I’m an exception. His hard stares and clenched jaws don’t work on me—I won’t back down. Part of what frustrates him about me is how I won’t roll over and obey like everyone else. These days we’re more hostile than we’ve ever been. We’re more polarized from each other than any other point in our lives, which means I won’t be giving him what he wants anytime soon.
“There’s a difference,” he says after a pause. “You know there’s a difference.”
“I’m sorry. I have no clue what you’re talking about.” I slam my cabinet shut and drop the teabag in my mug. I put the kettle on my stove and twist on the knob. All without dignifying him with a single look. My exterior is cold and aloof, my interior’s another story—fast heartbeats and a pit in my stomach. I’ve gotten better at closing myself off, even around Salvatore. “You should go,” I say. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say.”
“I haven’t been following you.”
“Congrats. Do you want a gold star for being a decent human being?”
He invades the kitchen, leaving the entryway, his presence eclipsing me as he moves closer. He stops a couple feet behind me. Just enough to still reach me while providing some illusion of space. I keep my back turned. My lungs beg for a deep inhale, though I deny them. I focus on the kettle warming up on the stove.
“Neither are my men,” he says. “I kept my word.”
“Too bad you didn’t keep your word about not breaking into my apartment late at night. Salvatore, get out.”
“You think you’ll be able to keep it up?”
“Am I supposed to know what you’re talking about?”
He looms closer. Only slightly. Only enough for me tosenseit. “Your late night activities. Whatever it is you’re doing.”
So he really doesn’t know where I was.
“You don’t know what I’m doing, Salvatore. I could be volunteering at an old folk’s home.”
“At one o’clock in the morning?”
“I could be out for drinks with friends.”
For the first time, I grant him a glance—a quick one from over my shoulder. He’s tilted his head to the side, his skepticism coming off of him in thick layers. I roll my eyes and turn away again.
“I could be out on dates with men.”
“You’renotout on dates with men.”
There it is. His knee-jerk possessiveness rearing its ugly head. The raspy edge of jealousy and fury in his voice at the thought of me spending the night with other men. No matter how hard Salvatore pretends otherwise, it infuriates him that it could possibly be true. That I’m done with him for good this time.
“That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” I ask, whipping around against my better judgment. Heat warms up my skin, though my aloof mask still doesn’t crack. “That’s what this always comes down to for you—some misplaced sense of ownership you have over me. You think I’m out fucking other men and you can’t handle it. Are you jealous, Salvatore?”
The corner of his mouth quirks. “Not at all, Phi. Fuck whoever you want... including me.”
I come up short on air, producing a quiet, strangled gasp for it. But Salvatore’s heard it; he’s heard it because he picks up on everything about me. At such close range, even more so. As soon as we’re facing each other, as my eyes flit up and meet his, I’m rooted in place. I’m glaring at him and he’s looming over me. I’m left distantly wondering when did the kitchen of my eight-hundred-thousand-dollar luxury apartment get so small?
Something lingers in the air between us. Something different but the same somehow—tension that’s still unbidden and combustible but that’s twisted into a deeper, darker impulse. I can look up into the brooding, handsome face of Salvatore Mancino and know he’s the only one who sees me.
Really sees me.
He knows. Maybe not the gritty details. Maybe not the depth of how far I’ve gone. But he knows who I am. He sees through my mask. He knows I’m a fraud. The woman everyone thinks I am becomes less real by the day.
“You have a cut on your lip,” he says. “Where is that from, Phi?”
Leftover evidence from my fight with Quinn McGuire.
I lick at my lip, tasting blood. “I bit it.”
He knows I’m lying. He always does.
“That’s some bite.”