It's the day, finally.
Dino's final book in his Duet is here.
I'm so excited to get this out into the world, and finally close the chapters out on at least a couple of these characters so I can move on. I always have such a hard time saying goodbye to my characters, especially ones as special as Dino DeLuca and Karen Martin.
So, I hope you enjoy.
You can pick your copy up at any of the vendors below:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes
You can add Worth of Waste to your Goodreads TBR.
And enter to win one of two signed copies of Waste of Worth HERE.
Hugs, loves. And I hope you enjoy.
Read the first 3 Chapters of Worth of Waste below:
WHO are you?
Karen Martin woke up each and every day, asking herself that same question.
Who are you? How did you get here? Why did you do this to yourself?
She didn’t have the right answers to tell her reflection in the mirror, certainly none that would explain her current situation, or the hell she had found herself living in. She also knew she had no one else to blame—mostly—other than her reflection staring back at her.
Maybe that was the worst part, the fact that she didn’t have someone else to blame.
How could she, when she was alone?
Today was a harder day than normal, and those questions she always asked came with a little more force than normal, if only because the first thing she saw on the small television as she sat down with a cup of decaffeinated tea in her hands was his face.
The first thought that came to her mind?
That’s a better picture than the mugshot.
A shot of Dino DeLuca sitting in the courtroom, suit and tie perfectly in place, standing as he handed his ‘guilty’ plea over. And then he was gone, the image fading away as the anchor room flashed back on the television where the anchors had already moved onto another story.
Karen had only caught the very tail end of the news story, but what she had seen was more than enough to know Dino wouldn’t be coming back out anytime soon.
A sickness climbed from her sensitive stomach, and she set the tea aside, not daring to take another drink. She could have blamed it on the pregnancy—blamed her warring emotions on the little life just barely beginning—but it would have been an excuse.
She didn’t know what to do.
She was alone.
She was pregnant.
She was scared.
An item caught her attention out of the corner of her eye, and for a second, those fears bled away and were then replaced by a heated anger swelling in her chest. The thick manila envelope, filled with stacks of cash and topped with a note Karen couldn’t begin to understand, sat on the very edge of her coffee table.
She’d recognized Dino’s handwriting on the package the second the mail man banged on her door and shoved it into her hands, pissed off because it was too big to put in her mailbox downstairs. She hadn’t known what was happening to him at the time she’d gotten the package—that early Monday morning had just been another day for her, although a sadder, bleaker morning, given she had been convinced Dino’s lack of presence was yet another sign that she would just have to move forward alone.
How stupid she had been …
How crazy …
Karen glared at the cash again, hating that she hadn’t just taken it somewhere and handed it off to get it out of her hands. A charity, maybe.
The police, even.
No doubt, the police would be happy to get a package like that from Karen, especially if she could say it was from Dino. Something stopped her from doing either—the charity or the police.
The unborn life was the one and only thing that stopped Karen’s anger from making her do something she might regret one day. She knew Dino hadn’t meant any harm by sending her the money, and his note inside the package had only confirmed that fact, but the last few sentences of the scribbled mess had just left her more confused.
Don’t give the child my names, it had read.
Karen tried not to dwell on that as much as she could, but it was becoming more and more impossible as the days went on. Especially on a day like today, when she happened to see something like the news broadcast on the television, yet she still felt so far removed from the entire scene.
Because she didn’t know.
She didn’t know anything about the legal problems, what Dino faced, when or if he might be out, or even how she could find out more without stepping foot into his business and making her presence known.
If nothing else, Karen had figured that one thing out all by herself and without any help.
Dino did not want Karen involved.
Not with his people.
Not with his life.
Not with the … mafia.
It all felt a little surreal.
She met a man one day, a sad, frowning man who seemed so cold from afar, so entirely unapproachable on that foggy, damp morning. She’d watched him from nearby as he talked to a gravestone, his large hands being so very careful as they wiped off the stone with a pristine white napkin from his jacket pocket.
Karen had thought about how lonely he looked, crouched down in front of the grave. How alone he seemed, in his distant gaze that looked right passed her at one moment in time, not even noticing she was standing there by a tree watching him.
She should have known better, honestly.
She had no business interfering when she hadn’t even known the man.
And yet, she did.
When Dino DeLuca smiled, Karen had felt like she won a battle that day.
She had done something good.
He made her feel amazing with nothing more than a grin.
In a way, Karen had put herself in her current position by not pressing harder for answers from Dino over the course of their year-and-a-half-long relationship. Times when he flaked on her without explanation, other moments when he seemed quieter than normal—though he barely talked as it was—and passing comments from others about his side business and other life that she allowed to fly right over head.
Maybe she pretended like he was exactly what he seemed because she didn’t want to know about the rest.
Or maybe she didn’t ask things she should have because she wouldn’t have liked the answers.
Karen prided herself on the fact that she wasn’t stupid. For the most part, she made rational, educated choices about her life and the people in it. She didn’t like negativity, but rather, filled her days with goodness and happiness to keep all the darkness at bay.
Then there was Dino …
A man who seemed almost swathed in an aura of darkness he couldn’t—or didn’t want to—escape from.
She hadn’t minded that. He drew her in like a moth to the brightly-burning flame, and while his actions promised never to burn her, his soul never said a damn thing.
Who was really at fault here?
Certainly not him.
The news program ended, switching over to an early morning panel sitting around a glass table with hosts ready to gossip about the latest in politics, fashion, and the celebrity life. Karen wasn’t really seeing what was on the show, but rather, the image of Dino standing in the courtroom.
It had burned into her brain.
She couldn’t get the image out.
Who are you?
That was all she wanted to ask him.
She just wanted one more minute of his time—a few passing seconds—to ask the one question she should have demanded he answer over and over again.
What would he even say now?
I’m a criminal.
I don’t live a good life.
I lied to you.
I love you.
Pushing those awful fucking thoughts from her mind, Karen grabbed the remote and shut the television off, hoping it would rid the image from her mind. It didn’t; she should have known better than to try.
Like that first time they’d met, this was no different.
Dino’s black soul had imprinted itself inside Karen’s heart without even trying. He should have warned her, maybe, given her a chance to run when she could have, before she got too mixed up in him.
Deep down, she didn’t want that at all.
And in a way, he had given her that chance.
Tell me to leave and I’ll go, he’d told her again and again.
She hadn’t ever told him those words because she hadn’t wanted to. Not when she knew something was wrong with him, not when she knew he was hiding things from her, and not even when he’d hurt her by walking away when she needed him to stay.
Karen didn’t say things she didn’t mean, after all.
That didn’t mean it was easy, or that she understood where all of this was going to lead her in the end. She had the distinct feeling nothing would make sense or feel particularly good until she had the chance to sit down with Dino once and for all to get the answers she craved, to questions he had refused to entertain over and over again.
But she would get those answers … eventually.
Karen had long since decided on that.
She just had to figure out how.
Well, actually, Dino would have to wait a short while longer. She had something more important to deal with, or rather, figure out what in the hell she was going to do about and how she was going to make it work.
Her baby, that was.
As much as she wanted to go and demand answers from Dino, as deep as her need was to simply talk to him and hug him, even if she was angry with him, she had something else to take care of and she didn’t think he would mind.
That was never more apparent to Karen than when she flew off the couch and headed for the bathroom faster than she thought was possible, her hand thrown over her mouth in a shitty attempt to keep the spilling vomit inside for those last few feet.
Thankfully, she made it in time. That didn’t necessarily make vomiting any more fun.
Morning sickness was a bitch.
The books all said the sickness would probably wane by the second trimester, but Karen still had weeks and weeks to go for that just yet. Her stress and worries weren’t helping her sensitive stomach in the least, considering the worse she felt mentally or physically, the sicker she became.
It was almost like her morning sickness was reflecting her moods, if that were possible.
It wasn’t just Dino she was worried about, either.
It was also herself.
She lived in a too-small apartment with only one bedroom. The place didn’t have nearly enough room for all the things a baby needed. Not that she had the money to actually go out and buy the things the baby would need, because she didn’t have any money at all. All the savings she had managed to accumulate over the years was a dwindling pile of cash—now that she had quit her job at Dino’s restaurant—and she needed to fund herself and keep herself housed and fed until another job popped up.
But who was going to give a job to a woman with a taste for photography, bookkeeping skill, and a baby on the way?
Her situation was looking bleaker every single day.
You could go home, her mind pressed.
Karen didn’t even want to entertain the idea of returning to California where her parents lived, if only because the shame would eat her alive. Not only would she be forced to admit to her parents that Chicago had turned out to be a massive failure on her part, she would also be left explaining her pregnancy and just how all that came about.
She was an adult, for Christ’s sake.
She could and would figure this out on her own.
After finishing in the bathroom and putting the mouthwash to good use for the third time that morning, Karen went back to her tea in the living room, though she didn’t bother to drink it. Instead, she took it to the kitchen and dumped the contents out, as her thirst and appetite was entirely gone.
Leaning back against the cupboards, she massaged her temples with the pads of her fingers, hoping to relieve some of the tension there.
It didn’t help all that much.
From the other side of the apartment, the manila envelope with its cash spilling out caught her attention again.
She had resolved herself not to entertain the idea.
Not to touch the money.
Life probably wasn’t going to give her much of a choice.
The baby was the most important thing, Karen knew.
First, though, she had to talk to Dino.
Those last few words on the note haunted her for reasons she wasn’t willing to face.
She needed to know why.
He was the only one who could tell her.
A LOUD clanging from outside the cell woke the man in the bunk under Dino DeLuca’s bed. Probably a prisoner from one of the neighboring cells, attempting to annoy the guards and start an issue.
When the inmates got bored, things like this happened.
He listened to his cellmate curse a blue streak, roll off the bed onto the hard cement floor, and then slowly came to the realization of where he was again. The young man—his cellmate, Todd—was only twenty-three years old and looking at ten to fifteen years for a sentence on drug trafficking. The guy’s almost-boyish appearance, with his blue eyes and blond hair that stuck up in every direction, made the charges hard to believe. Todd was lucky if he weighed one-fifty, soaking wet, and he spoke quietly, rarely looking anyone in the eye when he did talk to them.
But here the kid was, with a Mafioso for a cellmate, with a heavy sentence and drug charges on his record.
Todd didn’t talk to Dino about how or why he’d found himself in the prison beyond the information on the charges and sentence he faced, and Dino didn’t ask for more than the kid gave. However, each morning the kid woke up, it was as though he was only realizing in that moment that he wasn’t waking up in his own bed, but rather, a small eight-by-eight, cement room with one wall of bars, and a very small window that was too high to see out of—and too small to climb out of it, should one of them actually reach it.
It happened every day with no sign of changing.
“Careful, Todd,” Dino said, his attention focused on the crossword in his hands.
Todd took a heavy gulp of air, sitting up on the floor as his gaze focused in on Dino for the first time that morning.
Strangely, Dino often found himself grateful that he’d ended up with a cellmate like Todd. He could have ended up with a bastard, or worse … Instead, he got a kid that almost reminded him of his younger brother. That was, if Theo DeLuca were stripped of his demeanor and behavior.
So, maybe not entirely like his brother, but Dino looked out for Todd, when he could, outside of their cell. He was too small, too young, and the other inmates—or some—would not think twice about using Todd’s weaknesses to their advantage for whatever fucking horrible thing they wanted.
“Sleep last night?” Todd asked.
Dino almost smiled, but the amusement quickly faded. “An hour or so.”
That was what he always told his cellmate, whether he did or did not get any sleep. Todd rarely asked about Dino’s odd sleeping habits, but he figured that was because the kid didn’t want Dino calling him out on the way he woke up every morning.
Tit for tat, he supposed.
Todd stood from the floor, tossing the sheet back to his two-inch thick mattress. “Visiting day today, right?”
How should he know?
He didn’t get visitors unless it was his lawyer, and a visit from Mike was rare unless Dino had specifically called the guy in.
“We’ve been cellmates for thirty-two days,” Todd noted.
“Do you have a calendar that you’re keeping track of or something?” Dino asked.
“I remember numbers.”
Dino wasn’t sure what Todd’s penchant for tracking days had to do with him. “What about it, kid?”
“I noticed you don’t talk much.”
“I noticed you don’t look people in the face when you talk to them.”
Todd glanced up at Dino on the top bunk, then quickly looked away. “Point taken.”
Dino looked over his crossword again, trying to pass time before their block would be called out for breakfast. He couldn’t get beyond the hint. Todd wasn’t only good with numbers, he had learned.
“Cat—five letter word, starts with an ‘M’ and ends with a ‘Y.’”
Todd didn’t even glance back as he brushed his teeth at the small metal sink, “Uh, a moggy.”
What the fuck was a moggy?
How did this kid even end up in prison?
“You’re too smart for this place,” Dino muttered, more to himself than his cellmate.
All over again, Dino was reminded of his younger brother Theo, and how much he wanted to keep him from ending up in a situation like this. Dino had found himself in lockup because of his asshole uncle and Ben DeLuca’s meddling. He didn’t want Theo to end up the same way.
Or God, someone else close to Dino …
He shook his head, refusing to even let his thoughts go there.
He’d done okay since pleading guilty a month ago and having his sentence handed over on the drug and weapons charges. He’d stuck to the schedule the prison put him on because it helped to make the hours pass by easier. He didn’t cause shit, because he was hoping for reduced time, and kicking someone’s head in would only earn him more months behind bars, plus solitary confinement.
He certainly hadn’t thought of her.
Not at night when his cellmate slept.
Not during the one hour a day when he got to go outside and breathe real air.
Not when he wasted time working on stupid fucking crossword puzzles.
The moment her name passed through his mind in a whisper, Dino felt an aching emptiness start to grow in his chest.
This was why he tried not to think of her, why he couldn’t do it.
She would be better off without him, he knew. She could start over, if that’s what was best for her, and shit, maybe she’d get the hell out of Chicago and go as far away as she could possibly get with the money he’d sent to her before his arrest had happened. She could raise his child away from the danger that he and his life posed to them.
If she were a smart woman, those were the exact things she whould do.
Dino wouldn’t blame her at all.
No, Dino tried not to think of Karen Martin at all.
Except he did.
Every damn day.
All the fucking time.
He loved her, after all.
He hoped she had done none of those things. He hoped she had figured out a way to stay, that she had used his money, and maybe—God, maybe—she’d be waiting for that explanation he had promised all those months ago.
Dino had to pretend like he didn’t want any of those things.
It was easier to remember why he had gotten where he was and what he was going to do when he was out, if he didn’t focus on only her. Someday, he’d be able to do that for Karen and give her what she deserved to have from him.
Today was just not that day.
“Visiting day, you said?” Dino asked, tossing his crossword puzzle and pencil aside before he jumped down from the top bunk. “Do you have someone coming to visit you today, or what?”
Todd was already at the bars, his arms hanging out between the holes as he looked for one of the guards that would signal breakfast was soon. “Maybe.”
“Maybe is a non-answer, kid.”
“Maybe I wait every week, thinking this will be the one she actually shows up to, but she never comes.”
Dino’s brow rose high. “She?”
Shit, he actually thought Todd might have been gay. Not that he would have cared if the kid was, but it was surprising that he had a she in his life that he talked about with a sort of fondness that did not speak of a family relation. After all, Dino had heard the kid talk about his mother and sister, and he didn’t use that kind of tone.
“Yeah, she,” Todd repeated. “She—the one that I ended up in here for.”
Well, then …
Dino wasn’t touching that.
Tit for tat, you know.
“Good luck with that,” Dino muttered.
Todd didn’t reply.
The guards shouted out for the block as the buzzers started above the cell doors, and the bars slid open.
Breakfast was served.
Not that it would be anything good.
Because Dino’s block in the prison happened to house non-violent offenders as the general population, they were lucky enough to have their cells open for a majority of the afternoon. The inmates were allowed to wander around the block and as long as no trouble was started, the guards wouldn’t hit the alarm and push the button to lock all the cell doors.
Dino had only had one problem during the free-cell time.
Once, he’d been on the lower level where the cafeteria was located, sitting in the corner and looking out the barred Plexiglas windows. Something had prickled at the back of his neck—a sensation he hadn’t felt in a long time.
Like his long-dormant instincts were suddenly waking back up.
He’d found Todd in their cell, beaten bloody, and some of their things missing. It hadn’t taken long to figure out who had done it, once Todd had woken up. Dino had gotten the bastard back on the next free-cell time, when the guards’ backs were turned and the inmate’s cellmate had gone downstairs, just like Dino had the day before.
Prison liked its tit for tat.
Dino simply provided that without getting himself in shit.
Thankfully, there hadn’t been an issue since, and guards were more than willing to turn their cheek to a bruise or bloody nose when inmates worked out their own problems without a fucking riot of some sort. He had also effectively sealed his reputation amongst the prisoners that he wasn’t going to take shit from anybody, and that included someone bothering his cellmate.
Dino damn near fell off the top bunk at the shout of his name. He’d been lost in his zone, enjoying the quiet that the block was rarely afforded. It was one of the only things he really enjoyed about visitation days. Most of the inmates on his block had someone who showed up, and they’d either be put into the visitation area, or be placed in the waiting area for when their time came.
Todd had gotten his visitor, as far as Dino knew.
He’d been called down to the waiting area earlier, leaving Dino alone to his thoughts. He didn’t mind.
As the guard came into view outside of Dino’s cell, the blue-suited man tapped his knuckles against the door, glancing up at the camera. “Open it for me.”
“What is it?” Dino asked.
The guard didn’t answer, simply waited for his request to be heeded. It was only after the door was unlocked and the bars slid open did he turn his attention back to Dino. “You’ve got a visitor downstairs. Apparently, they didn’t register that they were coming in, so they had to wait for when there was a cancelation in the schedule.”
Dino pushed off the bed, landing soundlessly on the cement floor. “Who is it?”
“I don’t get details, DeLuca, just orders.”
As the guard cuffed Dino—common procedure when inmates were being moved between blocks where it was less secure than other areas of the prison—he considered who might have shown up.
His uncle was a good possibility.
Ben DeLuca hadn’t come to the prison once since Dino’s arrival, but he figured he was due one of his uncle’s usual threats that would remind him of just how and why he was there in the first fucking place.
His brother was another option.
Theo had come to the first hearing with a clean suit for Dino to wear. Even though Dino would never ask for his brother to show up like he had. That would only put Theo on Ben’s shit list.
Being a Capo for the Chicago Outfit, meant Dino wasn’t likely to have a lot of visitors by way of friends or family. No man affiliated to the mob wanted to be seen having interactions with another man who was locked up. It simply wouldn’t look good, and it didn’t lend any credence to a man’s reputation of staying away from cops or officials. It would be better for any sort of interaction from a man outside and a man inside to be had over a phone call, and even then, very little talk of business or the mafia was likely to be had.
It was an unspoken rule of the lifestyle.
Women were the only exception to the rule, but his mother was long dead, and his sister was out of the country.
Dino shouldn’t have a visitor.
He hadn’t called his lawyer in.
He didn’t have family or friends that were unconnected to the mob.
Who in the hell was it?
“Let’s go,” the guard said, directing Dino out of the cell.
He would find out soon enough.
KAREN hadn’t thought about how cold a prison must feel like on the inside. She had always been the passerby on the outside, getting just a glimpse of the large building with its concrete walls. She hadn’t actually given much thought as to how the people inside must feel to be locked away.
Of course, she knew criminals deserved to be exactly where they were—locked up, hidden away from society to do their time.
She was not naive to what prisons were meant for, she simply hadn’t been put in a position where she needed to care about the people—or rather, one person—inside the concrete walls. Until now, it seemed.
Karen tugged her jacket closer to her chest, trying not to be bothered by the guards on both sides of the Plexiglas windows. The hard chair was doing nothing to soothe the sudden ache in her back, and even sitting didn’t help the restlessness coursing through her nervous system.
She still wasn’t sure if she should have come to visit Dino. A part of her wanted to see him, needed to talk to him, if only for a few minutes. She needed answers that only he could give her, but whether or not he would be willing to talk was a whole other story.
The other part of her, a little louder than the part that wanted to be where she was, had her squirming in her seat with an anxious flare that just wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard she tried to ignore it.
Maybe she shouldn’t have come at all.
Shit, as it were, it had taken her a good two weeks just to gain up the courage to go looking for where Dino had been placed, and then another two weeks to talk herself into a visit. Karen hadn’t realized just how involved visiting an inmate actually was. There was much more to it than just showing up and asking for time to see a prisoner.
She had been smart enough to call ahead and find out if there were scheduled visiting days, but no one had thought to mention during that phone call that visitors needed to sign in, reserve certain times, plus go through a massive amount of security before they could even get their visit with an inmate.
Showing up with no previous sign-in, no visiting reservation, and having no clue how the security for the prison was actually run, Karen had been left waiting for hours on the off chance that someone might flake on their visiting time.
She hadn’t even been guaranteed a visit with Dino when she finally got through the sign-in information, but rather, shoved into a waiting area where she fiddled with her phone and stared at gray walls for hours.
Thankfully, someone hadn’t shown up for their visitation, and Karen was walked through another hallway and sat down in a hard chair, facing a Plexiglas window where she could see another chair waited. On the walls of both sides of the glass, phones sat waiting for her to pick up one, and Dino to pick up the other. Thin barrier walls separated her seating section from a row of several others.
The barriers did nothing to help hide the conversations going on.
She could still hear the conversations of others visiting inmates, though she couldn’t hear what the inmates were saying from their side of the wall, or even see them behind their barriers.
Hearing them was more than enough.
A mother talking to her son.
A girlfriend crying to her boyfriend.
A friend reassuring his friend.
Karen wished there was a bit more privacy offered for people, but as soon as the thought came on, she knew how ridiculous it was. This was prison, for fuck’s sake.
There was no privacy.
No one expected any sort of discretion.
That was probably her first real understanding that coming to the prison to see and talk to Dino was absolutely a mistake. It didn’t matter that a huge portion of her heart was still owned by a man she didn’t really know at all. It didn’t make a difference that his lies did little to cut away at the feelings she still held for him.
The questions she wanted to ask—the things she needed to know—could not be asked here.
Still, even knowing this, Karen didn’t move from her chair. Her fingers drummed a fast beat to the small ledge that acted as a shelf in front of the Plexiglas window.
Just knowing she would see Dino was enough to make her stay there.
Tiny, smudged finger and palm prints on the edge of the glass caught her attention, and she could tell immediately that by the size of the prints, they were owned by someone small. A child, probably. It looked as though they had put their whole little hands against the glass, almost as if they thought if they could push hard enough on the window, if they got a little bit closer, then they would be able to crawl right through it.
For a split second, caught by the sight of those smudged prints, Karen was … heartbroken.
Would that be her child someday?
Would it be her baby learning who its father was and finding love on the other side of a Plexiglas window?
Would it be her son or daughter’s fingerprints breaking someone else’s heart at the heavy realization of what sitting in that spot meant for their future?
Karen blinked away the sudden prickling sensation in her eyes, willing the wetness gathering to go away. She couldn’t afford a breakdown. Not now, not here. When she was alone, when there weren’t guards just down the way and cameras trained on her every move, then maybe she could take a moment to let her situation sink in and deal with how all of this made her feel, and what it would mean.
She had only glanced over her shoulder to check the time on the clock behind her for a second before a knock on the glass made her spin back around in her seat.
A guard was standing on the other side of the glass, his hand still lifted with his knuckles coming forward to hit the window again if he needed.
Karen wasn’t paying attention to him at all.
No, she was too busy staring at the man behind him.
Dino met Karen’s gaze as the guard said something she couldn’t hear, and then turned to leave without another word. The man she had thought about for weeks on end, the man she worried and fretted over, the man she had been so angry with and hurt by his actions, only stared at her, never moving or even attempting to sit and grab the phone at the wall.
No, he just fucking stared at her. Karen sucked in a hard breath, a deep pain settling in the middle of her chest. She hadn’t thought about how hard it would be to see him locked up, locked down, and out of her reach.
The gray uniform and cuffs around his wrists only added to that difficult, painful emptiness growing in her soul.
Those words she had wanted to ask, all the things she wanted to say, suddenly stuck on her tongue like cement.
They wouldn’t come.
The words wouldn’t form.
Even when Karen reached for the phone, putting it to her ear and looking to Dino expectantly, he didn’t move. He didn’t sit or reach for his own phone, but rather, kept staring at her as though he wasn’t sure what he was seeing.
“Talk to me?” Karen asked, hoping he understood what she was saying without needing to hear it.
Then, all at once, it was like Dino had woken up from his daze. He still didn’t pick up the phone, but he shook his head quickly and mouthed, “You shouldn’t be here, Karen.”
All over again, her heart broke.
She was going to tell him she missed him--loved him.
She wanted to tell him about the baby, how far along the pregnancy was, and when she was due.
She needed to ask what in the hell she was supposed to do?
Dino didn’t give her a chance to ask or say anything. “Go home.”
Karen blinked, sitting a little straighter in her chair. “What?”
He pointed at her, then behind her. “Go home and don’t come back here.”
She didn’t move, because something inside wouldn’t let her go. His rejection stung like acid on her skin, but the coldness reflecting in his brown gaze was something far worse, as far as she was concerned. She had broken through that coldness once, a long time ago. She had been able to see the small bit of light that colored the edges of his blackened soul.
There was so much more to Dino DeLuca than what he showed.
No one truly knew.
Except for maybe her.
Dino dropped Karen’s gaze when she still stayed right where she was, not budging even an inch. Then, he reached over and grabbed the phone, putting it to his ear. For a long moment, Karen cradled her own phone tighter, listening to the rhythmic crackle of Dino’s breaths through the speaker.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
That was not what she expected to hear.
She didn’t ask him what he was apologizing for because without needing to tell her, they both knew damn well he had a lot to offer her where repentance was concerned. He had done a lot of things, said a lot of things, and it had left them with nothing more than Plexiglas windows and two phones away from one another.
“You have to go,” Dino said, still keeping that soft tone, “because it’s not safe for you to be here.”
Karen shook her head. “You’d be surprised at just how safe this place is for housing thousands of criminals.”
Dino flinched. “Not the people here—the people who are outside of here.”
She suspected he meant his family, that other life that he’d kept hidden from her until she didn’t have a choice but to open her eyes and see everything Dino had been hiding.
His gaze met hers, dark and sure.
There was fear there, and she hadn’t expected to see that at all.
The last thing she had ever seen from Dino was fear.
“It’s not safe for you to be coming here,” he repeated firmly.
With that, he put the phone back to the hook, and turned away. He’d only taken one step, probably moving toward a waiting guard that she couldn’t see, before Karen was up off the chair and moving closer to the window.
Her hands slammed into the Plexiglas window hard, making Dino stop. She’d dropped the phone to the small ledge, not even bothering to hang it up like he had for his. Those tears she had been holding at bay started to fall, making tracks down her cheeks as she stared at the man who refused to even talk to her.
Her shout of his name must have been loud enough for him to hear behind the glass, because his back tensed. He looked over his shoulder at her, that fear still present, but it was accompanied by something else, too.
A bit of want, too.
She had so many things to say to him, so many things to ask.
Those same questions she had been asking herself for a good month and a half fought their way out, demanding to be spoken aloud so that maybe … God, maybe, she would finally be able to sleep at night.
“I don’t know who you are,” Karen told him, hoping he could read her lips enough to understand what she had said.
She loved the man she thought she knew.
She cared for the person who let her chase his nightmares away.
She wanted to hold the man who made her feel like she was the most important thing in his world.
But the man standing behind the glass, the one with a last name that she now knew should frighten her, and affiliations that labeled him one of the worst kinds of criminals …
No, Karen didn’t know that man at all.
But she wanted to.
Because she believed, no matter what, she’d love him, too.
“I’m sorry,” Dino mouthed. “I’ll see you soon.”
That was it.
That was all he said.
Dino was gone before Karen could even think about what she wanted to do or say next. All she saw was his back as he disappeared beyond the barrier, and he didn’t even look back at her that time.
She fell into the hard chair with a thump, suddenly feeling so unsteady and unsure.
Had she made a mistake?
Was she wrong for wanting that man?
I’ll see you soon.
His words rang through her mind like a clanging bell, over and over again. It left her feeling more unsure than ever, like her world had suddenly been put on pause because he wasn’t kind enough to tell her this was the end.
Instead, he’d put them on hold.
Dino didn’t seem to understand that it couldn’t work that way for Karen. While he was locked away and unable to explain himself to her, the world wouldn’t stop for her while she waited for him to get out.
Her world still turned.
She was still pregnant.
She had to keep moving forward so that she could do what she needed to do in order to care for his child. She wouldn’t keep putting herself through hell emotionally, on the off chance that Dino might give something more to her than a look that made her heart clench and words that only cut her deeper.
She wouldn’t be coming back to the prison at all after today. She had given him the chance to tell her who he was and what he needed or wanted from her, and he hadn’t even tried to provide her with those things.
He loved her.
Karen knew those things without a doubt.
The problem was, love couldn’t always be enough and no matter what people tried to say, it couldn’t be unconditional. Love without barriers meant no one thought about the other side of the equation—they didn’t take into account how their behavior or actions might hurt someone else.
It was selfish to love that way.
It was unhealthy.
Yet, a small part of her still didn’t care.
I’ll see you soon.
Maybe by the time he was ready—by the time he could give her what she needed—Karen wouldn’t need or want it anymore. The part of her that he owned could be put on the shelf for a time while she waited on him, but the rest of her was still going to have to keep moving.
She was worried the rest of her would eventually take the waiting part with it, too.
That probably scared her the most.
Author. Canadian. Mother. Lover. I write about bad guys who fall for their women and fall hard.