Home > Stolen Touches (Perfectly Imperfect #5)

Stolen Touches (Perfectly Imperfect #5)
Author: Neva Altaj

 

Prologue

Seven years ago

 

A hammer comes down onto my hand, its metal head burying into flesh that’s already a swollen mess, and a fine spray of blood splatters across the table.

I wait until the worst of the pain recedes, then lift my chin and glare at the man looming above me.

“No.” I bite out.

Marcello, one of the capos, watches me for a couple of seconds before he throws a glance over his shoulder at the don who is leaning against the wall to the right. It’s dim in the room, no buzz or glare from the fluorescent tubes on the ceiling. The only illumination seeps from an old lamp on the corner of the table, but when the don lights his cigar, his face glows red from the flame as he nods.

Marcello turns back to me and tightens his hold around my wrist. “I think you should reconsider,” he sneers and brings the hammer down heavily onto my fingers once more.

Searing pain shoots up along the length of my arm, zinging through my shoulder and sending a lightning strike straight to the back of my head. The sensation takes hold in my brain, making a home for itself inside my skull. I clench my teeth in an effort to block it out.

“Fuck you, Marcello,” I rasp.

He laughs and shakes his head. “You really are something.”

Marcello sets the hammer down on the table and takes a gun from his holster. I assume he’ll simply shoot me in the head, but instead, he points the weapon at my leg. “I think I’ve fucked up your hand enough. You probably can’t feel it anymore. How about this?”

Two gunshots ring out, and I roar in agony as bullets tear through flesh and bone. Black spots blur my vision.

“Last chance, Salvatore,” he barks.

I take a deep breath, ignore the worthless bastard, and make direct eye contact with the don, who is still standing at the same spot in the dark corner. It’s too dark for me to see his eyes clearly, but with the lamp so close to my face, I’m sure he can see mine. My unharmed hand is tied to the arm of the chair, but I rotate my wrist enough to raise my middle finger at him, the rope chafing my skin.

“He won’t cave, Marcello,” the don says and turns to leave. “Just kill him and be done with it.”

Marcello waits until the door closes, then circles around the chair I’m tied to and leans down to whisper into my ear. “I’ve always hated your guts. I don’t know what the don was thinking when he let you take your father’s place two years ago. Making a twenty-four-year-old a capo, as though we’re running a fucking kindergarten or something.”

“I understand how that must unnerve you, Marcello.” I take a deep breath while the dark patches continue to cloud my vision. “Especially since I’ve made more money for the Family in my two years as a capo than you have after twenty in the same position.”

“I should leave you here to bleed out.” He spits on the floor and sends another bullet into my foot.

“That wouldn’t,” I choke out, “be wise.”

“Why not?”

“Because if I don’t die . . . you will.”

He laughs. “Yes, we shouldn’t risk it.”

Three rapid gunshots echo through the room, and I gasp as a sharp, burning pain explodes in my back. I manage one forced breath before everything fades to black.

 

 

Chapter 1

Present

 


“Move, you idiot!”

My head snaps up as I step to the side, avoiding an elbow to my kidney, and stare at the woman in scrubs who rushes past me. She’s running toward a car that screeches to a halt a few feet in front of me in the middle of the hospital parking lot.

A teenage boy, not more than fifteen, jumps out of the driver’s side. It’s clear he’s not been to a hospital before, given he’s driven to the parking lot and not the emergency entrance. He opens the door at the same time the nurse reaches the vehicle. For a few seconds, they both stare into the back seat.

“Is that . . . the head?” the boy stutters. “Why is . . .? Mom, you said we had time.”

A woman’s moans fill the air as the boy, horrified and as white as a sheet of paper, keeps his eyes on the back seat.

“Kid! Hey!” The nurse grabs the boy’s forearm and shakes him, but he’s not responding. “Kid. Focus!” She slaps him lightly on his face. “Get inside the hospital. Find a doctor and drag them out here.”

“Aren’t . . . aren’t you a doctor?”

“I’m just a nurse. The information stated your mom was having contractions, not that she was in full-blown labor. Go. Now!” she snaps, turns toward the car and kneels down on the concrete, placing her hands on the seat in front of her. “It’s okay, Mama. Breathe for me. It’s okay. When the pain comes, I need you to push, all right? What’s your name?”

The woman in the car whimpers and says something I don’t catch, probably answering the nurse’s question, then cries out again.

“I’m Milene,” the nurse says. “You’re doing great, Jenny. Yes, breathe. One more time, the head is already out. Just one more push, but make it count.”

The nurse looks over her shoulder at the hospital entrance, then off to the side until her gaze lands on me. “You! Suit guy!” she yells. “Come here!”

I cock my head and take in the sight of her. The first thing I notice are her eyes, but not the color. I’m too far away to see that detail. There is a mixture of panic and determination in them that captures my gaze. In any other situation, I would have ignored a similar request and walked away. Other people’s lives don’t interest me in the least. But I find myself unable to move my gaze from the girl. It takes quite a lot of determination to keep a level head in a situation like this. Slowly, I approach the car, my eyes not leaving the nurse who is, once again, focused on the woman in the car and doling out instructions. The nurse’s hair is a very light shade of blonde, and it’s gathered into a ponytail, which hangs in disarray.

“Give me your jacket,” she says without looking in my direction, as the woman in the car lets out a deep groan. “That’s it, Jenny. That’s it. I have her.”

Her voice is trembling only slightly, but it’s impossible to miss the panicked look on her face. It amazes me, how she keeps it together. And, after everything I’ve seen and done in my lifetime, not many things amaze me anymore.

Suddenly, a baby's cry pierces the space around us.

They say a child’s first cry should melt even the coldest of hearts, but it does nothing for me. Not that I expected it would. I’ve just witnessed a new life entering the world, but it elicited exactly the same emotional response as the changing of a traffic light.

None.

I take off my jacket, intending to lay it over the car door and leave, but my gaze falls on the nurse’s face and my breath catches in my throat. She’s looking at the baby in her arms, smiling with such awe and joy it makes her face glow. It’s so unguarded and so sincere I can’t force my eyes away from her lips. I felt nothing at the supposed miracle of life, but a strange sensation suddenly tightens my chest while looking at her, and with it, a foreign feeling of . . . wanting. I squeeze the jacket in my hand, trying to decipher the meaning of this unbidden urge to grab the girl’s face and turn her to me so I might claim her smile for myself. I don’t have a good name for what’s overtaken me. Perhaps . . . yearning?

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