Hired Muscle

Hired Muscle

In October 1941, the violence of Baltimore's warring mob families is escalating. The danger has decimated many of the businesses around DuMochelle's restaurant where Barry waits tables. When a mob boss and his family begin to frequent the restaurant, a romantic relationship develops between Barry and Vinnie, a bodyguard. Vinnie resists, fearing for Barry's safety and concerned that Barry will want nothing to do with him if he discovers his role in the family. But their passion cannot be denied, and Vinnie is trapped between the love he wants and the only life he's known. As the rival mob family moves in for the kill, Vinnie and Barry find themselves caught in the crossfire.

Excerpt:

I knelt before the chair and looked up at Vinnie sitting above me. The hiss of the radiator and the bitter howl of the wind were the only sounds in my darkened room. In the cold, suffused light of the streetlamp outside my window, I saw Vinnie's jaw clench. His eyes hid in the shadow beneath his brow, but I could still feel the heavy weight of his stare. "Dammit, Barry. Why'd you follow me?"

"I—I don't know, really."

"You don't know?"

"No, I don't. I wanted to see what you did." I dropped my gaze to my hands clutching the still-damp material of my pant legs. "I kept thinking about it, trying to imagine what you did, and I couldn't, you know? You work for Don Lombardi, I know that, but I can't see you willingly hurting anyone. I couldn't imagine you doing anything vicious, and I had to see for myself to know it was real. I had to know that part of you.” I looked up at him with my stomach in knots. “Does that make sense?"

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Vinnie looked out the window. He stayed silent for a long time. My legs started to cramp, but I ignored the pain because I wanted to remain close to him for as long as I could. For all I knew, this might be the last time we'd be together.

Finally, however, I could take no more and got to my feet. I crossed the room to my chest of drawers and switched on the lamp, my chest releasing a breath at the warm yellow glow. He made no protest at the light, and I went about gathering towels and bandages as he sat and stared out the window.

"Did you fix the heat?" I looked at him over my shoulder and gestured to the radiator.

He looked at me and nodded. "I may not be able to read real good, but I'm good with engines and stuff." The statement fired off a pain inside him that I saw reflected in his eyes, and it pulled me toward him. I pushed apart his strong legs to kneel between them, clenched my hands into tight fists that I rested on his muscled thighs, and stared into his eyes as they filled with tears.

"Vinnie? What is it? What's wrong?"

He shook his head and turned away.

"Come on, talk to me. Are you angry because I followed you?"

A quiet bark of a laugh told me I was wrong even before he shook his head. He took a breath and turned to stare down at me again. "I am angry at you for doin’ that, but only because you coulda been hurt. Do you know how fuckin' scared you made me when those goons ran out after you?"

My stomach twisted. "You recognized me?"

Vinnie reached down to take me under my arms and pulled me up into his lap. He kissed me and stroked my cheek, his gaze moving over my face. "Course I recognized you. I been seein’ your face in my dreams since the boss first went to DuMochelle's, you think I didn't recognize the quick glimpse I caught of you in the window?"

My body reacted to the nearness of him, to his touch. I hardened as his blunt fingers moved over my face and through my hair. In the lamplight I could see more clearly the bruises and cuts on his face and hands. I took his hand in mine to place soft kisses on the scrapes across the knuckles.

"I'm sorry I scared you," I said.

"I couldn't be the reason somethin’ happened to you, Barry," he choked out. "I been the reason for so much pain to a lotta other people, you know? Some of the others deserved it, a few didn't, and I feel bad about them. But if somethin’ were to happen to you because of us knowin’ each other—" He shook his head, his gaze locked on mine. "I couldn't live with that."

"You won't have to." I leaned in and kissed him softly.

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