A cell phone vibrated on the floor, practically shaking every bone in Vito’s body. He groaned, burying his face in his pillow. He was real damn tired of phone calls dragging his ass out of warm beds after sex. Sometimes, he just liked to sleep in instead of ditching the moment sex was done. Was that such a crime?
He tossed the covers to the end of the bed and forced himself to his feet. He found his phone on the floor, the corner pressed up against one of the bedposts. He grabbed it, accepted the call, and pressed the device to his ear. “What the fuck?”
“I understand it’s early, but that seems like an overreaction,” Bo said.
Vito shook his head, eyes focused on his empty bed–save for Dude’s giant ass. “Not you, Bossman. Sorry. My, uh, my fling fuckin’ ditched while I was asleep.”
“Well, I suppose now you know how it feels.”
“Rude.” Vito waited a moment for Bo to respond, but he didn’t. “What’s wrong?”
“I have good news and bad news.”
“The good news is… that I’ve found the man who shot Tito. The bad news is that I found him because his corpse was just strung up in L.A., and it’s been signed with the TMHT signature.”
“Fuckin’ excuse me? I didn’t do it, Bo. I’m in Kansas.”
“I know you are, Vi. I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m telling you that our only lead is dead, and the media shitstorm revolving around you and your brother is about to get worse.”
Vito sat down on the edge of the bed, burying the fingers of his free hand in his hair. “What do we do?”
“I know it will be difficult for you, but I want you to stay in Kansas. I’m already on my way to the airport. I’m going to hold a press conference after we’ve moved the body to the morgue, and I already know one of the first questions will be about you. You and your brother are in Kansas. I want to be able to say that without lying.”
Vito closed his eyes. “I can manage.”
“Good. I fudged your text message history. Yesterday, you texted your mom to let her know you’d come over for breakfast. I need you to do that today.”
“Does she know I’m coming over?”
“Not yet. I texted Tito’s burner and asked him to tell her later in the morning.”
“ ‘Kay. What time do you want me there?”
“Sometime around eight.”
“The media gonna be there? Buggin’ the fuck outta my parents?”
“No. I’ll be holding my press conference at eight o’clock in Los Angeles. By the time it hits the news that you’re at your parents’ house, you’ll already be there. It’ll keep your parents from answering the door. I don’t want them to be harassed by reporters just because some bastard is… going out of their way to fuck everything up.”
Vito scratched the side of his head, clearing his throat. “I’m sorry about all this shit, Bo. I know this ain’t how you wanted to spend the beginning of a new year.”
“It’s not your fault. I took over for Jamal. I knew what I was getting into. He just… He made it look effortless, and unfortunately, it is not.”
“Well, you’re good at it. Effortless or not.”
Bo snorted. “I’ll take your word for it, Vito.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, you know the rules. If you need anything, call me from your burner. Otherwise, I’ll contact you when I know more.”
“And be good to your brother. I know your instinct is to be a dick, but he is hurt, he is in pain, and he can only keep up the playful and protective brother facade for so long. Whether you want to admit it or not, he’s down, so don’t start kicking him.”
“I know, Bo. I’ll be good.”
“Thank you. I’ll talk to you soon, Vito.”
“Yeah. Talk soon.” Vito ended the call and slid his phone onto the nightstand. He scrubbed his hands over his face, wishing like hell the call hadn’t woken him up. Their only lead was dead, and he was being framed for it. Tito was being framed for it. No one framed his big brother for a fucking homicide and got away with it. As soon as Bo found the bastard in charge, Vito was going to rip him to shreds.
With a sigh, he lifted his head and looked back at Dude. “You wanna come make a snack with me?” Dude stared at him for a moment, one eyebrow raised. “What? Why do you gotta look at me like that?” Vito reached for him, earning a small curl of his upper lip. “Is it because I kill people? Between you and me, most of them really deserve it.”
Dude snorted, dropping his head back to the bed.
“You like Elias. What do I have to do to make you like me? Cry? ‘Cause I don’t do that, Dude. You’re on your own.” Vito lay back, crossing his arms over his chest. He turned his head to the side to meet the dog’s eyes. “Why do you like Elias? Did he come prepared with dog treats in his pocket?”
Dude cocked his giant head to the side.
“I wish you could speak human, Dude. We could have an actual discussion, y’know? Figure out how to make you like me. Maybe figure out how to make you stop destroying my shit too.”
Vito was almost certain the dog smiled at him. He sighed, sitting back up. Maybe he’d just have to live the rest of Dude’s life–or his own, whichever came to an end first–being relatively disliked by the dog. Or maybe he’d have to force Elias to teach him his ways. “Not a bad idea,” Vito mumbled, pushing himself to his feet.
He figured sleeping with Elias again was off the table, even if a third-night-stand was an avenue he wanted to explore–which it wasn’t. Elias had ditched him for a reason. Vito had about a million guesses as to why, and most of them meant Elias wouldn’t want to sleep with him ever again.
Vito was okay with that. He’d never see Elias again, and he could finally go back to his usual routine at the bar. He’d gotten Elias’s feelings and conversational shit out of his system. He was certain of it.
After throwing on a pair of boxer briefs, Vito made his way down to the kitchen. A small white box sat on the counter, a sticky note stuck to the top.
I don’t have a cool birthday cake for you (sing me a drunken sob story on accident and maybe I’ll return the favor), so I went with gas station cinnamon rolls. I know that doesn’t sound appealing, but they’re incredible.
Sorry for ditching, but I don’t spend the night with anyone anymore. If you stalk me down again, don’t be a dick when I show up. Just admit you want to sleep with me. See you around?
“Fuck,” Vito whispered. Maybe ‘okay with’ never seeing him again was an overstatement. Maybe having him ‘out of his system’ was an overstatement. Maybe he needed a third night with Elias.
For Dude’s sake, of course. Since he liked Elias so much.
Vito toyed with the sticky note for a moment before opening the box. A giant cinnamon roll sat on the right side, a small bone-shaped dog treat on the left. Vito grabbed the treat and turned around, flinching at the sight of Dude in the doorway. “You’re a sneaky shit, you know that?”
Dude took a small step forward, tail wagging ever so slightly. Vito squatted down and held the treat out as far as he could. “I ain’t gonna hurtcha, Dude. I saved you from those fuckers. I’d never hurt you like they did.” He laid his free hand on the floor and leaned forward to get the treat closer to Dude. “This is from Elias. You like him, yeah? He probably made sure it was, like, the greatest dog treat in the world. Sorta seems like the kinda thing he’d do for a dog he doesn’t know, huh?”
Dude sat down, eyes flickering between Vito and the treat.
Vito sighed and sat back on his heels. “I don’t know what to do, man. I didn’t even yell at you when you destroyed the bathroom or when you ate three of my shoes in under an hour. I hardly complained when you ripped that fancy pocket of my jeans, and those are expensive. Like, two hundred dollars for a pair of jeans, and I wasn’t even mad. But you just… don’t fuckin’ like me, huh?”
Dude let out a soft whimper, lowering himself to the ground. Vito carefully lowered himself to his elbows before stretching out to lay on his stomach. “I just wanna love you. How cool would that be? Vito and Dude against the world. Right? Just you and me.”
A tiny army crawl inched Dude forward just a little.
“Okay, I can accept that. Makin’ progress,” Vito said. “Is it the tattoos? Those fuckers were covered in ‘em too. I can understand the, umm… association. I have ‘em, Elias doesn’t. But that’s because Elias is boring and tattoo-free. I’m cool as hell. Super adventurous too.”
Vito was pretty sure the eyebrow raise that earned him was well-deserved. “Yeah, you’re right. He’s not boring. He’s got all kinds of interesting little facts and stories about him.” Vito shook the treat in front of Dude’s face, but the dog did little more than glance down at it before his eyes snapped back up to Vito’s face. “Is it the accent? I know at least a couple of those guys were Italian. Did you know I used to speak exclusively without the accent? Didn’t really solidify it until high school. Want me to speak in that boring California accent I’ve got? Or do you like Elias’s non-specific Kansas thing? ‘Cause I can’t do that one.”
Dude inched a little closer, his paw resting so close to Vito’s hand that he could touch it if he unfurled his fingers.
“Kinda smells like a muffin. Blueberry or something.” Vito shook the treat again. “He probably checked all the ingredients and made sure it was grain-free. Is that the one those dog food brands brag about? I’ll be honest, Dude, I don’t know shit about dogs. We’ll figure it out though, you and me. Maybe we could start with you accepting this treat?”
Vito set the treat on the floor and pushed it toward Dude. Once he pulled his hand back to himself, Dude took the treat. Vito smiled. “Yes. That’s a good boy,” he whispered. “Can I scritch you? Huh?” Carefully, Vito lifted his hand to Dude’s head. When the dog didn’t pull away, Vito gave the top of his head a good scratch. Dude wouldn’t make eye contact with him, but his tail started wagging again.
Vito laid the side of his head on his arm, unable to fight back the smile on his face. “We’re gonna be damn good friends, Dude. Vito and Dude Minetti against the world. What do you think?”
Dude let out a low whine, tail wagging.
“I’m gonna take that as a solid yes, you know.” Vito pushed himself up to his elbows, keeping his movements as slow as he could. “After I eat this cinnamon roll, you and I should totally try to clean the mess you made in the bathroom. And then later today, after we go see my parents and Tito, we can go out and buy you some more stuff. Like maybe a bed that you can’t destroy in five seconds. Huh?” He stretched out a hand. After what felt like an eternity, Dude nudged his palm with his cold, wet nose. Vito grinned. Dude liked him, deep down. A dog actually liked him. How fucking cool was that?
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