Jimmy Vaccaro, known to his Demons on Wheels MC Brothers as Vassago, believed in the Thunderbolt—the Colpo di fulmine—as much as any Sicilian man did. But when it hit him, he was as fucking shocked as if the sky suddenly turned orange and collapsed on itself.
“Jimmy? Is that really you?” Marie Vitale had been an eleven-year-old kid when he left Brooklyn. He hadn’t laid eyes on her in nineteen years, not since he was twenty-three. But there she stood, next to Digger, all grown up and so fucking drop-dead gorgeous he struggled to speak.
“Yep. It’s me.” That’s all you can say? You’re a fucking idiot.
“You look the same. I swear to God you do. All these years and you haven’t aged.”
Digger snorted. “Yeah, he has. He looks like shit now.”
“Ignore him, Jimmy. He’s been in a bad mood since we left Jersey.”
“I’m known as Vassago around here.” Jesus Christ. What the fuck did she care about his fucking road name?
Her amused smile lit up the entire back hallway. “I’m still gonna call you Jimmy.”
Digger mumbled something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like fottuto idiota. Behind Marie and Digger, Gorgon and Phenex exchanged an amused glance.
Marie shot Digger a nasty look. “Your cousin once removed has been that rude to me this entire trip.”
Digger, whose real name was Daniel Basile, was Donny Messina’s nephew, and Vassago and Donny were first cousins. Did that make Digger his cousin once removed? No fucking clue and who cares. There was no blood in Vassago’s brain right now, so for all he knew, it made Digger his grandfather.
“She insisted on coming with me,” said Digger. “Dragged that fucking shopping bag all the way here. The whole fucking car smells like garlic. I’ll never get the stink out.”
“You’re weird. There’s nothing bad about the smell of garlic.” Marie held the bag out toward Vassago. “The bread is a day old, but I wrapped it up well, so if you heat it up with some olive oil, it should taste fine. The cannoli is fresh, too, and there’s two jars of sauce in here. Took me all day to make it.”
“Thanks.” Vassago took the bag. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“You don’t come to someone’s house without a gift. Mama says to tell you hello. She misses you. Still talks about you all the time.”
Several members of Marie’s family worked for Donny, and during the five years Vassago had lived in Brooklyn, he’d spent as much time with the Vitale family as he had with his own.
He cut his gaze to her left hand, which was bare. “I heard you were engaged.” If anyone sounded like a fucking idiot right now, it was him. He’d apparently lost the ability to form a coherent sentence, or to filter his comments. Because as soon as he said it, her beautiful face took on an expression of pain, and eyes as dark as obsidian filled with regret. If he could have kicked his own ass, he would have done so.
“Not anymore. It didn’t work out too well.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s for the best,” said Digger. “Her entire family hated him.”
He couldn’t pretend he wasn’t thrilled to fucking pieces that she was unattached, but also wondered what had happened. He wouldn’t ask, though. Let her bring it up. And it was time to shift the focus of this conversation.
“Thanks for coming,” said Vassago, shaking Digger’s hand.
“Something like this, too important not to.” Digger was here at Vassago’s request. They had decided to take matters into their own hands where Roberto di Stefano was concerned, because putting out a hit on Donny was the last fucking straw.
But Digger had not told him he’d be bringing Marie along.
“Are you going to shake my hand, too?” she asked. “Or do I get a hug?”
God. Those happy, flashing eyes and that smoky voice! She’d already been a looker at eleven, but he’d never expected to see her again, let alone under these circumstances. It would be impossible to think of her as merely a pretty, pre-teen ever again.
“You get a hug.” He winked. “You’re practically family, after all.” But not a blood relative, which meant he could not only hug her, but do other things with her. Intimate things.
And it was fucking wonderful to embrace her. His dick jumped as he inhaled the scent of garlic and whatever perfume she was wearing. She had a ripe, full body with curves that he visualized while he held her close. The hug went on far too long, judging by the snickers, but he was the one who released it first, not her.
“We need a fucking hose in here,” said Phenex, not quite softly enough. They all heard him.
Vassago ignored the comment, but glanced at his Brothers. “This is Marie Vitale. Mine and Donny’s families are close friends with her family.”
“Nice to meet you both.” She stuck out her hand, which each man shook. “But do I really have to call you those silly names?”
“Yes,” they said together.
“Everyone here calls us by our road names,” said Vassago. “Gorgon is our MC President, and Phenex is our Road Captain.”
“What are they? The names? What do they mean?”
“They’re demon names,” said Digger. “I told you this on the way here, remember? Their motorcycle club is called the Demons on Wheels. But you were too busy doing your fucking nails and playing on your phone to listen.”
She laughed. “You’re such a crabby person. Don’t ever take a long trip with him.”
“I have,” said Vassago. “Plenty of times.”
Digger gave her a look of incredulity. “Yeah, and guys don’t need to jabber on non-stop when they drive. They can fucking sit there and just shut up!”
Marie seemed unaffected by Digger’s assessment of her as a cross-country passenger. “So, this place is where you live, and it has the strip club in it, too?”
“Yes. Would you like a tour?”
Again, Gorgon and Phenex snickered, only this time it was much louder. Marie smiled up at Vassago. “I’d love a tour.”
“We’ll show Digger where his room is,” said Gorgon.
Marie turned around to face Gorgon and Phenex. “Oh, could you take my bags up to mine, too?”
The looks they both shot Vassago were so comical he almost laughed. “I’ll take her bags up later.” Phenex wouldn’t give him shit for it, but he’d hear about this from Gorgon later. The woman had never been here before. How in the hell was she supposed to know the way things worked?
“Did I ask something inappropriate?” Her concern was genuine. Staying here would be a rude awakening for her. Vassago vowed to ease that transition in any way he could.
“Don’t worry about it. Come on. I’ll show you the club.” He put the bag with the food in the kitchen and then led her down the hallway and into the club, which was not yet open. No one was in there right now, but in a couple of hours, the dancers would be rehearsing, Jinn would be doing sound checks, and Meghan would be setting up the bar for the night. Vassago flipped on the lights.
“Wow…” She walked to the center of the room and twirled in slow circles, her mouth slightly open. Vassago pictured shoving his cock into that mouth, while he admired her curves once more. This was no eleven-year-old girl. This was a grown woman, and he had to have her. No matter what.
“Oh my God, look at that stage.” She literally ran up the stairs.
“Be careful. It’s slippery up there.” Vassago followed her because he didn’t want her getting hurt.
“It’s so high up.” The stage towered over the bar, and had been built that elevated on purpose. The customers could see the dancers from nearly every spot on the club floor, but they’d have to go through at least two of the MC members to get on the stage. A few had tried over the years, but all had failed.
She grabbed one of the three poles and tried to twirl around it, but ended up sliding to the floor while laughing. “Guess I won’t be changing careers anytime soon.”
“It’s a lot harder than it looks.” He held out his hand, and she took it. Tiny jolts of electricity shot up his arm, straight to his heart. Jesus Christ.
Marie stood but didn’t release his hand. “How do they fly around these things?"
“I don’t know. They look so graceful up here.”
It was awkward staring into her eyes. He knew her, yet he didn’t. Not like this, at any rate. And if she’d been able read his thoughts right now, she’d probably slap his face and insist Digger drive her straight back home. For the first time in his adult life, Vassago was tongue-tied in front of a woman, and he didn’t know how to process that.
She let go of his hand and walked around the stage. “Do they get dizzy up here?”
“I hope not.”
“How many dancers do you have?” She began circling the perimeter, walking slowly.
“And how many dance each night?” Once she finished, she began another loop, closer to the center this time.
“Four to six, depending on the night. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest, so we usually have six.”
One more circle, this time around the three poles. “And do they dance in a group or alone?”
“Each dancer gets her time alone.”
“Do they make a lot of money?”
“Some of them make a great deal of money. We pay them a base salary, and any tips they get while they dance are theirs to keep.”
“Wow.” She stopped in front of him. “Maybe I should change careers after all?”
“Maybe.” It was so fucking hard having her this close but not knowing what to say. What the hell was wrong with him? Was this how Tannin had felt when he’d first met Rai? No wonder the guy’s brain had turned into mush that night.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I came along.”
“Yeah, I am.” You fucking asshole! “That came out wrong. I’m happy to see you.”
“You sure? ‘Cause you look a bit unsettled.”
Fuck. Vassago took a step back. “Marie, I haven’t seen you since you were a kid. But now … Christ. Look at you.” Finally, his brain was working again. His gaze traveled up and down her body. “You’re fucking beautiful.”
“God, to hear you say that now. I had such a crush on you. Did you know that?”
“No. And even if I had, like I said, you were just a kid.”
“Yeah. You always were a gentleman.”
“No, I wasn’t. You know what I did for Donny while I was there.”
“I know, but it’s not like you’re the only person I know who did that, or still does.”
“Look, it doesn’t matter why you’re here. I’m just glad you are.”
“That’s really flattering, Jimmy.”
“Problem is, I’m not sure I can let you go back.”
She let out a sound of disgust. “Don’t speak too soon. You might send me back today once you hear why I came.”
A nasty shiver ran down his spine, and words failed him once again.
“I’m in a bit of trouble.”