An excerpt from Faultline (c) 2021
The nightclub looked like regret in the making. Lexi would have called it more speakeasy than disco, which made sense since the Masseretti family had used it during Prohibition to run illegal alcohol. She had researched the history of the building that morning in lieu of unpacking, and Giovanni’s apple hadn’t fallen far from his grandfather’s tree. He now used the same spot to run escorts, drugs, and God only knew what else. Lexi approached the long line and walked up to the bouncer at the door. The giant looked her over as she stumbled through her declaration. “I have a job interview at six with Freddy.”
The bald man with a larger-than-needed gun tucked beneath his tight jacket laughed in her face. “Go home, sweetheart. You don’t belong here.”
Was that it? She looked around at the bodies pressed together outside, waiting for their chance to drink and dance the last night of the weekend away. Even in the short dress that she had bought specifically for the interview and the white, leather knee boots that, contrary to her reservations, had to be some of the most comfortable things she’d ever owned, Lexi didn’t fit in. She didn’t even own enough makeup or hairspray to compete, and she definitely wasn’t edgy enough.
Her soft voice and please help me eyes weren’t going to do the job, and she gave herself an internal pep talk, as she often had when she felt like she was on the verge of failure. Lexi straightened her back and reflected annoyance in her voice as she repeated herself, this time louder and after taking a step into his personal space. “Six o’clock. Freddy. Job interview. Did I stutter?”
The man raised his eyebrows, amused, and looked at her again before grinning. He said something into his headset mic before he stepped back and opened the door to the entrance. Lexi exhaled into the flashing lights and the chaos of music and conversation. There were scantily dressed women on poles, men and women grinding together on floor panels that lit up, and tables overflowing with men who, if she had access to the database, Lexi was sure would be recognizable from mug shots.
The large bar was a hotbed of activity, and she squeezed through people to get there, clutching the envelope she held against her stomach. It didn’t help with the nausea her nerves had gifted her, but she refused to back down. She wasn’t going to fall apart until she took the Masseretti family with her. The bartender asked what she wanted, and she had to scream over the noise. “I’ve got an appointment with Freddy at six. I’m interviewing for a job.”
She heard him before she saw him and knew that Giovanni Masseretti was talking to her when she looked to her side where the man had materialized into a vacated space. He had spent most of his time in Sicily, moving to New York City ten years before and continuing to travel worldwide for his business dealings, and his suave accent reflected his life. “I can save you some time, bambina. This isn’t the place for you.”
He was dressed in a black suit with a crisp white shirt that was open at the top to reveal dark hair on his chest and the edge of a tattoo that she couldn’t make out. The suit alone had probably cost a month of Lexi’s salary. His tousled hair was cut short, and he had a nearly invisible scar under his right eye. Another tattoo, this one the tail of a snake that trailed up his hidden arm, was visible on the hand that took the bartender’s glass of proffered whiskey.
Combating the fire that his voice coursed through her body, she narrowed her eyes when she looked at him. He watched her with a smirk that told her he believed the world revolved around him, and the attitude she had forced at the door slipped out unabated. “It seems like the men around here all have hearing problems. I said I’m meeting Freddy at six. Unless you’re Freddy and it’s six o’clock, why don’t you run along and play messenger?”
Giovanni bit his inner cheek to avoid laughing at her and casually slipped his free hand into his pocket as he balanced against the bar. “Oh, bambina, this is definitely not the place for you.” His gaze darkened, and he leaned close enough to her that she could smell spice and charcoal. “Because that mouth of yours would be broken before you even had a chance to take the floor.” He yelled to the bartender before he moved back from the bar and started to walk away from her, reaching out from his pocket to use his thumb to swipe across her lower lip. “Ciao, bella.”
“Interview’s over,” the bartender said, sliding a flute of prosecco to her. “On the house, courtesy of Mr. Masseretti. And then,” he tipped his head toward the door, “you should go.”
Fuck, she thought, leaving the glass and turning to find Giovanni’s tall frame disappearing from the crowd through a wide door. She tried to force herself between the mass of dancers, but people were everywhere and she wasn’t used to walking in the heeled boots that she had only bought that morning. When she finally reached the back hallway, there was no one there and she eyed the doors that lined the corridor before walking toward a marked exit at the end. Hearing noise from behind one of the rooms, her trembling hand reached for the knob and it turned easily.
The sight stilled her, and she couldn’t hide the embarrassment that choked her anymore than she could look away from the heat in his eyes as Giovanni watched her. He leaned against a large desk while a woman in a dress that was so short Lexi could see her thong sliding up her ass knelt in front of him. Her head bobbed as he tangled his hand in her hair. “See something you’d enjoy, bambina?”
She had seen countless situations in her head, but this wasn’t one of them. She wanted to wipe that look off his face and shove his bambina bullshit down his throat. At the same time, the fact that he was standing there so calm and collected while Lexi thought she might implode had her thinking that Sam had been right; she wasn’t cut out for this. Failure, however, wasn’t an option. It never had been. “I have a job interview,” she said between clenched teeth.
“Unless this is the type of job you are looking for, then I’m not sure there’s much here for you.” He was talking to her as though he were sitting behind a desk pushing paperwork back and forth instead of pushing a woman’s head against his crotch. “But, by all means, come over and show me what else that mouth is capable of.”
She could feel her cheeks pink when he pulled the woman back and told her to go. He continued to lean against his desk, his piercing black eyes never breaking Lexi’s gaze. She refused to look away, both because she was determined to call him on his bullshit and because she feared catching sight of his cock. “Something you would learn working for me is that I don’t like to wait and don’t take kindly to my orders not being followed.”
That fucking attitude. He was absolutely terrifying in his quiet authority and that smartass, I rule the world persona that made Lexi’s heart race. This was it. Make or break. Her heels clanked across the wooden floor as she slowly walked forward, and she stopped when their bodies were almost touching in order to bridge the gap by leaning in. “Let me say it for you in a language you might understand. Appuntamento. Sei in punto,” she purred into his ear as she pushed the envelope containing her resume against his chest harshly. “Smettila di prendermi per il culo.”
Telling him to stop fucking with her may have been the straw that broke his sense of humor. When Lexi tried to pull away, the gangster wrapped his hand in her hair, which she had painstakingly pulled up into a loose bun that was far more work than he made it worth. “Bambina,” he growled, the envelope falling to the floor between them. “It’s me that you shouldn’t fuck with. I don’t think you understand the way that I play, and I doubt you have any idea of the rules.”
The sexual tension radiated off of him like a hot stove, but what was infinitely worse was that Lexi felt something- and it wasn’t fear. This was not the way this scene played out. This was not the moment that her mind decided to wake up. Her hands were against his chest, and she thought she might fall in the shoes that she had specifically chosen to give her more height. Yanking her hair pulled her body against his in tandem. “Get your hands off of me,” she whispered when he drew his mouth close to her exposed neck.
“Where is your toughness now?” The stubble from his light beard moved along her cheek, and she shivered. “I thought you were going to speak the language I understand.”
As he continued to hold her in front of him, Lexi thought that kicking him in the balls might be the only language left. She hadn’t noticed her hands curling in the open collar of his shirt, her remaining defense before she fell to her knees, and her fingers were tickled by the dark curls beneath. He murmured something in her ear that was close to the Italian she dreamed in, but she couldn’t understand the words before a loud alarm sounded in the office and he cursed. He turned their bodies so that she was held up by the desk when he let her go before he shoved his dick into his pants and zipped up as he walked behind them to look at the monitors displaying the club, inside and out. He repeated the explicative before grabbing her hand. Without stopping his stride, Giovanni drug her from the office. “Let’s go.”
“Go? Where?” Lexi stumbled after him into the alley that the exit door opened to. A smoky gray Portofino with the top missing sat alone facing the street, and he threw her in the passenger side before walking around to the driver’s door.
“Anywhere but here.” Giovanni went to turn the car on when they both saw the line of police. “Fucking son-of-a-bitch.”
Her brain on autopilot, Lexi looked at the tight interior. “Take your seat as far back as it will go.”
Barely giving her mind, he exhaled a guttural breath. “I’m not running down a dozen cops who can’t pin anything on me in a fucking alley.” He raised his eyes in surprise when Lexi pulled her already short dress higher in order to straddle him in the narrow front seat. “I’m up for a lot, baby girl, but this isn’t really the time or place.”
“It’s better to have a reason to be in the alley when they get here.” Her pulse was pounding as she leaned her head forward, her mouth hovering over his. “Plausible deniability of anything possibly illegal going on inside. You’re just a guy in his car in a public space. Misdemeanor at best.” She swallowed down the fear and felt excitement in its place. What the hell was she doing?
One of his hands was already burying itself in her hip and the other gripped the back of her neck, bringing her the remaining distance needed for their mouths to meet. She could feel him pushing against the tightly tailored slacks as she sat in his lap. His lips were softer than she thought those of a killer should be, but that was all that was soft about him. He crushed her against him, forcing her mouth open with his tongue and probing spaces she was desperate to keep hidden.
Ten years. Ten years of empty. Of nothing. Of cold. Ten years of numb were wiped away in those seconds when Giovanni Masseretti became her air. He had been a name in Sam’s stories, a face from a photograph, the villain of her adulthood, and now he was the one thing that had woken her from a sleep that she hadn’t believed it possible to open her eyes from. His kisses demanded that she yield while her body told him that nothing about her would be easy, and he bruised her with his rough hands against her supple waist. They weren’t only opposites; they were star-crossed. The only thing she needed more than him was to never lay eyes on him again.
Lexi curled her fingers into his shirt and one of the buttons opened lower, giving her access to his chest where that hand buried itself in the dark hair that spilled out. She used her other to balance herself where his upper thigh met his torso. She heard a policeman slap the glass of the closed window although he could have easily called out to them and the convertible would have carried his voice. “The fuck, Masseretti!”
“Almost,” Giovanni said, pulling away from Lexi and giving the cop a once over. “If you hadn’t interrupted, perhaps sooner rather than later.”
“Get out of the car-”
“What the hell! What are you doing?” Even from fifty feet away, Lexi recognized the FBI shield that hung from the approaching man. She didn’t know who he was, but he was definitely an agent and he was pissed. She almost responded when she realized he wasn’t looking at her but rather at the police officer who looked almost as annoyed.
“Who the fuck are you?” The cop toggled between the car and the suited man with a gun and badge pointed at him.
The agent was young- even Lexi knew better than to yell undercover business in front of strangers- but he was also incensed, and that made for a loose tongue. “You’re ruining a well-placed sting. And why? To bust some guy in an alley with his girlfriend!” He looked at the car with disgust, either because he recognized the guy in the alley or because the idea of what the police had interrupted pissed him off even more than his screwed up sting. “Get the fuck out of here before I call my boss and have your pension.”
Lexi was surprised. Why would the police raid one of Masseretti’s clubs? Even had they suspected prostitution or drugs, it would have been a combined effort with the FBI. If the feds were running a sting nearby- on the club or elsewhere- there would have been an organized effort to make sure that neither crossed paths. Something would have been rescheduled. Why were the police here in force at all?
She looked at the officer and the cop gave her a glare. Her cheeks burned with shame. What was she doing, straddled and practically on-the-clothes-fucking a stranger in a car? Had her father been the one stumbling upon her, he would have been disgusted, too. She stole another glance at the cop again when he cursed under his breath and looked at the driver of the Ferrari with anger.
Giovanni waved with the hand from the back of her neck. “I think those are your exit orders,” he glanced at the man’s rank, “Sergeant,” before he pulled Lexi back to him while the man turned and stalked with rage down the alleyway. “Where were we, bambina?”
“We,” she said, breathing heavily against his lips, “were nowhere, and I think I just heard my own exit orders.” She tried to extricate her body from his, but he held her against him. His erection pushed against her panties while his lower hand inched her dress higher up her legs. “I’m leaving. You can let me go now.”
“I don’t often make errors in judgment.” He didn’t bother with acknowledging her declaration. The hand on her neck curled into the hair he had caused to fall down, and Giovanni bit the bottom of her lip suggestively. “Maybe there is a job for you here after all.”
“I don’t think so,” Lexi said, still struggling to back away and ultimately giving up as she sat in his lap. She gave a slight shove to his chest, and he replied with the smirk she had seen at the bar. “I’ve seen the way you treat your staff. You were right the first time. You’ve saved me a lot of effort and probably saved yourself from my foot to your palle, Signore Masseretti.”
“Gio,” he corrected, his hand still woven in her mahogany waves so that he could pull her into the space she had only recently vacated. He pressed his lips to hers as he talked, and her heart decided it could pump faster. His voice dropped, that accent curling around her cold like a flame and pushing at it. “And I would much rather have your tongue than your foot.”
He laughed and damn her if it wasn’t the sexiest thing Lexi had heard in months- years. It was almost sexier than the way he called her baby girl and moved his hands through all of her secrets. She looked into his eyes and they burned her, as though he could see right through her.
The police were slowly wandering down the sidewalk at the end of the alley. Based on the increase in noise, the club had already started to discharge its people onto the street. If she didn’t leave now, Lexi might not be able to force herself to stay away from him and that was a huge problem. “I need to go,” she whispered.
He was going to argue but stopped when the exit door swung open. One of the bouncers she had seen before at the bar leaned out, looking around wildly before yelling, “Gio!” and rattling off his anger.
Giovanni’s hand was no longer rough against her hair. Instead, he caressed her like a child with a treasured doll. He just watched her, ignoring the bouncer, and she felt naked in front of him. Lexi had no choice but to look away before the night caused her entire plan to fall apart. This time, although his other hand was still on her waist, he didn’t stop her from lowering into the passenger seat.
He sighed when he finally let her go in order to get out of the car, and Lexi straightened her skirt while Giovanni walked around to open her door. “It’s only now six o’clock,” he said, using his body to block her from walking away when she stood. “Don’t you have an appointment to keep?”
“Give my regards to Freddy.” Lexi tried to slip around him, but Giovanni gripped her wrist.
His voice was low. “I’m not used to not having what I want.”
“That must be very frustrating for you- to be faced with something you want and can’t have.” She wasn’t sure where the comment came from but, when he gave her a seductive chuckle and tipped his head back to see something in her that she didn’t recognize, she lifted her arm so that his eyes found the wrist he held. “Goodbye, Mister Masseretti.”
“It seems not only the men are hard of hearing here: Giovanni.” His fingers relaxed and she pulled her wrist from his grasp with a grin at his reply.
“Goodbye, Giovanni.” She wasn’t sure that he would let her leave, but she easily walked around him, only stopping midway down the alley when he spoke.
“You didn’t tell me your name.”
Instead of answering, she blew him a kiss over her shoulder and kept walking.