATM outside the restaurant, looking so small in front of it that I saw a plastic box-monster, ready to devour her.
I perceived everything but me as her threat.
Turning on my heel as she punched in her pin, my head swung on a swivel.
Keeping her safe.
Let anyone try to approach her.
Before we parted ways today, I’d get her phone number. I didn’t want to leave her, but there was no way in hell could I let her join the Drago family meal.
Nothing would make her run faster to the hills and away from me than meeting my professionally criminal relatives, their offspring and accomplices.
The Dragos oozed organized crime like maggots dripping from a rotten corpse’s eye sockets.
If I took her there, my secret would be out.
“No!” The sudden exclamation was almost a scream, and it made the hackles on the back of my neck raise.
Her face froze, staring at the flimsy slip of paper recently spit out by the bank machine.
A grim expression washed over her, and she squeezed the words out. “Do you think you could walk me to my car now?”
“Absolutely.” I took her elbow, wanting instead to sweep her into my arms and nuzzle her neck. Suck at her until she writhed, paint my possession on her skin with my mouth.
Instead, I walked her to her crappy car, uneasy about letting her drive off in that bucket of bolts.
I needn’t have worried.
Damned thing didn’t start.
“Poop! I can’t believe this.” She thrust her fingers through her hair. “First, I drop the tomatoes and now my car won’t start. Not to mention I’m going to have to owe you lunch. Really sorry, but I think maybe he emptied my bank account!”
The dreaded he. If he were here now, I’d kiss him.
Now she’d owed me one.
She bit a lip to stifle the outcry of her account being drained.
My fingers wrapped around the bare skin of her arm and carefully pulled her out of the car. “Keys?” I asked, treating her gently so as not to spill the tears that welled in the bottomless blue pools of her eyes. She’d left the key ring in the ignition and was about to lock them inside.
Her head only came up halfway to the top of my Lincoln when she took her seat. I bent over and reached across her body to snap her in safely.
She stirred uneasily.
“What is it, kitten?” I asked. I’d rehearsed the pet name a million times in my mind, so that it came to my lips unbidden.
So much for denying myself the pleasure of expressing my devotion. My personal, self-imposed Omertà was out.
Her breath hitched, and a smile trembled over her lips.
“You know what I just realized?” She asked.
“Haven’t a clue. But I reckon it’s a doozie.”
“You never told me your name. I don’t even know your name and you just made my wish come true. Tomatoes really are good luck.” She tugged three times at her seat belt.
I honestly had no idea what the fuck she was talking about, but I never wanted her to stop speaking to me.
My gaze traveled over her face and searched her eyes. She had no clue how I longed to shield her from the world with the protectiveness of my arms. “Name’s Lorenzo.”
She bit her lip and looked away. “Do you want to know a secret?” she asked. My cock swelled. A clear image came to me unbidden. It was of her petting her pretty pussy, all alone at night.
“I do.” I replied, squeezing my hands into two fists to avoid reaching over and placing my palms over her tits to see if they were the perfect handfuls they appeared to be.
She tried to suppress a giggle, but it surged across her fuckable lips. “I think Lorenzo is a beautiful name.”
I’d teach her to refer to me as manly, but right now wasn’t the time. She was talking again, and if I weren’t careful, I’d be late for picking Nonna up.
I lowered myself over my haunches, to be eye-level with her. “Thank you, Jessica. I like your name too.” I reached out and smoothed her bangs away from her eyes. It was a poor substitute for prowling my hands across her body in the dark.
“My secret name is sparkle pony, you can call me that if you want.”
“You know what?”
“Seeing you smile like that, I can almost imagine you might sparkle all day long one day.”
Jessica was more relaxed than she’d been all day, but her vexation was still clear, riding in the seat beside me. “I can’t believe he’d take all our money. No way even he’d be that cruel.”
She was adorable, muttering to herself, thinking I wasn’t clinging to every word.
Her house was traveling in the same class as her car. Bargain basement all the way. The trailer was leaning on its frame. Its status as shelter was dubious at best.
She tromped up the plywood ramp, keeping to one side, and avoided its handrail, which leaned severely to the left. It was none of my business, but I was making it mine.
“Dad!” My girl had a set of pipes when she got around to it. She banged on the flimsy aluminum door, which shuddered on its hinges, descended the ramp and then crept around the corner to the back side of the mobile home.
I skulked after her, my shoes taking their second shabby treatment for the day. I’d shine them when I got home since they were now covered in the dust from her yard. “Look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp.” As my Nonno Alberto always said.
She dropped to the ground after scaling the trailer’s skirting three feet off the ground and peering in every grimy window.
The way those tomato-red shorts hit right at her strong, youthfully slender thighs just about made me cream myself all over my trousers.
“The door’s locked and there’s no one inside.” Confused, she wandered to the front of the trailer, tapping her white sneaker on the dirt, and stared at the decrepit hut.
“You don’t have a key?” I asked.
It was hard to remain coherent when I was so close to her.
“He didn’t like me to have one. Big red flag. What an idiot I was.” She tapped her fist to her forehead, hard enough for it to make a slapping sound.
“Hey.” I stepped forward. “I get it. You’ve had a rotten day, except for the part about meeting me, of course.” Of its own accord, my hand reached out and skid the back of my knuckle down her nose. The touch of her breath hit me, and I struggled for control. “That said, I hate to inform you your day is about to get a lot worse, and for future reference, I won’t put up with hearing you call yourself names.”
“I really doubt it could.” She said, and I realized not once, all day long, though troubled spirits surged through her, had she complained. “Get worse, that is.”
“Oh. I’m afraid so.” She looked up at me when I said it and my heart lurched madly. It was there on her face, the tiniest glimmer.
As if she were coming back to life right before my eyes.
I vowed right then to rescue her, to serve as her very own Italian version of CPR. I’d not let her return to live in this shabby place, which was too run down and sad for her.
“You’re coming with me.” I grabbed her hand and pulled her to my car, buckling her in tight again. “It’s time you met the family.”
Chapter Three, Jessica
“Oh goodness, does your wife grow dahlias?” He said it was his house, and my extremely limited experience with men made me believe his attention so far meant he was interested in me, so I hoped to God his answer was “no.”
But that could be just me and my insufficient exposure to the world. There was no law against a married man flirting with a girl.
“I’m the only gardener that lives here. I’m the only person who lives here. That slew of cars you see belong to my early bird relatives. They show up whenever they want.” His eyes clung to mine in the rearview mirror, gauging my reaction.
My feelings had nothing to do with reason, because I was out of money and homeless, but there was a gently growing fire inside me, undeniable. As though I’d slept outside in the snow and just come in to sit beside the hearth’s warmth.
I wanted to crawl onto his lap, sheltered by the chiseled chest that took up a yard of fabric to cover.
The woman who’d insisted I call her “Nonna” instead of “Mrs. Drago,” as I’d initially greeted her, cackled from the front passenger seat. “Time has no meaning when you’re in love.”
“Si, Nonna.” Lorenzo agreed, dropped his big strong manly man posture.
From time to time it was there, a tender, doting look in his eyes that made him so very good looking that my heart raced. In the rearview mirror, I saw him turn that adoring expression towards his grandma.
There was one problem with spending every waking hour caring for… him. I couldn’t even think of him as my father. No parent in their right mind would just abandon to the streets the person who’d taken endless care of them. I’d been so isolated I now had no friends I could call, no one whose couch I could sleep on.
“Hey, where’d you go?” He playfully cuffed my chin from the front seat and the surge of affection I felt frightened me, overriding the negative depictions built up in my mind. They percolated in the background…
Guilt for daring to hope I was really free.
Distrust of this man’s motives.
“There you are.” His eyes raked boldly over me. “You cold in those shorts? You’re shivering.”
I tilted my head to one side and stole a slanting look at him.
“Stay put. I need to walk Nonna inside and I’ll be back so you don’t have to brave the crowd alone.” He spoke with cool authority.
His mouth twitched with amusement.
Was he teasing me?
“Okay.” My heart danced with excitement and terror, trying to remember the last time I’d been to a social gathering.
He carried himself with a commanding air of self-confidence, even when walking his grandmother to the door.
My thighs made a sucking sound when I pulled them off the leather seat, and I counted the number of blooming flowers that leaned over the white wooden fence, until he returned.
Lorenzo opened the back door for me, and looked powerful, his chest broad and muscular, making me acutely conscious of the old, ketchup-stained tank top and leg-baring shorts I wore. Nonna was in a shift and Lorenzo had a suit on. Something told me I was severely underdressed.
The smell of cooking hit me as soon as we opened the door. This wasn’t like anything I’d ever prepared, rather it was full of simmer and spice and sent a gentle current of hunger through my belly.
It had been hours since we lunched together, yet time had never passed so quickly in my life.
“Ciao, Lorenzo!” said a man just as large as him, with swollen biceps, shoulders and thick thighs that threatened to split his trousers Hulk-style. He held a wooden spoon stained red above his head and shook it for emphasis. “About time!”
“That’s my brother, Enzo. Ignore anything he says about me.” The crook of Lorenzo’s arm caught me in a half circle, one hand on the small of my back, and he pulled me along towards the kitchen.
“Who’s this?” asked a sophisticated looking blonde, with the kind of Victoria’s-Secret-model-hair I always coveted.
“This is Jessica, Lorenzo’s woman,” said Nonna.
“Oh,” I stammered in bewilderment, “I’m not his woman.” My face grew hot with humiliation. “I’m Jessica.”
“His gattina.” The feisty old lady’s eyes lit with merriment, and she scuttled towards the kitchen counter to pour herself a very full goblet of wine, and I swear I thought I heard her mewing under her breath. Like a cat.
The worldly woman told me her name was Lucrezia, and that she was married to Don Alberto. In other words, Lorenzo’s stepmom.
I lifted my hand and whispered behind it to the golden goddess, “We only just met.”
Her flat, unspeaking eyes prolonged the awkward moment. “Hm.” Neither an affirmation nor a denial.
“I know what I know,” Nonna teetered back in her four-inch heels, handing me a glass of liquid the color of blood. “Saluti!” She said and clinked her glass against mine, her pour threatening to slosh over the side before it met her lips. “To your health.” The delight in her eyes was so irresistible, I had to laugh.
My tittering cut right off when she followed her toast up with, “Now that he has you, he’ll never let you go. And if there is anyone who can keep you safe, it’s my nipote, Lorenzo.” She reached her knobby knuckles towards me and pinched my cheek, “It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep may be.”
A thrill of frightened anticipation touched my spine, and I swallowed down a gulp of wine to control the spasmodic trembling within.
It didn’t matter how many times I insisted over dinner we were not a couple, an item, partners, nor much to my mortification “lovers” as Nonna insisted, “amanti” in Italian, his friendly family persisted with their smiles, banter and eventually winked me into a relaxed state that made me forget all about feeling guilty for enjoying this day of unheard of free time.
Isn’t that what I’d always longed for?
Currently, I had it.
The only problem was, I couldn’t get over the feeling that something was wrong, or I’d forgotten something. Not to mention that now that freedom was here, I didn’t have a pot to piss in.
That thought jolted me out of my state of calm.
My inner clock started ticking at me.
Time to check on him.
Time to bring him a glass of water.
Time to roll him over.
Time to adjust his bed.
I couldn’t leave him long for fear he’d fall and there would be no one there to help him up.
A fall could be deadly for someone in his situation.
Except he wasn’t in any kind of situation. He’d been living a lie and playing me for his fool.
Quiet little, Jessica.
“God bless her for everything she does for him.” That’s what people said.
Except I wasn’t blessed at all, was I?
“What a joke!” I said, setting my third empty wineglass on the table with a little too much force. I began clearing the plates, hauling them to the sink-side counter.
“Hey, you okay?” Behind me, his hoarse whisper broke the silence and turning to face him I saw the amused look left Lorenzo’s eyes.
“I’m okay.” I lied, “I just remembered something.” There was a gleam of interest in his eyes, and I had to slide my gaze away from their intensity. When I did, I observed the sketch I’d left behind at Splendor in the Grass, two winged giraffes frolicking in a field of rainbow-colored lupine. Displayed on the side of the fridge, held in place with two magnets, one of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the other a circular map labeled “Sicilia.”
“That illustration wasn’t meant for public viewing, you know.” I hated to admit how much his deeming it worthy of display cheered me.
“I couldn’t bear to leave it behind in the restaurant. Come here.” His frame dwarfed mine when we were standing. He tugged at the back of my tank top. “Something to show you. Tell everyone good night.”
I received double cheek kisses all around and heard repeated promises of, “We’ll see you real soon,” and even better than that from Nonna, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Enzo will drive me home. You love birds enjoy yourself.”
Our shoes crunched the gravel of the now moonlit drive, and we walked towards the place where I’d counted blossoms earlier. Somewhere a sprinkler sent wet kisses out over the flower beds, its rhythm mimicking the cadence of crickets calling out into the warm night air.
“Whenever I’m troubled, I come out here to find peace.” He opened a garden gate, which swung open, its deep groan beckoning us to enter.
He grabbed my hand, and suddenly I could feel my pulse beat there, throbbing in his grasp.
“You go first. I’ll catch you if you fall.” His voice held a rasp of excitement, and I hesitated, pondering climbing the sturdy wooden ladder in my shorts. He’d have a perfect view of my wobbling thighs.
Was that his plan?
“Close your eyes.” I said.
“No can do. Need to be ready in case you fall.” His words were low and smooth.
The wine made me brave. “Screw it.”
I stepped up onto the first rung and felt his hands latch onto my hips. “Steady.”
He moved gracefully beneath me, never removing his hold, keeping me safe as he ascended the ladder steps without aid of its bracing side rails.
There were metal hand grips on the roof itself, and I climbed up and used them to help me turn around to sit safely on its shingles. The pitch wasn’t all that steep.
“Oh my stars. I can see all the way to the Eel River from here.” The sight before me erased every shadow from my heart. From up above, the stars ran the show, and nothing could disrupt their peace as they beamed their sparkle down to the water’s surface.
Lorenzo lowered his enormous form to sit on the roof next to me and enjoy the view.
We sat there for a while, taking it all in, feeling no compulsion to break our comfortable silence.
I couldn’t tear my gaze away from his profile. Eventually, he must’ve felt me staring and turned to face me, his nearness overwhelming.
“I want to kiss you, Jessica, but I’m afraid if I do, you’ll refuse my offer to let you stay here in the garden cottage. You’ll suspect I have alternative motives when really, I just want you to feel out of harm’s way.”
A delightful shiver of wanting ran through me and the sweet scent of jasmine rose from the trellis below, painting the night air with its perfume.
“I’m waiting,” he said.
“For what?” My heart thumped erratically.
“For you to tell me whether or not I can kiss you.” His teeth, even and white, stood out in the dark in contrast with his olive skin, and he looked me over seductively.
“You may.” I responded matter-of-factly, comforted by the newly awakened sense of life I felt when I was at his side.
The hunger of his kiss shattered my calm. I put my arms around his neck and his kiss became more urgent and exploratory, his tongue probing past my lips until he made a drawn out, smug sound of male pleasure. He pulled away, with a glint of wonder in his eyes. “Damn,” he said. “Nonna was right.”
His lips recaptured mine, more demanding this time.
Truth be told, I’d have done anything he asked right then. His lips were more persuasive than I cared to admit.
But of course, just my luck. My first hook up was with a gentleman. He pulled away, his breath hitching, and his hands restless on his lap.
“Right about what?” I asked.
“Now that I’ve had you, I’ll never let you go.” His lips seared a path down my neck and placed a peck at its base. “Your kisses are sweeter than cannoli.”
I lamented every second thereafter when his lips weren’t touching me somewhere. We descended the ladder, this time with him leading, and I put an extra sway into my hips with every rung I climbed down. It surprised me he didn’t hear the shouting in my head it was so loud, “Kiss me again!”
He took a key from his pants pocket and opened the door to the cottage, swinging it open and turning on a soft wall light.
“Let me show you around. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you need.”
“Can I tell you something?” I asked.
“Anything.” The huskiness lingered in his tone, so that I nearly believed him. He looked me over seductively and it reminded me to be more careful with my heart since people were rarely what they seemed.
“I’m afraid of the dark.” My face flushed with what I recognized as humiliation and anger with myself.
A knot rose in my throat.
Lorenzo walked to the window, pulling the curtain back and uttering, “Dear God in heaven, why does she tempt me so?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that, but I guess he wasn’t asking me.
“Lorenzo? Are you okay?” I walked behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.
He spun to face me, torment written all over his darkly masculine features.
Without warning, he yanked me to him, and an unrecognizable squeak left my lips.
He consumed me with his stare before taking my mouth with a savage intensity that made my pussy pulse with need.
Suddenly, that kiss was everything I’d been missing from my life.
Up to now.
Or was it the wine? I needed him to kiss me again so I could make out which.
My pulse whirled and skittered under my skin while he carried me to the bed, tossing me onto the fluffiest covers I’d ever felt in my life.
“Fine, I’ll sleep on the couch so you don’t have to be frightened—on one condition. You stay in that bed.” He pointed his huge finger at me in warning, and shook it with every word. “You stay put. Otherwise, I’ll have to tie you down myself.”
I winced at the powerful suggestion of reproach. “You don’t have to speak to me as if I were a child, and I don’t have to follow your orders!” A more evolved person than me would realize my sexual frustration was making me snap at him.
But I wasn’t her. “You can’t tell me what to do.” I huffed my hair out of my face and threw myself back onto the pillows so hard I bounced on the mattress.
He reached a hand down to bed-level and burned my thigh with his slow exploration of bare skin. “Precisely the point, kitten.” His hand reached for that most womanly and secret part of me, then slowly dragged itself away. “You can be a grown woman and still need your daddy. You can crave him in every way.” I inhaled sharply at the loss of contact with him, waiting to see what he’d do next. “And just one way you can please him is being obedient.”
I blushed at my excitement, hearing him say that, not understanding exactly what he meant by it, but wanting badly to find out.