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Hearts on Fire 4: Kisses Sweeter Than Pie

By:Dixie Lynn Dwyer


Prologue



“I don’t have the money, Rico. Please, give me time and I will pay you back.”

“You can’t pay me back. You owe Xavier thirty grand and now you owe me a hundred grand. I want my fucking money.” Rico stared at the old man. He’d seen him gambling for years, his habit costing him more and more just like every other shithead’s habit or obsession. Tonight he fucked up. Tonight the old man gambled against Rico and now Rico would get exactly what he was after.

“Do you have my money or not?” Rico asked the old man.

“No. You know I don’t. I should have won that last hand,” the man said, raising his voice as he looked around the room at the other players and Rico’s bodyguards. No one would support him. They all knew what Rico wanted. Her.

“What are you trying to say, that Rico cheated?” Miguel, one of Rico’s cohorts, asked.

The old man scrunched his eyebrows together. “You know he cheated. He had that ace up his sleeve. This game was fixed from the start.”

Miguel grabbed the old man by the neck and squeezed his throat. The old man would be no match for Miguel, for any of them. Rico walked closer. His confidence and the knowledge he had that his plan was successful fed his next sentence. The old man had no choice.

“There’s one way we can work this out. One way only.”

The old man looked at him, swallowing with difficulty because of Miguel’s professional throat hold.

“What?” he squeaked.

“I will release you of your debt, including the debt you owe Xavier, for one tiny, little thing.” Rico thought about Nina. She was petite, sweet, and a virgin with a body of a sexual fantasy. He wanted her just like a lot of the guys in the neighborhood did, but she wasn’t biting. He kept his distance, waited for an opportunity, hoping his reputation would never reach her pretty little ears. He looked at the old man.

“What is it? Whatever it is, I’ll do it. I have nothing. This was my last bet, my last chance to win big and pay off the debts.”

Rico smiled softly. “I want Nina.”

The old man’s eyes widened and he shook his head side to side profusely. “No. No,” he said, practically crying.

Miguel squeezed the old man’s throat a little tighter to get his message across.

“That’s not the right answer. You give me her, you get her for me, and neither of you will die.”



* * * *



Nina Valone took a deep breath as she held the doorknob.

This was a huge risk she was taking. Never in her twenty-four years of life had she been so brazen, so filled with emotion that she allowed those emotions to direct her actions.

Rico is not cheating on me. I’ve been with him for nearly a year. He was my first lover. My only lover. I won’t find him in his apartment with another woman. I won’t. What the others told me can’t be true. He couldn’t have been seen at the club with Stacy. Rico wouldn’t do that to me. He loves me. He wants me to achieve my goals, my dreams.

Nina took a deep breath and released it. She thought about how they met. How he saw her through the crowded club, locked gazes with her, and knew they were meant to be. He told her he spotted her. She was sitting all alone. Turning down guy after guy who wanted to buy her a drink, try to cop a feel, or even convince her to go home with them. She turned them all down but then Rico showed up. He acted sweet, funny, and sincere. He didn’t even try to touch her, and she found herself wanting him, too.

But that was in the beginning. He’d changed so much. His temper flared often, and he used his strength on her and snapped at her all the time. She wondered if he was getting tired of her. Wondered if he wanted to break up with her. The thought caused a terrible ache in her gut. Without Rico she had no one. Cleo, the closest thing to a guardian she had, died. He died months before she met Rico.

Sadness filled her eyes. Her gut told her that once she opened this door, her life was going to change. Fear gripped her next and she squeezed the knob to the door tight, half wanting to jiggle it, make the noise and alert Rico that she’d arrived back early. It would save her the heartache of actually seeing him in bed with another woman.

God, it felt like shit to be cheated on and used. She never thought she would be in this position. All his words, his sweet talk of commitment and security, were bullshit. She’d fallen for it because she was so damn naive, lonely, and desperate for attention. He said all the right things, and she knew in the beginning that she wasn’t the only woman he flirted with or shared time with. But she thought he was committed to her fully once he started seeing her steadily. Once they made love and he proclaimed his commitment and near obsession with her. She swallowed hard. Was this what men did? Manipulated women’s minds to make them feel like they were special and important while they cheated, lied, and continued to do whatever they wanted with no thoughts of a woman’s emotions and true commitment?

“Stick with me, baby, and I’ll get you your own little bakery. You can make all those sweet delicious pies all day long and people will line up down the block for a taste.”

Liar!

Her body was shaking. She was the least confrontational person alive. She was a pushover, hence why at twenty-four here she stood outside her boyfriend’s door ready to bust him for cheating when only a week ago he was talking engagement rings and establishing a storefront for her pie-making business.

Her eyes welled up with tears. Her stomach began to feel queasy. She wanted to puke.

Hell, she knew he was in there with someone. Was it the redhead from the bar down near his club? Or perhaps the brunette whom he always kissed hello whenever they went to Marcello’s Italian cuisine two blocks across from the train station? She thought about it. They were both super pretty, assertive, really experienced, and Nina was a virgin. Well, not anymore. Not since two months into their relationship when she gave it to Rico as he pledged his undying love for her.

“Sap! Men eat little girls for snacks, Nina.” She could hear her mother’s words. The venom she spewed from her mouth since Nina was five and could understand never left her memory. She was long gone, strung out, perhaps dead in her forties. Nina had nothing but bad memories of her mother. She was surprised that Cleo hung around as long as he did. Her mom’s boyfriend of many years took Nina under his wing. He felt bad for her, and he figured out real fast that Sheila Valone was no saint.

If not for Cleo, I’d be dead. I never would have survived foster care.

Suddenly the door opened, along with a sickening little giggle and Rico’s soothing, sexy words as he kissed the woman. “That was real good, sweetness.”

“Anytime, Rico. You just call me and I’ll get here fast.”

Nina could practically hear her heart racing. Her palms were sweaty, her stomach ached terribly. She could hear it rumbling as she laid her hand over her belly. Just then Rico and the redhead, the one from the bar near his club called Rick’s, noticed her standing there like a frozen statue.

“Nina, what are you doing here?” he asked, his dark eyebrows scrunching together, his lips firm, and the anger apparent on his face as if she were at fault. That was typical Rico. She knew he was going to twist this around. Nina looked at the redhead who just stared at Nina and gave her the once-over. Nina’s stomach churned some more.

“Hey, Rico, I thought you were done with her? You stole her little cherry and kicked her out so I can move in,” the redhead said, sounding so smug.

Rico grabbed Nina’s arm and hissed at the redhead. “Cool it, Stacy. I’ll deal with her. I’ll call you later.”

Nina couldn’t believe that this was happening. Right here, before her very eyes, these two acted like she was lower than dirt and didn’t matter. The nerve of her to say that Rico just wanted my virginity. Did he?

The wheels in her head began to spin. Recollections of past moments of doubt about this relationship, about Rico, entered her mind. She had been young, naive, and impressionable. Especially once she lost Cleo. Cleo had gone missing, his body found days later indicating he was killed. It made her realize that she had to succeed in life or she would end up dead, too. The city streets would eat her alive. It was harder than she thought to find work and establish a career with only a high school diploma.

She glanced at the two people mumbling something. Were they talking about her still, and in a negative fashion? She felt tiny, minuscule, and worthless. Nina’s vision blurred. She feared she might pass out as perspiration reached her brow and her stomach continued to rumble. The redhead pushed her tight-fitting black tube dress down further but it didn’t matter. If the woman bent forward a few inches, the world would see her goods.

“She’s such a pushover.”

“Leave her alone, Stacy. I got this,” Rico said.

Stacy looked down at Nina. “You’re a waste. Being all sweet and innocent is boring. No man like Rico, a man who likes action in bed, the rough stuff, would take someone like you seriously.”

The redhead’s words pounded inside Nina’s head. She thought about the fantasies Rico shared with Nina in bed. He wanted to tie her up, dress her in some sexy leather outfits, and whip her ass and her pussy with some sort of thingy.

She turned to look at Stacy.

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