“A woman should be pink and cuddly for a man.”
“SOPHIA ANISE!” MAMMA SCOLDED, AS a half-dressed male dancer humped a woman on stage who turned toward the audience, put a hand toward her mouth, and gasped. “I thought this was a family show?”
Sophia laughed, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “Elena is getting married! Who wants to see a family show?”
Mamma had put Sophia in charge of choosing the club and performance, and she had expected something PG?
“I love it!” Gianna exclaimed. “It’s been so long since I’ve been to a burlesque show.”
When we arrived, it was to find Gianna standing outside the club, chatting with the bouncer like she’d known him all her life. Turned out she’d met him three minutes prior. Poor guy probably thought he was getting laid tonight, when really Gianna was bubbly to everyone—well, besides the FBI agent anyway.
Our table was full, but it felt empty without Adriana and Nonna. My sister had severe morning sickness. Nonna said she was “sick as a dog” and that she had it coming to her for getting knocked up out of wedlock. She also said she had to stay home and make sure Adriana was okay, but really, I thought it was just an excuse so she could maintain her eight p.m. bedtime.
The lights sparkled, my cheeks were warm, and my chest felt light, as if it were full of happiness about to escape. I stood and announced, “I need to use the restroom.”
“Well, go then,” Mamma said. “You don’t have to tell the whole room.”
Mamma rolled her eyes. “Mamma mia.”
Dominic’s gaze narrowed on me from where he stood leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. He looked sharp in his suit and as broody as usual.
“I’ll go with you!” Gianna got to her feet. She wore ballet-pink velvet pumps I couldn’t help but envy.
“No, no, no!” Sophia said. “You can’t break the seal already! The night just started!”
“What do you know about ‘breaking the seal,’ Miss Nineteen-Year-Old?” Mamma muttered as Gianna and I walked toward the bathroom.
“That’s a myth, you know. Breaking the seal.” Gianna linked her arm with mine. “Apparently it’s all in our heads.”
“I wouldn’t know either way,” I admitted. “I’m not a big drinker.”
“Really? I guess you and Ace are perfect for each other then, aren’t you?”
My brows pulled together. “But Nico’s always drinking.”
“Yes,” she laughed, nudging my shoulder with hers. “But never excessively. The last time I saw him drunk was six years ago, and I’m positive it was only more incentive for sobriety.”
“Er, well . . .” She sighed. “Maybe that’s something Ace should tell you.”
“You slept with my husband, didn’t you?” In my inebriated state, the invasive question slipped from my lips.
An awkward laugh escaped her. “Well, it’s out in the open, isn’t it? It was one time, and we were both so drunk neither of us even remembers it.”
Maybe it was because I was a few drinks in, or maybe it was because I had already assumed it to be true, but I wasn’t that upset. I knew Nico was far from a virgin, and I wasn’t sure I wanted one of those anyway. He wouldn’t be the same man he was now.
We did our business in the bathroom and then stood side-by-side at the sink washing our hands.
“So, you’re married, huh?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes with a sigh. “Don’t remind me.”
“I’m sorry to hear it isn’t a marriage of love.”
She leaned toward the mirror, applying a fresh coat of cherry-red lipstick. “Don’t be. It was my choice.”
“Yup,” popped from her lips as she pressed them together to spread the lipstick evenly. “I married Antonio when I was twenty. He died three years later. After I got into a little trouble with the law, Nico gave me a choice to go home to Chicago or marry again.”
She held out her lipstick to me and I had a refusal on my tongue, but . . . why the hell not? Elena Abelli never wore anything so bold, but I was Elena Russo now. I took it from her and began applying a liberal coat.
“So, you chose to marry?”
“Yes.” She grabbed my left hand to look at my ring in the light. “That was a no-brainer.”
Apparently, her home life wasn’t that great.
“You’re going to think I’m horrible, but I chose the oldest candidate available for obvious reasons.”
“I don’t think you’re horrible at all.” It was the truth. I wouldn’t have the courage to marry a man three times my age. I couldn’t even imagine the wedding night without my skin crawling. “Nico won’t make you marry again?” I asked.
Her eyes narrowed, and she dropped my hand. “No.”
Well, well, there was some passion beneath the bubbly persona.
I handed her the lipstick and pressed my lips together while observing my new look in the mirror.
My eyes had a haze over them, the alcohol seeping through my bloodstream and lightening my tongue. “He promised me fidelity,” I announced, the words rolling off drunken lips. I had no idea why I’d shared it, but there was something liberating about opening up to another woman in a bathroom.
This was what girls did, and it was the first time I was a part of it.
Her dark eyes filled with sympathy. “You poor thing, you. Looks like you’re stuck with him for good. Ace might be a cheat at heart, but he always does exactly what he says he’s going to do.”
“How old is your cousin again?” Gianna’s voice was loud enough it echoed across the street.
Dominic flicked a glance to us, and I honest to God giggled. “He’s too young for you. You’re like . . . ten years older than him.”
Gianna frowned, leaning against the brick wall for balance. “He’s eighteen? He doesn’t look eighteen.”
“No, twenty.” I zigzagged over to her, and when I managed to bump into her shoulder, I stayed there.
Dominic stood at the curb, pretending to be texting and not listening to our conversation.
“Eh, he’s okay,” I said.
His lips tipped up.
Benito had picked up Mamma and the others a couple minutes ago, but Dominic stayed to wait for my husband to get me. Nico had texted me three times tonight and I managed to reply each and every time. I deserved a medal. Are you having fun? Yes. Are you ready to go? No. How drunk are you? Somuch.
A couple of minutes later, when I noticed Nico get out of his car on the street, my drunk heartbeat skipped with satisfaction. Though I stayed exactly where I stood—or leaned—because these three-inch heels didn’t pair well with more than three drinks. And I’d lost count since that number.
Nico’s eyes narrowed slightly when he saw Gianna and me, leaning against the wall and each other as if we offered a little better support than just the brick.
He stopped in front of us with his hands in his pockets. “You’re drunk as shit.”
I nodded slowly.
Amusement ghosted through his eyes as he ran a thumb across his bottom lip. “Can you walk?”
I nodded again but didn’t move. If I did I thought Gianna might fall over.
His gaze coasted to her, before he turned and spoke to Dominic for a moment. My cousin slipped his phone in his pocket and gave Nico eye contact. What did I need to do to get that kind of attention from him? I stared at my husband while he talked to Dominic. He was so handsome something touched me in the chest.
“Come on.” Nico grabbed my hand. “Let’s go home.”
“Dominic’s taking care of her.”
“Oh . . . I drank so much tonight.”
Nico laughed. “Yeah?”
“But I loved it,” I blurted. “I had so much fun.”
Nico opened my door and I dropped into my seat. He lowered to his haunches beside me and buckled me up. “You’ve been hanging out with Gianna?”
His eyes narrowed. “No drugs, Elena.”
“Yes, sir,” I laughed.
Something sober settled in me when I remembered his mamma. “No drugs,” I said.
“I promise, Ace.”
His lips tipped up. “Ace, huh?”
I nodded lazily. “I’m trying it out.” And from that moment on, I called him Ace whenever I was drunk, Nicolas when I was mad, and Nico all the times in between.
He ran a thumb across my cheek. “Are you going to puke in my car?”
I wrinkled my nose. “Why would I puke? I feel great.”
He made an amused noise. “Fuck, this will be fun.” He shut my door and I watched him through the windshield as he walked around the car. He looked like a don tonight, and I was dying to take him home and rip off his clothes to humanize him a bit.
My head rolled against the headrest to look at him once he was in the driver’s seat. “How are you so handsome?”
He chuckled. “God’s gift, I guess.” He gripped my cheek and pressed a deep kiss on my lips that made me melt into my seat.
I fell asleep somewhere between the club and home, but I made it all the way to the toilet to puke.
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