Selfless, sensible Elizabeth has always played it safe. When she visits her cousin in Greece and finds her entangled in a mysterious new romance, it’s only natural that she has concerns. That is, until she meets Luca Costas. The dangerously handsome gangster-turned-playboy becomes obsessed with the English rose, and does everything in his power to keep her by his side. Will this paradise become a prison for Elizabeth? Or will her growing affection for Luca be enough to overcome his violent past?
Age Rating: 18+
Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.
Point of No Return by Jenny Asp is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.
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Selfless, sensible Elizabeth has always played it safe. When she visits her cousin in Greece and finds her entangled in a mysterious new romance, it’s only natural that she has concerns. That is, until she meets Luca Costas. The dangerously handsome gangster-turned-playboy becomes obsessed with the English rose, and does everything in his power to keep her by his side. Will this paradise become a prison for Elizabeth? Or will her growing affection for Luca be enough to overcome his violent past?
Age Rating: 18+
Original Author: Jenny Asp
Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.
As Elizabeth left the airport terminal, the heat struck her immediately. The summer heat of Greece always felt like a slap in the face. It was very different from the milder English summer climate.
Her cousin, Samantha, had moved to Greece two years ago for reasons unbeknownst to Elizabeth.
But Samantha fell in love with the country after a holiday with friends a couple of years ago and decided to move there on the spot.
It was the kind of impulsivity that had always guided Samantha’s life. So even though Elizabeth hadn’t felt overly surprised, even she had thought that this time it was a bit too much.
But all had worked out for her cousin, not that there was ever any question about that for Elizabeth. Things always turned out well for Samantha.
If she hadn’t loved her cousin so much it might have made her jealous or even resentful that things always seemed to work out, no matter how impossible or crazy Samantha’s impulsive decisions seemed.
But instead, she just felt at ease knowing that you really didn’t have to worry about her. It might seem crazy, but everything would be fine.
“I don’t know how you cope with this, Samantha. The heat is suffocating.”
Her cousin looked at her with that exuberant smile that had been her trademark since they were young children.
“I prefer this to the lukewarm summer heat of England, that’s for sure. I spend my days by the pool or the beach in as little clothing as possible. If this were home, I would freeze my ass off.”
“What do you mean you spend your days by the pool or the sea? Don’t you have work to do? You’re still with the cosmetic company, aren’t you?”
There was a short silence as they walked through the car park before Samantha answered.
“No. I’m not with them anymore. Actually, they fired me six weeks ago.”
That shocked Elizabeth. Samantha had loved that job, not to mention been really good at it.
“Why would they fire you? You were one of their best salespeople, weren’t you? I remember six months ago you scored yet another prize for your achievements there.”
“I just couldn’t put in the hours they required. I needed to take some time for myself, and they didn’t like it. After a while, the situation got to be so acrimonious that they decided it was just better to part ways.”
“I’m sorry, Sam, I know you loved that job. Why did you need to take personal time? Have you been feeling ill?”
Even Elizabeth could hear the worry creeping into her own voice. Samantha was never ill and had never to her knowledge needed personal time.
“Don’t worry, Lizzie. It’s nothing serious. The fact is I’ve met someone. I have a boyfriend, and I wanted to spend time with him. It just didn’t gel with my schedule at work.”
Elizabeth was stunned.
“I’m sorry, are you saying you have basically quit a job you love just so you can spend your days with a new boyfriend? And what do you mean it didn’t gel? You work during the day like most people. Are you also telling me that this guy you’ve been seeing doesn’t have a job of his own? How do you expect to support yourself if you don’t work?”
“Will you calm down? You’re bombarding me with questions without even giving me a minute to answer them.”
Elizabeth stopped walking and turned to Samantha.
“I’m worried, Sam.”
Elizabeth saw the flicker in Samantha’s eyes and knew that she’d gotten her.
They had always had that kind of relationship.
Elizabeth was the responsible, serious, and cautious one. The worrier.
Samantha was spontaneous, frivolous, and carefree. The easy-going one.
But there had always been respect on both sides.
And if Samantha ever felt that Elizabeth was truly worried, she would always take it seriously.
After all, they were the only family they had left. Ten years ago, when they had both been seventeen, their parents had decided it was high time for a vacation for just the four of them.
Elizabeth’s parents and her aunt and uncle had felt since the girls were seventeen now, they were responsible enough to handle being left for a week on their own.
They had never gotten their vacation.
The plane had crashed due to a bird strike on the way up, killing everyone on the flight. Leaving two young girls orphaned at the tender age of seventeen.
They had clung to each other and barely spent a day apart until Samantha’s holiday in Greece two years ago.
Their parents’ deaths had changed the girls differently.
Samantha became obsessed with the thought that life could be over at any minute so you had to live every day as if it were your last.
She became fearless and did whatever she wanted whenever she wanted to do it.
Elizabeth’s obsession became helping others that had experienced the same loss as she and Samantha but hadn’t been old enough to live by themselves or make their own decisions.
It was just the two of them now. And they might be different as night and day, but the love and bond they shared was absolute and strong on both sides.
“I knew you would be. This is why I haven’t said anything during our weekly calls. I wanted you to come here so we could talk in person instead. So let’s get in the car. We’ll go to my place and get you settled in with a cool drink, and then we’ll talk about all the important stuff. Okay?”
Elizabeth took a deep breath and decided to just give Samantha what she seemed to need.
The car ride was not silent, but she definitely felt a bit of tension in the air. Samantha had not only given up her work she had also acquired a new car.
They were driving around in what appeared to be a brand-new BMW.
For Elizabeth, this rang some alarm bells. But she had promised to keep her mouth shut until they got to the apartment and could sit down and talk properly.
“How’s your job going?” Samantha asked.
It was the perfect distraction for Elizabeth.
“It’s going. Too much work, too little time.”
“I don’t know how you do it. I hope you’re taking some time for yourself as well, Lizzie. If you allow work to consume all your time, you won’t have any left to actually live your life.”
Elizabeth knew this was true, but she couldn’t help herself.
“I know all this, Sam, but how can you prioritize going out to dinner when you know there’s a five-year-old that has just lost his parents and needs placement? Or how can go to a party when children are sleeping in temporary cots with no family? They’re devastated to have lost the most important people in the world to them, and you could spend that time trying to find a family for them.”
“You can’t save them all, Lizzie.”
“I know I can’t, Sam, but we were lucky. We had each other, not to mention we were old enough to fend for ourselves. You can’t imagine the horror stories I could tell you about the younger children that I’ve worked with. I’m serious; it keeps me up at night.
There’s abuse within foster families, desertion, people changing their minds after the child has already bonded with their potential adoptive families. They have no one to speak for them, and I’m doing my best to be that person for them. I know I don’t always succeed. I know I can’t save them all. But I have to give it all I can. It’s all I know how to do.”
“I know. I just wish you would take more time for yourself. I don’t mean to criticize, but you look pretty frail and tired. And you’ve lost weight you couldn’t really afford to lose.”
Now, this was true. It stung a bit, but it was true nevertheless. Samantha had always had a more full form, with curves she loved to flaunt.
Elizabeth had always been a bit on the slim side. It suited her, but during stressful times when she forgot to eat and take care of herself she did look like a gust of wind could sweep her away.
The height didn’t help. Neither was tall, but her cousin’s two extra inches over Elizabeth’s five-foot-three frame make Elizabeth look extra frail when the pounds were shed, especially next to Sam.
Well, she didn’t live in Greece for a start. The English summer this year hadn’t had that much sun to offer. Even if it had, she would have had no time to enjoy it.
Samantha’s golden blonde hair, which, in all fairness, wasn’t completely natural, and blue eyes could pull off a pale look a lot better than Elizabeth with her auburn hair and dark brown eyes.
“I am well aware of what I look like, Sam. That is one of the reasons that I’ve taken a two-week holiday to come and see you. My boss encouraged me to take a little time off.”
Elizabeth gave a small smile.
“Well, I’m glad to see you. I’ve missed you a lot, Lizzie.”
“You could come home and see me more regularly as well, Sam.”
“Why bother? You don’t have any time for me when I get there.”
“That’s not fair, and you know it.”
“You know that we don’t get any quality time together unless you're here. Last time I came home, you ended up dealing with emergencies every day. And I’m not saying that to make you feel guilty. I know they are emergencies, which you feel you have to handle even on vacation because they are your cases. But when you’re here, there’s nowhere for you to go. We end up spending full days together.”
Elizabeth couldn’t argue that point at all. Vacation time for her while staying at home was useless.
“True. But I’m here now and all yours for fourteen days. It’s going to be lovely to get some peace and quiet.”
Samantha’s full-blown laughter filled up the car.
“Peace and quiet? Sometimes I wonder if you know me at all, Lizzie.”
Arriving at Samantha’s apartment complex felt almost like coming home. Elizabeth loved the little two-bedroom apartment her cousin had found when she moved here.
It was not by the water but close enough to smell the saltwater water in the air; the apartment complex also had a communal pool.
Walking up the familiar stairs felt like a balm for the soul.
She hadn’t realized just how tired she’d been lately and how much she needed a break from the stress and heartache that inevitably came with working with young orphaned children.
The white stucco facade, the blue shutters, the flowers overflowing in pots around the windows was everything she loved about Greece.
She had initially told Samantha there was no need to pay more for having that second bedroom since she knew she rarely had any time to come and visit.
But Samantha had insisted that Elizabeth have her own bedroom so she would always feel like she had a home with her as well. And Elizabeth had the same in England.
They might not live in the same country anymore, but the bond of family was just as strong. And both of them needed to feel like there was a home away from home with the other.
Samantha unlocked the door and told Elizabeth to settle in while she fixed them a drink.
After Elizabeth had unpacked, washed her face, and changed into more comfortable clothing, she joined her cousin out on the balcony to have the talk she had been dreading for the past half an hour.
She took the first sip of her cold drink, savored it, and then, since it didn’t look like Samantha was in a hurry to start off, she did.
“So, tell me what’s been going on, Sam.”
She saw her cousin taking a small breath.
“I met someone.”
The silence ensuing made Elizabeth a bit irritated.
“Yes, Sam. I’ve gathered that. It still doesn’t explain why you would neglect your job to the point that you were fired, just because you met someone.”
“Well, it’s a bit complicated.”
“That’s what I figured since you wanted to wait until we could sit down to explain it. Well, we’re sitting, and I’m waiting.”
“Well, the man I met is called Mateo. He’s a pretty well-known figure here in town. He owns some nightclubs and stuff in Athens.”
“Since he’s busy most nights, his free time is in the day. It made it difficult for me, working days when he was available.”
“I suppose I can understand that, to an extent.”
“And he also doesn’t like me working, since he has enough money to go around for both of us.”
This made Elizabeth take a quick pause before continuing.
“How long have you guys been together?”
“And how far into this relationship did he bring up that he didn’t think you should work?”
“I don’t know, a week or so. But it’s only because he wants to spend time with me, Lizzie. We love each other. I’ve never felt like this before.”
“And this Mateo guy, he feels the same about you?”
There was a slight pause before Samantha continued.
“I think so. I mean he’s never come right out and said it. But, yes, I believe so. He usually changes women like most people change underwear. The fact that we’ve been together for three months is a huge statement to his feelings for me. It’s basically unheard of.”
“So he supports you?”
“Well, yes. He pays the rent and stuff.”
“And he gave you a new car.”
“Yes. He did.”
“Is that car yours? Or is it his and you’re borrowing it?”
“Does that really matter, Lizzie?”
Did it? Elizabeth really didn’t know.
“I suppose not. But I have to say that this sounds really odd. You’ve given up your entire life and independence for a guy that supposedly is such a commitment-phobe that three months into a relationship is considered a declaration of undying love. It makes me a bit uneasy. You’ve always been so independent.”
“I know, but I want to spend my time with him. And I just can’t do that and keep a full-time job. It doesn’t work. So I’ve decided to give this a real chance and take the time to do it. I can always find another job. But I may not find someone I feel like this about again.”
“Well, where is this mystery man? Do I get a chance to meet him?”
“He wanted to give us a bit of space since it’s been so long since we saw each other, but if you’re up for it, we could meet him for dinner tonight?”
“That sounds like a plan.”
She could see that Samantha was really pleased about that. Her eyes lit up, shining with excitement.
“That’s great, Lizzie. I’ll give him a call right now. I think you two are really going to hit it off.”
Elizabeth wished she could share Sam’s enthusiasm. But it was way too early for that.
Luca was anything but amused. He was so tired of people trying to tie their name to his family in the hopes of getting some respect and status. Respect, by the way, they hadn’t earned.
He was especially tired of people using his name.
Every low-life criminal was trying to make a name for themself by insinuating some sort of connection to the Costas, and particularly to Luca Costa.
It put him in the position of having to discourage them from doing it again. That in itself was beginning to feel like a full-time job, and he had a lot of other things he needed to deal with.
Granted he usually didn’t have to do much. It would most likely be enough that he just show his face and look the person in the eye.
Unless they were complete fools, they would immediately know that he knew what they’d been saying. And to stop it before he made them stop.
He had worked on and perfected the look in his eyes that made men quiver in their boots for over twenty years. He had it down to a T.
But he had just come home from a business meeting, and all he wanted was a cold drink and some time at the pool. Not to deal with idiots.
As he pulled up to the estate, he nodded to the security guards, who quickly opened the gates. He and his father had built a fortress, and it was protected by armed guards at every exit.
They may have managed to go almost completely legit, but they still needed the security to make sure nobody entered their domain.
The memory of the attack on his family just twenty years ago had left open and festering wounds in both him and his father. They would take any precautions they needed to secure their family.
What was left of it.
As he pulled into the parking area and got out of the car, he was immediately met by his right-hand man and second-in-command, Nikos.
“Do you have everything I asked for?”
Nikos handed him a USB drive.
“This is everything we have on Mateo. Background, current deals, personal life, everything. Including the restaurant he’s going to be visiting today at eight.”
“Thanks. I’ll have a look at this. Be ready to leave by seven. It will take us an hour to get there. And the car needs gas.”
He handed Nikos the car keys.
“There’s something else I would like for you to look into for me.”
“What is it?”
He hesitated, and he could see this intrigued Nikos.
“I need you to find someone for me.”
“And who am I looking for?”
Luca thought back to the girl he’d just seen at the airport a short hour ago. He’d been walking through the terminal, home from an overseas trip when he’d seen her.
He didn’t know what it was about the girl that kept him looking. She was beautiful, yes, but there was something else there as well.
He felt drawn to her in a way he’d never felt before. Like something was keeping him from walking away, and he’d never had a problem walking away from anyone.
So he’d kept following her, and when she disappeared from his sight into the crowd toward the car park, he tried to follow, but there were too many people outside.
He could actually feel the disappointment in his gut. He wanted her. It was the first time he’d ever felt the acute feeling of wanting someone. It completely threw him.
“A girl from the airport. She was wearing jeans and a white shirt, auburn hair in a ponytail, maybe a bit shorter than average height, and big brown eyes.”
What else could he say? He didn’t have much to go on.
“Okay. That might be hard. There are a lot of people coming through the airport, Luca, and a lot of them would fit that description.”
“I know. But this girl was with another girl, wearing a short yellow sundress, blonde. And they were by the entrance of parking area C around one thirty. That should at least give you something tangible to go on. Get the footage from the airport’s security cameras and try and get me some information.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Entering his father’s office, Luca saw the love and pride in his eyes when he looked up. The way he had always looked at him.
“Did everything go all right?”
“It did. We will keep the contracts for the build. And all new developments that they decide to build for the next five years.”
“Good job, my son. I hope you didn’t have to strong-arm them.”
“Not at all. I just gave them a friendly reminder about loyalty to the ones that help you get started. I got my point across without any unpleasantness.”
“Good. There is something else I wanted to discuss with you.”
“What is it?”
“We have a ceremony for the hospital in two weeks. The new children’s wing is being unveiled. We have to put in an appearance, and I would prefer that we do it together.”
“Jesus. Why do I have to go? Every time I show my face at one of these press circuses the tabloids follow me around for weeks trying to get the scoop on the most eligible bachelor.”
“What’s the problem with that? You have nothing to hide.”
“Old man, don’t play games with me. We may have managed in the past five years to get most of our dealings in the clear, but I have more skeletons in my closet than half the population combined.”
Luca went over to the drink cabinet and poured himself a drink.
“I wear a gun, and before you say anything, I’m not going to leave it at home because not all of our dealings are white as snow. The past will always hang over us. I’ll never be able to toss it. Not to mention, there is always a reference to my dark and dangerous looks, and it’s always combined with rumors of my supposed crimes. More than half of which is true, though no one could ever prove it.”
“The more good deeds we do, the more people will start talking about that instead. It’s good publicity, and who knows? You might even find someone to your liking in the hordes of women trying to get your attention.”
“That’s the kind of wife you would saddle me with? Some attention-seeking crazy woman that thinks it would be cool and dangerous to hook up with a killer man with killer looks?”
“You’re not a killer, son.”
“Then what am I?”
“You’re a protector.”
Luca didn’t have a reply to that. He was a killer, but he had killed to protect. Did that make the deed less of a crime? Less of a sin? He didn’t know.
Was the money they were shelling over to all kinds of local and national charities making a dent in the balance toward the crimes and the life they had led up until five years ago?
He didn’t know that either.
All he knew was that he didn’t like the notoriety he had gained by them building their family up to one of the wealthiest and, yes, most feared in Greece. He didn’t like it at all.
But what was the point in bitching about your life? It was the only one you got.
Luca turned to leave.
“Don’t count on me for dinner tonight; I have some business I have to take care of in the city.”
His father immediately perked up his ears.
“What kind of business?”
“Just some low-life thug making a nuisance of himself.”
“What kind of nuisance?”
“I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I have yet to go over his file, but he seems to be dropping my name in conversation to some drug business.”
“We’ve never dealt with drugs. That’s a deplorable thing to work with.”
“But very profitable. Let’s just say I’m going the extra mile to shut this down, considering the subject matter.”
“What kind of fool would ever utter your name in the same sentence as drugs?”
“A big one.”
“I always am.”
Luca went up to his room, and the first thing he did was sit down to review the file his men had put together on this Mateo.
When he was satisfied that this really was just some low-level club manager trying to make a name for himself in some unsavory circles, he took a shower and then lounged around listening to some music for half an hour before he dressed in his typical black and headed out the door.
Nikos was waiting for him downstairs.
“I’m ready, boss.”
“Then let’s go.”
Dressing for dinner, Elizabeth was feeling very sluggish. Who was she kidding? She was exhausted.
If she hadn’t been so curious to meet this man, Mateo, who her cousin had fallen head over heels in love with, she would have crawled into bed and pulled the covers over her head.
She chose a black dress that was sleeveless and tight all the way down to her midriff, where it flowed out down to her knees.
It accentuated her slim waist, but she wasn’t worried about the weight she’d lost.
Two weeks here would put the pounds back on. If there was any kind of food that she loved, it was Greek food.
Last time she’d spent two weeks here she’d gone home ten pounds heavier, so it might not be so bad that she was starting at a bit of a lower weight this time around.
She left her long hair down for the evening and decided to do a minimal amount of makeup.
She had to use foundation to get the bags under her eyes to disappear, but besides that, mascara, rouge, and some lip-gloss were enough.
It made her feel a bit better getting some makeup on. She looked nice, less worn out. She made her way into the living room, where Samantha was waiting for her.
Her cousin had gone all out. Her blonde hair was curled and styled, a bit too big for Elizabeth’s tastes, but she knew Sam liked it.
The dress was a short, golden, and dress and fit like a glove. With all of her curves on display, Samantha almost looked indecent with the big gold jewelry and red lips to match her smoky eyes.
Elizabeth couldn’t help but utter, “Are we going to a cabaret show?”
Samantha just laughed, as Elizabeth knew she would.
“Come on, Lizzie. I know it’s a lot, but Mateo likes it. We all want to please our men, don’t we?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Sam; I’ve never had that inclination.”
“You never had to. You married the first man you ever dated, and Michael worshipped the ground you walked on. You didn’t have to do anything but show up to please him.”
Elizabeth couldn’t help the smile forming on her lips. She and Michael had met about a year after their parents’ accident.
She had seen him across the room at a party, their eyes had met, and that was it for her.
She knew that he was the man for her that instant, and she hadn’t been wrong. He had been both her rock and her comfort. She had loved him completely.
“True. What can I say? It was love at first sight.”
She took a few seconds just to remember his face.
“He was special, wasn’t he?”
Sam looked at her with the fondness she’d felt for Michael still lingering in her eyes.
“He was Lizzie, the best there was. But he’s gone, has been for over three years. You haven’t been on one single date since then. Don’t you think it might be time for you to get back into the saddle?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m ready, or even want to be. My work keeps me really busy. And besides, I’m only twenty-seven. There’s no rush.”
Samantha came up to her and air-pecked her cheek, not wanting to cover her in bright red lipstick.
“I know, Lizzie. I’m just joking. You’ll find the right one again. And until then, we’re just going to have to revel in the fact that I’ve found mine.”
Elizabeth didn’t say anything to that statement; she wanted to meet this Mateo before jumping on the happy train that Samantha was on.
“Let’s go eat and meet this mystery man, shall we?”
Walking into the restaurant was a bit nerve-racking. She hadn’t a clue what to expect. But the restaurant itself was beautiful.
The décor was made up of crème-colored wall and floors, the tables were set with white linen, with nice candle lights everywhere.
The accents were in beautiful gold, which, to Elizabeth’s amusement, actually matched Samantha’s dress.
They were received by a man that seemed to immediately know who they were and told them to follow him. They were led into a private room that outshone even the main dining area in the restaurant.
The ambiance was breathtaking. And by the table was a man that Elizabeth assumed was Mateo.
She was proven right when she saw Samantha rushing up to him, giving him a kiss and hug. And all Elizabeth could think was that the man was not what she had expected.
Samantha had always in the past gone for very tall, dark men, but perhaps more importantly very attractive ones.
And even though this guy was by no means ugly, she would feel it a stretch to call him handsome. He looked a bit ordinary; he was fair and not very tall, maybe an inch or so above Samantha.
Her cousin interrupted her thoughts.
“Elizabeth, this is Mateo. And, Mateo, this is my cousin, Elizabeth.”
He looked at her with playful eyes and a personality that screamed confidence.
“Nice to meet you, Elizabeth. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Well, that’s nice; you see I haven’t heard anything about you until today.”
She followed that statement with a small smile.
“I have to say I am very curious about the man that seems to have swept my cousin off her feet.”
“Then it’s good we’ll have some time to get to know each other. Let’s sit down and order some wine, shall we?”
The wine was delivered, and menus were placed on the table. Mateo shooed the waiter away, which Elizabeth didn’t like one bit; it was rude. She decided to start asking some questions.
“So how did you guys meet?”
Her usually bubbly and open cousin just sort of sat there, letting Mateo take the lead on everything. It didn’t help Elizabeth feel better about the relationship.
“This beauty came into one of my clubs one day, and that was about it. Our eyes met. I could tell she wanted me to notice her, and I did. We’ve been together ever since.”
His arrogance was astounding.
“What do you mean she wanted you to notice her?”
Samantha popped into the conversation.
“He just means that I had dressed in a way I knew he liked. I had seen him around a few times and asked about him, and that night I went with the intention of being noticed by him. That’s all, Lizzie.”
“Ah, so you were on the hunt, and Mateo was your prey.”
Samantha’s small smile showed her that was precisely what had happened.
What it was about this man Samantha found so irresistible was still a mystery to Elizabeth.
They sipped on their wine and made small talk until, all of a sudden, the door to the room opened again.
In walked a man that Elizabeth had thought Mateo would look like if her cousin had stayed true to her usual type.
He was dressed in all black, was really tall, and had black or dark brown hair styled to perfection. His dark brown eyes looked dangerous.
Her eyes met with his, with an intensity that brought shivers down her spine.
Elizabeth was very good at reading people and situations, something that her profession had taught her. She dealt with a lot of people who were not what she’d imagined them to be.
She didn’t always get it right, but she could have sworn that the minute this man walked into the room, the atmosphere in the room went from fairly pleasant to dangerously frozen.
She tore her eyes away from the man and looked over to Mateo and Samantha. Her cousin had a look of astonishment, excitement, and awe.
But what really caught her eye and made her cold to the core was the way Mateo looked.
Completely frozen with a look of dread, resignation, and fear.
“Good evening, everyone,” the man said.
Sam found her pipes and with an excited squeak said, “Good evening.”
Mateo was silent and seemed to be frozen in his spot.
The man looked at Mateo.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me, Mateo?”
That seemed to spur him into action because he stood up with the speed of light to make the introductions.
“This is my…”
He seemed to be struggling with how to introduce Sam, which Elizabeth found incredibly odd. And the mystery man did as well.
“Companion, Samantha, and her cousin, Elizabeth. Girls, this is Mr. Costa.”
The man looked at Mateo with icy eyes.
“No need to be so formal is there, Mateo? We seem to be old friends, after all. Luca is fine.”
This, if anything, made Mateo go even paler.
There was no doubt in Elizabeth’s eye that these two were not friends.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Luca,” Samantha said with the exuberance of Christmas morning.
Her cousin, it seemed, had not picked up on the atmosphere at all. She seemed utterly oblivious to the tension and looked upon this Luca guy as though he were a god.
“Will you join us for dinner?” she added.
He paused and looked over at Elizabeth again.
“Why not? I haven’t eaten yet.”
He sat down next to Elizabeth and said, “Did you order yet?”
Mateo piped up.
“I placed an order before the women arrived. It should be coming any minute.”
“Good. Pour me a glass of wine, will you, old friend?”
Mateo almost made his chair topple over with the speed in which he complied. If Elizabeth hadn’t felt so ill at ease with the whole situation, she probably would have found it all pretty comical.
But she wouldn’t let this Luca intruder stop her in what she came here to do. And that was to get to know Mateo and see if he was even remotely good enough for Samantha.
So she tried to just block this man out and continued her subtle interrogation.
Luca had done what he came to do, which was making it clear to this little weasel that he had heard his name being tossed around. And he didn’t like it.
He’d done that within the first few minutes.
What kept him there and why he was sitting at this bastard’s table and now eating his food had all to do with Elizabeth. Or Lizzie, as her cousin kept calling her.
The mystery woman from the airport. It had hit him the minute he walked through the door, and she turned and looked at him. It had to be fate.
What were the odds of her being here tonight? He finally saw her up close. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. And he had definitely seen his share of beautiful things in life.
The long brown hair framed an oval face with the most beautiful dove-like brown eyes. With her high cheekbones and a full mouth, she was absolute perfection.
He realized immediately she didn’t have a clue who he was. This was incredibly rare, but even more interesting was she didn’t really seem that interested to find out.
She seemed more intent on giving this Mateo guy a full inquisition as to his intentions when it came to her cousin, Samantha, or Sam, as Elizabeth called her.
Being ignored he found was not something he particularly liked, probably because he never had a chance to get used to it. It had never happened to him before.
In the earlier days, his mom and little sister and his dad as well, to be fair, had showered him with attention. He was their darling boy and beloved older brother.
After the attack on his family, which had left him short of not just a mother but a much-beloved sister, the guns were picked up by him as well.
And everybody paid attention to a man holding a gun.
And for the past five years, with the business brought to cleaner areas, his reputation, who he was, and what he and his dad had done to reach those levels preceded him.
So when he walked into a room, people listened.
Women also always came easy. Even the ones that were scared found it intriguing enough to seek out his interest.
He was used to the looks this Samantha girl was giving him, not what he was getting from Elizabeth. She had barely spared him a glance, and he was looking for it, intently.
All of a sudden she looked his way and met his eyes.
“Will you stop staring at me please? It’s making me uncomfortable.”
With that, she turned her head back and kept on talking and eating.
He didn’t know whether to laugh or pull her out of the chair and show her exactly who was in charge. In the end, he did none of those things.
Instead, he went back to eating and listening to the conversation. And it turned out, Mateo had enough of questions directed at him.
“What is it that you do, Elizabeth? Samantha tells me you work with children?”
“Yes, I’m a social worker.”
“That must be a gratifying line of work.”
She took a short pause.
“Yes, I suppose it is. It’s also tiring, frustrating, heartbreaking, and overwhelming. But I do like it. Trying to make a difference. I’m sure Samantha has told you a bit about our background, losing our parents. I’m trying to help as many children in that same situation as I can. Not everyone has someone to depend on like we did.”
Luca piped up for the first time.
“What happened to your parents?”
Elizabeth turned and looked at him.
“They died in a plane crash ten years ago. Luckily we were both seventeen at the time and petitioned the courts for emancipation in order not to be placed in different foster homes. We could stay together and take care of ourselves. But many young children are left completely on their own.”
He was just about to say something when Samantha chimed in.
“Michael told her several times not to pursue this line of work. She’s too sensitive for it.”
She looked at Elizabeth.
“Didn’t he say that several times, Lizzie? You get so personally attached to the children and situations because of your own background.”
Samantha then looked at Luca.
“But she refused to listen.”
Elizabeth had a small smile on her lips when she replied.
“Yes, he did. And, yes, I refused to listen. It was something I felt I had to do. But in retrospect, he was probably right, in a way.”
Luca didn’t know who the hell this Michael character was.
He looked at Elizabeth.
“Who is Michael?”
She opened her mouth to speak, but Samantha cut through.
“It’s Lizzie’s husband.”
Luca felt like someone had punched him in the gut. There was no fucking way this girl was taken. She couldn’t be. He refused to believe it.
Without even knowing he was doing it, his right hand took hold of Elizabeth’s left arm. He must have done it a bit harder than he realized because she made a sound as he pulled it close to him.
He needed to see if she was, in fact, wearing wedding rings that he had missed.
“What on earth are you doing? Let go of my arm. You’re hurting me.”
He looked at her hand and then met her look dead-on.
“You’re not wearing any rings.”
Even he could hear the relief in his voice.
She pulled her arm back from his grip.
“That’s because my husband died three years ago. I took them off.”
He couldn’t have had more welcome news.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
He could feel the anger radiating from her.
“Yeah, you look it.”
She stood up quickly and looked at her cousin.
“I am very tired, Sam. I’d like to leave now. “
Luca stood up as well.
“I will escort you home.”
She didn’t even bother to look at him while replying.
“You most certainly will not.”
“Mateo, it was very nice to meet you. I hope that we’ll meet again during my time here, preferably in more relaxed surroundings without an audience.”
The little witch just interrupted and talked over him. It was like he had ceased to exist.
“I’ll wait for you outside, Sam, so you can say good night.”
With that, she turned her heels, walked to the door, and left without saying a word to him.
He looked Mateo dead in the eye.
“Have I made my point in coming here?”
The man just looked at him, fear radiating from his every pore at being yet again the focus of his interest, and nodded vigorously.
“Speak,” he said in a quiet sharp tone.
That was enough for Luca.
“Good. Make it a long goodbye.”
With that, he left to go after Elizabeth.
Nikos was waiting for him as soon as he exited the room. Luca barely spared him a glance.
“Move the car to the front.”
“The chances of you being photographed are pretty high in the front.”
“I don’t care.”
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Elizabeth was done with the evening. She’d had enough. She was tired, irritated, and all she wanted was to lie down and go to sleep.
She felt as though this evening had been some sort of a farce performance. Like the ones you saw in the theater.
Mateo was either a very good actor or he genuinely felt some warmth for Samantha. She wouldn’t say he would categorize her as the one. Not yet anyway.
Her cousin was more into him than he was into her. But that could grow. And the talk about Michael actually put some things into perspective for her.
She shouldn’t judge.
When she’d announced at the tender age of eighteen that she was getting married after dating a man for just shy of nine months, her first boyfriend nonetheless, Sam had been as supportive as anyone could be.
It wasn’t her job to criticize but to be supportive. She had lost track of that somewhere along the line. So that was what she was going to do from now on. Support.
And if the shit hit the fan, be there to help pick up the pieces.
She heard the door to the restaurant open and turned, expecting Samantha to walk out; instead, to her utter disappointment, it was Mr. Sensitive.
He really was drop-dead gorgeous. He oozed power and masculinity. But the man had manners better suited to a barn.
She didn’t want to hear anything more this man had to say. He had a way of saying her name and talking to her as though they were old friends. Like they’d known each other for years.
She didn’t like it. The man was a complete stranger, and she wanted him to go away. Now.
“What’s it going to take to get rid of you?”
He stopped dead in his tracks.
Elizabeth could tell he heard her, but his baffled tone with a hint of amusement in it told her he wasn’t used to hearing a question like that. Well, she wasn’t amused.
“I asked, what is it going to take to get rid of you? It’s not a hard question. I think I made it very clear I didn’t want to talk to you anymore.”
“Why are you so angry?”
This man must be delusional.
“I’m not mad at you. I don’t get mad at perfect strangers. But let’s just say you’re not my cup of tea.”
Did she really have to explain this to him? Were they at the same dinner?
“Well, let’s see. You crash a perfectly lovely dinner party, for some reason dropping the atmosphere down to below freezing with just your mere presence, which tells me you and Mateo are not friends at all. So why on earth you decided to stay is beyond me.
Then you forcefully grab my arm to inspect my hand to see if I’m wearing any wedding rings. That hurt by the way. And then, when you find out my husband passed away, you don’t just show relief but glee and joy. What kind of a sick and twisted person does that?”
“One that’s interested.”
He completely bypassed the Mateo issue, and Elizabeth noticed that.
“Interested in what?”
He now gave her a look like she was the crazy one.
This just capped off the night for her. This man was too much.
“You don’t know me.”
“I intend to.”
“Well, I’m not interested in you. So there you have it.”
“You’re not my type.”
“You don’t go for tall, dark, and handsome?”
Was this guy for real?
“Are you trying to wind me up?”
His small smile told her that was precisely what he was trying to do.
He came closer to her. With the help of the heels, her head at least reached up to his chin. And she kept her eye on his throat, not wanting to meet his gaze.
He kept silent and seemed to be looking at something in the distance before his left hand came up and cupped her chin, pulling her face up to look at him.
And the minute her eyes met his, he swooped down and kissed her.
Elizabeth was so shocked she didn’t do anything to stop him; it took her a few seconds to get her wits about her, at which point she pushed at his chest to get him off of her.
He was a lot stronger than her, so she didn’t delude herself that he stopped the kiss because she pushed him away.
As soon as his lips left hers and she could see that self-satisfied smile on his face, her hand automatically, as if it had a life of its own, connected with his cheek.
He went from looking shocked to angry in a few seconds. And then, almost as if he had gleaned something from her face, he seemed to calm down. He took a deep breath.
“Your cousin’s here.”
She looked over at a shocked Samantha, standing there looking like a codfish, and before she could deliver a blistering set-down to Luca, he said, “I’ll see you around.”
And he jumped into a waiting Range Rover she hadn’t even spotted before.
Seriously she just wanted this night to be over.
Unfortunately for her, Samantha didn’t feel the same way. They spent the car ride home first discussing the meeting with Mateo.
But after that, Samantha seemed way more interested in talking about Luca than keeping quiet.
Elizabeth’s head felt as though it was about to explode.
“Sam, can we please stop talking about this? I liked Mateo; you seem really well suited. I’m going to jump on the happy train with you. Can that just end tonight’s discussion? I have a headache.”
“Lizzie, he kissed you. And I don’t know if you noticed, but the man was staring at you all night like he wished you’d been the main course instead of the actual food. Even Mateo mentioned it.”
“Then why don’t you talk to Mateo about it? Because I feel done with this conversation. I’m never going to meet the man again. And I would prefer to leave it there if you don’t mind.”
“You really have no idea who that man is, do you?”
“No. Nor do I particularly care. It was obvious that they weren’t friends though. How you didn’t feel the tension in the air as soon as he walked in I don’t know.”
“Come on, Lizzie.”
“No, I’m serious. ‘Please join us for dinner,’” Elizabeth said, trying to sound like Samantha.
“Don’t mind my boyfriend here, who seems to be paralyzed with fear. Join us, why don’t you? Even when he grabbed my arm as if he had the right to, you didn’t say anything. How about ‘don’t maul my cousin, asshole’? That would have worked for me.”
“I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I was stunned when I saw him walk in. I didn’t realize that Mateo knew him. And I did notice the tension, but only after I’d invited him. And it frightened me, so I just tried to keep everything pleasant.”
Maybe she was too hard on her cousin. She really shouldn’t take her bad mood out on her.
“It’s okay. It was a difficult situation for everyone.”
“You shouldn’t have hit him, Lizzie.”
“He kissed me out of nowhere after I had repeatedly asked him to leave me alone. What would you have me do? Ask him politely not to do it again? I haven’t kissed anyone since Michael. He caught me off guard. I just reacted.”
“Maybe you should go home.”
Elizabeth couldn’t believe she was hearing this.
“What do you mean go home? I just got here today. We’ve been looking forward to having time together. Why the hell would I leave just after a day? Because some idiot was making a nuisance out of himself?”
Samantha’s silence did nothing for her nerves. And then she said in a serious tone, “He is not a man to be trifled with.”
“I don’t expect I’ll be doing anything with him. As I’ve already said, I don’t intend to see him again.”
“You might not have a choice.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? Of course, I have a choice. I feel like I’ve just entered the twilight zone.”
“And I suppose in a way you have. This is not England, Lizzie; this is Greece. And in Greece, that man is a law unto himself. He and his father own one of the biggest construction companies in the country. As well as other businesses. They are part of the elite in this country. The wealthiest and…”
“And? Don’t stop there, and what?”
“The most feared.”
“The way they reached the top. I think they’ve managed to turn most of it around. But they are rumored to still deal in guns. Luca is known as the killer man with the killer looks.”
“Are you saying you just invited a murderer to sit down to dinner?”
“Well, nothing has ever been proven. But the way the stories go, they were pretty small potatoes at one point. Minor illegal stuff, gambling, debt, and protection money. Until Luca’s father expanded to weapons.
He entered territories that had already been claimed. As a warning, they attacked their house in an ambush late at night. Luca’s mother and sister died on the scene. I think Luca was thirteen at the time.”
Elizabeth sat there stunned.
“He then spent the next two years avenging his mother and sister. Shooting anyone he could track down that was in any way associated with the murder. When that was done, they had earned themselves such a reputation that no one dared stand in their way.
They gained territory after territory until they had basically taken over the country’s underworld. They never left any loose ends, which is why the police were never able to prosecute them for any of the crimes, even though they knew who had committed them.”
“Jesus Christ, Sam.”
“They have gone quite legit if rumors are to be believed. They are in the papers all the time, normal stuff. They are almost like celebrities. Rarely anything these days that would connect them to anything illegal. They donate a lot to charity and not just big charities, but they do a lot for communities here and have found the love of the people in that.”
“Well, that’s good,” Elizabeth said.
“But make no mistake about it, Lizzie. They are dangerous. They must be. Mateo is one of the most confident and bravest people I’ve ever met. And don’t think for a minute that I didn’t eventually realize how scared he was. His unease made me feel scared.”
“Please let’s stop talking about this now, Sam. It’s making me sweat. I’ve just slapped a killer in the face.”
“Just promise me that if he approaches you again you’ll run a mile away. Or we get you on the first plane out of here. I’ve never heard of him pursuing anyone. They usually just fall at his feet.”
“Why the hell would anyone fall at the feet of someone with that reputation?”
“Lizzie, come on. You saw the man. He looks like he stepped out of the front page of GQ. Add that to an unlimited supply of money, being quite unattainable, and a reputation that would make grown men quake in their boots. There is a lot of attraction that comes with a dangerous package like that.”
After three days of Elizabeth being in Greece, things were back to normal. Both Elizabeth and Samantha had seemed to make a silent oath not to discuss the events that had taken place two days earlier.
And it had worked like magic for the mood. They were laughing and having fun in the same carefree way that they always had.
It was actually very nice not having Sam working at all. Not that she usually worked a lot when Lizzie managed to come over for a visit.
But there were still things that she needed to do, visitor or no visitor.
But the days spent together were some of the best times Elizabeth had had in a long time. She loved Samantha; she really did.
That third evening they were going to go and see Mateo at one of his clubs downtown. She hadn’t seen him but for about five minutes since that first evening.
She had to say she was grateful he was staying back, letting them have their alone time.
Considering he didn’t want Sam working so they could spend time together, Elizabeth was happily surprised they’d been able to be alone. Though she noticed that Sam was missing him.
As they were getting dressed for the evening, there was a knock on the door, and a deliveryman dropped off two parcels. One had Samantha’s name on it, one Elizabeth’s.
“What’s this you think?” Sam said while ripping hers open.
Watching Samantha open a present seriously always made Elizabeth think of a three-year-old at Christmas. The sheer joy and exuberance she felt and showed at getting a gift was cute.
She’d been like that ever since they were small. If you ever managed to get on her bad side, showing up with a present to say you were sorry was a surefire way of being forgiven instantly.
“Oh my God, Lizzie. Look, it’s a dress from Mateo.”
What she pulled out was a short, really short, metallic dress covered in sequins that shimmered in silver and blue.
It was the sort of outrageous thing that Sam would have picked out for herself. Elizabeth had to admit that he knew Sam’s style.
But did he know hers?
She stared at her package with trepidation. No matter what was in the box, she would have to wear it. Otherwise, Samantha would be disappointed, and Mateo would probably think her very rude.
“Come on, Lizzie, open yours.”
She started opening the box, apparently too slowly for Samantha, who jumped in and started ripping. At first glance, she thought, okay, this isn’t so bad.
It was black also with sequins. The man seemed to really love sequins for some reason. But her heart stopped when Samantha pulled out the whole dress and lifted it up.
Or should she say whole dress? Half of it seemed to have been left behind at the store. It was strapless and so short she didn’t even know if it was possible to wear it and not show her underwear.
They started to get ready, and as Samantha was playing her looks up to match the dress, Elizabeth was doing everything she could not to.
She kept her makeup to a minimum with her standard mascara, blush, and lip-gloss.
She didn’t style her hair in a particular way but left it down. It had some volume to it. And it framed her face gently and didn’t look like she was trying too hard.
There was no getting around wearing heels, so she wore the only black ones she had brought with her, a pretty classic black wedge.
By the time they were finished, Samantha looked like a ‘70s goddess with big hair, and the dress, high heels, and makeup, which all matched in silver and blue.
And Elizabeth, well, she looked like a call girl. A very high-end, slightly innocent one, but a call girl nevertheless.
“You look great, Lizzie,” Samantha said, picking up her purse.
“Sam, I look like a prostitute, and quite an innocent one at that. Do you think Mateo would be upset if I decided to wear something else?”
Even Elizabeth could hear the slightly pleading tone in her voice.
“Come on, don’t be silly. You look great. The dress matches your young face. You don’t always have to dress so conservatively, Lizzie. Sometimes it’s nice to spice things up and make a change.”
Elizabeth just swallowed her reply and decided it was only one night. She could do it. It was a nice gesture on Mateo’s part.
He’d definitely gotten the style wrong, but this was perhaps the fashion here right now.
The girls weren’t driving on their own that evening since there was going to be partying and drinking a bit. Better safe than sorry, so instead they took a cab to the nightclub.
When they got there, it was slightly after 11 p.m.. The club was bopping, and it seemed fairly crowded for a relatively early hour.
Mateo met them at the front of the club to escort them in. He gave Samantha a steamy kiss and a peck on both cheeks for Elizabeth.
“You both look spectacular.”
Elizabeth wanted to crawl under a rock; everyone was staring at them.
She didn’t know if it was because Mateo was escorting them in or if it was the way they looked, but she could feel her cheeks getting a bit warm.
“Thank you very much for the dress, Mateo. It was completely unnecessary but very thoughtful of you.”
He looked at her with appreciative eyes, which she didn’t like at all.
“It was my pleasure, really. Now, come on, girls. Let’s get you guys a drink.”
Luca saw her immediately upon entering the club. He’d been forced to deal with some business for the past two days, or he would have gone to her earlier.
But when he pulled up at home and called Nikos to see where she was, he immediately turned the car around and decided to head there directly.
Nikos had sounded a bit funny on the phone, which he usually didn’t . And Luca was now seeing close up what had made his voice sound a bit strangled.
What the fuck was she wearing? Or rather had she forgotten to dress herself at all?
She looked phenomenal; it wasn’t that. But the dress, combined with that innocent, beautiful face, gave the whole package a more sinful feel than if she would have dolled herself up in makeup.
Luca had never had any inclination to tell any of the women that hung on his arm what they should or should not wear. But seeing everyone drooling over Elizabeth made his blood boil.
How he stopped himself from running over and forcefully removing her from the crowd of admirers he would never know.
As he started making his way over to her, he noticed that she was saying something to her cousin and then started making her way to the exit at the back.
He also picked up on the fact that a guy, who seemed to be in his twenties and slightly out of it, clocked her and then started following her.
The club was incredibly crowded; it was almost 1:30. He was only about one minute behind them, and he could already hear Elizabeth’s voice loudly by the time he opened the back door.
The man had her arm in an iron grip, trying to lead her away from the lit alleyway.
“Let go of me, you creep. What the hell is the matter with you?”
She was pulling and pulling on that arm, and the man refused to let go.
“Is there a problem here?”
His tone was pure steel.
Both of them stopped to look over to where he stood. One was hoping for a helping hand, and one probably wondered who the intruder was.
They answered at the same time.
Elizabeth recognized him. The alley was lit pretty poorly, but she knew his voice.
“Yes, there is,” she repeated.
He walked closer to them.
“Man, just walk away and mind your own business.”
Luca kept on walking until he was about two feet away, at which point he looked at the man. He looked high on something, which didn’t surprise Luca.
He had learned that Mateo had ventured into the distribution of drugs. That he would be so fucking stupid as to allow it within the walls of his own clubs was beyond foolish.
One raid and they would shut him down.
“What did you say?”
“You heard me.”
“Let go of her arm.”
“I just told you—”
“I said let go of her arm. I won’t ask again.”
When the son of a bitch wouldn’t listen the second time, Luca decided to take matters into his own hands. He walked the two remaining feet and grabbed onto the man’s arm, forcing him to let Elizabeth’s arm go.
Then he knocked him out with one good punch.
Hearing the thud after he dropped to the ground was satisfying, but if he’d been alone with the man, he would have done a lot more damage.
The man should count himself lucky.
The quiet words of thanks brought Luca’s gaze back to Elizabeth.
“What the hell are you wearing?”
This immediately made her stiffen.
“A dress, similar I might add, to all the other girls in there.”
“You’re not like the other girls in there.”
“Excuse me? I’m no different than them.”
“So you’re telling me that, in your normal habitat, I would find you in half a dress partying at a night club at one thirty in the morning on a Thursday?”
That silenced her.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
Luca honestly didn’t know. His immediate thought after seeing her across the room less than ten minutes ago had been one of sinful debauchery.
Looking at her now, in that dress, her face pale and beautiful, she just looked vulnerable.
Which made some of the anger he felt at her and the situation go away.
“You can’t just decide to go out dressed like that, and then think it’s a good idea to go strolling down empty alleyways on your own late at night.”
“I needed to make a phone call and get some air. And this was the closest exit. I didn’t know I was walking out into an alley. And as I was turning around to go back in, that man pushed me back out and started grabbing me.”
She pointed to the man lying on the pavement.
“And for your information, I didn’t decide to dress this way. The dress was a present; I didn’t have much choice but to wear it.”
That caught his attention.
“Who did you let buy you clothes?”
Elizabeth just sighed.
“You have a very funny way of asking questions. I didn’t let anybody buy me clothes. It was a present that I knew nothing about. Now I’m tired, and I just want to go home. Thank you very much for your assistance with the creep.”
“I’ll take you home.”
“Again, no thank you. I’m here with my cousin. I’ll go home with her.”
“Don’t argue with me, Elizabeth. I said I’ll take you, so that’s what I’ll do. If your cousin wants to come, that’s fine too.”
“Don’t argue with me. I don’t want to go with you. Can you please just respect that and let me go my own way?”
He thought that over for a second.
“What do you mean no?”
“I mean just what I say. No. I will not let you go your own way. Now walk back through those doors and find your cousin. Tell her you’re going home, with or without her. And meet me at the front in ten minutes.”
She turned to leave.
She turned her head and gave a tired, “What?”
“Don’t make me come find you.”
Elizabeth went back into the club and immediately spotted Samantha. She was hard to miss. The music was playing so loudly she was starting to feel like her whole body was throbbing to the beat.
Her cousin turned to her with a smile.
“Are you having fun?”
“It’s been really fun, but I have to go. I have a phone call I have to make and a bit of work that needs to be done.”
“It’s one thirty in the morning.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, but it’s Bobby. He’s gotten himself into a bit of trouble, and Eve called me because he’s been mine from the start. I just need to take care of this, okay?”
“I’ll come with you then.”
“Is there any other backdoor other than the alleyway to get out and get a cab?”
“Why can’t we just use the front?”
“Well, I ran into Luca again. Let’s just say he lent me some small assistance with a man making a nuisance out of himself, and now he’s insisting on giving me a ride home.”
“Shit. I told you if you saw him again to run in the other direction.”
“There was nowhere to run, Sam. Now, is there another way out, or am I stuck having to ride with him? I really don’t want him to know where you live.”
“Trust me. If you saw him here, he came because you were here. It wasn’t a random meeting. And if he knew you were here, then that means he already knows where I live.”
Elizabeth felt her insides go cold.
“Are you saying you think he’s having me followed?”
“Yes. I think there’s a big chance of that.”
“This is turning into the most stressful vacation of my life. I have to go and take care of this. What shall I do?”
“We go together. I’m not letting you drive away with that man on your own.”
“You’ve changed your tune since the first meeting.”
“Lizzie, it was cool seeing him that first time at the restaurant. It was like seeing some god-like creature you’ve seen in papers and heard whispers about but have never actually seen in real life.”
She took a small pause before continuing a little quieter.
“It’s less exciting and fun when that hits closer to home. He’s interested in you. And I don’t know what he’ll do when he realizes you’re not ready to play ball.”
“He said ten minutes. That time is almost up. And he did tell me not to make him come find me.”
“Jesus. You go out but don’t leave without me. I have to tell Mateo we’re going.”
“Okay. Are you sure we shouldn’t try and make a run for it?”
“Lizzie, I really don’t think that this is a man you want to anger unnecessarily.”
Elizabeth walked out of the club and immediately saw Luca.
He was hard to miss. Not to mention people were standing around trying to pretend like they hadn’t noticed him, failing miserably as they stared at him like a zoo animal.
He came up and grabbed her hand and started walking her to the waiting car.
“Wait, my cousin is coming. She just had to tell Mateo we were going.”
“You can wait in the car for her.”
“Can you let go of my hand?”
From somewhere, she saw a flash go off. Was someone taking a picture of them walking hand in hand? She didn’t want her picture taken with Luca.
“Let go of my hand,” she said more forcefully, and pulled at it.
He didn’t even respond.
He opened the passenger front seat door. Then he let go of her hand and gently put both of his hands on her hips and lifted her up into the seat.
“I can get into a car on my own.”
He looked at her with intense eyes.
“Not without showing everyone what kind of underwear you’re wearing.”
And then he shut the door.
Her phone was ringing again.
“Eve. I’m going to be home in less than twenty minutes. Can I call you back then?”
“I’m really sorry, Elizabeth. But I can’t wait for twenty minutes. The police are here.”
Luca had gotten into the car and was now turning on the ignition.
She put her hand over the speaker and quietly said, “We need to wait for Sam.”
“She will ride with Nikos.”
Elizabeth was losing her mind.
“I don’t know who this Nikos is, and I want to go together with my cousin.”
He was already pulling out, and she heard Eve shouting through the phone.
“Can nothing go right, just for once?” she said, frustrated.
Luca was beginning to say something, but she ignored him and went back to Eve. She was done listening to his short-worded sentences tonight.
She needed to focus on what was important, and that, right this minute, was not Luca. It was Bobby.
“I’m sorry, Eve. You’ve caught me at a bad moment.”
She could hear relief and regret in Eve’s voice.
“I’m sorry I’m interrupting your vacation. But I don’t know what you want me to do.”
“What happened? Is Bobby all right?”
“He had an altercation with his foster dad.”
“What sort of an altercation?”
“I don’t know. Bobby is not speaking to me.”
“Well, what did Brian say?”
“The foster dad, Eve. Brian is Bobby’s foster dad.”
“I’m sorry, it’s late, and it’s been a bit chaotic here since I showed up. I haven’t had a chance to really review the file yet.”
“No. I’m sorry. You’re covering for me, and I’m grateful.”
“What Brian said to me was that Bobby attacked him out of nowhere. There was nothing leading up to it. He threw a plate at him and then punched him in the face. No serious damage, but the police were called. And Brian and his wife want Bobby out of the house. They want to press charges so the police will take him into custody.”
“I don’t know why he pulls this shit. I told him I would sort everything out when I got back.”
“Did you know about a problem?”
“It’s not really a problem. Bobby’s been with them for a year. He wanted to get relocated. And I told him I would sort it. But it’s not like I have an unlimited amount of foster parents. I needed time to figure out a different kind of placement. It turns out Bobby wasn’t willing to wait any longer.”
“Why would he want to leave if there aren’t any problems?”
“He doesn’t want to get attached. He’s just scared. But he’s fifteen now. He can’t behave any way he wants. The system isn’t going to treat him as a kid much longer, even though that’s what he is.”
“I didn’t see any notes on adoption. And from what I can gather, you’ve handled his case since he came into the system six years ago. Is there any reason for it?”
“His mother is alive. He’s not an orphan. She’s an addict. That’s why he was put in care when he was eight. He’d been neglected. She refused to waive her parental rights. Foster homes were all we could offer. But Bobby knows that foster homes are temporary places, so he doesn’t want to get too attached. It’s a case of I’m leaving you before you can abandon me. Is there anywhere you can take him?”
“Yes. But unless we can persuade Brian not to press charges, the police will take him, Elizabeth.”
“Just take Brian aside and convince him that filing a police report will damage Bobby’s future tremendously. Assure him that we will remove Bobby from the house this evening and just appeal to him. He’s a good man; he’ll listen.”
“Okay, I’ll do what I can.”
“And I’m staying up, looking at some alternatives. Just text me as soon as you’re done, so I’ll know what’s going on. Okay?”
“Will do. Have a good night.”
She was lost in thought for a moment after that call, just remembering all the difficult times with Bobby. He’d been her first case, and it was still ongoing.
She had become way too personally invested in this child. She loved him. It wasn’t good for objectivity’s sake.
“Everything all right?”
Elizabeth had forgotten during that call whose car she was sitting in.
“Did it sound like everything was all right?”
“So why do you ask?”
She wasn’t looking at him, but she heard the intake of breath, so she knew she had annoyed him.
Way to go, Elizabeth. Why not cap the evening off by pissing off the tall, sinfully handsome stranger who, for all intents and purposes, would have no problem driving you out into the woods to kill you?
The thought sobered her a bit, but she still couldn’t let this continue. It was best to address it straight on. She wasn’t a coward, and uncertainty didn’t sit well with her. It never had.
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on here. But whatever it is, I don’t like it.”
Not a very forthcoming answer. She should be careful, but direct.
“I would prefer not to see you again.”
“Any particular reason?”
He seemed calm, so maybe this was going well.
He took a small pause before replying, still sounding calm though.
“Would you like to voice a few of them?”
That might be entering some shaky ground.
Okay, that sounded a little less calm. And the goal was to not piss him off. She stiffened a bit, and she believed he noticed.
“I’m not looking for any holiday-romance type of thing.”
Great, that sounded really thought through.
“Neither am I.”
Elizabeth felt so relieved by that answer she let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.
“Good. We agree. That’s great.”
She turned her head to look out at the scenery. You see, she thought to herself, clear communication is always the best way to go.
She would have been speculating and worrying for her entire trip if she hadn’t taken the bull by the horns and addressed things with him.
She looked over at him and said, “What?”
He said in a patient tone, “You said you have several reasons you didn’t want to see me again. So far you’ve only voiced one. I’m asking you, what else?”
“Well, I don’t really think much else needs to be said. We both agree we don’t want any sort of holiday fling. So there would be no reason for us to see each other again. I don’t see any good coming from me sitting here and naming all the things I don’t like about you just for the sheer hell of it.”
The silence dragged on a bit, and it wasn’t a very comfortable one.
“You haven’t spent enough time with me to have a long list of things you don’t like about me. Did someone say something to you?”
“Not at all,” she quickly replied.
This was not the way this conversation was going to go.
“One thing you should know about me, Elizabeth, is that lying to me is about the worst thing you can do. There is nothing I despise more. Do you hear me?
She kept quiet. Seemed like the safest thing to do.
“Now I’ll ask you again. Did someone say something about me?”
She stayed quiet, and she could tell she was going to fail spectacularly in her goal of trying not to piss him off.
Now he sounded angry.
“I asked you a question.”
“Then why are you not answering me?”
“Because I am trying very hard not to piss you off, and you told me not to lie.”
“So tell the truth.”
“I’d rather not.”
There was no way she was going to tell him Sam had filled her in on all the stuff she knew or had heard about him. Who knew how he would take that?
She finally saw Sam’s apartment complex come into view and could have kissed the ground. She was so relieved at finally being able to get out of this car.
“Thank you for the ride.”
As soon as the car stopped, she tried to open the door, only to discover it was locked.
“Can you open the door, please? It’s locked.”
“I know it’s locked. I was the one who locked it.”
“Well, can you unlock it?”
“In a minute.”
He didn’t say anything else, and when she looked over at him, he was just sitting there gazing out the window.
“Are we seriously just going to sit here waiting for a full minute before you unlock the door?”
She wouldn’t put it past him. She didn’t know him. Maybe he had a severe case of OCD on top of everything else she’d heard.
Then, suddenly, he turned his head, and his eyes collided with hers, his look intense and serious.
“I want you.”
“I said I want you.”
“I thought we both agreed we weren’t interested in a fling?”
“I had something more permanent in mind.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Are you out of your mind?”
The man was a lunatic. The goal of not pissing him off went to the back of her mind and to the forefront. The only thing she thought of now was getting out of the car.
“I’m not moving to Greece. Now unlock the door.”
“Is this some kind of a joke? You’re winding me up, aren’t you?”
It was seriously the only thing that she could think of that made sense.
The man didn’t know her, had met her twice, and now thought it would be a good idea for her to move to Greece for something permanent? It had to be a joke.
“I’m not joking, Lizzie. I’m dead serious.”
And she could tell he was. It made genuine panic crawl up her spine.
“First off, don’t call me Lizzie. Only family and close friends call me by that name, and you are neither. Secondly, if you think that statement is reassuring, you need to have your head examined. It is absolutely bat-shit crazy. And thirdly, unlock this door before I have a full-on panic attack. You are off your rocker, and I refuse to sit in a car with a mentally unstable killer.”
The atmosphere in the car went down to about zero degrees. She should not have said that.
Luca wasn’t surprised. Disappointed, perhaps, simply because it would have been easier to go into this with Elizabeth without her knowing anything about his background.
It was the first time he’d encountered a problem with a woman because of his past.
It usually worked the opposite way. Danger, or what people perceived as dangerous, had an allure to it.
But it was clear that Elizabeth didn’t feel the same way. It was also clear that he was going way too fast for her.
He should have waited more than seventy-two hours before telling the woman he’d become completely obsessed and enraptured with that he thought it a good idea for her to move to a different country.
Especially when said woman didn’t even seem particularly keen on even spending five minutes in his company.
But he wasn’t built that way. If he wanted something, he took it, or someone else would have it. And what joy would be derived from that?
Her mind was already poisoned against him. He knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that her cousin had filled her head with all sorts of stories.
Some were probably true, and some were fabricated. But the damage had been done. So what to do now…
He looked over to where she sat, looking utterly terrified. And that wasn’t how he wanted her.
So he would take this opportunity to show her that, no matter what she threw at him, he would never hurt her. It would probably take time for her to understand this, but they had time, lots of it.
She might not know it yet, but she was going nowhere.
“Nikos just pulled up behind us with your cousin.”
“Okay. Does that mean I can get out now?”
He pressed the button to unlock her door, and when she turned the handle, he said, “Elizabeth.”
She didn’t even turn to look at him. He was messing this up really badly.
“I’m not a psycho.”
“Luca, I met you three days ago. We’ve only had two encounters together, and they were fairly brief. If you take away everything you’ve said in the car this evening that gave me a lot of huge red signals, there is still something that bothers me more than the rest.”
“And what’s that?”
“You didn’t ask me for an address.”
That threw him. He wasn’t expecting that.
“You drove me home and never once asked me where we were going.”
“I think you mentioned it last time I saw you at the restaurant.”
He knew she hadn’t.
This time she actually looked back at him.
“I see that the no-lying policy and speaking the truth only goes one way with you.”
And with that, she jumped out and closed the door.
Luca waited until he saw that both girls were safely in the apartment before he pulled out.
He dialed Nikos’ number, and Nikos picked up on the second signal.
“Go back to the club and tell this Mateo guy that if he ever brings Elizabeth to that drug-infested shithole again, I’ll have his head on a silver platter.”
“Will do, boss.”
“And since the guy is also too fucking stupid to think for himself, tell him that getting into drugs is a bad idea in itself, but to allow it to be used within his own establishments is just bad fucking business. There was a picture taken of me outside his place.
Make sure that he understands that if there is a drug bust in his clubs within the next couple of months, and my name gets dragged into it because I’ve visited that club recently, I will be holding him personally responsible.”
“I’m heading home. Continue to keep someone on her.”
All Luca wanted now was a shower and a bed. In that order.
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