Twelve years later
“Mr. Cipriani, I have the risk-and-profitability report you asked for.” Polly, his secretary, set the folder down on his desk.
“Thank you. I appreciate it. Can you hold all my calls, please?”
She gave him a smile and nodded before slipping out of his office, closing the door behind her.
Roman rubbed his temples. His head pounded. He had a stack of work that needed to be done, plus the report to go over, but he didn’t feel like getting lost in numbers and finances. Not today.
He loosened his tie and leaned back in his chair. He’d slept like shit last night, tossed and turned for hours on end. It wasn’t really a surprise to him, though. That happened often around this time of year. The memories started to resurface, the dreams interrupting his sleep, until he found a way to bury them all again.
Goddamn it. It had been twelve years. The old Roman was dead. Gone. Died with his father years ago and thrived even more when his brother got locked up. He was a different man.
He’d worked his ass off to get out of the slums. To get away from the demons of his past. He’d wanted to become someone, and he’d done that. He wasn’t a drug dealer like his father. He’d gotten a full ride in college, gotten his masters degree in finance, yet sometimes he was still that kid his dad and brother had beaten till he nearly died.
“Fuck.” Roman rubbed a hand over his face. He needed to get his shit together. There was no reason to keep dwelling on the past like this. At twenty-eight, he should be over it.
He groaned when his phone rang. Hadn’t he just asked Polly to hold his calls? But then, he knew if she let one through, there was a good reason for it.
“Yeah?” he said into the phone.
“Sorry to bother you. I know you said no calls, but it’s Amy. She said she tried your cell, but it rang at home. You must have forgotten it.”
Shit. He really must have been out of it this morning if he left his cell phone at home. He was typically glued to the damn thing. His whole life was on that phone. “That’s fine, Polly. You can put her through.”
There was a click, a transfer on the line, and then, “Who are you and what did you do with the Roman I know? You left your phone at home. That’s unheard of.”
He chuckled. “I’m not sure what happened. I didn’t sleep well last night, so I was a little out of it this morning.”
There was a short pause and then, “Aww. I would have come in and worn you out if I’d known.”
He rolled his eyes playfully even though she couldn’t see him. “We broke up, remember? And it was you who broke up with me.”
“Only because I had the guts to do it when you didn’t. I know you love me, Roman, but we both know you’re not in love with me. We’re better off as friends.”
He wished he were in love with her. He thought maybe he wasn’t capable of falling in love with anyone. It just wasn’t how he was built. If he could love someone else, it would be Amy. “Yes, you’re right. We’re better off as friends. Then why the offer of sex?”
“Because I’m a woman with a healthy libido. And love me or not, you’re good in the sack.”
Roman let out a loud laugh at that. Leave it to Amy to put it all on the table that way. “I’m honored you’re so impressed by my ability to give you orgasms.” Still, as he teased her, his gut clenched. Sex with Amy had been…well, better than sex with other women he’d been with. He enjoyed it and he got off, but he’d be completely okay if they never fucked again. He wasn’t sure what that said about him, the fact that he didn’t love sex the way a lot of men did. It was nice, but he didn’t understand the fascination with it, and he also knew that wasn’t normal, which was why he kept it to himself.
Despite having broken up, Amy still lived with him. He liked having her around and knew she felt the same about him. “Did you have a reason to call, other than me leaving the phone? I have a mountain of paperwork in front of me. I should get back to it.”
Amy sighed, and the twist in his gut coiled tighter. She always sighed before she said something she knew he wouldn’t want to hear.
“Just say it.”
“I wanted to check on you. I know you didn’t sleep well last night. I was up watching TV, and I could hear you moaning. You had another nightmare, didn’t you?”
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath…and felt like the weakest piece of shit on the planet. It was hard to get over sometimes—the past. Hard to steel himself and not feel fragile and emotional. Hard to feel like the man his father tried to beat him into—the one he’d wanted to become.
“You know you can tell me anything, don’t you? We’re not together anymore, but you’re more than my roommate. You’re my best friend, Roman. People talk to their friends. What do you have nightmares about?”
Most people didn’t know much about his childhood. They didn’t know much about him pre-college at all. He tried to forget those days existed, every single part of them. Some things were easier to forget than others. Amy knew he had a dark past. That he hadn’t had a good relationship with his father or his brother before his dad lost his life to gun violence and his brother ended up in prison—which he guessed was really the only story there was to tell.
“I don’t have nightmares about anything, Amy. I’m fine, okay?”
“Liar,” she replied.
He had no interest in doing this. “I need to get back to work.”
“Fine. I should probably do something myself. Do you want to go out tonight? Get a drink or something? Maybe it’ll do us both some good after a long week.”
He probably needed that, but he didn’t want to commit to anything. If he didn’t feel like being around people, he’d stay at the office all night and work. She knew him well enough to know how it went. “Maybe. I’ll let you know later, okay? It depends on how much I get done.”
He didn’t know how Amy put up with him. She was such a social person, and he wasn’t. It had been hard for them when they were together because Roman hadn’t wanted to spend time with people outside of Amy. At least not often. He’d been more satisfied when it was only the two of them.
There was another pause, and he thought maybe Amy would argue with him, but she just said, “Okay. I love you.”
“I love you too.” She was the only person in his life who’d ever loved him, and likely the only person he’d ever loved as well. Anything else had been a lie.
Leo Mancini rolled over to find a warm body next to him in bed. Fuck, he’d forgotten he brought someone home with him last night. Didn’t the guy realize he wasn’t supposed to stay? Fuck and leave, those were the rules. Fuck and leave.
“Hey…” Damn it. What was the man’s name? He couldn’t remember. Rick? Rob? Something with an R. “Hey.” He poked the dark-haired man’s side.
“Bad aim. My ass is a little lower and behind me. Unless you want my dick, then slip your hand around front. I have to tell you in case you couldn’t tell last night, it’s my ass I like to use more than my cock.”
Okay…that didn’t sound so bad…but no. He didn’t want to think with his cock right now. He had things to do, and he wasn’t real fond of sleeping with the same man twice. “You need to go.”
R with the dark hair rolled over at that. “Seriously?” His brows pulled together. He had traces of eyeliner around his eyes and a few tattoos. He looked younger than Leo himself, but definitely legal. That was good.
Did he think this was something more than a hookup? They met in a club, for God’s sake. “Yeah. I need to get to work.” Which was a lie. He didn’t go in until tonight, but he wasn’t really good at the whole morning-after thing. He basically just wanted to be left alone.
“Yeah…yeah, okay.” The man got out of bed, showing off a nice, tight ass. Leo rethought his decision just for a second but didn’t change his mind. He watched as the man pulled on his jeans, no underwear, and then looked around for his shirt. “I had fun,” he said before grabbing his tee off the lampshade and pulling it on.
“Me too.” Leo got out of bed to walk him to the door. The having-fun thing wasn’t a lie. The more he woke up, the more he remembered screwing the guy in every position possible.
When they made it to the door, R turned around. He kissed Leo, and Leo let him. R let his hand trail over Leo’s chest, ghosting down to his dick, and Leo let him stroke that once too before the guy pulled back. “See ya around sometime.” He winked and then walked out the door.
Leo almost called him back—he was doing a whole hell of a lot of flip-flopping this morning—but he didn’t. He just made sure the door was locked, then stumbled to his bed and went back to sleep.
He slept for another few hours before getting up for good. Leo checked his phone and saw a missing phone call from his mom, which he ignored. It never went well when they spoke, anyway. He threw some clothes on, carried his bike downstairs, and then rode it down to the corner store, where he got some lunch, having slept through breakfast.
He didn’t have a car. It was pretty easy to get around in Los Angeles without one, and even if it wasn’t, he didn’t have the money to buy much of anything on four wheels.
Leo was okay with that. He lived a minimalist life, just the way he liked. He’d grown up in a house big enough to get lost in, with parents who thought money equaled happiness.
This life did. He was happy. The perfect kid they’d tried to make him into was dead, and Leo wouldn’t have it any other way.