Main Acquiring Analise

Acquiring Analise

Analise He is all I've ever wanted, but let's be real. A girl like me and a man like him? I NEVER let myself dream that WE could ever be possible. Until we were- And nothing turned out like I had hoped. What else was I supposed to do? I ran. I hid. Until I didn't have a choice and I knew I HAD to go back. Xavier She is all I've ever wanted. To acquire. To possess. To love. In spite of who I am. Especially in spite of who my family is. But when I finally make her MINE it all goes to hell. She runs. She hides. Until my family finds her. They won't stop me from getting her back.
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He is all I've ever wanted, but let's be real.

A girl like me and a man like him?

I NEVER let myself dream that WE could ever be possible.

Until we were-And nothing turned out like I had hoped.

What else was I supposed to do?

I ran.

I hid.

Until I didn't have a choice and I knew I HAD to go back.


She is all I've ever wanted.

To acquire.

To possess.

To love.

In spite of who I am.

Especially in spite of who my family is.

But when I finally make her MINE it all goes to hell.

She runs.

She hides.

Until my family finds her.

They won't stop me from getting her back.

Acquiring Analise

K&S Securities Series, Book 2

A. J. Andersen

Copyright © 2019 by A. J. Andersen All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33



About the Author

Also by A. J. Andersen

Chapter One

Xavier Cerelli

Finally! After years of trying to figure out a way to have her, she is finally mine! Every day for the past few months I’ve been able to find some way to see her, to get close to her. She rarely knows that I’m around, but even that is all right. Ever since she moved here with her father and the rest of “my guys” I've been able to keep an eye on her. Shaking my head, I think that might be the douchiest thing I have ever said, even if it was only to ; myself. It’s the champagne I’m sure. I rarely allow myself more than a single drink, and over the last couple of hours, I had significantly more than that.

Analise has had a few too many as well. The reserved demeanor that she usually displays around me is long gone. I can’t say that I mind. She is currently sitting sideways across my lap toying with the buttons on my starched white dress shirt, pressing flirty little kisses along my jaw and neck. Her lips are soft and a little damp from the champagne she was just sipping.

The smell of her sweet perfume fills the back of the limo, surrounding me.

I’m lost in her touches, the eager little noises falling from her lips between little puffs of breath. Every sexy sound shoots through me like a jolt of electric current flowing right to my cock.

The ride from the church doesn’t take very long. When it comes to a stop it takes me a long moment before I’m able to unwind her clinging arms and set her back in her seat.

She treats me to a pretty little pout. She’s fucking adorable. Taking her hand I tug her, urging her to follow me out of the now open door of the hired vehicle. The driver keeps his eyes respectfully on the ground by his feet, not looking at the way her white dress is slightly askew from my wandering hands. As she scrambles out she trips on the long satin with a small cry.

Bending slightly, I sweep her into my arms preventing her from a fall. Her distress morphs into a tipsy giggle as I carry her through the main lobby of my building. I usually use the private entrance in the parking garage, but a part of me wants everyone to see my claim on her.

Muffled sounds from the casino floor drift to my ears as I bundle her close and a bellhop hurries to press the button on the penthouse elevator.

I have been planning this day for years. Five of them, in fact. Since the day she turned eighteen. I would have gone about this in a more traditional way if that were possible, but when you are the only son of Xavier Cerelli, Sr. there is no way to have normal. I count myself lucky that my father didn’t force me to marry someone of his choosing in an attempt to strengthen his empire. So I waited. Watched her from a distance and bided my time. Lucky for me, I outlasted the old man and finally was able to leave New York behind. My uncle, Dominic was only too happy to leave Vegas to pick up the reins in New York so I could finally make my own way out west. He may not have been so happy to do it if he realized that by making my own way meant getting as far away from the Cerelli legacy as I possibly could. In every single way.

When I relocated here I brought with me a select crew of “soldiers”. Dominic insisted and I knew that it would make waves if I refused, so I handpicked enough men that I knew wanted a way out of the life they were leading. It was simple enough to make sure that her father was among them. Vince wasn’t much of an asset to the family and I don’t trust him at all. I'm sure that he will eventually bring trouble to my door, but even knowing that, I needed to have her nearby. I couldn’t move across the country and not have her near.

She was always around the neighborhood, ever since she was dropped off on Vince’s doorstep by a social worker after her mom died out in California when she was thirteen. That’s when my fascination with her started. At first, it was just because she was so different from all the girls in our neighborhood. She was dissimilar to any girl I had ever met in person. Beautiful, sure, but it was more than that. It was her kindness, the way she had a kind word for everyone she met.

I was already seventeen and she was still in middle school, so our paths rarely crossed. I was happy about that. I didn’t want to notice her. A little kid, even though she was one of those young girls who looked older than her years. All of the guys noticed her.

All I wanted was to graduate and get the hell away from my father, but even then I made sure that she was left alone. I made it clear that she was under my protection and that anyone who messed with her would answer to me.

Her lips and teeth nip and pull at my neck and shirt, bringing all of my attention racing back to her as she presses the button to close the elevator door, clinging to my neck with one arm. Her hot little tongue poking out every so often to taste the salt of my skin. “X,” she whispers, shortening my name in a familiar way that makes my heart leap wildly in my chest. Slowly, she blinks her big green eyes up at me, “I’m feeling a little funny,” she whispers, so seriously, before she locks those amazing eyes on mine again.

“Is this what it feels like to be horny?” She asks in a sweet little voice that is slightly husky and breathless with desire. “I feel all warm and tingly,” she pauses shyly before continuing in a conspiratorial whisper, “it reminds me of how I feel when I read the naughty parts of romance novels.” Her giggle is captivating, and I can’t even begin to express what thinking about her getting tingly does to me.

The elevator doors open into the foyer just outside my penthouse, and reluctantly I set her carefully on her feet. Lowering my face until our foreheads touch and our breath mingles, I growl softly, “Is that so, Analise?” She nods her head, her eyes never leaving mine.

“Want me to do something about it?”

Without hesitation, she gives me two saucy little words that I barely let myself ever even dream of, “Yes, Sir.” I can hardly believe my luck. Blindly pressing the code to unlock the door I back her through the opening, my hands firmly on the soft curve of her hips. Turning her toward the bedroom at the end of the hall, I sharply swat her ass without thinking. I’m amazed, and I won’t deny even more turned on when she tosses a sassy glance at me over her shoulder and winks. Winks! The little tease! She does her best to prance down the hall in the direction I indicated, her tight little ass swaying back and forth inside the gown that binds her at the knees so that she can’t take a full step. I think she called it a mermaid dress or something. Seems a little pointless, but the way it clings to the lines of her body it’s undeniably sexy as fuck. I follow her without hesitation pointing her to my room, our room, unbuttoning my shirt and pulling it free of the waistband of my slacks as I go.

Stumbling a little as she gets close to the bed, she spins to face me on the delicate heels on her feet. She wobbles for an instant then throws her arms around my neck, lifting her face for my kiss. I shouldn’t, not until I can tell her everything, but I greedily take what she offers. Fusing my mouth to hers and tugging her tight skirt up enough that I can cradle her naked ass in my hands. She rocks against me, her tongue fighting with mine for control, and she whimpers into my mouth. That little sound of capitulation does something to me. There is a shift inside me, and without thought, I wind my hand in her long silvery blonde hair, scattering bobby pins and making a mess of her fancy updo.

Lifting her until her toes barely brush against the floor, I push my hand between her thighs from behind. I can’t control my need to rub her through her tiny thong and know how wet she is for me.

The silky fabric is drenched with her sweetness. My self-control slips even more and I increase the pressure of my fingers. I stroke against the hard little nub of her clit while tugging on her hair hard enough to pull our mouths apart.

An urgent cry falls from her lips and she tenses in my arms. I rub harder, working the stiff peak roughly with the pads of two fingers. She shudders violently against me, making me almost lose my grip on her body, as a hot spill of wetness soaks through her panties coating my hand, as she cries out my name.

My name on her precious lips as she cums obliterates the last shreds of my self-control. I’m a beast, unleashed to claim what is his as I turn her around, yanking roughly at her wedding dress.


Oh my gracious! I cannot believe that just happened! I literally just had my first non self-induced orgasm! And it happened because Xavier Cerelli pulled my freaking hair! Why was that so unbelievably hot? Yes, he was also rubbing my pussy, but I know what tipped me over the edge were the feelings that exploded in me when he wrapped his enormous hand in my hair and pulled.

I must be some kind of freak! I try to pull away from his embrace. We need to slow down for a bit. We need to talk...or something! I need a minute to figure out what the heck just happened. But I can’t. Not while he’s touching me. Not until I know why I’m in this position.

I couldn’t get dad to tell me much. Just that it was “family business”. Meaning he fucked up somehow and for whatever reason, I’m paying the consequences by being married off to Xavier Cerelli, Jr. himself. I have zero doubts that if I had refused at the altar I would have been ignored.

I won’t just give in to him just because he’s the only man that I ever even thought about making love with… fuck that! He’s the only guy I have ever wanted to fuck! There! I am NOT going to love him. I know that he doesn’t love me. Loving him would break my heart. I have heard stories about him since junior high. Yep, even in middle school, everyone knew Xavier and his popularity with half the female student body. I can’t say I blame them. Look at the man. He’s freaking gorgeous! Well over six feet tall, wide shoulders that are thick with muscle that tapers into lean hips and a firm, tight ass on top of thickly muscled thighs. He’s every woman’s wet dream. Sex in a disheveled tuxedo, the flush of too much champagne tinging his tanned cheeks.

His hands are still yanking at my clothes when I look up into his face. Gone is the sexy, charming man who danced with me in the small reception hall at Saint Anne’s after our brief wedding. Gone is the playful man who toasted me with champagne and let me flirt and rub all over him in the limo when the alcohol allowed me to forget why this whole thing is a bad idea. Gone is the sweet man who carried me over the threshold of this home we are supposed to share.

In his place is someone else, lean face set in hard lines of lust, tearing at my dress, pushing it up over my hips before roughly pushing my panties down my legs. It’s all happening so fast. Way too fast!

The rigid heat of his cock slips between my thighs, sliding wetly and bumping my throbbing clit. It feels so good that my knees buckle and I collapse forward toward the mattress. His big hands grip my hips tighter, keeping me on my feet, his pelvis pressed tight against my ass as he slides between my thighs.

I’m so confused. I should tell him to stop. Another slick thrust soaks his shaft with the slickness of my orgasm, sending fireworks throughout my body. Unconsciously easing his way I shift my feet apart, giving him more room to move against me. Then his hand is between us, gripping his cock as he lines himself up with my entrance.

Say no, Ana, I tell myself, but when I part my lips to speak only a soft whimper comes out. I don’t want to tell him no. I want to know what comes next. Before I know it the head of his cock is inside me, just a little bit, stretching me around him. It hurts, but I like it. I can’t help but enjoy the stinging burn as he invades my virgin body making me feel so full of him.

I want to move against him, but he has my hips pinned against the bed under him, legs spread wide to accommodate him. Then he starts to move, his scorching heat working in and out of me, but never pushing in all the way. It’s as if he’s easing my body into accepting him. His hard forearm bands my waist holding me immobile, not that I’m trying to get away. It doesn’t hurt anymore, not really. It’s more like I’m riding an odd edge somewhere in between pain and ecstasy.

My core ripples around his shaft and I hear his deep groan behind me. My nipples pucker inside the smooth satin bodice of my dress as his shallow thrusting drags my torso against the coverlet beneath me. I’m shocked to feel another orgasm coiling deep in my core. I can’t understand why I’m about to get off on being treated this way. I struggle halfheartedly to get away, not sure that’s what I actually want.

“Please stop,” I whisper into the covers. I don’t think I want to do this anymore, but I don’t want him to stop either. I don’t know who I am with this man. He is making me feel bad things. Kinky things I’ve only read about! I know what this is, and I am NOT going to be some mob boss’ submissive little sex doll!

The very thought of it holds a dark allure that terrifies me. I try to push up from the bed, my arms are weak and shaky. I need to slow this train down before it gets any more out of hand. My pitiful struggles seem to inflame him even more and he jerks his hard arm tighter around my waist, pulling my hips back until his pelvis slaps against my ass. His cock tears through my innocence as he thrusts forward hitting something inside me. Something that makes lightning shoot over my skin, centering in the throbbing heat between my legs where he is now hammering into me.

I scream as my fear and pleasure fight each other, my legs thrashing helplessly as a staggering swell of pain and rapture ride through me. My body stiffens with the force of my sudden climax, before going lax in his arms as shivers of ecstasy continue to flow through me.

Behind me, Xavier thrusts again. Once. Twice. Until, with a primal roar of satisfaction on his lips, his cum explodes inside of me. I can feel the hot, wet pulsing against my cervix as he grinds against me. I collapse in a heap, half of me still hanging off the bed. If he wasn’t still in me, I’m sure I would slide to the floor. Aftershocks shake my body. I have never felt so amazing and so horrible all at once. I squeeze my eyes shut tight, trying to stop the flow overwhelmed tears from leaking out. I just need to think for a minute.

Chapter Two


I fee as if I’m someone else, watching in horror, but the monster inside of me is ruthless and at the moment, totally in control. For an instant, I recall those two months that I ran away when I was 18. The freedom to just be myself. No pressure to “toughen up, to be in control, to not be so soft” from the old man.

That did it… thinking of Father brings the beast out with a roar and I watch my hands as they attack the buttons going up the length of white satin, tearing the smooth fabric and exposing the golden perfection of her back. Hers. Analise. My bride, my love. My payment for a debt.

The monster inside me roars his lust and satisfaction at possessing her after all this time. As much as I know I’m going to hate myself for it, I’m so turned on as I yank her dress up over her narrow hips and tear her pale pink panties off the lightly tanned curve of her ass.

She is perfection. Nothing but fucking perfection. Her thighs are pressed tightly together, her pink pussy bare and peeking out from between them, and I push her feet apart with mine releasing my throbbing erection from my pants and roughly stroking my rigid shaft until beads of precum are glistening at the tip and running over the crown. Leaning forward slightly I use it to mark the inside of her thighs, the sweet curve of her ass, then push between them reveling in the sensation of wet silk caressing my shaft.

She struggles, pressing up on her hands slightly. With a growl, I push her down with a hand in the middle of her exposed back. I focus my eyes there for a moment, my rough hand so large it almost spans her entire back. Her skin is so soft, the softest thing I have ever touched. In moments I'm focused again, staring at where my body is ready to join with hers.

I reach between us and press in, just until I can feel evidence her innocence, then roughly jack my cock a couple of times, releasing more of my sticky wetness inside of her. “Please stop,” she whispers, so soft that I barely hear her, drawing my eyes to where her pale face is pressed into the coverlet of my bed. I never want to tell her no. I want to do what she asks, but I can’t. I'm lost in the feeling of her core squeezing me. She is so wet, so hot, so damn tight. She is mine. Fuck! Fuck! MINE! I should stop...

The darkness takes over. My desire to possess her, to own her, clouding my mind as I grasp her hips in a punishing grip and roughly pull her back onto my shaft, impaling her on my rigid flesh. A scream tears from her throat and I roar at how tight and perfect she feels surrounding me. Fully seated in her I savor the feeling.

I can feel her legs stiffening and thrashing against mine, and I only hold her tighter, thrusting into her hard, over and over, as she shudders beneath me. Her struggles stop as she collapses onto the bed beneath my much larger form. With a loud groan that feels torn from my soul, I thrust once more, pressing my cock tight against her womb as waves of cum explode out of it. I have never climaxed so hard or for so long in my life. It feels like hours go by while I pump my shaft into her, until every last drop of my orgasm fills her. It’s akin to being reborn as hers.

Pulling my still hard length from her body I try to catch my breath and watch as my cum slips from her body and trickles down the inside of her thighs. It is so damn sexy. My cock twitches in response, seeing proof of my possession fires my blood and I want her all over again. Then I see that my cum is mixed with her blood. Seeing it jolts me back to myself completely. Ana was a virgin and instead of making love to her I took her like an animal while she asked me to stop.

I look at her laying there, tiny hands fisted and white-knuckled, twisted in the soft cotton sheets. The expression on her face is worse than a punch to the gut. She is so still and small. There is no color in her usually pink cheeks. Even her lips are almost white. Her eyes are pinched shut, and there are tears streaming from them. The haze of lust clears, and I almost fall to my knees to beg her forgiveness, to hold her in my arms and promise that I will never hurt her again.

Fucking weak! My father's voice echoes in my mind.

I cannot show weakness. Instead, I take a step back and tuck my semi-hard dick back into my tux pants and stride out the door. I’ve never hated myself more than I do in this moment. I deserve to be shot for doing this to her.

She is sobbing before the door fully closes behind me, and I press my back to it and slide down until I’m sitting on the floor. My heart is breaking. I hurt her. I lost control. I think I just raped my bride. My Analise. I really am my father’s son, a total piece of shit like him, and I despise myself for it. For the first time in a decade I allow myself to feel something other than...well mostly nothing. I never feel anything. I am as cold as a block of ice. Cold. Hard. Unless I’m around her. She is my warmth, my sunshine. But right now, sitting on the floor outside my bedroom, I let myself feel the torture of every muffled sound coming from the room I just left. Each one is like knives in my brain, in my heart. I didn’t marry her so I could hurt her. I only want her to love me. I have wanted to be near her since the very first moment I saw her. Her sunny smile and happy laugh are unlike anything I’d ever witnessed in my life. I wanted to be her friend, but the age difference between us made that impossible. So I went about my life, doing what I needed to do, but as she got older I found that I craved nothing but her sweet voice, that laughter, to have her smile at me.

I’ve ruined everything now. I will never have more than the few hours after the wedding, when her smile and her laughter were mine.

She had only been slightly uncomfortable around me before today, and I have no reason to believe that has changed. The only thing that had lowered her inhibitions with me today was the champagne that she consumed. There is no way that I’m anything but her worst nightmare now… at least we have that in common.

I am my own worst nightmare...I have turned out identical to my father.

She will never smile for me again. How could she? Knowing that feels like a death sentence, but I can't let her go. I know I should release her from the vows we made. I'm a greedy bastard though. I don't want to give her up now that I have her in my home. In my bed. Somehow I have to make things right. I just don’t know if that will be possible. I don’t even know where to start.

“I'm sorry sunshine. I'm so, so sorry.” My voice startles me, I didn't intend to say it out loud, but the wetness on my cheeks is even more shocking. I haven't cried since I was 10 and dragged, crying, away from my weeping mother and sent away to boarding school. She was dead before I was brought home for Thanksgiving that fall. It was supposed to be a secret, but I quickly discovered how she had died… at my father’s hand. I never forgave him, and I will never forgive myself.

I may not have killed Analise, but I’m certain that I have killed any chance of her ever being happy with me. I don't deserve it. I don’t deserve her.


Faintly, I hear him apologizing from the other side of the door. The last thing that I expected was an apology, even if he isn't saying it to me. Rising to my feet on wobbly legs I struggle to rid myself of my now ruined wedding dress. The delicate fabric is torn at the seams from Xavier’s rough treatment. I’m not sure how things got out of hand so fast. We were flirting and having a surprisingly good time. I know that the addition of alcohol helped with that. I suppose that it could also be blamed for what just happened.

Xavier has been gracious towards me in the few days since I moved in and joined his household. I laugh bitterly. Joined his household. What bullshit. I wish I knew the real reason why I’m here. Why Xavier wanted to marry me. Dad never tells me much about anything that relates to the Cerelli’s and what his role in the organization is, but I know that somehow he is benefiting from this debacle. He gave me away for some reason, and I guess my part to play in the whole thing is as Xavier’s legitimate piece of ass, with a side order of docile wife.

That isn’t ever going to happen! I won’t allow it! I will never find any purpose in life if all I am is a trophy wife. I want more than that for myself. I want to be happy. I want to be loved, and I won’t give up the chance to have it. Not even for Xavier.

For the first time since leaving New York and coming to Vegas with my dad, I’m regretting my decision. Vince is a low-level member of the Cerelli family. Extremely low level. When Xavier, Sr. died, his brother Dominic went back to New York to take the reins. Xavier, the heir of the family, moved out to Vegas, taking a small number of men with him. Since dad was one of them… I went along. There are good waitressing jobs in Vegas, so I figured why not?

Not that I will be working as Mrs. Xavier Cerelli. I was informed that my notice at the casino had already been put in by Margot, the head housekeeper, while she was helping me get ready for the wedding this morning. None of it makes any sense to me. I came home from work, and all of my belongings were gone. Dad told me that I was moving up to the penthouse, but refused to tell me anything else while he escorted me there. It was Xavier who explained to me over dinner that first night that we would be married in a few days. After that, I worked those last few days soaking up what was left of my normal life, and every evening I sat at the far end of the long table in confused silence while we ate together. He was polite. Kind even, but what a mess! This isn’t what I wanted for myself.

My whole body aches. Especially between my legs. Part of me wants to take a bath before I climb into bed and sleep so that I can wake up in the morning and find that this has all been nothing more than a totally bizarre dream. The more logical side of me knows I’m not dreaming and that I should find something to wear then go find something to eat. I haven’t eaten anything but cake and champagne since Margot brought me breakfast this morning, but that was so long ago. Another life really. I was a different person when I woke up.

I still can hardly believe that I’m married. To the most beautiful man, I have ever laid eyes on. The man who just ripped my virginity from my body so roughly, then apologized for it from outside the door. If he is sorry why not come back and talk to me?

I don’t know how to feel. I am so angry, but also sad and feeling betrayed and robbed… I know I should focus on the anger. I would have willingly given him what he took, that is the thing that makes me the angriest. Hell, I practically did when I climaxed on his fingers. It was so good too. For a few minutes, I forgot all my questions and was going to let it happen naturally. I believed that we were on the same page.

I should have known better.

I shouldn’t have expected any gentleness from Xavier Cerelli. He’s a monster. A cold, emotionless, ruthless man. At least that is what everyone says about him. I shouldn’t have allowed myself to imagine that he looks at me with something soft in his eyes. I was fooling myself. Imagining something that doesn't exist. Vince has told me for years that Xavier is as bad as his father was, and no one ever crossed the elder Mr. Cerelli and lived to talk about it. The scariest thing, I have had more than one person (yes, my dad and his friends) in the Cerelli “family” tell me that Xavier is even worse than his father. That he is completely detached from everything and everyone. A man with very few friends. One who has never been with a woman for more than just one night. A truly solitary man.

My sore body and dark thoughts ruin my appetite, so I decide on taking a bath over making my way to the kitchen. I don’t want to leave the sanctuary of this room and risk bumping into Xavier anyway. Slowly, I shuffle toward the bathroom wincing from the tender ache between my legs. Maybe I shouldn’t have saved myself for marriage after all. It’s almost ironic how the “gift” I had been saving for this day was taken by my groom with no regard for it when I had always imagined tenderness and magic.

No one but me will ever know that I always imagined Xavier as my groom. Freaking magic.


I roll my eyes at my stupid daydreams. My fantasies feel juvenile in the aftermath of being fucked boneless by what must have been the biggest cock ever. Not that I’ve seen many or even one in person, but I did watch porn once when I was in high school. I wanted to figure out what everyone else already seemed to know. I touched myself experimentally for the first time ever thinking about him while I watched the images on my computer screen and wondering what he looked like when he was doing those things with a girl… woman, since by then he was no longer a boy.

My cheeks heat as I recall how badly I wondered about his cock. Even after everything that just happened with him, I still don’t know! I can still feel him stretching and filling my pussy as he slammed into me. My clit throbs hard at the memory of the time we just spent together. Shit! I had hoped to at least see it. Ugh! I’m so confused!

Redirecting my thoughts, again, I pull open the linen cabinet and grab a fluffy white towel. At least I get this bathroom for the time being. A long marble counter spans one wall, a large mirror hanging over it. I observe myself for a short time, noticing the bruises from his hard fingers already starting to show on my hips.

The tub is huge, almost big enough for me to swim in with built-in jets. The floor is heated so that bare feet don’t get cold on the smooth grey tile. It is the most decadent thing I have ever seen in my whole twenty-three years. The bathroom alone is bigger than any bedroom I have ever had in my life.

I already know that I will miss this suite of rooms when I go. My decision to leave is made before I have really even considered it. I won’t live this way. Won’t allow myself to be used. I may have nurtured tender feelings for Xavier since I was in high school, but no longer. I will NOT let myself miss Xavier Cerelli. Not one teeny, tiny bit.

I will not think about the soft looks he sent my way when we crossed paths over the years or the ones I thought he gave me while we shared those quiet dinners together, neither of us seeming to know what to say as we sat across from each other at the table. All of that had to have been a figment of my imagination, which is sad because I have never been prone to deceiving myself. Losing my mom and being sent to live with a cheap thug of a father, a girl learns real fast not to dream about things that won’t ever come true. It’s better to face reality and avoid the heartbreak of broken dreams. The problem is, when my dad explained that I was moving up to the penthouse I thought for a second that maybe, just maybe, dreams do sometimes come true. That maybe by some miracle I might be getting my fairy tale happy ever after. I thought that if I tried hard enough that he could grow to care for me the same way that I care for him.

Obviously, I was wrong.

Chapter Three


The loud complaining of my stomach wakes me up the next morning. I definitely shouldn't have skipped the snack before crawling between the cool, crisp sheets, but the physical and emotional exhaustion pulled me into a dreamless sleep. The pillow beside me is unexpectedly warm and I can smell him on the pale yellow cotton. The clean, masculine scent compelling me to breathe deeply. I’m surprised that he slept with me after leaving the way that he did, but then it suddenly occurs to me that this must be his room. It is where I’ve been sleeping since I got here, so I mistakenly thought it was mine. He never said anything about me displacing him and neither did Margot. I guess if I had unpacked my duffle bag or snooped around I would have figured it out sooner, but I didn’t. I’m not sure why, but it never even occurred to me. At least I know now, and sharing a room with him is not going to work for me. I will definitely move myself into an empty one after I get something to eat, I’m going to need my own space until I have a plan for how I’m going to get myself out of this mess.

Sharing a room with him will guarantee that our paths will cross at some point and I’m not ready to face him yet. The memory of the night prior, coupled with the soreness of my body, is much too fresh. I don’t trust him, I can’t. After my reaction to him while he ravaged my body, I trust myself even less than him. Sleeping in the same bed as him is not going to work for me. I have to figure out how to get away from him. I know that I can’t go back to the small apartment that I shared with my dad. Whatever his reasons, he wanted me to marry Xavier, and that means there is nothing for me to go back to.

I know I can’t stay in Vegas and I am never going back to New York. There is nothing for me in either place. The majority of my childhood was spent up in Washington state. Mom and I moved around a lot, but I was happy there. We were in San Francisco when she died, so I don’t think anyone knows about Washington. No one ever asked, and I never volunteered. I think I might go back there. We went to Spokane once or twice with one of mom’s boyfriends the year before she got sick. I enjoyed it there, so I think that’s where I’m going to go. No one would ever think to look for me there.

Fortunately, I have some cash hidden in the vent in my room in my dad's apartment. So I have a plan…sort of. I still need to figure out how I’m actually going to get away and HIDE from a man with so much money, who also has people who are willing to do anything for him. Even kill, if what Vince says is true.

Hiding from my new husband is going to be the hardest thing I have ever done. I will have to plan everything perfectly. I can't make any mistakes or there is no doubt that I will be back in this apartment faster than I can blink.

For the next couple of weeks, I don’t ever actually see Xavier, but I know he comes to the penthouse every night after I go to bed. The same as the morning after our wedding, I wake alone up in his bed, his tantalizing scent surrounding me. It doesn't matter where I fall asleep or if I lock myself in one of the other bedrooms, somehow he moves me. I do have a sleepy recollection of being held close as he carried me down the hall and tucked me into his bed every night, but he never says a word while he’s doing it. The first couple of times it happened I pretended that I was still asleep, after that, I just kept up the charade. It’s easier and I don’t want to fight with him. Part of me wants to sleep curled against him even though I have no idea why he wants me there. Especially since day after day, I wake up in the big bed alone.

For thirty mornings in a row! It's driving me crazy.

Oddly I’m discovering that I want to wake up with him as badly as I don't want to. That shit is confusing. Usually, I don’t have any trouble knowing my own mind, but if I’m asleep, or pretending to be, I don’t have to protest him moving me. I can just pretend that it isn’t happening and enjoy the feel of his strong body against mine until the heat of his body lulls me back to sleep.

I’ve had feelings for him for so long, that even though I’m trying, I can't fully stop them. They constantly surprise me, and then I have to remind myself about all the reasons having them is not in my best interest. I have to make myself forget about him. To forget about that night, forget how it felt to cum on his hand, on his cock. I don't want this life with Xavier. I want the one I dreamt of as a lonely girl. The ones that I should have left behind as I became a woman. I should have let them go and found someone who could feel the same things for me.

The only problem with that is that no one ever asked me out on dates. Not after I turned eighteen and graduated anyway. It was like overnight none of the guys that I knew ever saw me anymore. The girls weren’t any better. It was weird, but since I had never made very many friends in New York to start with, I wasn’t too worried about it.

Other than work I was alone with my daydreams, and every one I ever had about Xavier was of being loved by him. Of him wanting to be around me, being my best friend. Not this… whatever this even is. I can’t take the not knowing, not understanding what is going on between us anymore. Why treat me as if I don’t exist every day, but bring me to his bed to sleep every night? He hasn’t tried to touch me other than to pick me up and carry me to his bed, and I feel stupid because every time he does, my heart beats in anticipation, hoping that he will.

I’m leaving today. I have to. For my own peace of mind. If don't leave soon, I know I am probably going to offer myself to him and make a fool of myself by begging for scraps of his attention and affection.

I will never allow myself to be that kind of woman. The kind who loses herself to catch a man. The kind of woman my mother was.

Dressing in some fancy-ass athletic wear that was in the closet when I first moved in here I mentally review my plan. For the last week whenever I have gone out, no one seems to be paying attention to me anymore. At first, every time I turned around one of the guys from the neighborhood in New York was around. It made me wonder if Xavier expected me to run, but it seems that I was able to make them all think that I was easily accepting my new circumstances.

I’ve been making a point to go to whatever spa I want to, whatever shops I want to. I use the credit card that was provided to me. It’s mindless, but I have to admit that my hair and nails are the best they have ever been. Not that I care all that much about that. My favorite days have been the ones where I go to the library or a coffee shop and spend hours with my face buried in a book. I think that I must be so boring that they don't even consider that I might do what I have planned.

Picking up the big, expensive, leather tote I have been carrying for the past few weeks, I glance inside, checking that I have everything I need. A couple of changes of clothes, an envelope full of cash and my wallet. It’s empty of the credit cards bearing my married name that turned up a week after the wedding. All I have now is my drivers' license and my one credit card that is in my maiden name. I don’t want to leave it behind in case of an actual emergency. I will have to deal with the consequences of using it if that day ever comes.

I add a couple of books on top, before I slide on my big retro-looking sunglasses, and head out the door toward the hot Vegas sunshine. It’s time to find the life I want. Not one that was forced on me. Stupid dreams be damned. Xavier Cerelli is NOT my future, even if he is all I have ever dreamed of having for my own. Even if my heart hurts at the thought of never seeing his handsome face or hearing his sexy, rough voice again.

Calling for a ride, the same as I have been doing every day, I go out and head to the strip. I have used the spa at the Bellagio a couple of times, so I go there to kill a little time. Once inside the casino, I wander around for a while. I don’t think anyone followed me today, not that I have given any reason for Xavier to have me tailed. I have been docile and compliant with the changes he brought into my life. I don't think anyone even noticed when I left the building there was so much activity at the casino doors. So far everything is going as I had hoped

After I kill some time with a coffee and some window shopping, I catch a cab by hailing one from the street instead of calling for an Uber. I have the driver take me to a used car dealer a short distance from the strip in an area I can’t imagine anyone would think to look for me. I keep my sunglasses on and do my best to be as innocuous as possible during the short ride. I don’t want to give the driver any reason to remember me ever being in his car. I have no doubt that when Xavier figures out what I have done, he is much too smart not to check with the cab companies.

Everything goes easier than expected. A stereotypical sleazy used car salesman assists me as I spend a chunk of my savings on an older economy car. It’s nondescript, gets good gas mileage, and the price is right. Right now I couldn’t ask for anything else.

I thought for sure someone would swoop in at the last second and stop me. I am so relieved when I pull off the purchase without a hitch, using cash and a fake name. The salesman said he didn’t care what name went on the paperwork as long as I was paying cash, he even blacked out the license plate number on the documents. Like I said, a little shady, but it was totally to my advantage, so I’m not about to complain. I am a little worried about the legality of it though.

Before leaving the car lot I use the ladies' room to change out of the expensive yoga pants and light sweatshirt I had been wearing and put on my favorite pair of high waisted navy blue sailor shorts, polka dot halter top and wedge heels that make me feel confident and pretty. I may as well start my new life in an outfit that makes me feel happy. That’s the whole point of me leaving Las Vegas, right? Firmly setting my sunglasses back in place I tie my hair up into a high ponytail and force myself to lazily stroll to my newly purchased vehicle. I sure am glad that Vince taught me how to drive, even though it’s not my favorite thing to do.

Rolling down the windows to let the hot air swirl around me, I hit the freeway and head north. With any luck, no one will realize I’m gone until Xavier comes to carry me to his bed later tonight. I wonder how long he will look for me. Probably not for long, I think with a painful twinge behind my sternum. A man like Xavier won’t be pining for a runaway bride. The thought of him moving on hurts, but no one but me will ever know that as I drive away, tears are running down my cheeks and drying in the wind.

I’m going to miss those fuzzy moments in the dark, being held against his hard muscles, his powerful arms surrounding me. I’m going to miss all the things that I had hoped for, everything I wish we could have been.


I have given Analise as much space as I can stand in the weeks that have passed since our wedding day. I can’t see her face without remembering how it looked, pale and pressed against the mattress, as her tears streaked mascara down her cheeks. It’s not something I will ever forget. I never want to forget. I deserve to remember every damn second of hurting her. I know that I don’t deserve her, but that doesn’t stop me from needing her near once I get back to the apartment every night. Sleeping with her sweet body in my arms the penance I have given myself for causing her pain.

Every day it’s the same thing, I get up so I can work on several ventures to continue to legitimize my branch of the family business. I don’t want any part of the things that my father and uncle have made their money with. So I’m up to my eyeballs in real estate development deals, as well as finding a space for a small boutique for Analise.

I know that she has always wanted to open a little shop that sells a variety of things for women. Clothing, books, bath stuff that no man knows anything about. She has always worked, ever since she came to live with her dad, babysitting, dog walking, everything she could until she was old enough to get a “real” job. It’s part of who she is and more than anything I want her to be happy and fulfilled. I know she must be bored half to death just hanging around the penthouse or going shopping. She never seems to bring anything home with her, so I’m actually not positive what she does all day. I just know that she goes out. I’ve been tempted to have someone follow her, but if I do that and she ever finds out, I know it will destroy any chance I have of her ever learning to trust me. The only thing that I do know is that she leaves the building mid-morning and returns in the late afternoon. Geno has been able to tell me that much, and that she usually calls for an Uber when she leaves.

Every night I come home, after spending my day holed up in my office and find her in whatever bed she is curled up in. I return her to our bed, where she belongs, and then stay awake as long as I can trying to get my fill of being in her presence. I swear that tonight I will wake her up and apologize for everything that happened, starting with our wedding night. I can't bear this distance between us anymore, not even for one more day. All I want is to make things right between us so she can learn to trust me and I can try to earn her love.

It’s not as late as it usually is when I get home. I’m hoping to find Analise awake so we can talk. Something between us has to give, and I’m willing for it to be my pride. I know that an apology is warranted and way past due. When I discovered a couple of hours ago that the reason I hadn’t heard from Geno already was because my phone was dead, I took it as a sign that today is the day and charged my phone and hurried through the rest of my work.

The penthouse apartment has four bedrooms. I have already checked the three that she has been rotating through every night in her quest to avoid mine. All of them are still made, not a single thing looks out of place. Not once in the last month have I found her in our room, even though I’d had hopes that she would start sleeping there once she realized that I was just going to carry her to bed with me every night. It’s not like she’s tried to stop me. She just tucks her face against my neck, allowing herself to be carried to where she belongs. My bed.

In those drowsy moments, she accepts me into her arms, filling me with so many emotions that I don’t exactly know how to process them. I want them to last forever, so I haven’t spoken a word during those quiet moments. I don’t want to ruin the peacefulness between us by saying the wrong thing and destroy the last shred of hope in my heart.

My heart pounds with frantic hope as I push open the door and enter our dark bedroom. Muted light from the hall illuminates the bed and my heart stops for a moment.

It is empty.

Where the fuck is she?

I'm on my phone before I leave the room, calling Vince. If anyone knows where she is it will be him, right? He’s her father. She is probably just down at his place watching a movie or something… except when Vince answers, he has no idea where she is. Call after call gets the same response. None of the guys have seen her. Tony was at the front of the building doing security this morning, and he said she left around ten, in an Uber, which is what she has been doing several times a week when she goes out.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to him, she was carrying her purse and waved at him on her way out. No one saw her come back, so the best I can figure she has been missing at least twelve hours. I barely recognize myself as I race around the apartment, looking for any clues that she may have left that would indicate where she might have been heading. There is nothing. Not knowing what else to do, I call my best friend Grayson. He lives in a small apartment a couple of floors below me, as do all of the men who came with me from New York, so it doesn’t take him long to get to me.

With Grayson’s assistance, we call everyone together and immediately get them all working on trying to locate her, pulling video from the security cameras, and calling in favors at a few other casinos to see if she was anywhere else today that would give us a clue. Geno doesn’t waste any time getting in touch with a few contacts he has in the few other families that are in Vegas, just to make sure that we haven’t overlooked anything. I can’t think of anyone who would want to take her to get to me, but it never hurts to check. The fact that I didn’t move to Vegas intending to step on anyone’s toes makes them more willing to share information. The only person who has a beef with me is Dominic, and it doesn’t take Geno long to determine that the likelihood of Dom being involved in Ana’s disappearance is minimal. A few of her things are missing, the book from the bedside table in the guest room, as well as her toothbrush and makeup. It looks as if she left of her own accord. But how and to where?

It doesn’t take long to get the information about her Uber ride, but it’s too late to do anything about it right now. It will have to wait until morning. Not that it matters. The hollow feeling in my chest tells me that she is gone. Taking the only sunshine I have known in too many years to count with her.

She’s left me, and I can’t even blame her. I would have left me too.

Her absence is a void, sucking away the slivers of warmth that she ignited inside me. She isn’t coming back, and she is much too smart for me to think finding her is going to be easy. It took me five long years to claim her as my own, and now that I’ve had a taste of her light in the bleakness of my life, I won’t stop until I have her back where she belongs.

Chapter Four


I'm so tired. I never have driven very much, there has never been a need. I’ve never even had my own car. As if the stress of running away and knowing that I will be completely alone when I finally stop isn’t bad enough, having to drive on the freeway has me feeling shaky and sick to my stomach. I’ve been on the road for so long that when I finally see an affordable roadside motel that doesn’t look too sketchy, I immediately put on my blinker and pull into the half-full parking lot.

I’ve never stayed in a hotel alone, so I have to admit that when I go inside to book a room, I’m more than a little nervous. I’ve been making up different stories most of the day in preparation for this moment. I know that I need a valid reason to pay with cash. I’m grateful when the bored-looking clerk buys my story about having my purse stolen in Las Vegas and makes an exception to the credit card rule.

After getting my room key, I ask directions to a drug store. I have things that need to be done before I go any further from Vegas. A drive through burger and a box of temporary hair color accompany me back to the simple room that I rented for the night.

I obviously have to change the way I look, and my hair is the most obvious way to do that. I try not to cry when I use the cheap scissors that I bought to cut off my long ponytail in one hard SNIP, but I can’t stop the tears. I loved my hair. It is a bright silvery blonde that fell past the middle of my back in natural waves. I personally think it’s my best feature and I hate seeing the shimmery strands as they fall to the floor. I know it has to go. If Xavier searches for me, he will be looking for a very blond woman. No one will be able to remember seeing me if that girl isn’t who they see.

Scrunching up my nose at the jagged line of my new haircut as it brushes against my jaw in an uneven bob, I use the dye I purchased to turn it a shade called dark chocolate. I hate the color, almost as much as I love its namesake, as soon as I rinse it into the tub. One glance into the mirror shows me that I barely resemble myself anymore. That is the point, I remind myself sternly, as I pull on fresh underwear and sadly crawl between the cold sheets. I try to blame the tears coursing down my cheeks on vanity and the ghastly clash between my porcelain skin and my new dark hair, but I know I’m lying to myself.

I shiver a little under the thin blanket and consider getting up to adjust the heat or to put more clothes on, but decide against it. It’s too much effort. I finally admit to myself that what is actually wrong is that I’m missing Xavier's warmth beside me. I went and let myself get used to sleeping cuddled against him.

“Well, suck it up, buttercup.” With a small, sad giggle, I whisper the words my mom always said when I didn’t want to do something, “this is just how it’s gotta be.”

My tough talk doesn't make me feel any stronger if anything thinking about my mom makes me feel even more alone. Laying huddled in the darkness, I listen to the sounds of the highway whistling by and let myself wonder if he has realized yet that I am gone. I wonder if he misses me at all.

Being alone is nothing new. I have always been a fairly solitary person. Moving a lot with my mom and having a dad in the mob kind of made it hard to make friends. This should be easy to do. Just more of the same old routine. Work hard, stay out of the way, and try not to draw attention to myself. I can do this.

I don’t really want to get in my car and drive back to Vegas. I tell myself that again and again until finally, my pulse settles, and my stomach stops hurting, and I’m able to sleep.

I wake up before the sun even begins to brighten my faded hotel room ,and I huddle forlornly under the thin blanket. The central air chills me more than it should, even curled up under the covers. I try to convince myself that I'm not already having second thoughts about running away, but… well, actually I am.

Waking up knowing that Vince, my friend Ellie, and even Xavier are hours away, drive home more than anything exactly how alone I am right now. More alone than I have been since my mom died, and I didn’t know where I was going or if my father would even want me. He didn’t, but he kept me, and I’m missing even that tenuous feeling of being connected to someone.

Prodding myself into motion, I slip from the cold bed and rush into the bathroom to shower and change into my last clean clothes. I can’t help the pang of regret that I feel over not being able to bring more of my belongings with me. I know I never would have even got to the curb if I had been carrying more than my oversized bag.

I briefly consider the cash tucked safely in the inside zipper pocket and how much it would cost to get more clothes. I only have a couple thousand dollars, and there is no telling how long that will have to last. Finding a job that won’t require me to go through background checks and fingerprints is going to be difficult enough. The fact that I don’t have any work experience other than waitressing will make it even harder.

I have taken business management classes online, but I'm not going to be able to use my associate's degree under a fake name. Every job I've had since I was 16 was approved by the Cerelli’s since Vince was one of theirs I was too. Vince made sure that I have always been aware that I owe everything in my life to them. He wanted me to be grateful to the “family” because they provided everything, even my job. Even though what I really want out of life has nothing to do with them, and in reality, being theirs has been much more of a hindrance than a help.

That’s just one more reason why breaking free of Xavier, and his whole damn family, is necessary to me. I don't want a job that is given to me because of who my father is associated with. I want to earn it. I want to do it on my own accord. I want to save enough money that someday I can open my own little shop. The money in my purse was my savings toward that goal. That and the piece of paper from the community college were everything I was banking my future on. Until Vince, I can’t even call him dad anymore, gave me away and stripped my dream away from me.

The shower runs out of hot water making me realize how much time I’ve wasted thinking about lost causes. My five-year plan is on hiatus, and I don’t know when I will be able to get it back on track. “I will”, I promise myself. Saying it out loud somehow makes it a real promise. One I will do anything to keep.

Carefully folding my dirty clothes, I tuck them into my bag along with the small bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Might as well keep them since I’m going to have to spend some of my money once I get there on necessities. I probably should have taken more with me when I left. If I get moving now, I can be in Spokane before it gets too late to start looking for a place to stay. And a job…


I haven’t slept. I have barely eaten. I can't. Every bite tastes like ash on my tongue. Every bed in my apartment smells of her. She has been gone for almost 24 hours. The longest fucking day of my life! The only person I can bear to have around me is Grayson. He’s been my best friend since we were both in diapers. I’m on the edge of losing control, and there is no one else I trust to see me in this state.

I’ve reached out to everyone I can think of, looking for some clue to where she might have gone, but even her friend Eleanor has no idea where she is. She never gave any hint that she was planning to flee. If Geno wasn’t so sure that no one in Vegas wanted to get their hands on her, I’d believe that someone had taken her. Instead, I have to face the ugly reality that she wanted away from me so badly that she was willing to leave her small circle of friends and family to get away from me.

Vince said that she lived in San Francisco until her mom died, so I hired an investigator that Geno recommended to look for her there. Vince and the rest of the guys are searching Vegas. Grayson was able to track down the Uber driver who picked her up yesterday. All she was able to tell him was that she dropped Analise off at the Bellagio yesterday morning. There are over a dozen cab companies here in Vegas, and God only knows how many individuals driving for Uber or Lyft. I will personally talk to every single one of them if I have to. Someone must know something about her whereabouts and I will do whatever it takes to get that information.

My phone rings, startling me and making me stop my restless pacing between the living room and our empty bedroom.

“Cerelli.” I grind out between clenched teeth, gripping the phone tightly in my hand, pissed when it isn’t the ringtone that I assigned to her number years ago when I first got it from her employer. Unethical yes, but I adored seeing her name in my phone, even though I never called her, and she, of course, never called me.

“Hey, boss. Vince here.” His voice is excited. Almost too excited. That pisses me off too. “I found the cab that picked her up from the Bellagio yesterday. The driver says he took her to a used car place out by the highway.”

Before he can say anything more, I cut him off abruptly. “Where is it?”

He hurries to give me the details, and I hang up, ending the conversation when he starts to ask me what I want him to do next. I don’t fucking know. Right now, I don’t even care what he does. All I know is that I’m in the elevator heading for the parking garage sending a text to Gray letting him know where to meet me. Usually, I get a thrill out of starting my black Dodge Challenger, the big engine, and the power of my car firing me up like little else does. Not today. Today all can focus on is finding Analise. SHE is all that is on my mind. This whole damn mess is my fault. Just one more fuck up in a long line of things that I have fucked up.

I had hoped that the car dealership would be the break that I needed to find her, but true to form, it is almost a complete dead end. She was there. She did buy a car. Grainy black and white security footage shows her walking into the offices and leaving a little later in different clothes. Clothes that are the style that she wore before she came to live in my house and started living in athletic wear. The knot that formed in my stomach when I realized that she was gone coils tighter with the confirmation that she left of her own accord. I’m not sure why her clothes bother me so much, but they do. It’s like she was someone else while she was under my roof, and by leaving is becoming herself again.

The car she purchased, using a false name, is an older model Kia Rio. Cheap, but at least it’s a safe little car. I know she doesn’t have much driving experience and doesn’t particularly like to drive. I think back to when she was sixteen and got her license. I had stopped by the cafe where she waitressed to get dinner one evening and struck up a conversation with her. Vince being one of my father’s guys, meant that I was familiar with her. No one would think anything of me talking to her, and I knew as long as I kept my cool, no one would ever know that the sweet, sunny blonde had captured my attention. I was too old for her anyway, already twenty and painfully aware of the four years between us and how my father would use her to control me if he knew.

She confided to me how scared she was to take her test and that she hated driving, but that Vince had insisted that she learn. She didn’t see the point. New York has plenty of public transportation she had insisted. The recollection of her indignation makes me smile, before it strikes me that she wanted away from me badly enough to buy a car and use it to escape from me. I rub my hand over the ache that knowledge causes in my chest. I don't think that she has driven more than a handful of times since she was a teenager and she chose driving as her means of escape.

The salesman who sold her the car remembers her, a leering smile on his face as he reviews the security tape with us. When he calls her a “hot little blonde’ and comments on how she asked to have the license plate information blacked out on the paperwork, all I can think is that it’s a good thing Gray is here with me. His heavy hand clasps my shoulder, his fingers digging in, reminding me to keep calm, no matter how badly I want to destroy the suggestive smile on the sleazy fuck’s face.

At least I know what she is driving now, and that she was heading in the direction of Highway 93. That doesn't help much without a license plate number. She could be anywhere from Canada to Mexico, depending on which way she went once she was on the highway. A quick text to Vince assures me that she doesn't have a passport, so I know she won't be leaving the country. At least not yet.

Chapter Five


It’s just another day. Approximately one hundred and sixty-five of them have passed since I left Vegas. They all sort of blend together in a blur of sadness, loneliness, and nausea. I hate that I still wake up in the middle of the night, expecting to find warm arms around me, my face pressed against a thick, grooved chest. Every freaking night! I might be okay with it if it was only once a week or something, but every damn night is less than acceptable.

At least the morning sickness wakes me up early every day and shakes me out of that particular misery. Not sure it’s an even trade though. As sad as dreaming about Xavier makes me, I’m getting pretty damn tired of the daily puke-fest. I seriously haven’t been able to eat anything but tea and toast before noon since not long after I got here. It’s just my luck that I got pregnant the only time I ever had sex. I can’t help but laugh a little when I wonder what the odds of that actually are. I must be one of the most unlucky people ever. I miss my mom, she would know what I should do.

I’ve been to the health department since I can’t afford to see a doctor anywhere else. They gave me some prenatal vitamins and a prescription for some pills to help my nausea when it is too much to handle. Thankfully those days are finally behind me even though I still throw up every day. I’m beginning to suspect that it is as much about stress as it is pregnancy. Daily I question my decision to leave Xavier. Time and distance have made me start to wonder if I overreacted. If maybe I should have confronted him. Asked why he carried me to his bed and held me all night, only to leave before morning so that we never saw each other during our days. Before our wedding, I ran into him everywhere, in the cafe, on the casino floor, on the street while I waited for a bus or an Uber. He was literally everywhere-until I became his wife. Then he ghosted me.

I usually work with Francesca, but she wasn’t at work when I arrived. She called in at the beginning of our shift, which is supposed to be a double, and said she had an emergency and won’t be in. Most likely not for the next few days, if not longer. This isn’t the best place to work, but having her here makes it better. She took me under her wing on my first day, and she has never pushed for my story. No one who works here talks about their past. We all just come here and do what we are paid for. Some of us do a lot less than others. Francesca and I being in the minority since we don’t also work at the strip joint across the highway.

Compared to what I have picked up from some of the other women working here, my story is a cakewalk. I’m sure they would all think that I’m foolish for being here willingly. Sometimes, hearing snippets of their stories of abuse and addiction, I feel guilty for running away from Xavier. He didn’t mistreat me. He just fucked me harder than I was ready for, and made me feel things that I didn’t know how to handle. I still don’t think I’m ready for that kind of intensity, but I do feel foolish for running away.

With Francesca gone, it will probably just be me working the morning shift for a while. Mornings are not the most sought after hours for most of the gals who work this particular diner. Most aren't here for the waitressing tips. They are more interested in making contacts so they can turn tricks in the parking lot during their breaks, or before they cross the highway to the rundown strip club.

That's another reason Francesca and I are kind of friends. Neither of us wants anything to do with those activities, and since we usually end up working together, we have developed a sort of safety in numbers mentality. My first day on the job here was eye opening. I had no clue how sheltered I had been by the Cerelli's arranging my employment. I had no idea that places like this even existed outside of movies. Not until the day I walked in, desperate for a job that wouldn’t require me to reveal my identity by filling out paperwork or doing a background check.

I got what I was looking for and a whole lot of knowledge that I didn’t expect when I got the job.

Today has actually been a slow day, which isn’t completely unusual in the middle of the week. Another reason why I volunteer to do doubles sometimes twice the hours means twice the pay even when the tips aren’t that great. When the door opens, and the old bell over it clangs its jarring tune, I'm quick to look up from my stool behind the cash register. It's not someone I have ever seen before. A lot of our customers are regulars. The stranger kind of reminds me of the guy who plays Thor in the movies. I always thought he was pretty hot, but even so, he doesn't hold a candle to Xavier, neither does this man. Much to my everlasting dismay. Why is it that no one but him can cause my hormones to stand at attention?

The blond giant beelines straight toward me, his face a mask of grim seriousness. “Excuse me miss,” He says politely as he holds out his phone, showing me a grainy photograph. “Is there any chance that you know this woman?” He hands it to me and of course, I recognize Francesca immediately.

“Why do you ask?” I know I'm being cagey, and that my question pretty much shows that I do know her, but I'm not about to openly blow her cover if I can help it.

He explains to me that his name is Travis Keller and that he has known Faye, not Francesca since she was a little girl. He has been looking for her for years now. He needs to find her because she witnessed a murder, and there might be some bad people after her. I know all about bad men and the things that they do.

The man, Travis, owns some kind of security and investigations company and gives me his business card as proof. I look it over and tuck it into my pocket. It never hurts to know a private investigator. I remember Francesca… no, Faye... telling me once about her childhood friend Travis. It was the only time that she ever opened up to me at all about anything personal. It was the day that I couldn’t hide my morning sickness anymore and tearfully told her that I was pregnant. The love that shone in her eyes when she said his name is what comes to mind and makes me feel as if it’s ok to tell him the little bit that I know. I don’t think she would mind me telling him about her. Sighing I nod my head and hand back his phone.

“She’s going by the name Francesca Andrews now. I didn’t even suspect that it isn’t her real name. I think she has been working here for about three years. I've only been here for five months. I don't know how she stands it. It’s terrible here.” Once I start talking, I can’t stop myself as I gesture toward the parking lot and the strip club across the way, ”Franc… Faye!” I correct myself. “Is the only one who works here, besides me, who just serves food.”

The words continue to tumble out, “She's my only friend here.” His eyes are gentle and kind as he listens, and asks a few questions that I don’t know the answers to, before thanking me for my time and turning to leave. I hope he finds her. I truly do.

He's about halfway to the door when I call out after him, “Just find her and keep her safe.” He stops mid-stride and turns back toward me as he reaches into his pocket and returns to where I remain perched on my high stool.

“For your time and help,” he says, handing me a folded bill. “My job is keeping people safe, so if you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.” I smile gratefully. It's good to know that there is someone I can call if I need to, other than calling my dad… or Xavier. It’s been a long time since I had anyone I thought I might be able to trust.

“Thank you,” I whisper at his retreating back. He’s in the parking lot before I look at the money crumpled in my hand. He gave me a hundred dollars!!! Smiling to myself, I tuck the cash into the bottom of my apron pocket. I feel good about today for the first time. I don't have to worry about Faye. I have faith that Travis will find her. She deserves a happy ending.

Now I have to figure out how to rescue myself from the mess I made and find mine.

Chapter Six


Five months! Five. Mother. Fucking. Months. Without a fucking word, without a single fucking lead. Before she ran away, not a day in the previous five years had gone by that I hadn’t at least seen her. Even if it was from a distance. The not knowing if she is okay or not is killing me, not that I would let anyone know it. I haven’t even talked to Grayson about it. I've been keeping my feelings locked down tighter than Fort Knox, only letting them out in our bedroom late at night when I finally am in our bed. Alone.

The sheets don't smell of her anymore, and I know it's disgusting and fucked up, but I haven't been able to bring myself to let Margot in to change them. It’s not as if I actually sleep in here anyway. I just keep hoping that the next time I hug her pillow, I will be able to smell her again. I’m pathetic and desperate. If I had known that losing her would destroy me this way, I would have never let her out of my sight for even a minute. Nothing has wrecked me like this since I lost my mother. I don't know how much longer I can take this. Slipping between the cool sheets, I rest my cheek against her pillow and finally succumb to the tears I’ve been holding back since I did the same thing last night.

After exhausting my grief, I roll out of the bed. I need to get some sleep, and the sofa in my office downstairs works fine. Analise never spent anytime there, so it’s the only refuge I have from her presence. Plus, it’s convenient since there is always work to do.

Working allows me to slam the door viciously on my thoughts of Analise, so I get down to it. There's money to be made, and I need to finalize the purchase of the little boutique space adjacent to my building. She will be coming back. I refuse to entertain any other belief. I’m nowhere near finished with my wife. I just have to find her so that she knows it as well as I do. All I need to do is find her, and for once in my life open up, and tell her how I feel about her. Hopefully, she feels the same about me. I’d prefer to think that she does, but if she still doesn’t want me after I spill my guts… well, I don’t actually know if I will be able to accept that outcome. Pushing that probability out of my mind I force myself to focus on the present. I will deal with what I will do if she doesn’t want to come home if it happens.

After finally sleeping, I still wake before the sun comes up and go for a run. When I return, hot and sweaty, but feeling somewhat better I hurry to shower and settle back in at my desk to check my emails. There is one from a Keller and Stone Securities up in Washington, offering their assistance in locating Analise. I have no idea how a security firm up north has any idea that my wife is missing. I may be trying to keep my life and businesses free from the entanglements that come with being part of the Cerelli family, but that would not matter to my father’s enemies. They would not hesitate to take advantage of knowing she is alone and unprotected, so I have kept her disappearance quiet.

The email from Blake Stone, co-owner of the firm, is brief and to the point. They have a client who needs protection from the Cerelli family, and they are willing to make a trade. Their resources applied to my search for Analise, and in return, I guarantee protection for this unknown client. Sounds like a good trade to me, especially since I don’t know of anyone who my family is actively searching for. I may be out of the loop when it comes to how they are making their money, but my uncle Dominic always makes sure that I know if there is someone he is looking for or doesn’t want me to do business with. This should be an easy thing to arrange and no conflict for me to agree to.

Not wanting to appear too eager to make the deal, I spend the remainder of my morning settling my other business. I don’t have any meetings this afternoon, so calling Gray to meet me, I take a late lunch and fill him in on the offer. He knows everything I do about the family business, even though his last name isn’t Cerelli he has always been in the same loop as me. I suspect that’s because he is family, even if I’m not exactly sure how. I have my suspicions though.

After talking to Gray about bringing someone from outside of the family in on this situation, I’m ready to make the call. We agree that fresh eyes that have no association with anyone named Cerelli can’t hurt. Plus, no one would ever expect me to use an outside investigator for anything. We always do our own work. Neither of us can see a negative side to the trade, so I go back to my apartment and dial the number included in the email.

The other end rings only twice before a gruff voice answers, “Keller and Stone Securities. Travis speaking.”

“Mr. Keller,” I begin, “This is Xavier Cerelli. Your partner, Mr. Stone, emailed me about you having an interest in assisting with the search for my wife. Something about your client needing protection from my family?”

I keep my voice even, not wanting to let him know how much I want to make this deal. Gray and I spent part of our work lunch researching Keller and Stone. They haven’t been operating long, but already they have an impeccable reputation and an impressive success rate in locating missing persons. They also only hire combat veterans to staff their security teams, and that is something I can completely get behind. If not for my father demanding my participation in the family businesses when I was younger, I like to believe that I would have joined the ranks of men similar to this one. I know that Grayson would have too, but he stayed because he knew that I had no choice other than to stay. At least he was able to find a calling outside of the family.

“That is correct, Mr. Cerelli,” the calm voice on the other end of the line states. “I would like to arrange a trade, so to speak. My services in helping to locate your wife, and in return, you would take steps to ensure that my Faye would be safe from the Cerelli family. It is my understanding that it was your late father who had an interest in having her located. I want your assurance that the search has been terminated.”

I can’t help the sigh that heaves out of my lungs. Cleaning up another mess that my father made. “Why was my father searching for your woman?” I finally ask. He gives me a brief description of what definitely sounds identical to a family arranged hit on his uncle and the mother of his girlfriend. Then he fills me in on her years in hiding. “She saw nothing, and she has no knowledge of any dealings between my uncle and your father.” He concludes. I hum a vague agreement, “Sounds as if we are in a position to help each other.”

“I believe that we are Mr. Cerelli.” He says. “Call me Xavier, Mr. Cerelli was my father, and he was a total bastard.” I tell him, “I will email over a file about my Analise and the little I have been able to discover since she left. I would need to meet with Faye before I take steps to end any search that my be ongoing.” I don’t really mean it. I plan to start digging to see what I can find out, it’s totally something my father would do, have people looking for a woman, and it sounds like she was just a kid when he started it.

“I think that can be arranged,” Travis says, all business. “I will start looking for Analise as soon as I get the file on her.” I’m already on my laptop, attaching files to a secure email. “Sending it now,” I have to ask, “What makes you think you can find her when my team hasn’t had any luck in 5 months?”

“Keller and Stone has a very good track record when it comes to locating missing persons, Xavier. I’m certain that you did your homework on our company after hearing from Blake, so you should know this.”

He’s right, so I admit, “I have looked into your business. Your reputation is solid, and that’s why I’m willing to work with you.”

“Xavier,” his tone is grave, “I want to level with you on this. Sometimes we locate people who have good reasons to not want to be found.”

This isn’t going anywhere good.

He continues, “When this happens, we often help them relocate in a way that makes them more difficult to find again.”

This surprises me, this makes their success rates even higher than I had thought.

My respect for this man goes up, even though I am not happy about what he is telling me. “That will not be the case in our deal, Travis. If you locate Analise, I will be notified. No matter what she tells you. It is the only way our deal will be agreeable to me.” I can tell from his silence that he wants to argue, but after a long moment, he responds, “I will write up the agreement and get it to both of our lawyers for approval. You will hear from me soon, Xavier.”

We quickly say our goodbyes, and I sit back in my desk chair. For the first time in months, I can breathe. If anyone can find Analise, I have to believe it will be this man. I just hope she doesn’t say anything to him that will make him go back on our agreement. He sounds like he’s an upstanding guy. Not the sort that would consider me raping my wife on our wedding night acceptable in any way… no matter what my feelings for her are. All I can do is hope she comes home and can find it in her heart to forgive me. I will do whatever it takes to earn her forgiveness.

And her love.

Chapter Seven


Working without Franc… FAYE! I correct myself every time I think her name now. Anyway, working without her makes my shift feel so much longer. Even though we don’t touch on in depth subjects, we have spent enough time together that we have a rhythm. I hope that if she comes back, by some chance, we can try to be better friends. Maybe see each other outside of work. Not that her man is going to ever let her step foot back in this place if he found her yesterday. I don’t blame him either. I wish I could shake the dust of it from my feet, and sooner rather than later.

Once again, I consider the ramifications of picking up a phone, calling Xavier, and asking if I’m welcome to come home. I’d even move back in with Vince if that is what he wants. I’m just tired of living this way, poor and friendless. At least in Vegas, I had Vince and Ellie. That’s more than what I have here.

After sharing my tips with the cook and making sure that everything is ready for Rhonda, the gal who just came in late for her shift, I put on my sweater and head toward my little car. There is a big black pickup parked right next to it, and I catch a glimpse of familiar faces locked in a heated kiss. It’s Faye and Travis. I don’t want to interrupt their moment, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t to see me, so I lift my hand and gently rap on the window. I can’t stop my smile at the startled look on Faye’s face.

My smile quickly fades as I can’t help but recall how I felt the same kind of awe and happiness when Xavier kissed me. Before everything got out of hand, and I lost control of my body and mind in his arms. Before something unexpected in me was illuminated.

Faye hurriedly scoots off Travis’ lap and across the bench seat. She opens the door and jumps down to the ground before rounding the front of the truck and meeting me by my car. “Can we talk?” She asks without preamble, and I give Travis a quick smile through the window as I turn to head back inside.

We sit down at a table in the back, and Travis takes a seat at the counter where he can keep all of his attention focused on Faye. Rhonda is doing her best to get his attention. I’m sure that she’s hoping to make a date with him for later. He’s way better looking than the majority of men who find their way in here. I’m impressed when he doesn’t even seem to notice as she leans over to pour his coffee, showing him the tops of her ample boobs showcased by her too-small top. Her lower lip pushes out in a sullen pout as she sashays toward her next victim… err, customer. I chuckle quietly and roll my eyes. “So, he found you?” I ask, motioning to the big man silently stirring cream into his coffee. She nods. “You ok with being found?”

“Oh, yes. I have been waiting four years for him to find me.” Her face brightens with happiness, but it fades quickly. I wait silently for her to say what she needs to.

When she does, it is nothing that I could have ever expected. My past crashing into my present in the most unanticipated way.

“Ana, I have to ask you something, and I need you not to freak out.” She finally begins.

I nod, fingers of unease tracing their frigid fingers down my spine as I wait for her to continue.

”Do you know who the Cerelli family is? From New York?” she asks, her voice just barely more than a whisper.

I feel the color leech from my face, and unconsciously I reach up and wrap my fist around my wedding ring where it hangs on its chain around my neck. “Wh-why?” I stumble over the word, knowing that probably gave me away, but she goes on, pretending that I hadn’t been startled by her question.

“It’s so weird that both of us are from New York and that we both ended up here,” she gestures around us, “In this shitty little place.” I nod, encouraging her to continue. I need to know where all of this is going before I say anything that I can’t take back. After a long pause she goes on, her voice tight.

“My mom was married to a lawyer who worked for the Cerelli family. Turns out that they are a mafia family, and when Brad became a liability to them, he and my mom were murdered,” her breath shudders out. I want to say something. Need to, but she speaks before I can.

“I was sixteen when they died. I saw it all. I don’t know if the man who did it saw me or not, but I took what I could grab, and I ran. Travis’ grandfather had a cabin out here, so I rode a bus, and I’ve been hiding out ever since.” Her story trails off, and silence stretches between us, broken only by the sounds of the low voices of the few diners across the room.

I wait another moment before speaking to gather my thoughts. Of course, I knew that Xavier’s family were mafia. Criminals, but murder…? On second thought, I guess I’m not very surprised when I consider that this would have been the older Cerellis. Xavier, Sr. and his brother Dominic. As far as I know, my Xavier has always stayed clear of illegal activities. That’s what I’ve always heard anyway.

“I’m so sorry,” I murmur, struggling to keep my expression from showing the panic that I’m feeling. “What does all this have to do with me?” I finally ask, needing to know.

Faye’s voice is gentle when she speaks again. “I wish I could say nothing, but there is still a high likelihood that the New York Cerellis want to find me since I’m a material witness to a double murder. Travis has been in touch with Xavier Cerelli, the son of the man who had been looking for me.”

With her words, I swear my heart stops, then resumes racing. Color floods my cheeks at the mention of his name, my body reacting to just the suggestion of him.

“Xavier and Travis have reached an agreement. My guaranteed safety from the Cerelli’s in return for Travis’ assistance in locating his missing wife, Analise.”

The tiny hairs on the back of my neck prickle when she says my name. Does she know who I am? More importantly, Xavier is looking for me! Still?! I was sure I would have been forgotten by now.

“Ana, I’ve seen the file. I know that you are Analise Cerelli,” Faye whispers, answering my unspoken question as she reaches across the table to squeeze my icy cold hand. I can’t stop the tears of relief that start falling and rub my belly in a comforting gesture, even though I know it’s me that is upset and not the baby.

“I knew I was going to have to go back soon. I can’t do this alone anymore.” Crying harder, I put my face in my hands until Faye’s voice gets my attention. I lift my face and meet her eyes as I rub the moisture from my cheeks.

“Ana, let’s go back to Travis’s house so we can talk in private. Would that be ok?” Nodding I get up to head out the door without saying another word. I wait, standing between Travis’ truck and my little car, as Travis opens the door of his pickup. Faye uses the narrow step under the door, and I follow suit. My mind reeling with the knowledge that I’m most likely going home, I settle into the leather seat and close my eyes.

Xavier is looking for me! The corners of my lips turn up in the darkness. I’m going home!

I open my eyes as Travis stops in front of a farm style house outside of town. There are no close neighbors, just a few dim lights in the distance. It occurs to me that Xavier could be inside, waiting for me. The thought excites me as much as it terrifies me.

“He isn’t here is he?” I question, and Faye hurries to assure me that he’s not. Travis opens the passenger door and helps me down before turning back to Faye. He hugs her tightly to him as he lowers her feet to the ground. Happiness radiates off of both of them. I can’t help but feel a little bit jealous.

I wish Xavier and I had that kind of ease between us, it’s as much my fault as his that we don’t, I try to convince myself. Neither of us did anything to bridge the gap that was created on our wedding night… and even that isn’t entirely true. Night after night, he sought me out and held me in his arms, and night after night, I pretended to be asleep. If I had seriously considered what he was doing, maybe I would have realized that was his way of apologizing, and I snubbed him. Every single time. So whose fault is it really?

The awareness that it was me who erected a barrier between us that couldn’t be crossed rocks me to my core. In my fear over how much he made me feel, I destroyed what we might have been. We had fun together after the formality of the wedding ceremony was over. We laughed and flirted and appreciated each other’s company. It was me who ruined that by hiding from him, by not seeking him out and insisting that we talk about what had happened.

Sighing, I follow Faye onto the wraparound porch and inside the cozy house. She goes straight to the kitchen where she gestures for me to sit while she puts on water to heat and takes a box of cookies from the pantry.

Sitting down across from me, she quietly asks me if I will be safe if they take me back, and I reply strongly, my recent revelation bright in my mind.

“Oh yes!” I know Xavier won’t hurt me if I go back. “I didn’t leave Xavier because he was violent or abusive. You don’t have to worry about that.”

“If he wasn’t abusive, Ana, then why did you run away?” Faye asks me, genuine puzzlement on her face.

Travis quietly enters the room and takes a chair near her. I reflect for a few long beats about how I want to answer this difficult question. Realizing that the lack of communication between Xavier and I was my doing has changed everything I had thought before today. It’s not going to be easy to explain, but the first step to fixing this will be to admit that I was wrong. Starting now.

“I had plans for my life to be something other than the property of Xavier Cerelli.” I finally admit, “and I acted without knowing all the facts, or taking the time to ask any questions. I was being stubborn.”

“Are you agreeable to talking to him? To going back?” Travis asks me, his jaw clenched tightly. For some reason, I can tell that my willingness is important to him. If I say no right now, I get the feeling that he would not pressure me to return.

“Do I have a choice?” I ask incredulously. I would think my compliance in this would be required.

Faye interjects, “Of course you do. Travis won’t force you to go back.” The look on his face tells me that he absolutely would drag me back kicking and screaming if that is what was necessary to keep Faye safe. The only thing that is stopping that from being the scenario is that he doesn’t want to piss her off. Fortunately, for all of us, I want to go back.

“I need to go back,” I say, my hand once again drifting the bump of Xavier’s baby growing inside me. Not being able to afford to see a doctor yet has been weighing heavily on my mind. I need to go back and face X so that, if nothing else, I can get the baby the medical care he or she deserves. It’s already been too long. I know that even if he doesn’t want me, he is not the type of man to turn away his unborn child.

“It’s not fair to keep the baby from him and…” and I’m crying. Again. Stupid. I’m getting what I wanted without having to swallow my pride and asking to come home, but I still won’t be getting what I want. Xavier to love me.

“You miss him, don’t you?” Faye asks quietly, standing and hurrying to my side, making me cry even harder. So hard that I drop my head into my arms on the table and sob like a child, “Y-yeah.”

She pulls me up and into a half hug as she leads me into the living room. She helps me settle on the comfortably worn couch and tucks a fuzzy blanket around me. It feels so good to have someone fussing over me, no one has since my mom. It makes me feel… secure.

“Thank you,” I whisper to my friend. She smiles gently as she lowers herself down beside me.

“Rest for a while, Ana. We can talk more later,” she says. Her voice is so full of compassion that I want to explain everything to her.

“I love him.” I finally whisper. It feels good to say the words out loud. I have never told anyone how I feel about him. Saying it makes it, all of it, so much more real. I tiredly sag back into the cushions, exhausted now that everything I’ve been hiding is out in the open.

“I know you do, honey,” she tells me, “and if he doesn’t love you back then, he’s just stupid.”

I can’t help but laugh a little, Xavier is anything but stupid. “Thanks for being my friend Faye,” I say, reaching for her hand. She gives my fingers a little squeeze and doesn’t let go. “Thanks for being mine too, Ana.”

With a sigh I relax, letting my head fall back, feeling the fluttering of the little life growing inside me. I love you, little one. So much. For the first time since I realized that I was pregnant, I don’t feel alone.

Faye and I sit in the dimly lit living room, just enjoying the peaceful moment. The soft clanking of dishes in the kitchen is soon followed by the quiet hum of the dishwasher. Travis’ large frame briefly blocks the light when he stops to check on us before he goes upstairs without a word, leaving us alone.

Faye breaks the silence. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“There isn’t a lot to say. We were married two whole weeks before I left.” I try to blow off the question, but my words are so obviously a monumental lie that I can’t help but laugh at myself.

“How about I don’t even know where to start?” I ask her.

“That sounds more truthful.” She tells me, and I exhale slowly, acknowledging the truth in her statement and taking a second to assemble my thoughts. There is nowhere to start except at the beginning, so I begin there, explaining to her how Xavier has been part of my life since my mom died and I was sent to live with my dad.

She doesn’t know anything about the Cerelli family. She was lucky enough to not have them color every single day of her life like I did. Though I’m not sure that was any better in her case. If fact, if I had to choose, I would take my own life over what happened to her. I know that I’m comparing apples to oranges, as my mom used to say.

I fill her in, as briefly as possible, on the criminal history of Xavier Sr. and Dominic Cerelli. I make sure to be clear that Xavier is NOT, and as far as I know has never been, involved with the criminal activities of his family.

“When X’s dad died, he didn’t want to take over running the business. Vince, my dad, says he thinks he’s too good to get his hands dirty. Instead, he came to Vegas and established himself as a legitimate businessman. I guess he did the same in New York, but his father controlled everything he was involved in. Vince, my dad, says that moving to Vegas was a bad move and that the family isn’t happy about it.” I shrug. I’m just repeating everything that Vince told me. I don’t actually know if any of it is true or not, but it sounds feasible.

“How did you end up in Vegas?” Faye asks, her eyes lit up with curiosity.

“I really don’t know,” I admit. “I came home from work one evening, and Vince told me that Xavier had asked him to relocate to Las Vegas, and he wanted to know if I was staying or going with him. I never knew before then that my dad even worked with Xavier.”

“Maybe Xavier didn’t want to leave you behind, so he asked your dad to come with him,” she suggests.

It’s never made any sense to me why my dad was asked to join Xavier in Vegas. He was never part of the circle that Xavier kept close. Those guys were all much closer to Xavier’s age. They all went to school together. My dad was the odd man in the equation. The thought that I might be the reason never even occurred to me! Is there even a chance of me being the reason?

“Do you think that’s possible?” I ask. I can hear the hope ringing in my voice. How pathetic is that?

Faye just shrugs and asks me a few more questions, finally ending on the one that really counts, the one that I would prefer not to answer. Ever.

“So if he wasn’t your boyfriend, how in the world did you end up married to him?” She sounds confused. I don’t blame her. It is confusing, but also a very logical question. One that I’m disinclined to answer. I know that my answer will paint Xavier in a bad light, and I don’t want to do that. I’m positive that there is more to the story than I’m privy to anyway.

“I think that he might have bought me from my dad,” I whisper, hanging my head in shame.

“He WHAT?” she whisper shouts, her eyes flying toward the stairs where Travis disappeared. “What in the actual fuck do you mean ‘you think he bought you’?!”

I can’t meet her eyes. It is so humiliating to have to admit what I’m pretty sure my dad did.

“Ana,” she presses more gently this time, “what do you mean ‘you think he bought you’?”

I keep my eyes on my lap as I answer, “My dad was always getting himself into trouble gambling. Even before we came to Vegas. I’m sure that Xavier didn’t know he had, has, a problem when he asked him to come out here. The only thing I can think of is that Vince got himself in trouble, and this was Xavier’s way of helping him out. Of helping me out.”

“That doesn’t make sense, though. Why not just give your dad a loan and have him work off his debt?” Her voice is incredulous, I don’t blame her, it is far fetched, but I have tried to look at it from every angle, and I honestly can’t think of any other reason why.

“Then why else would he arrange to marry me that way?” I ask, my words hitching painfully. I don’t know what else to say.

“What happened to make you decide to pull a vanishing act?” Faye asks, making me laugh bitterly.

“Wedding night,” I mumble, looking away.

“What happened on your wedding night?”

“What usually happens on someone’s wedding night?” I snap, irritated with the question. Irritated with the feelings roiling inside me.

“You made love?” she asks with a smirk.

My answering laughter is as brittle as old glass. “I thought we were going to. It started out that way, I thought. Champagne and dancing. Kissing in the limo. We were a real couple.” I stop to consider what to say next. “It was different when we got to the room. He sort of lost control.”

Her face is a mask of sympathy mixed with a hint of indignance, “Did he hurt you?” she clears her throat, maybe a little nervous about how I’m going to answer.

“I don’t know exactly how to answer that…” I begin honestly. “I was a virgin. He was pretty rough with me, but... I think I liked it.” My cheeks flame with embarrassment, waiting for her to freak out at me. When she doesn’t, I whisper, “Does that make me bad?” I’m sure I’m as red as a tomato.

“I don’t think so.” She leans forward and breathes in a low voice, “I’m still a virgin though, so I only know what I’ve read in books. I don’t have any practical knowledge to share.” For some reason, her admission makes me feel better, and I smile.

“All of my experience comes from trashy novels too,” I admit, giggling. Faye is silent for a beat before she slaps her hand over her mouth to stifle her mirth. It makes her snort slightly, and like teenage girls, we fall into silly giggles and raunchy jokes. I feel better about the whole mess already, just being able to talk to someone about it, made all the difference. No, what made the difference was talking to a friend.

The one thing I know is that I’m committed to talking to X about what transpired between us that night as soon as I get home. I don’t want it to be between us. Even if he doesn’t want me that way anymore, I’m just so relieved that he wants me to come back enough that he is still looking for me.

Chapter Eight


Faye and I giggled on the couch that evening until Travis’ friend Blake came over to drive me to get my car and see me home safely. He seemed a little tense, but a nice enough guy. He even stopped at a liquor store and got me a couple of boxes to pack the things I don’t want to leave behind. He is just my friend Ellie’s type, kind and conscientious. It doesn’t hurt that he’s good looking too, not as hot as Xavier though. I will have to tell her about him when I get back to Vegas, especially since he’s making the trip back with us. I will worry about getting my little car home later since Blake offered to have it parked at their office.

Both Travis and Blake reassured me that if I go home and it isn’t working out for any reason, they will be there to help me leave if that is what I want. Travis even offered me a place to stay with him and Faye if I ever need it. I want to tell then that I won’t need that kind of help. I’m determined to make things work with Xavier for the sake of the baby. I know that he won’t kick me out. Not once he knows about the baby. He’s not that kind of man.

It does make me feel better knowing that I have friends and options that I didn’t have a few months ago. If I’d had someone to talk to or a place to go in Vegas, things might not have gotten to the point that I felt leaving was my only option. The best news ever was that Faye said she isn’t letting everyone go to Vegas without her. So, ROAD TRIP! As weird as it sounds, I’m excited to make this trip with my friend, I’ve never had a chance to go on a trip with a friend before.

I told Travis that it wouldn’t take me long to pack up the few things that I want to take with me, but he wanted to give Faye a few days to get accustomed to not having to always be looking over her shoulder before we leave. I was ready to go the next day, and even offered to leave before them, but they insisted that they would escort me back to my husband. Personally. So I’m waiting.

Packing up a couple of the boxes with the things that I have managed to get for the baby, as well as my small bag of clothes, didn’t take me very long. I don't have anything else to bring with me, I didn’t have a lot of money to spend. The apartment was furnished when I moved in, and I never made any attempt to add anything. I’ve always known, in my heart, that this place was going to be temporary. This is not the way I ever envisioned living my life. From the moment I realized that I was pregnant, I knew that I couldn’t let my baby come into the world, not knowing its father. I have just been too afraid to go back and see that Xavier didn’t even care that I was gone. It will be a lot easier, knowing that he did notice.

It’s been almost a week already, and I’m so ready to leave. Blake stopped by earlier to let me know that they would be picking me up around seven in the morning. I want to be up and ready when they get here, so picking up the cheap phone I got at a discount store, I set an alarm before I dial a number that I haven’t called in months.

Morning comes surprisingly fast, and for the first time in months, I was able to sleep through the entire night. My alarm did its job and was quickly followed by my usual mad dash to the bathroom while my stomach protests whatever it’s protesting. Afte