Day two of driving up the coast and Bastian still hadn’t called.
It was probably for the best, a clean break now rather than later.
I stared at palm tree after palm tree on a coastal road and wondered why I didn’t miss my food truck more.
Instead, I was missing Moonshine and him. I missed seeing his face before I went to bed, and I missed waking up and smelling crepes that he’d made for me. It’d been two days away and I was already considering crawling back.
Sighing, I pulled into another parking lot and hopped from my pick up. I’d been surfing from beach to beach, so just wore a bikini. As I pulled my board out, the sun warmed my skin and I took in this new stretch of sand, not crowded with people at all.
When a black SUV pulled up, I sighed again. Security for life was something I needed to get used to. Bastian had said the words so seriously, I knew arguing was pointless. I had anyway.
I wanted Sebastian to take the reins, to tell me he’d just handle everything, that we could be together and I didn’t have to leave, that he wouldn’t make any side deals.
Maybe it had been too much to ask but I’d asked for so little before, and my heart had wanted it all this time.
All or nothing.
A quick decision that was mine to make. I made it by committing to a wave every day I was out there on that sparkly water. I jumped up on that board and held my body up, trusting my balance and the water to let me ride. If I hesitated or half-assed it, I’d fall.
I was never good at school or jobs or anything really except that. My heart committed to riding the waves.
My tears mixed with the ocean water as I rode them again and again that day. I’d married one man and got two instead. Bastian was a Taurus, strong and stubborn but always dependable. He wasn’t going to let his legacy die or put his family in any type of jeopardy.
He’d submerge his love deep down in the water and suffocate it to make sure he completed whatever he set out to do.
I couldn’t be with a man who did that.
I needed Sebastian Armanelli, stubborn and dominating. The man who knew what he wanted and took it.
My phone rang as I threw my board back in my pick up an hour later. I scooted into the seat, the sand still sticking to my legs as I stared at an unknown number on the screen. When you weren’t with the person you loved, your heart dropped getting those calls.
I took a deep breath. The mob didn’t make house calls or small talk. “What’s wrong?”
The words whispered out of me, but they built momentum in my mind, my throat closing from the thought of Bastian hurt or gone. Had he done something he couldn’t come back from. Had his meeting with Ronald gone too far?
“Is Bastian gone?” I croaked out, tears springing to my eyes.
“What?” Cade cackled into the phone. “Are you crying right now?”
“What?” I glanced around, suddenly aware that he might be watching me. I swiped at my eyes. “No!”
“Oh my God. You are, aren’t you? Why the fuck did you leave him then? You love him so much you’re going to cry just thinking something happened to him but you left. What’s it matter?”
“I still love him!” I said defensively and then shook my head. “He told you I left? So, he’s okay then?”
“I mean he told me you left like I didn’t see you walk out with your suitcase on the security footage,” he said like we were a bunch of idiots.
“That’s really creepy, Cade.”
“Anyway, you need to get back to your penthouse.”
“What?” I shook my head, then started to back out from my parking spot.
“You need to get back there. Or the security team can drive you or whatever. Bastian’s on a call with the president right now, I think, but it looks like he’s coming your way anyway.”
“I’m not going back to him.”
“You love him. Why not? You going to cry when he’s gone but not enjoy him when he’s there?”
“That’s not… you can mourn the death of someone, Cade. It’s different from protecting your heart. This is for the best.”
“Why? Give me a reason.” I needed a good one or maybe just any one because my resolve wasn’t the best on this.
“You know when my mom died, she’d only taught Bastian how to cook,” Cade said. “I didn’t care about learning and she’d focused on him. He was the first-born son in the family anyway. I think my dad punished him for that. He wanted every form of passion that reminded him of my mother gone from Bastian. But Bastian and my mother were close. She used to run her hands through his hair and say, ‘You got my love for the world, Bast, and Cade got all our smarts.’”
I held my breath at his words as sat in my pickup, taking in every detail he gave me about their childhood.
“I remember the first time Bastian came home from a deal that must have ended in bloodshed. He didn’t say a word. He just cooked. Then he turned to me and said, ‘Let’s learn to make peace.’ And he meant it. He doesn’t want to fight anyone. But he will. He is. He’s bringing down that refinery partly for you and partly because he found they were still illegally trafficking women. He’ll kill the man if you don’t go back. I’m sure of it, Morina.”
“He can’t,” I whispered.
I got it now. The peace in him was his way of fighting.
He fought with alliances and peace and wanted happiness instead of hate. It was possible to rule with respect rather than fear, and I believed he was one of the only people who could do it… But only if I took on his darkness behind closed doors.
I wanted Sebastian’s pain and dominance and fury in the dark of the night where I could soothe him back to light by morning.
“I’ll be back there soon.” I turned the key in the ignition, ready now more than ever to go back.
“Thought you might say that. He should be at the last beach you stopped at. You can meet there. I’ll text him.”
I hung up and turned on the radio to try to calm down. The news didn’t let me.
“…Refinery hacked only hours before, demanding compensation for trafficked families,” the host said. “We have the votes going on whether we should commend the hackers or call them terrorists. I’m leaning toward commending them. Word is, this might be some sort of broken empire, with the mob families and syndicates fighting against one another.”
The other host laughed. “I don’t think it’s the 80s anymore. Mob families are dead. This is just businessmen playing with their money and getting hacked by the people who want justice. I’m for it. I hope they end up having to pay that ransom.”
I smacked the radio dial off. “Breathe, Morina,” I told myself.
This time, I turned the crystal ring on my finger and drove fast enough down the coast to meet Bastian in a half an hour.
The sun was setting as I parked and I saw his navy suit out on the sand. He still looked completely and utterly out of place there, but it was picturesque, the juxtaposition of his luxury suit being dirtied by the sand and sea.
I stood too long thinking about us together, letting my mind run away with itself. I was too wrapped up in my own confusion and in my love for him that I didn’t hear the man coming from behind me until he grabbed me by the neck so hard, I barely got out a scream.
The cold metal of his gun pressed into my temple but he wasn’t the one who spoke.
A man with hair so inky it must have been dyed black stepped into view. “I really wish Bastian had held up his part of the deal so I didn’t have to force this sort of transaction.”
I wheezed just as Bastian whipped around.
Only about twenty feet separated us but when a dragon broke from its chains and came out of the cave, the world felt it.
“Boss…” The guy holding me murmured as my husband took a step toward us, his eyes fixed on the gun at my head. “He’s trained. You better act fast because her security will be here any minute too. They’ll be setting up snipers and he’ll signal.”
“You got a gun to this pretty girl, here, boy.” He said to the guy holding the gun to my head. “Don’t worry. He won’t do a thing. He’s a businessman.”
“You’re wrong,” I whispered.
The man whipped the gun fast across my mouth. “Shut up. You don’t know anything.”
As black spots came into my vision and I tasted blood from the lip he hit, though, there was something I was sure of, something I did know.
I knew that before me stood Sebastian Armanelli, the mafia king. My protector. My lover.
Before the man could cut off any more oxygen from my lungs, my husband stood with the sparkling ocean at his back and moved like lightning to whip out his gun and pull the trigger.
I felt the hand slacken before my gasp even came out. The weight of a body fell from my back.
“Bastian,” I whispered but he wasn’t looking at me.
He had his gun aimed at the black-haired man. “Did you think you could come here to negotiate?”
“Bastian, please…” He chuckled, his eyes darting back and forth. “I’m so sorry. That man, I thought he had the decency to just talk. He’s been an employee of mine but I didn’t know–”
“Shut up,” Bastian commanded. “Do I look stupid to you?”
“Of course not.”
“Do you think my wife is up for leverage?”
“I thought that was just an arrangement. I was sure the stories I heard–”
“My wife, and no other woman for that matter, is meant to be dragged into this.”
“Bastian, you pulled a pretty big stunt on my oil refinery. Let’s be fair–”
“Fair?” he asked like suddenly the word was poison in his mouth. “Fair?”
He stalked up to him and now I knew I needed to intervene. “Bastian, hold on.”
His dark eyes shot to mine, pain so deep I wouldn’t have found the end of it, even if I swam in it for days. “Ragazza, mi amore, I could have lost you.”
With that, his dark eyes turned to the hardest sort of crystal and he pulled the trigger again.
Another body dropped.
Closing the space between us, Bastian holstered his weapon and pulled me into his arms so tight, I lost my breath.
“I’m going to kill my whole security team,” he grumbled. “And fucking Cade. What the fuck happened to his security?”
Burying my face into his neck, I couldn’t answer any of his questions. I just needed him to hold me. Needed him to be with me.
“Are you okay, Morina?” He rubbed my back, no doubt feeling the shivers that wracked my body from the adrenaline wearing off.
“Please don’t let go of me right now.”
“I’m here to have and to hold forever and ever, remember?” he murmured into my hair.
He kissed my cheeks where tears streamed down them.
“You killed two men.” I closed my eyes not wanting to look.
“If I’d have lost my ragazza, I’d have killed a lot more.”
“Jesus,” I whispered, trying to digest what had happened. “You’re going to jail and I’m going to have visit you there.”
He held me at arm’s length for a second and laughed like I was ridiculous. “Morina, that was self-defense. I’m not going to jail for even a day.”
“That was pure anger and murder,” I countered. “I saw your face!”
He smirked. “Ah, the fight’s back in you already. Look at the color on your skin.”
“Oh shut up.” I shoved at his arm.
His mouth closed, and his jaw ticked. Then, he lifted his hand and smeared away the blood from my lip mixed with my own tears. When he brought it out in front of me, he frowned.
Sighing, he said, “I’ll always have a devil, Morina. This family is full of demons we can’t lock up.”
I held his thumb out in front of me. “Tell me to open, Sebastian.”
His eyes darkened as he stared at me, reading and assessing and trying to figure out if all this was fair for me. I’d take a little pain if I got all the man. I let him take his time. I’d wait for him until death do us part. “Open, ragazza.”
I did and licked my blood from his hand before saying, “I’m yours. Your Untouchable. And every part of you is mine. The good, and mostly the bad. I think the bad part of you chooses me every day and I’m too insecure to want anything else.”
The deep breath that came out of him as he looked down at his leather shoes held so much weight. “Morina Bailey, you’re like the oceans you love so much. Swift and beautiful in every decision you make. So fast, ragazza. And I wonder how an ocean can mix with sand and filth. You flow over all the jagged parts of the world and I’m there like sand, moving over each one trying to smooth it over and make it right somehow. Yet, I’ll always leave filth behind. I don’t know if we can survive that together.”
“Why can’t we? The sand and the sea move together and exist in harmony.”
“You’ve always acted based on feelings, ragazza. I act based on overthinking. Today, I just felt. It’s a dangerous thing.”
“You told me once I’m in more danger without you than I am with you, Bastian.”
He sighed, closed his eyes, and pulled his cell from his pocket and dialed. “We need a clean up at my location. Get in touch with the media and the feds too. I have Morina and will be leaving.”
He steered me away from the scene toward our cars. The man with his hand on the small of my back had just laid out two bodies for me. I should have been scared or wanted to mourn their deaths. Instead, I wanted to climb his body like a tree and tell him I loved him.
“Morina, you understand this is all because I ended the deal with the refinery obviously.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and I saw the darkness under his eyes. “They forced my hand today and the country will be better for it.”
Nudging his shoulder with mine, I nodded up at him. “You did what you thought was right but you maybe followed your gut too.”
“I did what my gut told me without even thinking. It’ll make a bold statement.”
“Can you handle it?” I knew he could but I wondered if he realized it.
He stared at me and then glared out at the water. “Yeah. I’ve pushed the president to move toward clean energy in this state. We’ll do it fast. It’ll work out.”
“You’ve made enemies doing that today, though.”
“I’ll make more and more.”
“You’ll probably have to hold your temper better in the future.”
“Morina, I’m fully capable of–”
“You’re capable of anything.” I said it because I truly believed it. “But you don’t go down the right path all the time. Together, we can probably pick one or two good roads together.”
“You want to stay?”
“I want and need to. My horoscope today even said to do what I want and need. And Cade told me you cook for peace.”
His eyes turned to chocolate and his hands went to my waist. “I’m not a saint. He thinks I am.”
“He thinks you’re his big brother who turned a broken empire into a golden legacy again. You taught him to cook Bastian and they count on you to bring peace. I’m proud you knew when to step up and bring war too. Don’t discount everything you do.”
He shook his head at my praise. “I should have told you about the deal, Morina.”
“You should have. But then you served them all Sebastian Armanelli, the man that unleashes rage just for me.”
He chuckled. “You’ll always be risking something when you’re with me, you know that?”
I hummed. “So, are you going to do what’s best for me and let me go?”
Sebastian Armanelli smiled wide before he responded:
“Not a chance in fucking hell.”