Now she and Carina were using the GPS to try and find a gym called the Cuthouse Cellar, where Tino was supposed to be attending a wedding party, ’cause nothing said romance like Cuthouse Cellar.
“They’re so helpful here. Not only did she know him, but she knew right where he was,” Carina observed as she turned left at the GPS’s urging. “With any luck, I won’t have to see Romeo at all.”
“Helpful? Is that what we’re calling it?” Brianna asked, realizing life had officially made her paranoid. “It doesn’t bother you that she just pointed us right to where Tino was? What if we were with the Borgata? What if we were another Borgata? What if we were one of the thousand guys who has a vendetta against Tino?”
“Tino can take care of himself,” Carina said in the way most Cosa Nostra family members did to protect themselves from the knowledge that danger was everywhere—for everyone.
Anyone could fall prey to a bullet.
Denial was just something they’d been trained with since birth.
Brianna was close; she’d been around it far too long, but the protection mechanisms hadn’t been ingrained like they were with Carina.
“Wow, this is a fucking gym right here,” Carina said as she turned into the large parking lot of the Cuthouse Cellar. “Look at the size of this place. Damn, they don’t half-ass things in Kentucky.”
“Yeah,” Brianna whispered, not really paying attention because her stomach was leaden with anxiety. “This is a mistake. I cannot just show up here and jack up his life. I think I’m gonna puke.” Brianna dropped her head to her knees. “How do I let you talk me into these things? My entire life is a series of bad decisions, and I think a large portion of them are mostly your fault.”
“Yeah, probably. I’m certainly a guilty party,” Carina agreed without apology as she parked. “Madonn’
, there he is.”
“What?” Brianna lifted her head so fast she felt faint as Carina tossed the hat and glasses off. “No, don’t—”
Carina leaped out of the car before Brianna could grab her. Then Brianna had to remind herself to breathe as she looked across the parking lot. Standing against the wall was Tino, all casual, stealth-like grace as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He was still too gorgeous to be human. Tanned and beautiful, because Tino, like all the Moretti siblings, had been blessed with some kick-ass genetics. God probably felt he owed them for the absolute shit storm that was their lives.
Tino had a woman with him, and she was very pretty and petite in a Carina type of way. It looked like they had escaped the chaos of the wedding party to find somewhere to be alone together. So there it was, in living color, her worst fears come to life.
It left Brianna just sitting there, frozen in horror, as Carina waved Tino over like she was completely oblivious to the other woman.
Tino spotted his sister almost instantly. He clearly hadn’t grown out of the paranoia he had back in New York that made him constantly vigilant of his surroundings.
When Tino ran up to Carina, the petite strawberry blonde followed. Brianna tilted her head, meeting the woman’s gaze as Tino stood there having a rushed, heated discussion in Italian with his sister.
Brianna didn’t want to think about what Carina was telling him.
She didn’t want to look at Tino now that he was so close, because he wasn’t hers anymore. She had zero claim to him, and it was that thought more than anything that made her almost physically ill.
She was pulled out of her thoughts when Tino suddenly jerked open the door to the BMW and crouched down in front of her.
” Tino cupped Brianna’s cheek. His thumb swept over the bruise from the bathroom sink, and she could see the guilt flash across his handsome face as he whispered, “Jesus, Bri. I’m sorry.”
“I told Carina not to come, but we didn’t know where else to go,” she confessed as she touched his arm, feeling the bunched-up, hard muscles under his leather jacket because she simply couldn’t help herself. She wanted to pull back, to be respectful, but it was like asking her to stop breathing after being slowly choked to death for the past four years. “I don’t want to ruin your life here. Are you together?”
“What?” Tino frowned in confusion, as if he honestly had no idea what she was talking about. Then he glanced back to the other woman. “Alaine. No, she’s my friend. She just got married. I haven’t been involved with anyone. Not like that.”
“Wish I could say the same.” She let go of him as all the emotions chose that moment to overwhelm her. After so many nights of going to bed dreaming of him, Tino was in front of her, but at what cost to both of them? “It all happened so fast and—”
“Figlio di puttana.” Tino’s scowl became dark and dangerous. He stared at her for a long time before he asked the one question she wished he wouldn’t. “Is this the first time he hurt you?”
“I didn’t know David was working for your grandfather.” She avoided his gaze on instinct. “I think your grandfather’s been setting us up all along. I’m not Italian and—”
“Yeah, that’s the reason,” Tino said with sharp bitterness and then grabbed Brianna’s hand as if the two of them had never been forced apart. “We have to go. Right now.”
“Tino—” Alaine cut in, her voice shrill as she reminded them both she was still there. “Where are you going?”
Tino helped Brianna out of the car with the same old-school chivalry she used to love. “I have to take care of something.”
“What something?” This woman wasn’t letting up. Then she dropped the bomb by asking, “Don’t you think you should tell Nova what’s going on?”
“Is Nova here?” Brianna felt all the air leave her lungs as she shouldered the travel bag and looked to Carina. “You didn’t tell me he was here.”
“I didn’t know.” Carina shook her head, looking as horrified as Brianna felt. Then she turned back to Tino. “You are not
leaving me here with Nova.”
“No, no, I’m not,” Tino said quickly. “I’m leaving you with Romeo.”
Brianna winced in sympathy.
“No friggin’ way,” Carina snapped before Brianna could form a better argument. “Your brother hates me.”
“No, he doesn’t. He has no reason to hate you.” Tino’s voice was low, calming in a way only he could do with his sister. “I have to go, Carina. No one wants to hurt you. Everyone loves you. Stay here. Watch my nephews until I get back. We both know the old man won’t bother you. Staying here is insurance for them. Please do this for me.”
“I can’t believe my nonno did this,” Carina whispered, as if Tino had cracked her armor. She stuck out her bottom lip in a juvenile pout Brianna hadn’t seen in a long time, not that she could blame Carina as she let out a sob of misery. “And now I’m stuck with Nova.”
“Sweetheart, your nonno is an asshole, but I can’t help you deal with that.” Tino pushed his sister toward the other woman. “This is my friend Alaine. Talk to her about it. I have to go. Stay with Romeo.”
“I don’t even know this woman. I can’t talk to her about everything,” Carina said as she gestured to Alaine, because like Brianna, she wasn’t inclined to trust strangers. “I should come.”
“No, that’s bad. You need to stay here. I can’t move fast with both of you.”
Something about the way he said it washed out the rest of the conversation Carina, Tino, and Alaine were having about this drama.
Like Carina said, enforcers were the best liars in the Borgata, and Tino was arguably the strongest enforcer to have come out of the Moretti Borgata in a lot of years.
He could lie to anyone.
Bald-faced lie, without flinching.
But for some reason, Brianna always heard his lies.
Could see them when others, even his siblings, couldn’t.
And that was a lie.
Tino could bring Carina. He didn’t have to leave her, but he was choosing to, and Brianna was starting to suspect she knew why.
She pulled out of Tino’s grasp when she found herself standing in front of a black Mercedes SUV that had his name written all over it. Wiseguys were drawn to highline black SUVs like moths to a flame.
She watched him get in, knowing that going with him meant leaving everything behind, but that wasn’t what was stopping her. It also meant Tino was doing the same thing, abandoning the hope of a life outside the mafia.
Of being a fighter like Romeo instead of a mafioso like Nova.
The dream was withering and dying right before her eyes, when no one deserved to be out more than Tino.
He was going to throw it all away and for what?
“Get in the car, Bri!” Tino shouted at her, as if he knew she saw through him.
She shook her head, looking back and forth between Alaine and Tino, knowing this woman represented a new life. New friends. Now he was going to walk away from it. Brianna couldn’t let the Borgata win like that, not after all the pain they’d caused him.
“I can’t ruin your life.” Brianna felt tears sting her eyes. “I can’t do this. I won’t. I won’t make you suffer for my bad decisions.”
“My life sucks!” Tino shouted at her like he was purging his soul. As if no one but her had found a way to see through his lies, and he needed someone to hear him be angry. “There’s nothing left to ruin. I lost the only good thing a long time ago. I’m not gonna lose it again, not for that asshole. I’m officially done hurting for him.”
Brianna put a hand to her chest and took a long, shuddering breath as Tino became a watery blur in the afternoon sunshine. She didn’t want to understand, but she did.
Nothing really mattered anymore.
For either of them.
They’d been living on borrowed time.
“Get in the car, Brianna.” Tino reached over and opened the passenger-side door from his seat behind the wheel, as if he had been waiting for four years to do it.
Brianna stood there for a long moment; then she turned back to Carina and called out, “I love you,” not knowing if it was the last time she would get to say it. “I’ll call you.”
“I love you,” Carina said as she stood there crying. “Tino, you better keep her safe.”
“You brought her to me ’cause you know I will.” Tino smiled at his sister as Brianna crawled into the SUV. It was a lie, and he covered it by saying, “Tell me you love me, Carina.”
“I don’t love you.” Carina huffed as if she heard the lie too. Maybe she’d always heard them. “You won’t take me with you, and you’re leaving me with Nova
Tino waved her off, making it clear without saying he knew the real reason she was mad. Then he said to his friend Alaine, “Tell Chu to protect my sister.”
“Is Brianna the dancer?” Alaine asked him.
Tino nodded. “She’s the dancer.”
“You talked about me?” Brianna whispered as the tears rolled down her face without warning.
“Yeah, I talked about you.” Tino’s eyes were still glassy as he gave Brianna one of those heart-stopping smiles that always made her breathless. He held out his hand. “Give me your cell phone.”
Brianna reached into the bag and pulled her phone out of its case, because she might still need the cash or cards in the wallet portion. Then she handed her phone to Tino, knowing that she was putting her entire life in his palm.
“Where are you going? At least tell me where you’re going,” Alaine said quickly. “I have to tell them something.”
“To get Patrón,” he said cryptically. “Tell Nova I’ll call him.”
“No.” Alaine shook her head frantically. “No, you’re not allowed to get Patrón, because—”
Tino dropped the phones on the ground, abandoning both their lives without hesitating, and shut the door before his friend Alaine could give him a better reason to stay.
Brianna looked back and watched his life disappear behind them as he peeled out of the parking lot.
He drove like his sister did, fast and aggressive, as if they were on a battlefield instead of a road. Brianna was fairly certain it was their fault she never got a driver’s license.
The Morettis could put anyone off driving.
The gym had long since disappeared before she turned around and took in the interior of Tino’s car that was top-of-the-line. He obviously spared no expense and purchased every bell and whistle available.
“Sorta obvious, an SUV,” she mumbled as she stared at the GPS. “Should’ve gotten something small, like a Porsche or—”
“I bought it because I babysit my nephews. My sister-in-law works a lot, and Romeo teaches at the Cellar.” He gestured to the backseat. “Usually there are car seats in the back. It’s a family car. I’m not using it to hide bodies, Brianna.”
“I wasn’t saying anything about bodies,” she said defensively. “It’s just, typically, Cosa Nostra likes luxury SUVs. Makes you obvious.”
“Are you trying to tell me how to do my job?” Tino asked her sharply.
“No.” She shook her head but then glanced around the car again. “But have you swept it?”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Tino growled. “Yes, I swept it. I just drove it back from Miami with Nova in tow. Trust me, this car is very clean.”
“Why were you and Nova in Miami?” she asked curiously.
“For a wedding.”
Brianna finally turned and looked at him. She silently stared, studying the hard line of his jaw that flexed like he was grinding his teeth. He did it in his sleep too, like there were a thousand lies and a thousand more secrets trying to escape.
Tino wore a fitted leather jacket that made his broad shoulders look even more imposing. He had always been unusually good-looking. Most Morettis were, but Tino was something more. So beautiful he’d seemed too handsome to be real, but now he appeared larger than she remembered, stronger and more intimidating. He was very tan, as if he’d found a beach somewhere, and the extra color looked great on him.
Sunshine had always been Tino’s friend.
“What?” he snapped at her, obviously feeling exposed under her scrutiny.
“Nothing.” She shook her head. “I was just thinking you look healthy.”
He glanced at her and then admitted, “I gave up blow.”
“Well, it shows. You look good, Tino,” she whispered. “I’m glad.” She had to choke back the sob as tears spilled down her cheeks. “You got out. You got healthy. You found the life you were supposed to have, and now—”
“Bri, don’t.” He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “I can’t handle playing this game right now.”
“I’m playing a game? It’s your grandfather who did this!” she shouted when his annoyance got under her skin more than it should. “Stop the car. Let me out and go back to your life. I’m not stopping you. Let me go save Carina. She’ll be miserable at Romeo’s house. That is the worst idea I have ever heard in my life!”
“You’re worried about Carina?” he asked in disbelief. “Worry about yourself, Brianna! Worry about the fact that I should’ve left you back there with her. Ask yourself that question. Why I spared my sister and dragged you along? Sit there and think about that. Carina has always been half your problem.”
“What’s the other half?” she couldn’t resist asking.
“You know what the other half is,” he said with a glare. “You have bad taste in friends. You have worse taste in lovers.”
“Carina dropped everything to come get me.” Brianna couldn’t help but defend her best friend. “She left her gig and—”
Tino snorted. “Her nonno put out a hit on you!”
“That’s not her fault!”
“If you had never met her, where do you think you’d be right now?” Tino asked simply, as if he had asked himself that question a million times. “Where would you be if you never met me
? If you never came to the walk-up with me that day? You think you’d have a price on your head? You think anyone in the Borgata would give a shit about one Broadway girl from Dyker Heights?”
“But I did meet her, and I did go to the walk-up with you.” She shrugged. “I try not to think about the what-ifs. I’d go crazy if I did that. I just deal with the shit as it comes. This included.”
Tino’s jaw flexed again as if he was gritting his teeth once more. “I should have left you in Garnet.”
“Why didn’t you if you’re so pissed off about it?”
Tino turned and looked at her when they stopped at an intersection, letting his gaze run over her for one hot moment. That look made all the fine hairs on her arm stand on end as a wild rush of need flooded her system.
Now she was the one gritting her teeth to keep from revealing just how much he could affect her. She didn’t want it to still be that easy for him. She wanted to believe she’d gotten stronger in the four years they’d been apart, but she was starting to suspect it was a lie. Not that it should be a surprise.
With Tino, there was always a lie.
So many lies.
And he never did tell her why he took her with him.
He let her sit and think about it instead.