Read The Muscle Part Three Online

Authors: Michelle St. James

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #New Adult & College

The Muscle Part Three (9 page)

BOOK: The Muscle Part Three
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22


C
an
we get hot cocoa and watch the ice skaters, Isa?”

Isabel looked down at Sofia and took her hand as they left FAO Schwarz. They rarely bought anything, but it was one of Sofia’s favorite places in the city, and she and Isabel had passed many happy hours within its magical walls since coming to New York in August.

“Of course,” Isabel said, leading her toward the park. “Button your coat, though. It’s cold.”

It was November now, and she was still getting used to the bite in the air. She breathed in the scent of the city — the cold, the smell of hot metal rising from the subway, the sweet nuts roasting in carts along the sidewalk. It was about as far from Miami as she could get in every way. She loved the noise and chaos, the way everyone walked everywhere and the way they could be both rude and surprisingly kind. She loved New Yorkers for their brashness, their way of speaking plainly and honking their car horns even when it didn’t do any good. She loved the way the buildings kissed the sky, and the way the river and the Atlantic, gray and flinty, came together to wrap the city in its arms.

She tried not to think about Miami, about the course of events that had bought her and Sofia freedom. Luca had tried to tell her something about Diego just last week, but she had pressed her fingers to his lips and kissed him instead, leading him to the big bed in the grand, old apartment they now shared.

She didn’t want to think about Diego.

Sofia was still traumatized, still in therapy. She woke more often than not in the middle of the night, thrashing and screaming from her nightmares. Isabel would slide into bed next to her and hold her tight, and sometimes when she woke in the morning it was to Luca, sitting in the chair next to Sofia’s bed, keeping watch over them both.

She’d never felt safer. Never felt more loved.

They would be okay. She didn’t know exactly what the future held, but she knew Sofia would continue going to school. And Isabel had just taken a job as a gallery sitter downtown.

It was a start.

Her pulse quickened as they turned into the park. She would see him soon, would feel his big arms around her, his hand wrapping hers in security while Sofia drank her hot cocoa and they watched the skaters make graceful circles around the ice rink.

She wasn’t the way she used to be. She never would be. She was like the two ravished paintings she’d brought with them to New York — damaged but not broken.

Stronger for her fight to survive.

And for the love given with tender hands that had healed her.

L
uca rubbed
his hands together for warmth as he watched for Isabel and Sofia. He’d come from his job as part of the personal detail of Matthew Reynolds, a real estate mogul worth billions. The guy wasn’t exactly squeaky clean, but he wasn’t Diego Fuentes either, and Luca spent his days in dark suits and sunglasses, following Matthew around and thinking about the moment he would be back with Isabel and Sofia. He would do something else eventually — maybe start his own security company, although he didn’t need the money — but for now the job suited just fine.

He smiled as Isabel rounded the corner, Sofia looking up at her like she thought Isabel was the sun and the moon.

Luca knew the feeling.

Isabel laughed at something Sofia said, and Luca’s heart clutched in his throat.

Damn, he loved this woman. Sometimes he woke in the middle of the night to find her gone from their bed, and he would hurry to Sofia’s room to make sure they were okay. When he found them curled side by side in the big canopy bed Isabel had bought for Sofia, he would lower himself to the chair next to it and watch them, happy just to be in the same room.

“Hey, you,” Isabel said when she reached him. She kissed his cheek. “How are you today,
querido?

“Better now,” he said, leaning down to kiss her briefly on the lips. He ruffled Sofia’s hair just a little, careful not to mess it up. She didn't like that, one of many things he was learning about the little girl who had also stolen his heart. “How was school, kiddo?”

“Fine,” she said. “Except for Hannah Goldman.”

“Oh, yeah? What happened with Hannah Goldman?” he asked leading them to the ice rink.

“She didn’t want me to sit at her table, so I had to find another one,” Sofia said.

“Seriously?” Luca asked, secretly proud of himself for adopting the language he heard her and her friends use. “Well, forget her then. I bet the other table is better anyway.”

She looked up at him. “Do you think?”

He nodded. “You’re there, aren’t you?”

She smiled, and he thought his heart might break in two from the force of it.

They stood in line for hot cocoa while Sofia chattered about school and the skaters and the upcoming holiday.

“You okay, my love?” Isabel asked softly, wrapping her arms around his waist.

He took her face in his hands. “I love you. You love me. And we have Sofia. I’ve never been better.”

She kissed him, and he felt the blood stir in his veins. He pulled away, wanting to keep it PG for Sofia. He wrapped an arm around her waist instead, and Sofia’s tiny, gloved hand slid into his. He was overwhelmed with something he could only identify as love and fear. Now he was like everyone else in the world who had something — someone — to lose: scared, vulnerable.

Willing to risk everything for love.

Looking down at them both, he thought that was just fine.

Epilogue

D
iego Fuentes moved
through the Brazilian market, adrenaline flooding his body. He’d been on the run since the ill-fated drug shipment in Miami. He’d been more than surprised when Cassano had actually let him go, but the last few days, he’d had the distinct feeling that he wasn’t totally in the clear.

He had some money, though not as much as he was entitled to thanks to his whore of a sister. He was lucky he’d put some aside from the business in the weeks after he’d taken Sofia and fled the house.

He shoved through the crowd, trying to make his way back to his hotel, the only place he’d felt safe since he’d started getting the creeping feeling that he was being followed. But the market was packed, the alleys confusing and labyrinthine. He took a couple of turns, almost positive it was the right way, only to find himself in a more deserted part of the city that he'd didn’t recognize.

He looked around, trying to get his bearings, then hunkered into his jacket and started moving. At least it was daylight. Even in Brazil, no one could be murdered in broad daylight without raising the attention of the police.

Right?

He repeated it to himself like a mantra as he turned into another alley. Was he headed the right way? Back to the beach? If only this place didn’t stink like the hell hole it was, he might be able to smell the sea, use it as a guide. He fucking hated it here, but he’d been too nervous to attempt a move to another country. He would do it soon, he promised himself.

He heard footsteps behind him and picked up his pace, refusing to slow himself down by looking back. The alley was deserted except for him and the person behind him, and he tried to ignore the prickle of fear on the back of his neck. He wished he had a gun, but he’d been too afraid to try and procure one illegally in Rio.

The footsteps grew louder behind him. Were they closer? He couldn’t be sure, but he picked up his pace anyway, his eyes on the end of the alley. If only he could get there before his pursuer reached him.

And how did he know it was a pursuer? It could be anyone. Just another person making their way back from the market. What was he afraid of? He was no coward. He’d run an empire in Miami. Had dealt with some of the most violent men in the drug trade. Why was he letting his fear get the best of him?

The person behind him had almost reached him when he turned around, determine to face him, whoever it was. But he didn’t get that far. In fact, he didn’t even feel the bullet enter his forehead.

Didn’t even feel his body hit the dirty pavement.

The man who stood over him didn’t even pause before moving forward, turning the corner and rejoining the crowd of people returning from the market. It was a beautiful day.

Still plenty of time for a swim.

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