Glancing up from the pasta on the stove at my roommate Tasha, who is currently pointing at my laptop with a look of great concern, I step over and see the flashing email notification. “Oh, it’s Jackson, looks like he has a new manuscript for me to start working on.” Considering the precarious state of my bank account, the timing is fantastic.
Tasha smiles. “Ooooh, exciting! What’s the title?”
I grimace. “The Virgin and the Minotaur Pirate.” I look up just in time to see Tasha’s jaw drop.
“You’re joking, right?” I don’t think she’s blinked in at least a minute.
“Serious as a heart attack, babe.” I shrug. It’s not the first smutty romance novel I’ve edited since I started working for Jackson, and it certainly won’t be the last. Some of them are actually pretty good, and given my complete and total lack of any company in my own romantic life, I’ll take what I can get.
“Remind me why you do this job again?” she asks. “You’re a talented journalist with a degree from NYU, for Pete’s sake.” Pouring a glass of wine, she hands it to me and then takes a second for herself.
“Because freelance journalism doesn’t bring home the bacon. I’ve become accustomed to a certain lifestyle.” I toast our apartment with my glass, which makes her laugh.
In terms of New York City real estate, our apartment isn’t exactly going to make the cover of any magazines. We share a two-bedroom apartment on the third floor, walk up, on top of a mom and pop Italian restaurant smack dab in the middle of little Italy. Our respective bedrooms have just enough space for a bed and dresser. The closet and desk are shared space, and they are in the living room. The kitchen comes fully equipped with no dishwasher and a café table that seats two, and only two, people. All things considered though, it’s a great place, and it’s something two twenty-five-year-olds can afford.
I met Tasha when I started at NYU. We’ve been best friends ever since. She was pre-law, and I was majoring in communications. We were roommates in the student dorms on campus the first few years before branching out to find this humble abode. I graduated and started working as a freelance journalist, but quickly realized that I would need a more reliable form of income, so now I read manuscripts by day and investigate by night.
I return to the stove and drain the pasta, dumping in a jar of canned sauce. Mrs. Morelli, who owns the restaurant downstairs, would be aghast. I really can cook, I just hate doing it. I split it into bowls while Tasha refills the wine.
“Is everything set up for your mom’s surgery?” I ask.
“Yeah, my brother is picking me up tomorrow morning to take me back to Trenton. The doctor said to expect her needing help for the next two, maybe three weeks.”
“Ok, call me if I can help with anything. I adore your mother, even if she does talk about me in Russian like I’m not in the room.”
Tasha smiles. “Don’t worry, she does that to everyone. She is just trying to set you up with every nice boy she knows is all.”
Maybe I do need to go on a date if Tasha’s extremely conservative mother is trying to be my matchmaker.
Groaning, I thrash around my nightstand until I find my phone’s alarm and shut it off. I’m not a morning person on the best of days, and the morning after splitting a bottle of wine is certainly not one of those.
After a few minutes of self-pity, I make my way to the bathroom. I don’t bother to shower, since I’m starting my day with a run anyway. I wash my face and braid my long brown hair down my back. Even though I’ve been in New York for years now, I still haven’t adapted to the cooler weather. As soon as the summer temperatures begin to fall, I start embracing long sleeves and leggings to run in.
Popping my headphones in, I head downstairs and out the back alley. I wave at Gino Morelli unloading supplies from the delivery truck. He’s Mrs. Morelli’s grandson. He smiles and his eyes flash. Tall, with caramel skin and warm brown eyes and a smile that shows off a pair of dimples, everything about him should be attractive. I’ve watched enough girls trip over their own panties when they meet him to know it’s true. For some reason though, he just doesn’t work for me.
Turning the corner, I warm up with a jog before speeding up my pace. I debate internally if I want to go all the way to Central Park today. It’s about five miles each way, more than I usually do. Fuck it, my schedule is light today and I can always catch the subway back if I don’t feel like walking. I let the fast beat of the electronic music blasting in my ears take me away.
I discovered running after my sister’s suicide. I needed to do something, anything, to burn off the anger and hurt I felt. But there is nothing you can do after something like that. I tried going back to Texas to help my parents for a while, but my mother slammed the door in my face. She never stopped blaming me for her death. Sometimes I do too.
I shake my head. Digging up old ghosts does nothing but cause heartache. I relax into the steady pounding of my feet and the thumping music in my ears, drowning out the city around me. Taxi horns vanish, the distant subway sounds disappear. All that’s left is me and my feet and the earth. In my head, there’s nothing. No anxiety, no guilt, no fear, just blankness.
Rounding into the park, I take a minute to rest. Chest up, arms behind my head, breathing in the damp earthy smell, so foreign in the middle of the city that never sleeps. I work through a series of stretches until my pulse is normal and my body has a warm, relaxed glow.
I pull out my phone and see a message from Tasha. She’s safe and sound in Trenton. I start clicking through emails, wandering slowly toward the exit of the park. Face buried into my phone, I don’t notice the brick wall I walk right into.
Tumbled onto my ass, I look up and my jaw hits the ground. The biggest, scariest man I’ve ever seen is standing there, glaring at me. As my gaze travels down, I realize why I thought he was a brick wall—he might as well be. A solid block of muscle from his broad shoulders down, the anger blasting out of his dark blue eyes is enough to melt stone.
“Watch where you’re goin’ next time. Clumsy lass.” His thick Irish accent doesn’t speak so much as command. I’m too shell shocked to be as indignant as I normally would. With one last glare, he turns around and continues his own run.
I watch him go, sprawled out on the wet grass, wondering why I’m equal parts angry, terrified, and turned on.
I begin working my way back to the apartment, stopping to check the news a bit. I haven’t had a lead on a juicy story in a while. Though many of my peers focus on smaller, consistent stories, I tend to search for the big fish. The breaking news, high value exposés that change the world. My editor says I’m reckless. He supports it, mind you, because of the benefit it brings to the paper. My success is his success.
Stopping by the newsstand, I pick up a few copies of the local papers and gossip magazines. They almost never pan out, but it’s good to keep an eye on the background news of the city. That’s how I noticed that the timeline and budget for some city hall renovations were way off schedule. A few months later and I was breaking news on a kickback scheme costing New Yorkers millions.
From there I head to a little coffee shop with a large outdoor patio. Getting a large americano and adding a healthy amount of cream, I settle into one of the patio chairs and begin going through my papers. The coffee is mediocre at best, the garbage cans stink, and the view is of a back alley. It does, however, happen to be owned by Sarah Rosenberg, the biggest busybody and gossip I’ve ever met. She somehow manages to get complete strangers telling her their life story. She then proceeds to repeat it to everyone. From my cozy spot, I can browse my papers and eavesdrop while half of New York spills their secrets to a sweet old lady and one sneaky journalist.
“Carla! As I live and breathe, how are ya doing? How’s Peter?” Her loud greeting startles me out of my reading.
Looking to be in her early fifties, with perfectly coiffed hair and a fresh manicure, Carla practically beams. “Peter is doing so good! Just got promoted to attending at St. Mary’s emergency room.”
With a sharp look at the girl putting pastries out in the case, she says, “Bethany! Did you hear that? Her son is a doctor. And he’s single!”
Bethany sighs. “Stop being such a yenta grandmother! I’m not dating anyone right now.”
“It’s probably for the best,” sighs Carla. “He’s working such late hours at the hospital and now he’s helping at the medical examiner’s office too! I swear he will never get married.”
Sarah’s face practically glows. “Oh, really! How exciting! But why are they having him help out?”
With a grimace that almost passes as distressed, but better shows her pure conspiratorial joy, Carla whispers, “Well, you didn’t hear it from me, but apparently there’s more bodies showing up than usual.”
“Oh, my, how odd,” says Sarah, shaking her head.
I’d say it’s fucking fascinating, but that’s just me. I polish off the rest of my coffee and drop my papers in the trash on my way out. I found my lead, just not in the papers. God bless old gossips.
Thirty minutes and one subway later, I’m back in my apartment. Perks of being temporarily roommate free, I’m stripping off my workout gear the second I’m in the door. Cranking the shower heat up as high as it goes, I set about scrubbing sweat from my skin and hair. I’m running conditioner into my locks when my mind starts to drift over the day.
It runs, metaphorically, into a blue-eyed brick wall. Who was that man? He seems vaguely familiar, and my inability to place him is driving me batty. I’m usually very good with faces, but I can’t seem to conjure up why I recognize the Irish testosterone factory. Maybe it’s the fact that he was shirtless, with miles of tattooed muscles on display. That’s bound to short circuit any girl’s brain. That, and the sharp jaw, high cheekbones, and short cut dark hair.
A slow throbbing starts between my legs. It’s been a long time since I’ve found myself running my fingers up and down my folds, circling my clit, and dipping into my pussy. With the hot water running down my body, my fingers picking up speed, and the sounds of a rough Irish accent floating through my head, I come. It hits with wave after wave, my body shaking and starting to slip down the wet wall.
After I regain my composure, I finish my shower and dress. I pick out dark skinny jeans, a t-shirt under a black tunic-style turtleneck sweater, and black bootie heels. My clothing and shoe selection is actually pretty small, but what I keep is good quality. The shoes aren’t designer, but they are sturdy, beautiful, and pure leather. I made a vow to stop with bad shoes years ago; life is too short for blisters. After I moved to New York, I also discovered that I love high heels. There wasn’t much place for them on the ranch I grew up on, and my Ariat Lacer boots still come out during the winter, but so long as the weather and my feet hold, I’ll be in heels. I twist my damp hair up with an octopus clip at the back of my head and apply some light makeup. The liquid liner and mascara is just enough to make my hazel eyes pop.
My laptop goes into a well-worn purse. The bag is designer, but given how little I paid for it in a back alley of Chinatown a few blocks away, the authenticity of the item is questionable at best, not that I actually care.
Downstairs, I set up shop on the little patio of the restaurant. One of the many perks of being Mrs. Morelli’s upstairs tenant is that she lets me use her patio as my office during the less crowded hours. I help myself to a cup of Diet Coke from the fountain. Of my vices, Diet Coke is certainly the biggest. Tasha teases that if I need blood drawn, the nurse is going to get a syringe filled with soda.
I download the first few chapters of the cringe-worthy ‘The Virgin and the Minotaur Pirate’ and dig in.
After a few hours, I find myself incredibly grateful for the shower orgasm earlier. Any libido I still had would have been thoroughly murdered by this book. With perfect timing, Gino comes around the corner and helps himself to my table.
“Hi, Rocky, you look gorgeous today.” Something is off about his tone. It’s not the cordially polite one we normally use.
“Oh, um, thanks.”
“You should have dinner with me tonight. I made reservations at La Petite.” He seems very proud of himself. It feels like he’s ordering me to have dinner with him.
“Gino, thank you for the invitation,” I stress the word, making it clear that there wasn’t an invitation actually given, “but I’m not interested in dating right now.”
His cocky grin falls. Something dark flashes in his eyes, but then it’s gone, almost so fast I doubted it was there. He reaches for my hand but I withdraw it.
“Excuse me, I have some things to attend to.” I grab my laptop and purse and walk out to the busy sidewalk, rather than into the alley that leads to my apartment.
Thoroughly creeped out, I finish a few more chapters at a tea shop a few blocks away before sneaking back to my apartment. It’s time for a nap. I have a feeling I’ll be chasing down this dead bodies lead all night long.
“Aye!” I snap when there is a knock on my office door. Patrick, my second in command and closest friend, walks in.
“Oy, a bit testy today, aren’t ya?” His accent is even thicker than mine. It’s total bullshit, he’s been in the US just as long, I think he just likes it. He’s not wrong though. I’ve been bloody distracted all day.
I should be focusing on the multitude of problems currently sitting on my desk, and the ones I’m expecting to get worse sooner rather than later. I should be dealing with the Russians and their perpetual attempts to expand into our territory. I should be doing just about anything other than thinking about the girl that crashed into me this morning in the park. I’m the head of the Irish mob, for Christ’s sake.
Bloody hell, she was beautiful. Tiny little thing, probably only comes up to my chest if she was on her toes. Long chocolate brown hair, hazel eyes. With her skin flushed from the run, her eyes almost looked green. I imagine what they would look like with her face flushed from more enjoyable reasons. Like my cock fucking her throat. Christ, I’m never going to get anything done today.
“Well, this isn’t going to make ya any happier.” He makes himself comfortable in the chair across the desk. “Got a call from O’Malley at the precinct. Seems they served a warrant on some MS13 arseholes and found a few RPG-27s.”
“What fucking moron would sell those dickheads RPGs?” The mob has been known to traffic arms from time to time, as have the Italians, Russians, and just about everyone else in organized crime in history. Typically, no one is stupid enough to provide heavy munitions to violent street gangs. They don’t get any more violent than MS13. It’s bad business, guaranteed to involve the police at some point, and probably going to get civilians killed. Basically, it’s bad for everyone.
“Got their heads up their arses for sure. I’m beating the usual sources for information.”
Smiling, I tell him, “I think the expression is ‘beating the bushes.’”
“Aye, it is, but I’m not beating the bushes.” Patrick laughs, obviously pleased with himself.
“When you talked to O’Malley, did you ask after his mother?” Having a sympathetic friend in the department is a good thing.
“I did! He says she’s doing much better with the new hip, and the agency nurse you sent over to stay with her has been a godsend. O’Malley wanted to make sure you were aware he was grateful.”
“Good. See that the nurse gets a bonus from us as well.”
Patrick stands, buttoning his coat “Aye, I’ll do that. I’ll see to it personally.” He gives me a wink.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, does your dick ever get sick of leading you around the city? For fuck’s sake, the poor girl’s a professional.”
Patrick doesn’t respond, just laughs on his way out.