Enid Landi smiled as she wove through the crowded pizza parlor. A staple in the small, Midwestern town, Landi’s had been in her family for over fifty years. On the cusp of graduating from the local college with her degree in Business Management, she’d finally been allowed to act as manager. She loved this place, and fully intended on stepping up and taking over once her old man retired.
Her brother, Eric, simply didn’t have the passion for it. He went through the motions, but every year she saw the distance grow in his eyes. The restaurant business could be brutal. It meant long hours, constant stress, and the ability to grin and bear it to let the customer think they were always right. When truth be told, they weren’t.
She paused every now and then to oversee the tables, and observe her staff. So far, so good. The bell above the door jingled. She glanced up, and her world exploded. Sergio De Luca. Dressed in a pair of faded blue jeans, a white T-shirt, and slicked back coal-black hair, he closely resembled the youth he’d been when the jail doors shut behind him.
Hushed voices filled the room, buzzing like a bee hive as tongues began to wag. The collective focus shifted on the front door. The gossip hotlines would ring off the hook tonight.
Sergio’s strong features still enticed her. Their gazes met. The warm brown eyes she remembered were hard. Four years locked away would do that, she supposed. Serg rolled his shoulders, and the muscles in his arms rippled, causing a chain reaction in her underwear. Enid had always been sweet on the all-star football player she tutored. Over time, the puppy love attraction matured to lust. Apparently some things didn’t change. Heat rose in her cheeks and she found herself grateful for her light brown skin. His eyebrows quirked, and she gave a small, yet sincere smile. Her heart knocked against her chest, and the few feet between them stretched out like a country mile.
A few moments later, she stood before the six-foot three-inch man with his jaw clenched so hard it looked to be made of steel. Up close the change from boy to man was quite evident. Her tongue darted out, and she licked her lips, moistening them as she offered her hand.
“Hi, Serg. It’s so good to see you.”
His gaze raked over her, and her nerves tingled.
“Enid Landi, you grew up well.” The admiration meant more than any of the well delivered pick-up lines she’d heard over the years.
“Thank you.” She cleared her throat. “So did you.” Way to ignore the elephant in the room.
“I see you got over the chronic case of shyness.” He smiled and the dimple in his left cheek appeared. His broad forehead smoothed out, and the chiseled chin and jaw were less severe without the stress. The roughened edges pulled back enough for her to see the boy she’d known since preschool.
“For the most part. How can I help you? We’re packed, but I could rustle up a to-go order if you’re starving.”
“Are you the manager now?” he asked.
“Yeah.” She grinned. “Mom had been bugging Dad to cut back hours for years, and with me a month out from graduating with my degree in business, he finally yielded.”
“Wow,” Serg said.
The disbelief made her laugh. Back in middle school, going to Landi’s felt like the only way to see Pop in person. “Yeah, I know.” She laughed.
“I, um – I actually came in to talk to someone about the sign. It says you’re hiring.” The bashful expression broke her heart.
“We are, for a cook. Are you interested?”
Serg shoved his hands into his pocket, drawing her attention to the thick length outlined by jeans that molded to him like a second skin. “I’d be grateful for anything you could throw my way.”
Enid began an inner battle. While she possessed the power to hire and fire, she wasn’t sure what her Pop would think about it. Even back in the day, Serg came from the wrong side of the tracks. Busted for smoking, drinking, and fucking in the back seat of a white Impala. His godlike ability to play football allowed him to escape harsh punishment, until the robbery.
“How about we give it a trial run? Can you come back tomorrow morning? Say eight-ish, so we can go over paper work and the ins and outs of pizza making. ”
“Definitely!” The hope sparkling in his brown eyes would be worth getting chewed out by Pop. “Thank you E, I really needed this, you know?”
She smiled and rested a hand on his forearm. His muscles grew taut and her nipples pressed against her silky bra. Embarrassed by the familiarity in her actions, she snatched her hand back as if it’d been burned. “I-I’m sorry.”
“No.” He shook his head. “Thank you for treating me like you always have.”
“I’d never treat you any other way.”
A pregnant pause fell. He cleared his throat, releasing them from their frozen state. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning then.”
“Yes.” Dazed, she watched him turn and exit. Damn, even his ass is drool worthy. The door shut and the bell sounded once more, bringing her back to the present. The noise of the Landi’s rushed back in.
“What did he want?” Her brother’s voice hit her like ice water.
“A job, Eric.” She rolled her eyes and spun on her heels to head toward the back office.
“Are you sure he wasn’t coming to see if you still harbored that pitiful crush? I hear the first thing guys want to do fresh out of the pen is get laid.” The snarky comment hit a sore note.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you’d suddenly become a sinless saint.”
“Whoa. Still crushing on him, huh?” Eric snickered.
Enid rolled her eyes. Could men revert like small children? She glared at him as they walked into the office and he shut the door.
“No, I told him we’d put him on the clock for a trial basis.”
“You did what? Pop is going to murder you.”
She cringed. “Not if you keep your mouth shut until he proves his worth.”
“Come on, if this goes down and he finds out I kept it from him I’ll get my ass kicked!” Eric crossed his arms over his broad chest and glowered.
“You’re not my keeper.” Frustration welled inside her chest. She loved her family, but they suffocated her like a wet blanket. The family rules were etched in stone: dinner on Sunday after, mid morning mass together, and staunch family values. The old-fashioned policy occasionally bordered on sexism. As the only girl in a family of three boys, she’d always had it hardest. Being in the middle probably didn’t help matters either.
“According to the big brother rule, I am.” Eric shrugged. She counted to ten to keep from clawing his eyes out.
“Please, you’re older by nine measly months.”
“Tell that to Pop.” Eric shook his head. “I don’t like it any more than you do, Enid. I know you can handle yourself just fine, and for the record, yes, you deserve more freedom. But Mom and Pop are paranoid. I think it comes from having me fresh out of high school.”
“Yeah, yeah I know, I know.” She rolled her eyes. “Look just ... sit tight on this one, okay? You don’t work tomorrow, and it’s so busy tonight he wouldn’t think anything of it if you didn’t know what went down. I want to give him a chance. We all know Paolo was the reason Serg ended up outside the liquor store in the first place. Serg might have been a rebel, but he never crossed over into illegal territory that way. He spent his entire childhood trying to keep his little brother out of trouble, only to end up locked away with Paolo six feet under. It’s a sad story that deserves a happy ending.”
Eric sighed and tilted his head back.
“Imagine if Paolo had been our little brother Ethan. You’d do anything to keep him safe.”
“Low blow, Enid.” Eric shook his head.
“I know. It should tell you how much this means to me.”
“Why do you care so much?” Eric asked, pinning her with his hazel stare.
She plopped down onto the edge of the oak monstrosity they called a desk, and swung her legs. “I tutored the guy for four years. We formed a bond, and I got to see beneath that tough guy persona he wore around. I have a soft spot.”
“As long as that’s all it is, you understand?” Eric narrowed his eyes. “You’re a good girl, Enid. You deserve a guy on your level.”
“What does that even mean?” She frowned.
She ground her teeth and gave a curt nod.
“You follow?” Eric’s voice deepened.
“Yeah, I follow.”
“Good. You’ve been busting your ass tonight. How about you take a ten minute break? I can cover for you out front.”
“Thanks, big brother.”
He slipped out of the room, closing the door behind him as she sighed. If he knew about the past between her and Serg, he’d want to strangle them both.
SERG STEERED THE BEAT up sedan through the familiar streets. Despite the never changing landscape, he truly felt like a stranger in a strange land. With no one to tell him what to do, when to do it, and how it should be done, he felt bereft. Shame pushed heat up his neck to the tips of his ears, and into his cheeks. I can barley take a piss without fear of retribution. Anger threatened to bubble to the surface, but he forced it away. The rage ate Paolo alive. It wouldn’t be his downfall. The inherited trait of intense anger came from their wannabe gangster father, who’d walked in and out of their lives until he’d earned a life sentence for manslaughter.
The spitting image of their shiftless Dad, Paolo came out with a little too much of their sire’s blood his veins. Serg learned the hard way you couldn’t make someone change unless they were ready.
He turned off the busy main street onto Crane Street. Ten minutes later, he parked in front of the run down, ranch style, three bedroom house with one bath. The faded blue siding, peeling, and cracked, screamed for repair. The roof needed patch work in places, and the lawn looked like an overgrown jungle, very different from the pristine landscape with brightly colored flowers he remembered. When she’d watched her boys be taken away and buried, the life went out inside his mother like a snuffed out candle. Sergio owed it to her to bring that back, and fix up the house. For four years, she’d stood by him, writing letters, and making visits. Most people on the inside couldn’t say that. He might’ve learned about shit the hard way, but fuck, he’d retained the knowledge.
After killing the engine, he exited the car, estimating how much it’d cost to fix up the overgrown flowerbeds after he mowed. The stairs were sound enough as he climbed up the porch. He unlocked the front door and pushed it open.
“Mom?” His mother worked as a maid for the local hotel since he’d been a kid, and when it was needed, she’d picked up another gig.
“In the living room.” Her soft voice guided him into the space with the dull wood flooring, sagging off-white couch with the blue flower pattern, and threadbare blue lazyboy. She sat in the chair, diagonal from the old tube television that rested on top of a wooden TV stand.
“I think I got a job at Landi’s. Enid told me to come in tomorrow morning to talk about starting as a cook on a trial basis.”
“That’s wonderful, Sergio. Enid was always such a sweet girl, taking the time out of her busy schedule to tutor you.” She clucked her approval. “Please, thank her for me.”
“I will, Mom. She’s managing there now. Hopefully it all works out.”
“I know it will, Serg. This is your second chance at life. I know you’ll do the right thing.” The desperate hope visible in the lamplight stabbed him in the stomach like a rusty blade.
“I will, Mom. This time around I’ll make you proud.”
“You always made me proud, Serg. You were a little rambunctious, but never a true trouble maker. I knew when I got the call, Paolo had to be involved. God rest his soul. That boy had a way of attracting trouble to him like flies to shit.”
His eyes bulged at the swear word.
“Don’t worry, I’ll say a few more Hail Mary’s tonight.” She winked. The emergence of the mother he’d grown up with inside the tired shell with graying hair and a frumpy nightgown let him know that woman still existed.
“I’m going to shower and hit the rack. I’m still adjusting to the new schedule.”
His mother smiled.
“All right, good night.”
“Night, Ma.” As he climbed to the stairs, the vision from Landi’s filled his mind. Enid Landi. Time changed her. Now she had legs a mile long, thick thighs, a nice ass, and high, firm, breasts he’d done his best not to stare at. Her heart-shaped face thinned down and matured, showing off a killer set of high cheekbones, and rosy full lips. Others might have been stunned the quiet girl who’d hid behind glasses, and constantly kept her head in a book, turned out to be a big fox, but not him. He knew personally what a bombshell she’d been back then. One of his biggest regrets had been never getting the chance to tell her how he truly felt.
Serg’s house, 4 years prior
Serg licked his lips as he stared at the woman who’d captured his heart on their four year journey together. The sweet scent of rose surrounded him as he lay side by side with Enid on a blanket. He’d driven them out to the field where he usually sat and gazed at the stars. The one valuable thing his father shared with him was his love for astronomy. He’d been jonsing for Enid for the past two years, but knew she deserved better than a roll in the hay. Before, he hadn’t been ready to settle down, but now with graduation looming, and a full ride to the local college she’d also be attending, things were different.
“Okay, look up and to the right slowly. Do you see the four stars and the handle?”
“Yes. It’s the Big Dipper.” She laughed. The joyous sound twisted his insides and made his cock jump. “I can’t believe you’ve kept this hidden from me for four years.”
“Well, a guy has to have some secrets. Besides, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t know what to get you for your eighteenth birthday.”
She rolled over onto her side and propped herself up on her elbow. “Thank you for this. It’s been amazing.”
“I’m glad you like it, E.” He smiled. A lock of hair tumbled into her face. He curled it behind her ear and ran his knuckles over her cheek. “So soft.”
Her eyelids drifted down, and he leaned in, sure to keep their gazes locked in the dim lantern light. The intensity ramped between them. Their lips touched. Sparks flew through his body. She moaned. Blood rushed in his ears. He took control, deepening the kiss, burying his hands in the living silk of her hair as he lowered her to the blanket, covering her body with his own. Her pebbled nipples dug into his chest. He cupped her face, raining gentle kisses down her face and her neck before he returned to her parted lips. They separated. He traced her delicate brow.
“You are so beautiful, E. I’ve dreamed of seeing you like this, beneath me, lips swollen from my kisses.”
“Sergio. Her voice shook. “I-I can’t be another notch on your belt.”
He leaned back onto his heels. “You’ve been the only woman who’s ever counted. My constant companion and confidant.” His throat constricted as he spoke around the lump forming.
She tilted her head to the side, parting her legs as she leaned back and silently accepted him.
“I-I don’t— I’ve never done this before.”
He crawled between her shapely stems and rubbed the bulge in his jeans against her, swearing he could feel her searing heat through the layers of denim. A muffled pant escaped her trembling lips.
“Good. I want to be your first, and your only.”
Her dark eyes glistened with tears, and he knew he never wanted to let this girl down. She’d believed in him when no one else did. Listened, taught and stood by him. It shamed him how much they kept the nature of their relationship behind closed doors. But she came with two overprotective brothers. Plus, he had a reputation to uphold.
He darted forward, conquering her lips. She whimpered, returning the kiss with flourish. In need of more, he moved away, trailing his kisses down her graceful neck and collar bones as he lifted her tank top.
“Trust me, Enid. I’d never hurt you.”
She nodded and he pulled the material up, baring the swell of her breasts and a taut, toned tummy to his hungry gaze.
Her body trembled under him. He trailed his fingers down her neck to trace the cleavage barred by her tank top. Creamy brown mounds strained against the lacy pink bra.
“You’re even more beautiful than I imagined.”
“You thought of me, of us, together like this?”
“Oh, yes.” He pinched her nipples and her back arched. Her breathy responses were music to his ears, and he ate them up like a cat with cream.
“I did, too.” Her husky whisper made him groan.
“Lift up, baby. I want to see you.” She did as he asked, and he unclasped the back of her bra, darting forward to take a dark bud into his mouth as he massaged its twin. Drunk off her, he took her mouth once more, claiming it for his own. He plunged in and out of the moist cavern, mimicking what he planned to do to her tight sheath. Enid Landi had become a raging fire in his bloodstream. She buried her slender fingers in his hair. Her needy noises undid his tentative grip on control.
He jerked away from her lips and worked open her blue jean shorts, moving them down her slender hips and down shapely thighs, and calves. He placed kisses on every body part he could reach as he pulled off the denim and threw it to the side. “I need to get you ready for me, baby.” He caressed the inside of her thighs. “Spread your legs wide. Don’t be shy love, I’ve dreamed of seeing your pretty, pink pussy. You smell delicious. I need to have a taste.”
She trembled as she spread her legs, and he smiled at her display of trust.
“You’re such a good girl, Enid. Look at how beautiful you are when you follow my directions and give your body over to me.” He trailed a finger down her heated center. “So wet already.” He gathered her nectar and circled her swollen clit. Her hips jerked and circled in time with his motions. Unable to resist, he moved his head down between her thighs and circled her center with his tongue.
She tasted like everything pure and good he thought he’d never have, and he couldn’t get enough. He pushed inside her with his tongue, exploring her walls as he continued to work her clit with his thumb. Her muscles tensed, and he increased his speed, thrusting in and out, in and out as her walls contracted and liquid gushed hot and sweet into his mouth. The salted caramel coated his tongue, exploding on his taste buds as he drank down every drop.
“Oh, my God.” Her body continued to twitch, her eyes glossy and unfocused.
“Wait, baby, this is the tip of the iceberg.” Humbled by the gift she’d given him, he licked his lips. “You taste amazing. I could eat you all night.” He eased a finger inside her, loosening her up gently as he brought her back to the edge. “So tight, baby? Do you like that?”
“Mmhmm.” She rocked up against him, working with his rhythm as she gained confidence.
While she rested in the afterglow, he pulled a condom from his pocket, undid the buttons of his pants and shoved them around his ankles. Condom in place, he locked gazes with her.
“Are you ready for me, E? Because we can stop any time you want.”
“No, I want this with you.” She cupped his face. “You’re special to me, Serg, always have been.” The conviction in her words made his chest ache. He swallowed.
“Then guide me home.” Serg positioned himself between her legs, and twined their fingers together. He eased inside and pulled out, over and over, making his way to the barrier that boasted her innocence.
“It’s going to sting the first time, baby.”
“I-I know.”Her tongue darted out, and she flexed her muscles.
Serg groaned. He pulled out once more, surging forward, swallowing her cry as he made her his. He held still, kissing her through the discomfort as she adjusted to his girth. Then her hips lifted against him tentatively, and the clearing filled with the sounds of their pleasure.
Present Day, Serg’s room
The romance short-lived, cut down before it could get off the ground when he’d made the worst decision of his life a week later. He wondered if she remembered. A woman like her had to be well on her way to being married. Sometimes in life you didn’t get a second chance at greatness. He rolled onto his back, unused to the soft mattress. It felt too fancy. The goose down duvet was far better than a man like him deserved. Frustrated, he got up and paced the carpeted floors. No wonder there were so many repeat offenders. They treated you like dog shit for so long, then you get out only to feel bad for having regular liberties most people took for granted. Unable to walk of the antsy energy, he dropped to the ground and started doing pushups. Once his arms were too heavy to lift his own weight, he’d pass out from exhaustion, at least. The road to re-adjustment stretched out ahead of him. I can do this. I have to.