I shouldn’t have remembered him. He was just a guy who walked through a restaurant. I didn't know his name. We never made eye contact. There was no connection between us at all. But I could feel him. The tingle down my spine. The command in his presence. The snap of tension in the air around him. That was the first time I saw him, and I was captivated. The second time was different. He was in the mysterious back elevator of my apartment building. Our eyes met for a fleeting second before the doors closed, and I was staggered. My breath was robbed. My senses on high alert. My body hummed. That was just the beginning. He was the leader of the mafia. I was about to fall in love with him, and his name… Cole Mauricio.
Today had been a hard day—hard but satisfying. It was time to relax and let some tension go, and so we did. A couple hours later we were in the process of having our food boxed up, as well as the two bottles of wine, when a group of men entered the restaurant. They came in suddenly and walked straight through toward the back. The atmosphere around us shifted. Their presence brought the undercurrent of tension I’d been feeling to the forefront. Everyone could sense it now, even Sia. I was intrigued by the pack of visitors, and I heard her swift intake of breath. The men were all tall, all over six feet, with broad shoulders. They looked muscular, like they could’ve been MMA fighters, and most had hard jawlines. It wasn’t necessarily their appearances that drew them attention, it was how they walked, their strong and confident presence together. They seemed to have one mission, and they didn’t waver from it. None of them smiled. None of them looked around the restaurant, but they were clearly familiar with it. The hostess and server quieted, but didn’t approach them. They seemed used to their presence as well. The men didn’t walk past our booth—we were too far in the corner—but they came toward us, then turned left. As they did, I watched them. The guy in the middle was different. He was startlingly beautiful. His hair was dark, almost black, and cut short. He had chiseled cheekbones and dark eyes that weren’t like the others’. The other men had dead eyes. They were there to take orders, and this was the guy who gave them. He was the leader. Authority and confidence emanated from him, along with an aura of danger. I could find no outward indication to prove my gut feeling, but I was sure of it. The others were well above six feet, whereas this guy was either six feet or an inch above. He moved with a grace the others didn’t have. He was lean, with broad shoulders and a slender waist, but he wasn’t skinny. The others walked, but he stalked in a sensual way. He moved like a predator. I licked my lips, then realized what I had done and pulled my gaze away. When the group reached the rear of the restaurant, instead of pushing through the door into the kitchen, they turned. I hadn’t noticed before, but I saw a set of stairs. I counted as eight of them went up, leaving two behind. They took position with their backs to the stairs and hands folded in front. They were the guard dogs. I realized I wasn’t the only one caught in some kind of spell. The hostess and server had gone quietly back to their work, but Sia’s mouth was hanging open. She still stared at where they’d disappeared. I waited for her to snap out of it, thankful for the time to compose myself. That man, whoever he was, he’d affected me in a way no other had—since Liam. And at the thought of him, a bucket of ice crashed over me.