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Worship me, p.8

Worship Me, page 8

 part  #7 of  Men of Inked Series


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  “You talked to her?” He nodded and started to shake his foot that hung over his other leg as he sat with his ankle propped on his thigh. “What did she say?”

  “Matías did spook her. She decided to leave town after they spent an evening together. She knew something was off, so she thought it was best to get as far away from him as possible.”

  “I’ll make sure to let the guys at Taboo know she’s safe. I know they’ve been worried.”

  Flash didn’t move even though I’d basically dismissed him. He stared at me, which was awkward.

  He’d grown on me over the years. His past with Izzy made it a little harder for me to become friends with him. The whole, he fucked my wife bit kind of grated on my nerves. I won in the end, slipping the ring on her finger and making her mine, but it didn’t make it easy to sit across from a man every day who knew exactly how she tasted.

  “Something else?”

  “I’m going to need to take an extended leave.”

  “Why? What’s up?”

  He hadn’t taken time off since he started at ALFA. Sure, he’d taken a few days here or there, but extended time meant a long-term absence and one that would leave a hole in our company.

  “Fiona’s expecting.”

  I jumped up from my chair and rounded the desk to shake his hand. “Congrats, buddy.”

  “Thanks, but she’s been put on bed rest. So, until her mother can come down and take care of her, I’m going to be taking a leave.”

  “What’s wrong?”

  “The doctor said some mumbo jumbo about an incompetent cervix. Whatever the fuck that means.”

  “We’re all here to help with anything you two need.”

  “Thanks, James.” He gave me a small smile, but I couldn’t imagine what he was going through. “I’m excited about finally being a dad and don’t want anything to happen to Fiona or our baby.”

  The last thing I wanted was for Flash to worry about his place here at ALFA while focusing on the birth of his child. We needed him. I needed him. We didn’t run without him, and he’d become an invaluable member of the team.

  “I’ll talk to Thomas, and maybe you can work from home. We still need your skills and contacts. Would that work for you?”

  His face brightened. “That would be great. It would make everything easier. I can’t sit there all day and do nothing.”

  “I get it. I do,” I told him because I wasn’t a sitter either.

  Even when it was my day off, I was always doing something. I didn’t like to sit idle with my hand tucked in my pants, watching television. I was a doer. Always had been a workaholic, and it was something I didn’t see changing anytime soon.

  “Thanks, man,” Flash said as he climbed to his feet, looking a lot happier than he had when he walked in.

  “Anytime.” I waved him off. Although I was doing it for him, it was in the best interest of ALFA to keep him active and working, especially with a case like Matías’s still open.

  But then again, there was always an important case we were working on. As soon as a top priority was closed, another one popped up. Our little company Thomas and I started when we finally hit burn-out level after working at the DEA had grown into one of the most well-respected and in-demand investigative companies in Tampa Bay. I never would’ve believed it possible with the ragtag group of guys we had working with us.

  Leaving the DEA was one of the hardest decisions of my life. After years of training and climbing the ladder, getting more and more important assignments, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I had been a little hesitant walking away. But having Thomas with me and with the clear goal in mind of opening ALFA Private Investigations, I figured, what the fuck, how could it go wrong?

  Every agent had a burn-out point, and I hit it just as Thomas did. Working on the case with the Sun Devils MC was a nightmare. Not only was Thomas’s life at risk every single day, but then Izzy’s life was in danger too after Flash, being the sometimes dumbass that he was, brought her to Daytona for Bike Week. Naturally, she’d caught the eye of the SD vice president. Thank God Thomas was there to work shit out and keep her safe.

  After what was almost a clusterfuck of epic proportions, I was ready to tap out when we did. I’d never regretted the decision either. Being my own boss, surrounding myself with the best and most trustworthy people in the business, and living life on my terms gave me a freedom I never knew when I was with the DEA.

  “Am I interrupting?” Ret asked, standing in the doorway as Flash stood near my desk.

  I waved him in as his eyes moved from Flash to me. “We’re done.”

  “Thanks again, James,” Flash said as he walked toward the door. “Hey, Ret. Nice to see you back.”

  Ret gave him a chin lift as Flash passed. “Wanted to talk to you about Matías.”

  “Whatcha got?”

  Ret sat in the same chair Flash had just occupied, looking way more relaxed and comfortable in front of me. “I want to help with catching the fucker.”

  Ret was our newest addition, although he’d been here longer than a hot minute. He was also Bear’s kid, which added some moments that were funnier than shit. But Ret, just like his father, was a man of honor. In his previous life, he was a bounty hunter. He chased down the bad guys using any means necessary and often put his life in danger while doing it. ALFA gave him more security and less chance of his ass getting popped while on the job, although the pay was significantly less, but he didn’t seem to mind.

  “Well, you know I’m like you and have spent more than a few nights inside a BDSM club.”

  I nodded. Ret and I had talked more times than I could count about handling our women. “I do.”

  “Since he seems to be making the rounds at clubs, I thought I could reach out to my contacts around the country and see if they can help.”

  He had my attention. I hadn’t even thought of asking him to help on the case. I should’ve known that he had ears and eyes everywhere that could help track Matías as he hopped around the country. “What kind of contacts?”

  “I have memberships in or at least have visited every major BDSM club in the fifty states.” He rubbed his hands on his jeans with a tiny smirk. “I didn’t like to sit in my hotel room at night and watch television, so I filled my downtime with some of the best submissives in the country.”

  “Busy man.”

  “Happier than a pig in shit.” He laughed, relaxing back into the chair. “I figure I can call my contacts within the clubs and put out an APB to find out where Matías is right now. It may help save us a lot of time and legwork.”

  Resting my fingertips against my lips, I thought about what he proposed. Matías seemed to be using BDSM clubs as a means to nab women who were already well-versed in the lifestyle. “Do you trust these people?”

  “I trust them implicitly, and if there’s a bounty involved, they’ll be more inclined to find the man.”

  I rubbed the scruff on my face, staring at Ret and pondering his idea. Money motivated everyone. Even my kids, when I thought it was time for them to get lost so Mommy and Daddy could have a little private time. Ret’s idea of offering money out of the ALFA coffers to get people in the BDSM community talking and sharing was a brilliant idea. “How much money are we talking?”

  “Five thousand should be plenty to get people salivating and tracking his ass down.”

  “You got it. Just make sure it’s on the DL. We don’t want Matías to get spooked and head underground.”

  “The real question is…do you trust me, James?” Ret leveled me with his stare, the same one that probably had submissives’ legs quivering all over the world.

  “I do. Make magic happen.”

  Before Ret could walk out, Thomas strolled in. “I heard there’s a party in here.”

  It fucking seemed like it over the last thirty minutes as people popped in with news and walked out. It had been a nonstop parade, and it always seemed to end up at my desk instead of Thomas’s.

e’s the man of the hour,” I said with a little more snarkiness than usual.

  “I’m going back to my office. I’ll get right on it, James.” Ret passed Thomas on the way out.

  “Why do you think everyone comes to me instead of you?” I asked Thomas before his ass hit the chair.

  He shrugged it off and laughed. “You’re friendlier than I am.”

  I groaned. “You know I’m a bigger asshole than you.”

  “I do.” He pitched his thumb toward the doorway. “But they don’t.”

  I sighed. “Ret came up with a great idea to sniff Matías out of the shadows.”

  “The bounty is perfect.”

  I jerked my head back. “You know?”

  “Uh, yeah, fucker.”

  I twisted my lips because Thomas had gotten one over on me. “You keep sending everyone in here, don’t you?”

  He laughed so hard he had tears in his eyes. “I always tell them to check with you first.”

  “You’re a complete dick.”

  He pounded on his chest and smiled. “But you love me.”

  I grumbled under my breath, but I did love the man. He was the closest thing I had to a brother. From the day we started training until today, we’d been thick as thieves. I’d say I was closer to him than any of his blood brothers. Spending time away from everyone and keeping secrets left a hole that never would be completely filled. He and I shared experiences that no one else would ever understand, and because of that, we had a different relationship than many normal friends.

  The one thing I was most thankful about was that my relationship with Izzy never changed the friendship Thomas and I had. It could’ve turned into something we would’ve never recovered from, but he knew the kind of man I was and thought his sister and I were a perfect match. He turned a blind eye when it came to our sex life, thank God, and all he cared about was that I made her happy.


  “Ma, go sit down. We’ll do this,” I said as she fussed with everything for the umpteenth time since I’d walked in the kitchen.

  “I’m more than capable,” she told me, putting me right in my place with her tone that said “don’t fuck with me.”

  “Wouldn’t you rather be kissing on your grandbabies?” Mia asked, trying to help.

  “I’ll kiss them after we have dinner.”

  My ma had been cooking Sunday dinner for longer than I could actually remember. I didn’t remember a time where she didn’t cook for the entire family. Even after she broke a bone or two—we won’t get into how that happened because I’m still traumatized—she still slaved away over the stove to put on a spread that would rival any Italian restaurant in the country.

  Suzy sat at the island, tearing the already-washed lettuce into smaller pieces and tossing them into a bowl that was bigger than her head. Mia stirred the sauce, making sure it didn’t burn because there was nothing that made the men in our family grumpier than a few black flakes in their gravy. Max cut the few loaves of Italian bread into thick, meaty slices. And I took the lasagnas out of the oven so they could cool enough to be cut without falling apart.

  As the family grew, the meals had gotten larger. Instead of cooking for a dozen people, now there were so many kids and additions that my parents’ kitchen was almost at capacity. If we had a few more kids, Ma would have to buy another oven to prep everything and get it on the table at the same time.

  “Mar, come sit with me. Let’s talk about tomorrow,” Aunt Fran said before sipping her glass of red wine next to Suzy.

  Fran was the watchdog of the group. She was the worst cook… Yes, even worse than Suzy, and that was saying something. I always thought they should test her DNA or revoke her Italian card because there was no way that shit couldn’t just rub off on her. But somehow, it didn’t. The only person in the family who could stomach her food was Bear, and that was because he wanted to keep her happy.

  Ma smiled at my aunt and finally decided to sit because we had this down to a science. How could we not after over fifteen years of cooking this obscene feast?

  “What time are you picking me up?” Ma grabbed the bottle of wine and poured herself a hefty glass.

  “Let’s say eleven.”

  Suzy grunted as she tore the heart of the lettuce head apart and threw it in the bowl like it had somehow offended her. “Where are you ladies going?”

  “I have some tests at the hospital.”

  Dead fucking silence. All stirring stopped. All chatter evaporated. All movement ended. Every set of eyes in the room focused solely on my mother.

  “For what?” I clutched my chest and tried to steady my breathing.

  My mother had always been as healthy as a horse. But every year, I’d seen the time wearing on her as she got a few more wrinkles and a couple more gray hairs. I knew that time was ticking and that every day with my parents was a gift, but I was not ready for anything to happen to them. I didn’t know if I’d ever be.

  “Just some routine tests. Mammogram and all that jazz.”

  I slid my eyes to Mia because, as the doctor in the family, she could call bullshit faster than me, but I needed to get more information. “And you need a ride for that?”

  “Well, no.” She lifted the wineglass to her lips and took a giant sip, letting the alcohol sit on her tongue so she didn’t have to speak.

  “For fuck’s sake, Mar. Just tell them. They’re not kids.”

  That was the point where my heart dropped. My mother was being shady, not wanting to answer the questions, and Aunt Fran’s comment that we weren’t kids told me it was bad.

  “Fine,” Ma snarled at Fran, showing her anger that her secret was out. “The doctor wants me to have a biopsy on a spot they saw on my mammogram. It’s really no big deal, and chances are it’s nothing.”

  I stumbled backward. The weight of her words hit me like a sledgehammer. “Do they think you have cancer?” It was a dumb question. They wouldn’t be sending her for a biopsy for anything else, but it felt so foreign it was the only thing that came to mind.

  “It’s just routine. We’re trying to rule out cancer. You know how these things are. As we age, weird shit grows. It’s probably benign.”

  “Cancer?” I asked again like I was stuck on stupid. I was, though. It was the last thing I thought I’d hear today. It wasn’t where I thought they were going when I heard them chatting about tomorrow earlier. I figured the two of them were going to Nordstrom’s to do some damage to their credit cards. Never in my wildest and darkest nightmares did I think they were making a date to go to the hospital to check my ma for cancer.

  My hands shook and my lungs felt tight, like a giant weight had been placed on my chest. I blinked twice, staring at my mother, and felt tears filling my eyes.

  Mia placed her hand on my shoulder, giving it a small squeeze. “It’s okay, Izzy. Most of the time, the biopsy comes back benign.”

  I glanced at Mia as I wiped my eyes. “Did you hear what you said? Most of the time.”

  “Was the spot they saw large, Ma?” Mia asked, ignoring my special kind of crazy.

  “No, it was smaller than a dime. Even if it is cancer, it’s small enough that they can cut it out, and they have some fancy pill now instead of regular chemotherapy.”

  Ma talked about the entire biopsy cancer thing like she was chitchatting about a nail appointment, not like the life-altering test that it very well could be.

  “That’s good. They’ve come a long way with the treatments. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Mia gripped my shoulder tighter and spun me around. “In the other room. Now.”

  I nodded slowly, stalking toward the dining room with Mia right on my heels.

  “You need to calm the fuck down, girl. You’re going to give yourself a heart attack.” Mia’s brown hair swayed as she talked, waving her arms around between us. “Everything is going to be okay.”

  “Mia,” I whispered and looked back toward the kitchen. “Cancer.”

  She placed both hands on my shoulders and stared
me straight in the eyes. “At her age, there are plenty of treatments. Cancer isn’t usually as aggressive in the senior population. As we age, everything slows down in the body, including cancer. Your mom is now in her early seventies, Izzy, and she’s the perfect candidate for the chemo pill. This is all only if she has cancer. It’s most likely nothing.”

  I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out.

  “Don’t freak out until we know exactly what we’re dealing with.”

  There was nothing scarier than that fucking word. I thought I was pretty badass and could knee-kick any fucker that tried to cross me, but I felt completely helpless to do anything when it came to this. There wasn’t a damn thing I could do except wait and see what happened.

  “Ladies,” Ma said, coming into the room behind me with a smile on her face. Always being the cheerful one of the family and the glue that kept us all intact. “I promise to tell you everything. Izzy, you can come with me to the appointment when I meet with the doctor in a week to go over the results.”

  “A week?” I groaned. I’d have to live with the fear of not knowing if my mother had cancer for a solid week. That was seven days of pure torture.

  “Yes.” She wrapped her arms around me from behind and nuzzled her face in my neck. “I’m a tough old bird, baby. Don’t cash me out already.”

  There was only one chick I knew that was tougher than me, and it was my ma. I was every bit her daughter. I thanked God every day that she raised me to be a strong, independent woman instead of a meek and mild mouse who let men walk over her.

  I pressed my head against hers and reached up, placing my hand on her arm. I wished I could freeze our lives at this point in time. I didn’t want to get older. I didn’t want my parents to get any older either. I loved life just as it was and didn’t want a damn thing to change. “I’d like to be there for you, Ma.”

  “You can.” She kissed my cheek, lingering a little longer than usual and smelling me like she did when I was a kid. I’d always thought it was odd until I had kids of my own and caught myself smelling them a little too often to be normal. “Now, let’s not talk anymore about this. I want today to be like every other Sunday. No bringing this up to the boys either.”

  I loved that she still called them boys even though they were men. Everybody in the room was over forty, but she refused to think of them as anything other than kids. “I promise, Ma.”

  “Let’s finish dinner and get it on the table before all hell breaks loose.”

  I tried to be normal. God, how I tried as we placed all the food on the table and served the Gallo army. As I glanced around the dining room, noticing the smiling faces, I wondered how different everything would be without this. Without the dinner. Without my parents. Without all of it.

  James squeezed my leg under the table. “Doll, what’s wrong?” he whispered in my ear, tickling me with his whiskers.

  I plastered a smile on my face and stabbed my fork into the seven-layer lasagna that had so much stuff in it I wondered how it stayed upright. “Nothing, babe.”

  His grip tightened because I couldn’t pull off a fake smile to save my life. “You look like you lost your best friend.”

  “Everything’s fine. We’ll talk about it later,” I said before shoving a slice of the cheesy noodle goodness into my mouth, basically ending the conversation. But James kept his hand firmly planted on my knee.

  If something happened to my ma, I would lose my best friend. Although I was a daddy’s girl to the core, my ma had always been my tether to the important things in life. She didn’t spoil me with false compliments or give in to my whims. She forced me to be who I was and made no apologies along the way.

  “How’s the shop?” Pop asked like he did every Sunday.

  “Good. Busier than ever. We’re actually talking about hiring someone new,” Mike said between mouthfuls of lasagna.

  I cringed because that news hadn’t gone over so well last night, and I was sure no one had bothered to talk about it, thinking I’d put an end to it before the ball started rolling.

  “Izzy set up an interview with the girl for next week,” Mike said, without realizing every female in the room besides me and my ma had stopped eating and were glaring at him.

  “Oh, she did, did she?” Max stabbed at her meatball, snarling at me as she spoke. “What’s her name?”

  “Kat.” Mike snapped his fingers, forgetting her name for the fiftieth time since I’d brought him the portfolio. “East.”

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