A vibrating cell phone clattered against… something. Vito Minetti cracked open an eye, waiting. When it kept going, he groaned. How the hell was it fair that out of the three people in bed, he had been the only one able to hear the damn phone?
He pulled his arm out from under the dark-haired gal on his left and untangled his legs from the redheaded guy on his right. He crawled over the ginger and, with a grunt, his the floor a little harder than intended.
Okay. So maybe he’d had a bit too much to drink last night.
Vito crawled around the corner of the bed and found his phone on the floor, the vibration of the call ratteling against the belt buckle dangling from last night’s discarded jeans. He squinted at the bright blue light, barely reading his brother’s name on the screen. He sat up on his knees before accepting the call and pressing the device to his eat. “Yeah?” he asked in a whisper.
“Sounds like I woke you,” Tito Minetti said.
The bastard chuckled. “Sorry about that. Where are you, Vi?”
“Umm… depends. Why?”
“Because I’ve got coffee for you, it’s past noon, and we agreed to meet behind Starbucks an hour ago.”
Vito sat back on his heels and scratched the top of his head. “Did I?”
“You did. But you can keep dicking around if you changed your mind. I’m not buying you another coffee, though. Next round’s one hundred percent on you, man.”
“No, no, I totally—Look, give me a sec to get dressed. Don’t throw my coffee away, dude.”
Tito snorted. “I won’t. Where are you? I’ll just swing by and pick you up, coffee safe and sound.”
“Just, uh… I’ll just meet you at Starbucks like we planned, okay?”
“We don’t have to play this game, Vi. I wouldn’t still be buying you coffees in the morning if I gave a shit about you screwing around all the time. We don’t gotta play hotel bingo, and there’s absolutely no reason for you to be strutting around in the cold and the snow. Just tell me where you are, and I’ll be there in a jiff.”
Vito cared a little more about his brother finding out who he had come to the hotel than he cared about how often he and his endeavors ended up at one. But it was unlikely that either of last night’s pals would venture downstairs anytime soon. He and Tito would be long gone before then. Vito cleared his throat, pinning his phone between his shoulder and ear as he rose to his feet, jeans in hand. “I, uh, I’m at Royal Nature.”
“All right. Meetcha in the parking lot, Vi.”
“No problem, rother. See you soon.”
Vito ended the call and shoved his phone into his pocket. He pulled his jeans on and buckled his belt, a little too hungover and a little too uncaring to zip his fly or button his pants. Once he found his shirt and pulled it over his head, he turned to look at the two people he’d brought back to the hotel last night.
What the hell were their names? He was a solid fifty-percent sure the guy’s name started with an A. Or… maybe it had an A in it? It might’ve started with a C. Yeah, C. Fifty-percent on C. If nothing else, that far exceeded his certainty that the woman’s name began with one.
Honestly, it was a toss-up, but he knew the redhead a hell of a lot better than the brunette, and he’d be far less offended at a wrong guess than the woman might be.
Vito squatted down on the ginger’s side of the bed. “Hey, uh… Carl?”
“We’ve totally covered this. It’s Lars,” he mumbled.
“Shit, sorry, man. You know I’m garbage with names. Was, like, totally one-hundred percent sure it had an A in it though.”
“Mm. You had the L and R too.”
“Damn, I did, didn’t I?”
Lars only snorted.
“Anyway, uh, Lars, I gotta head out for work, but you and, uh… you and Gal can order whatever you want from room service. It’ll be put on my tab, and I’ll take care of it.”
One corner of Lars mouth lifted. “Gal. It’s Caroline.”
“Shit, I knew one of you started with C.”
Lars’s smile grw, his eyes still closed. The fucker was pretty damn cute when he was all sleepy and shit. Maybe that was why Vito allowed himself to sleep with the guy every now and again rather than sticking to his usual one and done. “You’re lucky you’re cute, Matteo. ‘Cause you’re a dumbass.”
Vito scoffed. “Didn’t hear you complainin’ about it last night.”
“I never said I was complaining about it. Just that you should feel lucky you’re so cute that it doesn’t matter that you’re a total dumbass.”
Vito snorted. “Thanks, babe.”
“Mmhmm.” Lars opened his eyes only long enough to meet Vito’s gaze for a second or two. “See you again in a couple months?”
“Yeah, you and a friend.”
“Preference on what kind of friend?”
Vito offered a shrug. “Whatever way suits you best. Long as they’re up for a good time, I don’t give a shit what’s in their pants.”
“Sounds good,” Lars mumbled. He snuggled deeper into his pillow, letting out a soft sigh. “Thanks for last night, Matteo. I needed it.”
Vito nodded. He’d needed last night too, but he had no intention of ever saying that shit outloud to anyone. “Yeah.” He scrubbed his hands down his face and pushed himself to his feet. Work had been slow for what seemed like an eternity, and it was beginning to feel like a lack of homicide had driven him to the brink of insanity. Sex helped loosened the dark twists in his brain and knots in his stomac, but it wasn’t a permanent fix. He needed to talk to one of his bosses, see if there were any jobs they could carve out for him, any jobs at all, before he totally lost himself.
He made his way downstairs and stopped at the front desk. The receptionist, a young woman Tito had told him more than once not to sleep with, handed him his gun and knife. “Thanks, Rachel.”
“Mmhmm.” She smiled. “Enjoy your day, Mister Minetti.”
“You too, sweetheart.” Vito clicked his tongue at her and walked out of the hotel, tucking his gun into his waistband. He fastened his sheath to his belt, eyes scanning the rows for Tito’s car. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for his twin to pull into the parking lot and drive up to the curb. Tito leaned across the center console and pushed open the passenger side door before Vito even had a chance to reach for it.
“Aww, Ti, you’re such a gentleman.”
Tito chuckled and shook his head. “Get your ass in here before I change my mind and leave you stranded. And zip up your fly.”
Vito snorted, but he did as told. With his zipper zipped and his button buttoned, he ducked down and slid into the passenger seat of the car, pulling the door shut behind him. He hovered a hand over the coffee cups in the console. “Which one’s mine.”
“The one without the heart on the lid.”
“Ooh la la.”
Tito pointed at him with an authoritative finger. “No, not ‘ooh la la’. You keep your ‘ooh la la’s in your pants.”
Vito cackled as Tito pulled away from the curb. “Would you bone her?”
Tito’s brow furrowed for a moment before he shook his head. “I don’t like that question, and I’m not answering it.”
“Fine. Let me innocent it up for you, schoolgirl. Was she cute?”
“I’m not sleeping with her, and neither are you.”
“I’d clearly be her type.”
“We’ve got the same face, not the same personality.”
“Rude. And you get exactly one not-girlfriend to say I can’t sleep with, and you used that on Lillian. And I let you take Rachel off my hit list. What more do you want from me, man?”
“Rachel always needs to be off your list. And—”
“What is it with you and Rachel, dude? You savin’ her for when Lillian gets tired of you leading her on?”
Tito’s fingers tightened around the steering wheel for a moment. “I slept with her in high school.”
“The gal from Starbucks.”
“Oh, dude, Sadie? Your girlfriend, Sadie?”
“Sadie absolutely was not my girlfriend.”
“Oh, Ti, dude.” Vito couldn’t help but laugh. “Ti, she broke up with you because she was heaidng off to college and you were going to basic training, and it was like the universe didn’t want you to be together. I think she said you two were like Romeo and Juliet or some shit. She was absolutely your girlfriend. Least, she sure as hell thought she was.” He took a sip of his coffee. “She was cute back then. Bet she’s hot now, right?”
“Yes, okay? She’s hot. But keep it in your pants, and don’t sleep with my ex-prom date. Please.”
“I won’t.” Vito tapped a finger to the little heart drawn on the lid of Tito’s cup. “But you should.”
“You know how I feel about that.”
Vito rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m painfully fuckin’ aware of your monster bullshit. All the other soldiers sleep around, and I promise you, not a single one of ‘em turned monster and killed the chick they were fuckin’.”
“I-I’m not scared of killing someone, Vito. I’m a lot of things, but not in control of myself isn’t one of them. I’m so in control of myself that sometimes, it’s actually concerning.” A pause. “I just don’t want a woman sleeping around with a man she doesn’t know is a monster. I can’t do that to someone. I won’t do that to someone.”
Vito only shrugged. “What they don’t know doesn’t hurt ‘em.”
“It will if we ever officially get found out. It will if they watch the news and see my face associated with the shit they say about us. It will if their family and friends find out they’ve been sleeping with a monster. I won’t be the person who ruins a woman’s life just so I can stick my dick in something.”
Vito reached down and dropped the back of his seat, leaning back as he kicked his boots up on the dash. “You’re no fun, Ti.”
Tito’s fingers tightened on the wheel again, but he didn’t respond. Vito let the silence hang between them for a whole two minutes—an impressive record, really—before remembering why the cold shoulder never worked on Tito: he was a hell of a lot better at the whole ‘being quiet’ thing than Vito ever had been.
“So… when’re you seeing Lillian again?”
“Tomorrow night. I’m flying out in the afternoon.”
“Cool. So I’m picking up my own coffees in the mornings for a couple days?”
“If you’re sober. Otherwise, I already asked Bo to assign a man to you. If you call him, he’ll pick you up from whatever hotel you end up at. I’ll text you the guy’s number when I leave.”
Tito drummed his fingers against the steering wheel for a few seconds before clearing his throat. “Can I talk to you about Lil?”
“If you have to.”
Tito glanced over at him, but he stayed silent.
Vito let out a harsh breath. “I’m just bein’ a fuck, Ti. You can talk about her. What’s up?”
“I’m not here to annoy you, Vito. I-I just… I don’t have anyone I can talk to about this stuff. If I talked about her to the wrong person, I could put her in even more danger than being around me puts her in. And I don’t exactly have friends.”
Vito waved a dismissive hand between them. The last thing he wanted was to dive headfirst into Tito’s lack of ability to hang out with people. He was still a little too hungover and it was still way to early in the morning for that shit. “Just talk. Say what you gotta say, dude.”
“Until today, I hadn’t heard from her in over two weeks.”
“She just… won’t let go of the picket fence thing. She keeps asking why I think I’m not allowed to have a white picket fence dream. She leaves it alone for a couple months, and then she comes back to it, and she’s utterly incessant about it.”
Vito took a sip of his coffee, giving himself a moment to mull over his potential answers. He didn’t usually consider rthinking before giving a response of any kind to Tito, but hungover Vito was a slightly more gentle giant than his drunk and sober counterparts. “Sorry I ever brought it up to her, really, but it was fuckin’ years ago, man. She’s gotta let it go at some point.”
“Well, it unfortunately seems like ‘letting it go’ isn’t really her speciality.”
“Because she likes you, dumbass.” Clearly not too much of a gentle giant, though. “Stop leading her on if you’re never gonna do anything for her. Let some other guy swoop in and marry her or have her kids with her or just fuck her real good. Whatever the hell she wants.” Vito took a another sip of his coffee. “Bet she’s in need of a good fuck, anyway.”
A muscle in Tito’s jaw ticked, but he stayed silent.”
Vito let the way too heavy silence hang between them for a few seconds before clearing his throat. “I didn’t mean that. Not really. I’m sorry.”
Tito’s silence stretched out a little longer before his grip finally loosened on the steering wheel. “I know you don’t understand my… relationship with Lil, and that’s fine. But if you ever fall for someone you knnow you can’t have, you’ll finally get it. You won’t want the person you love sleeping with a monster, a criminal, a murderer. You’ll constantly think about how they deserve so much better than you. Constantly. It’s all I think about when it comes to Lillian. It’s like nothing else matters.”
“Well, I ain’t gonna fall for anyone, so you’re on your own. Sleeping with one person for the rest of your life?” Vito snorted. “Ain’t really my scene, Ti.”
Tito offered a tired shrug. “Then I guess you’ll never understand it.” Much quieter, he added, “Or me.”
Vito chose to bite his tongue. He wasn’t good with handling anyone’s feelings, but he was especially horrible with Tito’s. Though he could be an asshole to his brother, he still loved and cared about him. He just didn’t express it well. He didn’t know how to express it well. The part of him that could openly relate to and empathize with that shit had been buried a long time ago, and it had been pushed down deeper and deeper with years of torturing and murdering. That part of him wasn’t coming back anytime soon, no matter how much Tito tried to speak to it.
As far as Vito was concerned, that part of him wasn’t just buried anymore. It was dead.
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