Author Topic: Lying Low  (Read 172 times)

Matteo Alessi

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Lying Low
« on: July 22, 2020, 05:39:24 PM »
Matteo arose early the next day, partly out of habit and partly because he just couldn't sleep anymore. He showered and dressed and made breakfast before Addie and Nora came down to join him. Thankfully, Danny had stocked the kitchen so that they had something more substantial than cold cereal for breakfast. Matt made omelets with toast and coffee - proof he could actually cook when he needed to. The first order of business was swapping the car for another, which meant he was going to have to leave the cottage and venture into town. He insisted on going alone, in case he ran into trouble, and instructed them not to let anyone in, no matter who they said they were, while he was away. If all went well, he'd only be gone a few hours at most.

Left to their own devices, determined to distract themselves from worrying over his safety, Adriana and Nora set themselves to cleaning every inch of the living room and kitchen with music playing loudly for them to sing along to. In just a couple of hours, the kitchen was sparkling, just in time for Matt to return and catch his wife and sister-in-law slow-dancing to musical numbers.

Matt had managed to swap the SUV for a white Nissan Ultima without too much trouble, citing the fact that the SUV used too much gas, though the fact was that the Ultima was the most popular car in Nevada and would blend in better with traffic. Had he known they were cleaning, he would have asked why, considering they weren't staying long enough to spend another night there. As it was, he was so preoccupied with other things, he hardly noticed. He did notice the dancing though, with an amused smile on his face as he stepped into the house.

It was just silly enough to have both girls smiling, smiles that broke into laughter when Adriana dipped Nora and they both noticed Matt watching them. "Oh, hi!"

Other people might find it strange that they were smiling and laughing after what had happened just yesterday, but the truth was that they needed it. They needed to remember what it was to be alive. Danny would have wanted it that way. He had sacrificed his life so that they could be safe and happy. Matt knew they wouldn't always be happy, but he was encouraged by what he saw here, by Adriana and Nora having fun.

"Hi," he replied, that amused smile still on his face. "Don't stop on my account. You look like you're having fun."

Pulling Nora upright, Adriana grinned, moving to kiss Matt's cheek affectionately. "It passes the time, huh?" she pointed out, rolling her eyes as the music changed and Nora started to hump her leg to the beat.

Matt rolled his eyes and chuckled at Nora's antics. "That's not dancing, Nora. That's, uh, something else," he said, shaking his head, that amused expression still on his face.

"What, you never heard of dirty dancing?" Nora smirked at him, backing up to wiggle to the music in her own space. "Don't mind me, you two get to humping to the beat."

"That's not dirty dancing. That's just dirty!" Matt said, with another chuckle. "But I could teach you how to tango," he said, which was partly what "Dirty Dancing" was based on anyway.

Nora pulled a face. "That's ballroom dancing," she said derisively. "Only old people and boring people do that."

Adriana laughed aloud, a little offended. "Hey! I took ballroom for years!"

"Oh, really?" Matt said, arching his brows at both of their remarks, but for different reasons. "What do you think, Addie? Want to prove her wrong?" he asked, surprised to learn his new wife was no stranger to the dance floor.

"Oh god, you're both boring," Nora teased, affecting an air of disgust all the while grinning with deep satisfaction.

"Ooh, you are such a teenager," Adriana countered in amusement, tilting her head toward Matt. "Sure. Let's knock her socks off."

Matt laughed at Nora's teasing. "You, young lady, are about to find out just how wrong you are," he said, slipping out of his shoes and leaving them near the door. "We need to move some of this furniture out of the way," he said, with an appraising look around the living room. "Have you been cleaning?"

"It was that or Monopoly, and she cheats," Nora informed him, already moving to give the sofa a shove across the carpet.

Adriana rolled her eyes. "I don't cheat," she insisted, wriggling her bare toes on the floor. "Your math is bad."

"The only way you can cheat at Monopoly is if you're the banker," Matt remarked, making a mental note to never let Adriana be the banker. He helped shove the furniture out of the way, creating a small open area where they could dance without bumping into anything. "Now for the music," he said, pulling out his phone and loading a music app to scan for something appropriate.

Nora smirked, perching herself on the arm of the sofa, safely out of the way of the dance about to begin. She was privately congratulating herself on her match making skills, completely unaware that they were not needed in the slightest.

After a few minutes of searching, he found an appropriate song, turned up the volume, and set his phone on a table. "Shall we?" he asked Addie, as he reached for her hand, his other hand coming to rest against her waist.

"Why not?" Laying her hand in his, Adriana spun toward him, the movement sharp and challenging, just like a good tango should be. Her hand landed confidently on his shoulder as she raised her brow. "After you."

He smiled as he caught her in his arms, drawing her close, he led her forward, taking several steps before turning so that they were facing the other direction, moving together fluidly as though they could read each other's minds.

It had been a long time since Addie had danced, but the movements came back to her with ease. And Matt was a good partner - confident and sure, his hands safe on her when she spun or slid to the floor. The tango had always been one of her favorites with the right partner.

He went slow and easy at first, letting her get accustomed to the way he moved and led her around the floor. Encouraged by her skill, it wasn't long before he was spinning and dipping her like they had been dancing together for years. It was a sensuous dance, with their bodies pressed so close together, but there was no humping of legs to be seen.

For Addie, everything faded away but Matt and the dance, the feel of his body close to hers with the heady beat of the music. It was almost intoxicating, the spell not even broken when the music came to an end with them face to face, just a little breathless.

His attention was focused on her, as well, gaze meeting hers, watching her as he spun her out and back into his arms, until the music came to an end, and they were simply left holding each other dangerously close. He forgot about Nora for a moment, just long enough lose himself in Addie's eyes. If he wasn't careful, his body was going to betray him again.

Slowly, her lips curved into a smile that was as much a challenge as it was an invitation. "You're pretty good at that, Mr. Alessi," she said, bumping the tip of her nose to his teasingly. "Seducing me with your mooooves."

"You're not so bad yourself, Mrs. Alessi," he said, smiling back at her, emphasizing the Mrs. this time and not likely to forget again. He seemed reluctant to let go, leaning close to rest his forehead against hers and chuckling a little as she bumped her nose against his.

"Get a room," Nora suggested from behind Adriana, cutting off whatever her sister had been about to say.

Adriana grinned at Matt, ignoring the comment to drop a kiss on his nose. "We'll have one later on, thank you very much," she informed her sister.

"And you'll have one, too," Matt pointed out. She was a little old to be sharing their room every night, though he understood why she hadn't wanted to sleep alone last night.

"Yeah, yeah," Nora drawled through her smile. "Besides, I know where we're going. I love that room."

Adriana chuckled softly, reluctantly easing back from Matt's embrace. "So still think ballroom is for boring people?"

"There are lots of styles of dance besides ballroom dancing. Have you ever tried swing dancing?" he asked of them both. "My mother taught me a little."

"No, I never tried swing," Adriana admitted with a smile. "My mom wanted me to be a lady."

Nora cackled. "My mom wanted me to be a hooker!" she declared, despite the obvious evidence that she could not possibly have known that.

Matt opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again at Nora's outburst, brows furrowing as he tried to decide whether she was serious or not. "I sincerely doubt that," he said. Not even hookers wanted their daughters to be hookers.

"Nikki would not have done that to you," Adriana said, throwing a cushion at her sister as Nora cackled. "You're such a dipstick."

The teenager caught the cushion cheerfully. "Yeah, but it made you guys stop dry humping, right?"

"And on that note, I'm going to get something to drink," he said, touching a kiss to Addie's cheek, before ruffling Nora's hair as he moved past her for the kitchen.

Matteo Alessi

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Re: Lying Low
« Reply #1 on: July 22, 2020, 05:40:34 PM »
"Did you get the car okay?" the teen asked, ducking her head out from under his hand as she moved to follow him, leaving Addie to put the furniture back in order herself.

"Yeah, I got the car," he said, purposely leaving it at that, as he made his way into the kitchen and pulled a soda from the fridge. A little cold caffeine to keep him going for the rest of the day, though Adriana had said the safe house wasn't too far to drive.

"Addie said we're going after dark?" Nora asked, leaning on the counter. "What're we gonna do before that? It's, like, hours away."

He handed her a soda, glancing to the other room to see what happened to her sister. "Addie! Don't worry about the furniture. I'll take care of it later!" he called.

"I'll be there in a second!" Adriana called back, but she didn't stop pushing the furniture back into position.

Nora chortled, lifting her soda to her lips. "She won't leave it undone," she predicted. "She's kinda OCD like that."

Matt frowned. "I should go help," he said, starting back toward the other room with a soda in each hand. Even if she didn't need his help, it was the right thing to do.

Nora watched him go, smirking into her soda. "Dude, you have such a white knight complex," she muttered impishly to his back.

"You say that like it's a bad thing," he called back, as he rejoined Addie. "Here," he said,  handing Adriana both the sodas, so he could replace the furniture where it belonged. "So, Monopoly is out. What else is there?"

Surprised to find her hands suddenly full of soda, Addie was forced to let Matt put the room back to rights. "I did have it, you know," she protested mildly. "I won't break."

From the doorway to the kitchen, Nora piped up again. "We found a pack of cards."

"I didn't say you would," he countered, a smirk on his face as he pushed the couch back where it belonged. "What kind of white knight would I be if I let you do it yourself?" he teased, quoting Nora's assessment of him. There were worse things to be.

"Did you leave your horse in your other pants?" Adriana asked him, biting her lip immediately after. She hadn't actually intended to say that out loud, but too late ... Nora had spat soda all over her own hand trying not to laugh.

"On a steel horse I ride," he said, offering her a wink and quoting Bon Jovi. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Nora!" he teased, as he easily slid the chairs back into place, as well.

Spluttering, Nora had to retreat to the kitchen to clean herself up, leaving the couple alone. Adriana giggled softly.

"That was my fault," she pointed out, though she clearly didn't feel remorse for it. "I look forward to meeting your horse, sir knight."

He smiled, clearly amused by her flirtation. "Do you expect me to gallop?" he teased back, reaching for one of the sodas now that the living room was back in order. "No one has ever compared me to a horse," he added, mischief lighting his eyes.

"Tall, handsome, beautiful eyes," she teased, handing the soda to him. "All similarities. I couldn't possibly speak to the rest of your anatomy, though - I've never been that close to a horse."

"Sorry to disappoint, but I don't think that part of my anatomy compares very well to a horse," he remarked. If it did, it probably wouldn't be very comfortable, for either of them.

She laughed at that, despite the lingering tension that would likely not go away until they had squared everything to do with the "family" completely. "So no rutting like a stallion, then?"

"I doubt the stallion cares much about whether the mare is enjoying herself," he told her, hoping she understood what he meant by that. While rutting was all well and good for animals, he liked to think he could do a lot better than that where so-called rutting was concerned.

"Well now," she mused. "Isn't that interesting?" She winked at him, taking a sip of her soda even as she grinned, glancing toward the kitchen to check on her sister.

"It is if you're the mare," he countered, smiling sweetly back at her. "Why don't you go see what Nora is up to while I call Vince?" he suggested. Might as well get the phone call over with.

She smiled gently. "All right. Don't get too wound up, okay?" Her hand stroked his cheek for the barest moment before she slipped away, heading into the kitchen to join her sister.

"I'll be fine," he assured her, enjoying the simple touch of her hand, however brief, before she left him alone to make his phone call. He almost wished he'd grabbed a beer in place of the soda. Maybe that would calm his nerves a little, but it was too early to drink, and he needed to keep his wits about him. A cigarette would be even better, but he'd given those up years ago.

Just as he had been the night before, Vince was quick to answer the phone. "Matt," he said, his tone short but relieved to hear the other man's voice. "Report - what's happening at that end?"

Matt was just as relieved to hear Vince's voice on the other end, but he was dreading finding out what had happened at Tahoe. "We're fine. Just lying low for now," he told his boss.

Vince's sigh was audible. "Good to know. War's been declared in Vegas; we're cutting down the Puglianis' top shelf, thanks to your contact's information. They attacked our own, they get no quarter. You gotta stay low a few more days while we tidy up."

"Sorry, Vince. I know you didn't want that," Matt said, the frown audible in his tone of voice. It was the Puglianis who'd started it, but it would be the Molinaros who'd finish it.

"They forced my hand," Vince said in a stern voice. "Lie to my face, kill my guys, there's only one answer to that. Benny survived, by the way - ID'd a couple of Frankie's boys. That's how we know it was them." He paused before continuing, "Michael's under lock down."

Matt felt a wave of relief at the news that Benny had made it, but it was quickly followed by a sinking feeling when he realized Danny had probably not been so lucky. "What about Danny?" he asked, his voice quiet as he made his way up the stairs to one of the bedrooms so the girls didn't overhear his conversation.

He could almost hear Vince's head shake sadly. "Didn't get to him in time," the boss said reluctantly. "Looked like he convinced them he had your girls safely tucked away in one of the bedrooms - made them fight hard to get in. Overkill when they realized they were duped."

"s***," Matt murmured to himself. As far as Matt was concerned, Danny was the real hero of this story, but he didn't envy the man's end. "He was a good guy," he said, more to himself than to Vince. It was too bad they hadn't had a chance to get better acquainted.

"Seems like, yeah." Vince let out another heavy sigh. "You sure you don't need us to run protection, get you somewhere safe? No motor or anything?"

"No, we're good. I have a plan," Matt replied, though it was really Adriana's plan - or at least, her house. "No offense, but it's better no one knows." Just to be on the safe side. "Michael have anything to say?" he asked of the lawyer Matt was certain had betrayed him.

"I gotcha," Vince assured him. "Less people know, the better. And he's shut right now. Tried getting his secretary to shut down too, but May knows better than to push Joe's buttons. She's talking the pencil pushers through all the files."

"I'm gonna have to sell the house," Matt said, though that was the least of his worries right now. "And the boat," he added, as an afterthought. He fell silent a moment, as if considering his next words before continuing."There's something I need to talk to you about, but not on the phone."

"You trust me to get the house cleaned up and sold for a good price, or you want to get that one yourself?" Vince asked him. It wasn't a question the boss should be asking, proving once again that Vince did consider Matt to be far more than just a successful underling.

"I trust you, Vince," Matt replied without hesitation. He had no reason not to trust him; Vince had been like a father to him since he'd arrived in Vegas and even before that. After all, Vince and Matt's father had been good friends. There were few men in this business Matt trusted more, but what Vince would think of his proposal to go legit, he didn't know. "I'd appreciate that," he said of the man's offer to sell the lake house.

"We'll get it done," Vince promised him. "I still got access to your account, right? You always forget to change your passwords."

"Yeah, you've got access," Matt confirmed. Most people wouldn't trust anyone else with their bank accounts, but he owed too much to Vince to deny him that.

"Anything else you need done?" Vince asked then. "Your girls okay?" He knew they probably weren't, but those girls were as much family as Matt now. He had to ask.

"They're okay for now," Matt replied honestly. Both sisters were holding up okay for now, but Matt had a feeling they were still in a state of shock, and it was only a matter of time before the dam broke. "Don't worry. I'll make sure they stay safe."

"Yeah, well, don't forget to let your wife keep you safe, too," Vince advised him. "You don't have to always be the strong silent one, you got me? You have a little family now. Learn how to be a little bit broken around them."

Matteo Alessi

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Re: Lying Low
« Reply #2 on: July 22, 2020, 05:40:53 PM »

"I'm fine, Vince. They're the ones who need someone to take care of them right now," he insisted. What had he lost compared to them? A house could be replaced, but people couldn't. Danny couldn't, and he wasn't Danny.

"Just don't be so ready to stand strong that you miss when they can handle you being weak," was Vince's response, not quite letting it go but allowing the subject to drop. "If it's a safe risk, I'll let you know when the funeral will be."

Matteo made no comment regarding his emotional state. It wasn't like he was going to break down and cry. He'd shed plenty of tears when his sister had died, but he'd shed them in private. "Thanks, I'm sure the girls will want to attend," he said, regarding Danny's funeral.

"If it's low enough risk, we'll get you there," Vince promised him. "Anything you need from us? Want anything left in a drop off point for you to pick up?"

"To be honest, I'm not even sure where we're going. She hasn't told me yet," Matt replied. Leaving something at a drop off point might take them out of their way, and he wanted to get there without delay. "I'll be in touch if I need anything."

"All right. Your wife's got a cautious head on her shoulders, good to know." Vince sounded pleased. "You stay safe. I'll let you know when the war's won."

Matt didn't bother to remark on whether they would win the war or not; it was just a matter of how much the war would cost them in bloodshed. The Puglianis had not only picked the wrong battle but the wrong enemy. "That's the idea," he said, at least, where staying safe was concerned. "Thanks, Vince. Be careful."

"You know me, I'm too old to die," his boss responded, his faint grin audible. "Keep living, kiddo." Again, his nod was almost audible in itself before he hung up the phone, the line going dead.

Given the chance, Matt might have argued, but Vince hung up before he could say another word. He frowned as he slid the phone back into his pants pocket, hoping Vince was right. He hadn't wanted a war, but he couldn't deny the Puglianis had it coming. The whole point of marrying Adriana was to avoid this sort of thing.

"God damn it," he muttered to himself, tempted to put his fist through a wall, but that wouldn't solve anything. His place was in Vegas with his boys, but he had promised to protect the girls, and it was a promise he was going to keep.

"Yo, Matt," Nora called up the stairs for him. "How long until we're allowed to get in the car and go somewhere with a pool?"

He groaned as Nora's voice interrupted his thoughts. How was he supposed to answer that? And where the hell was Addie? He drew a deep breath to regain his composure. He didn't want to snap at the kid. None of this was her fault, after all, and she was upset enough as it was. He was trying to keep things as normal as possible, but there was nothing normal about any of this. He turned on a heel and started back toward the stairs, forcing a smile to his face for Nora's sake.

"The safe house doesn't have a pool?" he asked as he started down the stairs.

"Yeah, it does," she said cheerfully, though her expression sobered when she got a good look at his face. "Sorry." Evidently sensing she was close to pressing buttons, she lifted her phone. "I was gonna go watch a movie on my phone. We can do the hanging out thing later."

"It's okay, Nora," he told her, trying to soften his voice. "I don't mind hanging out. I just don't think it would be a good idea to find a pool right now." He gave her another look, his expression softening, as well. "You okay?"

"I'm good," she said, though she wasn't as good as she pretended. They would all need a day in which no one had to run for their lives before they could deal with what had happened. "Look, you look stressed, and I'm pretty sure Addie's better to talk to about that than me, so I'm gonna go into that other bedroom and watch a movie, play a game on my phone. No chatting, no texting, just passing the time. Okay?"

"No chatting or texting," he echoed, though he was pretty sure after what had happened yesterday, he didn't have to worry too much about that.

She nodded, offering him as encouraging a smile as a thirteen-year-old can give before she passed him on the stairs, already loading up some streaming service on her phone.

"Nora," he said, turning to follow her with his eyes. "It's gonna be okay. Just trust me, okay?" From the look on his face, he probably needed to hear it more than she needed to say it.

"I do trust you," she promised. "I'm just bored. Sorry for being an ass." She smiled brightly, turning to jog up the rest of the stairs and into the second bedroom.

"You're not ..." He sighed, shoving a hand through his hair, feeling a little exasperated. He understood a little how she felt. They were cooped up here with nothing to do but watch the paint peel, but it was only for a day.

Of all of them, Nora had the least to be concerned with. She knew she was the top priority for both the adults she was with, and though she felt a little bad about it, she couldn't say she was unhappy with that state of affairs. Addie was feeling the pressure a little, though, sitting out on the deck once again, this time perched on the railing with her back against one of the supports, eyes closed as she breathed slowly.

Matt didn't bother to go after Nora. He trusted her to stay within the parameters of their agreement. She wasn't a child, after all. He continued on down the stairs and into the kitchen, this time searching the fridge for a beer before looking for Addie. It was past noon by now, so beer was allowed. He would, in fact, have liked something a little stronger to calm his nerves, but beer would have to do.

"Matt?" Hearing movement in the kitchen, Addie opened her eyes, turning her head toward the cabin door curiously. "You okay, baby?"

"Yeah, it's me!" he called back, hearing her. "Want a beer?" he asked, thinking she might need one for similar reasons.

"That sounds like a good idea," she called in answer, dropping her feet to the deck of the porch, turning her back on the woods. "Waiting around has me wound up tight."

"I'll be right out!" he called, as he dug another beer out of the fridge, blinking as he realized something. Had she just called him baby? No, he had to have misheard her. He heard her feet hit the deck and headed for the door before she came back inside. "His and hers," he said, as he handed her a bottle.

She chuckled faintly, taking the bottle with a smile. "Mr and Mrs," she replied, lifting it to her lips to sip. "Nora's bored out of her mind, so ignore anything she says that's annoying. She's never been this long without a Playstation."

"I just ran into her on the stairs. She said she was going to watch a movie or something," he said, lifting his beer to her in salute. "Breakfast of Champions," he said before taking a swig. Or more like lunch.

"That's probably a good idea," Adriana said, nodding slowly. She leaned back onto the railing with a faint sigh, watching him for a long moment. "You wanna talk about it?

"Talk about what?" he asked, arching a brow. "You mean, the phone call?" He remembered what Vince had told him about leaning on Adriana, but he wasn't sure what exactly she was referring to.

"Whatever's got you so tense I could pluck you like a string and get a high C," she said over the rim of her beer. "You weren't this tightly strung before the call."

His mouth tightened into a frown. She had him there. "We're going to war," he said, summing up almost the entire conversation in just a few words.

Adriana visibly flinched, guilt and fear filling her gaze even as she looked away. "s***," she said succinctly. "I never meant for anyone else to be killed over this."

His brows arched upwards at her remark. "How is any of this your fault?" he asked without any accusation in his tone, only concern. "Because your last name is Cavarello and some assholes across town decided you're an easy mark?"

"I'm supposed to be able to protect my people, aren't I? Keep the trouble from getting out of hand," she said reluctantly. "I guess this proves I'm not very good at that."

"It doesn't prove a damned thing, except that the Puglianis are greedy, bloodthirsty pieces of s***," he said, keeping it as clean as he could without mincing words. He obviously had no love for them, but he'd been hoping for a peaceful resolution.

"They're gonna die for that greed," Adriana said quietly. "I wish they'd never decided to move so aggressively. They're going to lose everything, for what? For the sake of four casinos, two hotels, and an internet gambling conglomerate."

"They went too far, Addie," Matt said, though he probably didn't have to tell her that. "They killed Mia and now ..." He trailed off, knowing he'd said too much. First Mia, then Danny. He wasn't going to let the same thing happen to Addie and Nora, too. He turned his head away so that she couldn't see the look on his face - the look of mingled rage and grief and sorrow. He'd agreed to this because Vince had wanted to end the bloodshed, but maybe he should have just killed them himself.

Matteo Alessi

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Re: Lying Low
« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2020, 05:41:28 PM »
The shock that slammed through her was palpable in the air, her body moving almost without thought to stand close to his, her hand rising to touch his arm. "Matt ... the Puglianis killed your sister?"

He turned back to her, unable to hide that look from his face, his jaw clenching a moment before he replied.

"There's no proof, but we're pretty sure it was them. They were trying to take over back East. Why wouldn't they do the same thing here?" Maybe because they hadn't succeeded back east. Maybe that was what had made them so ruthless. There were better ways to do business, but some were still stuck in the old ways. "They're bad news, Addie. When Vince told me they killed your father ..." He sighed. "I'm just trying to do the right thing."

"Why didn't you tell me it was them?" she asked softly. "Why not let me know that they killed your sister, as well as my father? You have every right to be pissed and want revenge. "

"Because I ..." He trailed off a minute. That was a good question actually. "I didn't want you thinking this was about her. It's not. I mean, it is and it isn't. I'm here because I want to be, Addie," he assured her, his voice softening. "I don't want to lose anyone else," he said, his voice catching in his throat.

"You won't." She didn't know where her confidence came from, but she was certain of that. "I'm here, and I'm staying here, right by your side. Nora's not going anywhere." Her fingers gently touched his cheek as she looked into his eyes. "Don't you think I'm just as scared of losing you, baby?"

Drawing more comfort from her touch than he could had imagined possible, he met her gaze, blinking back unshed tears. He wasn't going to cry, not in front of her, not when she needed him to be strong, but he'd let her see a little of his own vulnerability. He was only human, after all. And there it was again - that term of endearment. He hadn't imagined it after all. She was right though. He was scared, and he didn't like the feeling, but he didn't want to be like Marco. He didn't want to become cold and heartless, not where she was concerned.

"Addie, I ..." He trailed off again, afraid to say the words he was feeling in his heart.

She leaned close, curling her hand to his neck as her lips pressed to his in a swift, fierce kiss. Even when she drew back, she stayed close, her brow pressed to his own as she breathed him in. "I know," she whispered to him. "I do, too."

He kissed her back, his lips warm and tender against hers, and longing for more. He touched her cheek, drawing gentle fingers through her hair as they stood so close. He adored Nora, but thank God she wasn't there to tease them and spoil the moment. "I want us to be a family, Addie," he told her quietly. "I want us to be married for real."

"So do I," she murmured back to him. "It's not just a piece of paper to me. It never was. We can be good for each other, if we just let ourselves do it."

"I don't want this life for you or Nora or ... or our kids, if we ever have any," he told her, not for the first time, but in very different words. He cupped her cheek with his hand, forehead to forehead. "I know we haven't known each other very long, but I love you, Addie." He said it at last. They were only words, but he meant them with all his heart.

"We'll get out," she promised softly. "We'll get out together." Her eyes held his, impossibly soft as she let herself admit her own feelings aloud. "I'm falling for you hard, Matteo Alessi. I didn't want to hope you'd catch me."

He smiled a little at last, which released some of the tension in him. "It's probably a good thing we're married then," he told her leaning in for another kiss or three, each a little longer and deeper than the last.

There was a quiet thump as she groped to put her beer bottle down on the table, raising both hands to curl her arms about him, pouring her fingers through his hair as he traded her kisses for his own, shameless in wanting more of her husband even on the porch where any hiker might see them.

He wrapped his arms around her waist, reaching around her to set his beer bottle beside hers, freeing his arms to hold her close while his lips traded kisses with hers. If it wasn't for Nora, he'd take her to bed right this instant and not waste another minute. They'd wasted too much time already.

There was no resistance in her; she had been hoping for this almost since the evening they had met, though she would never admit it aloud. Matt made her feel in a way she hadn't experienced before, her fears assuaged, her hope kindled, her heart beating faster with each tender kiss and stroke of his hands. She could stay here happily forever, kissing and being kissed in the shade of the porch.

He was only too happy to please her, thereby, pleasing himself. It had been far too long since he'd been with a woman, and far too long since he'd let himself feel anything but rage and hate and grief. He put up a good face, but when was the last time he'd truly felt happy? He knew it would take some time to get there, but for the first time in years, he felt hopeful, and it was all because of  Adriana.

Finally drawing back, just far enough to breathe, Adriana lingered close for a long time in his arms, her eyes closed, just enjoying being held. "I can't believe we have to shelve this until after dark," she muttered.

He smiled as she drew back - a real smile, not one that he just plastered on for appearances. "We could give Nora a sleeping pill," he suggested, though he wasn't serious.

She snorted with laughter. "Once we get to Reno, I'll set her up with my old PS2," she promised. "She'll be suckered into the games of my childhood in seconds."

For some reason, his smile faded a little at that. "She needs friends, Addie," he pointed out. Nora was a thirteen year old girl who needed more than isolation and a PS2 to entertain her, even though they were trying to keep her safe.

"Yes, and she'll be able to connect with her friends in a day or so," she promised him. "Computers are my thing, baby. I can set her up so she is untraceable on the 'net. Once that's done, she can keep in contact with her friends, stay up to date, all that stuff. And once the worst is over in Vegas, we're going home, right?"

He wore a thoughtful expression on his face, as if he was contemplating her question a moment longer than necessary. Vegas had never been home - not for him. New York had always been home, but Mia's death had soured it for him. Did he want to make Vegas home? He wasn't sure, but it wasn't something they had to decide today. He hadn't thought about how Nora figured into things.

"Right," he replied, though he wasn't too sure.

She watched those thoughts flicker across his face, smiling faintly that she had learned how to read such tiny expressions in such a short time. "I never said home was Vegas," she said softly. "Home is where we all are."

"But Nora may not feel that way, Addie," Matt pointed out. He need to make sure she was safe, yes, but taking her away from her friends and the only life she'd ever known might not be the best thing for her if it made her unhappy.

"So we'll make that decision together," she said gently. "We're a family, this is something we decide as a group. But for the next few days, at least, she'll have to be content with being online with her friends. This is about staying safe while the danger is dealt with."

"So long as she doesn't tell anyone where we are," Matt pointed out. "Not even if they ask," he added, as they were likely to be curious. Thankfully, they'd already impressed upon Nora how crucial it was that their location remain secret.

"She won't," Adriana promised him. "She's freaking out enough about possibly being the reason for the attack on the lake, even though she definitely wasn't."

"I know," he said. Though he didn't know Nora the way her sister did, he knew how shaken she'd been by the attack on the lake and was pretty sure she'd keep her promise not to tell anyone where they were for fear of being found. "She shouldn't have to live like this, Addie," he pointed out, his thoughts drifting to Mia. There was nothing he could do for Mia now, but it wasn't too late for Addie or Nora.

"And she won't," Adriana reminded him. "We'll talk Vince into letting us go legit, getting us out of the family. Nora won't have to walk in the darkness like we have."

Matt nodded, hoping she was right. He hadn't had the courage to mention it to Vince yet. They needed his help to get through this first before making any business proposals. But he was still frowning. There were still things between them had been left unsaid. "Vince said he'd call when he knows more about the funeral."

Her confident facade faltered for a moment, her eyes flickering downcast briefly. "Danny's funeral," she said. It wasn't a question. "I want to be there. He didn't have any family, he just had us. I don't care how dangerous it is, I want to be there to say goodbye."

"You were his family, Addie. You and Nora. I didn't have to know him well to know he loved you and cared about you," Matt pointed out. He reached for her hand, linking his fingers with hers. "We'll find a way to be there."

"Thank you." With one hand entwined in his, she wrapped the other arm about his waist, leaning into the warmth of his body with a low sigh. "I feel like being around me has brought you so much stress," she said with a faint chuckle.

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Re: Lying Low
« Reply #4 on: July 22, 2020, 05:41:45 PM »
"Being around you?" Matt echoed with a chuckle of irony. "It's not you, Addie. It's this life," he told her. This life filled with violence and greed and death. They'd both been born into it, without any choice of their own, but that didn't mean they had to stay.

"Well, at least there's the prospect of halfway decent sex on the side," she offered with a bit of a cheeky grin, tilting her head back to look at him. "It's been a while, I might have forgotten what to do."

Matt couldn't help but smirk. "It's like riding a bike. I'm sure it will come back to you," he said, without a hint of jealousy regarding the men she might have slept with before him.

She bit down on her giggle, but it was obvious in her eyes as she held his gaze. "So ... I just mount up and go, huh?"

"Something like that," he replied, looking amused. More like riding a horse, but he didn't really want to make that analogy again.

It had obviously crossed her mind, given the giggles that were starting to burble out of her mouth now. She leaned against him, releasing his hand to just wrap both her arms about him, resting her chin on his shoulder in a gentle, long embrace. "We're gonna get through this, all of us," she promised. "Together."

He was only too happy to return her embrace, his arms going around her to hold her close. He was close enough to breathe her in, closing his eyes as he engulfed himself in her scent - a scent that was uniquely Adriana. That scent alone stirred feelings in him he had never felt before.

"So ... I guess I should look through those cupboards and start making dinner," she mused, drawing back slowly. "We've got time to kill before we get on the road."

He'd made breakfast, but that didn't mean he was unwilling to help with dinner. "Want some help?" he asked, only too willing to do so. What else did he have to do, after all?

"Sure," she agreed with a smile. "Between us, we should be able to come up with something edible, right?" She winked at him, knowing perfectly well they were both capable of that.

"I'm sure we can do better than that," he said, touching another kiss to her lips, as if he just couldn't get enough of them. "Should we ask Nora to join us?" he wondered. It wouldn't hurt for her to join them or to help with the cooking, and it would keep her busy.

Adriana smiled at his kiss. "Yeah, let's get her involved," she said with a nod. "I think she was giving us some space, anyway."

"I think she's bored," he told her. "She asked earlier if there was someplace we could go swimming. I hope you have a pool at the safe house," he said with a chuckle as he moved to his feet and took up his beer.

"Yeah, there is a pool," she promised him, collecting her own beer to take a swig as they headed back into the house. "It's a house that has nothing to do with my papa or the family. It came down to me from my mom's side."

"Oh, I see," he murmured, mostly to himself. But there would be a record somewhere of her mother's family and the property they owned, wouldn't there? Unless it was listed under someone else's name.

She smiled over her shoulder at him. "Trust me, it's a safe house," she assured him. "The deed is in the name of my great-great-great-great-adoptive-aunt's sister."

"Does anyone else know about it?" he asked. Other than Nora, obviously. Were any of her mother's family left, and if so, how much did they know about Adriana's place in the family.

She shook her head. "I didn't know about it until I was twenty-one. Mom was very careful - if Papa knew, he never mentioned it, and I've been through the system with a fine toothed comb. Not even Danny knew about the house."

"Really?" Matt said, brows arching upwards in surprise. He'd assumed Danny knew everything about Adriana and her sister. He opened the door for her, following her back inside. In a few more hours, it would be dark and they'd be driving to the safe house, wherever it was.

"It was her secret, and she gave it to me, so I kept it," she said with a shrug. "I'm glad I did now. I've only been there a couple of times, and it was years ago. I have kept it maintained, though - all in my ancestor's name."

"And Nora? Has she been there?" he asked, curiously. The teen seemed eager enough about the visit, so he assumed she had at one point or another.

"Once," she admitted with a low laugh. "She was ten, it was adorable. That's probably why all she remembers is the pool." Setting her beer bottle down, she opened the fridge, lifting her chin to call up the stairs. "Nora! It's safe to come out now!"

Matt smirked as Addie summoned her sister. "Should we give her something to see?" he asked, setting his beer bottle down so that he could wind his arms around Adriana's waist.

She laughed as he wrapped his arms around her. "You're a terrible man, you know that?" she teased, tilting her head to kiss his jaw affectionately as Nora's footsteps made themselves known on the stairs.

"I know," he said, making no move to extricate himself from her, even as Nora's footsteps drew closer. For some reason, he found he enjoyed teasing the girl, but that was only because he had grown fond of her.

"If those hands go up her top, I'm leaving," the teenager announced as she entered, grinning happily at the sight of the newly de-stressed adults in her life. "Didja have a quickie?"

Matt couldn't help but chuckle a little, even as his lips met Addie's for a brief kiss. "First of all, that's none of your business, but no, we didn't have a quickie," he told her, a smirk on his face.

"Wow, you must be turning aquamarine down there, then," Nora responded sweetly, ducking as Adriana threw a dish cloth at her.

"You're such a brat," the elder commented cheerfully.

"Yes, I'm sure my balls are good and blue, and I'm hung like a horse," Matt agreed. From the smirk on his face, it seemed he was no longer going to let a teenager get the best of him.

"So ... you have a pair of smurfs in your pants?" Nora countered, more than happy to tease and be teased. The tension that had been hanging over the cottage seemed to have dissipated for the time being, and she was going to make the most of it.

"One is Papa Smurf and the other is Grumpy," he told her, sticking his tongue out at her for good measure. "By the way, I hope you know how to swim because when we get to the safe house, you are getting a dunking."

"Oh yeah?" The teenager cackled cheerfully. "You are goin' down, my man."

Adriana rolled her eyes at the pair of them. "Why do I get the feeling I'm going to have to separate the pair of you with a crowbar?"

"Oh, really?" he said, chuckling in response. "We'll just see about that," he said, reaching over to mess up her hair - something he knew was pretty likely to annoy her, even if he was being playful.

He hadn't counted on Nora being pretty light on her feet, darting around behind Adriana in an attempt to avoid having her curls put into disarray for his amusement. "Yeah, we will," she said, peeking over her sister's shoulder.

He was probably a little too old to be sparring with a teenager, but he was hoping teasing Nora would help lighten the dark mood that had settled on them earlier. He followed her, reaching over Addie's shoulder to make a final attempt at ruffling her hair. "Brat."

"And proud!" the teen answered, giggling as she jerked back out of reach.

"Okay, okay, enough with using me as a human shield," Adriana declared. "Potatoes to peel, tomatoes to slice, chop, chop, handy helpers!"

Matt turned a mischievous grin on Addie before leaning in to smooch her nose. "Take your pick, kiddo!" he called over to Nora. Taters or tomaters?"

In the end, Nora plumped for the potatoes, settling in at the counter with her work. The laughter and teasing continued on throughout the cooking and the meal, and even the clean up, an easy-going warmth slowly becoming familiar to all of them as they found their dynamic in their new trio. It wasn't long before night fell, and they were piled into the car with Adriana behind the wheel, on the road to the safe house that had been promised.

"Are you sure you don't want me to drive?" Matt asked, as most men might. It was hard sitting in the passenger's seat when you were used to driving, but she knew where they were going, and didn't.

"I'm sure," she said with a smile, glancing over at him in amusement. "I do solemnly swear not to crash us into a lamppost."

From the back seat came the sound of a sleepy snort of laughter.

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Re: Lying Low
« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2020, 05:42:03 PM »
"Please don't!" he said, though he didn't sound like he was too concerned. "How far did you say it is?" he asked, as he clicked his seat belt into place.

"A little over an hour," Adriana assured him. "You could even take a nap if you really wanted to. We'll be there well before midnight. And you will be going to bed, not to the pool," she added, glancing into the rearview mirror to meet Nora's eyes.

The teenager sighed. "Fine. But tomorrow, there will be swimming."

Matt opened and then closed his mouth, assuming Adriana was talking to her sister and not to him. He had no intentions of taking a nap, as he'd rather sleep when he got there. Then again, there were better things to do than sleep, a small smirk on his lips at the thought of that and a sidelong look at Adriana.

Surprisingly, Adriana seemed to almost completely relax behind the wheel of the car, her mind focused and her hands busy. Her control over the vehicle was smooth, too - she clearly knew the route well, and she didn't mind making the journey in silence.

Matt was the first one to break the silence. "So, what do you like to do besides swim and be a pain in my ass?" he asked, the question obviously aimed at Nora. And play video games, apparently.

"Mmm?" Nora tore her gaze from the dark scenery outside the window. "I like drawing," she offered up. "And fixing stuff, I really enjoy the challenge, you know? But I do like sleeping too. And reading. And games. You got an answer to that question yet?"

"Just curious," he said. He hoped she hadn't taken offense to his comment, when he'd meant it as teasing. After all, she busted his balls often enough, but maybe there was some unwritten rule that said he wasn't allowed to do the same.

She didn't seem to have taken offense, but he had dodged the same question from her the day before. "I like to do lots of stuff," she said cheerfully. "Depends on the day, and where I'm allowed to go, you know?"

He hadn't had an answer for her for a reason, though he hadn't shared that reason either. "What do you like to read?" he asked, not only curious but trying to make conversation.

"You're gonna laugh at me," the teenager pointed out, but she didn't seem too concerned about that. "I like fantasy, stuff with vampires and werewolves. I really liked Twilight, and I refuse to be embarrassed by that."

"The movie, the book, or both?" he asked, regarding Twilight. He wasn't too surprised by that confession; she was thirteen years old, after all.

"Well, I watched the first movie before I read the book, and the book was definitely better," Nora informed him. "But the last two films were way better than the last book."

"Uh, ok ... I'll take your word for it," he said, unable to really comment on that as he'd never read the books nor seen the movies. "Have you read Dracula?" he asked. "I mean the original."

"I couldn't get into it," she admitted reluctantly. "It jumps around a lot, you know? I did read Frankenstein, though, I really liked that one."

"Yeah, but that's not vampires or werewolves," he said. Apparently, he'd read it, too, once upon a time. "I don't have a lot of time for reading anymore, but I like movies," he admitted.

"No, but it's, like, the mother of modern fantasy," Nora pointed out with a grin. "What kind of movies do you like?"

"The mother of modern horror maybe," he remarked, though he supposed he was splitting hairs. "Me?" he asked, with a shrug of his shoulders. "Oh, you know ... the usual."

"I mean apart from porn," Nora said.

Adriana couldn't stop the bark of laughter that left her mouth at that, glancing apologetically to Matt before setting her eyes back on the road.

"I don't watch porn," he said, his brows furrowing in annoyance. "And even if I did, I wouldn't tell you," he added for good measure. "But in answer to your question, I mostly watch action movies, I guess. Westerns, science fiction, comedies. Not too many chick flicks, sorry to say."

"Did you watch Captain Marvel?" Nora immediately wanted to know. "Wasn't it awesome? I don't get why so many guys hated it. It's not like she did anything that Iron Man wouldn't have done."

"Captain Marvel?" he echoed, the frown on his face again, as if he wasn't sure what movie she was talking about. "Can't say I have. I saw Wonder Woman though. Does that count?"

"Only if you didn't hate it because she didn't get naked," Nora said firmly. "So many guys at school were pissed that Wonder Woman got such a good movie, you would not believe it."

"Why were they pissed?" Matt asked, tempted to unbuckle his belt so he could turn and face her, but that wouldn't be setting a very good example.

"I don't know." She seemed very confused by that herself. "But these were the same guys who hated Black Panther, so I guess it's all about their wieners."

"Why would they hate Black Panther?" Matt asked. Either he didn't keep up with the movies or he didn't understand how thirteen-year-old boys thought anymore. "Isn't it a superhero movie? What's not to like about that?"

"Because it wasn't about big strong white guys saving the world from stupid villains?" she suggested. "I think it hurt their frail masculinity, myself."

Adriana bit down on a smile. "She's not wrong."

"I don't understand," Matt said, that confused look on his face again. Was it because of race or gender? He had seen a few trailers on TV, but that didn't really answer his question.

Adriana took pity on him. "A lot of young white guys who have been fed a steady stream of the white guy saves the world narratives had a pretty visceral reaction to seeing a black man as the hero, and an entire country of black people with technology far more advanced than the Western white world," she explained. "And the villain was incredibly sympathetic. It was an amazing film."

"I guess I'll have to put it on my to-see list," he said. He had a feeling his to-see list was going to get pretty long with Nora around, but at least, it would give them something to do and something they had in common.

"Can I watch it with you if I promise not to spoil it?" Nora asked hopefully. She was mildly obsessed with the Marvel movies, even if they annoyed her at times.

"Sure, why not?" he asked, turning his head to flash a smile her way. It seemed the pair had finally come to an agreement about something. "What about you, Addie? What movies to you like?" he asked, not wanting to leave her out of the discussion.

"I will happily watch anything," his wife answered in amusement. "The worse it is, the funnier it is, in my opinion. But my favourite films are definitely comedies."

"Name one," he challenged, wondering if she preferred rom coms or just comedies in general. He had a feeling she didn't like raunchy comedies, but then, neither did he, unlike most men he knew.

"Princess Bride." The answer came without the need for conscious thought, it seemed, with Adriana laughing at her own quick response.

"Can't argue there. That's a classic," Matt replied, turning his dimpled smile on Adriana. "What else?" he asked, hoping to keep the discussion going so they didn't slip back into that uncomfortable silence again.

"Have to say, I really enjoyed Paranormal Activity," Addie went on.

Nora piped up from the backseat. "She won't let me watch that one," she complained. "She says my imagination is too over active for it."

"That is not a comedy," Matt remarked with a chuckle, though his question hadn't been very specific. "I haven't seen it, but it looks pretty creepy," he said. He didn't think scary movies were a good idea right, but maybe in the future, when the Paglianis weren't trying to kill them.

"It's pretty cleverly done, and it is scary," Adriana admitted. "I like the 80's and 90's action movies, too - like the original Total Recall and Demolition Man."

"Sounds like we have quite a list to choose from, but maybe we should watch something none of us has seen yet," he suggested. Not tonight though. It was already getting late.

"We should totally go through Netflix," Nora suggested. "There's gotta be something there that none of us has seen, right?"

"I'm sure there is," he agreed, though he wasn't sure what. He was willing to give just about anything a chance, so long as it wasn't a weepy chick flick.

"Pretty sure we've got popcorn and hot dogs in the house," Adriana commented. "We could absolutely do a movie night."

"We'll do that then," Matt was quick to agree. "But not tonight," he said, stifling a yawn. It had not only been a long day, but a long couple of days, and they all needed a good and safe night's sleep.

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Re: Lying Low
« Reply #6 on: July 22, 2020, 05:42:21 PM »

"Definitely not tonight," Adriana agreed. "I'll get you set up with the computers tomorrow, Nora, okay? No internet tonight."

"Sucks, but sure," Nora agreed. "Do you still have that Buffy game on your PS2?"

Adriana chuckled. "Yes, I do," she promised her sister, taking a turn off the highway. "We're almost there. Probably about twenty minutes now."

Matt turned to look out the window, as if trying to get his bearings as to where they were going. "Are we near Reno?" he asked. Though he wasn't overly familiar with this area of Nevada, he had been paying more attention to her driving than he'd seemed to be.

"Mmhmm," she confirmed. "The house is outside the city limit, but tucked away in the hills. Hard to see from a distance unless you know where you're going."

"Maybe we should have come here from the start," he murmured, mostly to himself. If he hadn't insisted on Lake Tahoe, would Danny still be alive?

If either of the girls heard him, they had the good sense not to respond to that, instead continuing the conversation about movies and games that had kept them going along the road thus far. Adriana drew the car off the main road and onto a side street that wound up through the foothills, finally coming to a stop inside the gate of a decent sized house tucked into what seemed to be the crater of a hollowed hill. "Here we are."

"It's ... very secluded," Matt remarked, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on whether anyone else knew about this place. Secluded also meant quiet, but Nora had mentioned a pool.

"It is," Adriana agreed, "but I'll show you a couple of things when we get inside that'll make it seem a little less like a rabbit hole."

Nora, on the other hand, was already clambering out of the car, stretching before grabbing her bag.

"I'm not complaining, Addie. Secluded is good," Matt assured her. So was quiet, so long as a certain thirteen-year-old didn't get bored. He waited until Nora was out of the car before turning back to Addie with a frown. "We should have come here, instead of Tahoe."

"I didn't know what the plan was," she said softly. "And you told people where we were going, so the same thing could easily have happened here. That bent lawyer is a real piece of work."

"We should have come here and not told anyone where we were going," Matt admitted, still frowning. Hindsight was wonderful, but it wouldn't bring Danny back. "I'm sorry, Addie."

She reached over, laying her hand against his cheek. "Hey, look at me," she said, urging his eyes to meet hers. "It's not your fault. None of this is your fault. You hear me?"

He met her gaze, that guilty frown still on his face. "I thought I was keeping you safe, but I screwed up," he said, thankful at least she and Nora hadn't been hurt.

"Everyone screws up," she pointed out. "And again, this is not your fault, Matt. How could you have known that we would still be targeted, even with the Molinaros watching our backs? You couldn't have known. So please, stop blaming yourself."

He didn't have much of a reply to that, other than a quiet grumble. "Let's get you two inside," he told her, touching a quick kiss to her lips and offering a faint smile. Though this place seemed secluded enough, he'd feel safer once they were inside.

"Let Nora take you in," she said with a smile, handing him the key. "She knows the code for the alarm system. I just have to hide the car." She winked at him a little cheekily. There was no visible garage, after all.

"Are you sure?" he asked, reluctant to leave her alone, though he didn't like the idea of Nora alone either. He was definitely getting paranoid. He hoped she had something in the house that would help him sleep.

"I'm sure," she promised. "I won't be more than a couple of minutes, I promise you." She kissed his cheek. "Get the teenager inside before she starts getting ideas."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, though he was curious what kind of ideas Addie was referring to. He pushed the door open and climbed out, going around to the trunk to get the rest of their luggage.

Addie waited until he was done with the trunk, pulling the car over the paved drive and around to the side of the house, out of sight. Nora, on the other hand, was bouncing on her toes impatiently by the door. "Isn't it pretty?"

"It's ... nice," he said, taking a slow look around. Adriana had to have a caretaker or at least a gardener on the payroll to keep the place looking this nice all year round.

"It's better inside," Nora told him. "And it's got crazy good views, too. I mean, I think it does. It's been a while since Addie brought me here."

This place made the house in Tahoe look almost shabby. "I bet it does," he said. He was sure the view would be much more stunning in daylight, but he couldn't help but lift his head skyward. The more stars he could see, the farther away they were from civilization.

The sky overhead was filled with stars, the only illumination to keep them from his sight coming from the lights at the porch where they stood. They heard the strange sound of a hydraulic lift from the side of the house where Addie had gone, and the faint rumble of the car engine before it repeated again, ending with a smooth crunch as though something had sealed.

"What was that?" he asked, turning in the direction where the sounds were coming from. He knew it had something to do with the car, but he wasn't sure what. He hadn't seen a garage, but maybe there was one hidden somewhere?

"It's just Addie putting the car away," Nora assured him. "This place has some cool toys and things - the garage is, like, underground, and there's this invisible elevator for the cars."

"What, like the Bat Cave?" he asked, a slight smirk on his face as he turned back around. "Come on, Batgirl. Show me around," he urged her.

"You gotta unlock the door first, Alfred," she teased back, giggling as she gestured to the door in front of them. She knew Addie would already be making her way inside from the garage, so waiting here would only result in her sister opening the door for them.

"Addie said you had the code," he countered, setting the luggage on the porch so he could key it in and get the door, once she shared the code with him. "You didn't have to wait," he told her, a little surprised she'd waited to let herself in.

"You've got the key, don't you?" Nora looked a little confused. "Did Addie take the key with her? Hey, did she leave us waiting out here on purpose?"

"Oh, no ... I have the key," he said, a little absent-mindedly fishing it out of the pocket where he'd tucked it while he was gathering the luggage. "Sorry," he said, fitting the key into the lock.

Nora's smile was surprisingly mature as she watched him open the lock. "Been a long day," the teen said sympathetically, following him into the house. She went straight to the alarm system to key in the code, glancing up as the lights turned on to reveal Adriana coming out of the kitchen.

It took him a moment to join them as he had to haul the luggage inside. Once inside, he whistled in appreciation as he took a look around. He hadn't seen much yet, but what he saw he liked. "This place had to cost a fortune."

"Pretty sure they had it built from scratch at the time," Adriana said, grinning as Nora squeezed past her to rush up the stairs and reclaim the bedroom they had agreed was hers last time they were there. "It's been modified over the years, but I haven't needed to do anything to it. Just keep it maintained."

"I assume you have people who do it for you," he said. That much was obvious, as this house was too much for one person who didn't live nearby to maintain on their own.

"Yeah, I do," she said with a smile. "Once a week, a little team comes in and makes sure it's family-worthy, so we should have food in the cupboards, too."

"But no one who knows who you are?" he asked, a brief look of worry on his face. He didn't want a repeat of what had happened at Tahoe, but he was pretty sure she'd been careful.

"Nope," she assured him. "They think my name's Guiliana Gambretti. That's their employer, and right now, she's me. Thirty years ago, she was my mom."

There was that "was" again. He wasn't sure how her mother had died, but it seemed certain she had. "I'm sorry," he found himself saying again, though it was no fault of his own.

"Matt, what are you apologizing for now?" she asked, tilting her head toward him with kind eyes. "You're definitely not responsible for my mom dying. I was something like five when she got into that crash - unless you were wrapped around the face of the other driver, you are definitely not to blame."

"It's just something you say," Matt said with a shrug that was an apology in itself. "I'm sorry for your loss is what I mean. Do you remember much about her?"

"Not much," she admitted, drawing him into the kitchen. "I remember her smile. She laughed a lot. Papa was brighter when she was around, too. She could light up a room."

Matteo Alessi

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Re: Lying Low
« Reply #7 on: July 22, 2020, 05:42:47 PM »

He'd set the luggage down near the front door and followed her into the kitchen. "Do you have any pictures?" he asked. He wasn't just trying to be nice; he was sincerely interested. Now that they were married, he wanted to know everything about her.

She laughed. "Yeah, I have a few around the place," she said. "If you really want to see what I was like in diapers. It's riveting stuff."

"I'm sure it is," he said with a grin. Was it too soon for baby photos? He wasn't sure. Neither of their mothers were there to show them. It was something they were going to have to do for themselves or not at all. "I'm dying to see baby pictures of Nora," he said, raising his voice just loud enough that it might reach the teen's ears.

"Oh, I've got a lot of those," Addie began, before Nora's voice joined them in a yell from the upper floor.

"No baby pictures! I forbid it!"

Matt chuckled and tossed Addie a wink. "Why? Are you afraid I might see you naked?" he called back, the mood lightening again.

"No, I looked like a potato in a dress!" the teenager yelled down the stairs to him.

Adriana smirked, murmuring for Matt's ears only, "She's not wrong."

"It can't be that bad," he murmured back. He glanced at the stairs, as if to make sure Nora wasn't listening before turning back to Adriana, his voice no more than a whisper, "When was the last time Nora saw her mother?"

Adriana's smile faded. "Not since Nikki said goodbye to her after the divorce," she murmured back to him. "It was part of the settlement; Papa was .. .a possessive kind of man. I don't think he ever forgave Nikki for being unhappy in their marriage."

"But ... there's no reason she can't see her now," Matt pointed out. Now that their father was gone, he meant. What kind of mother wouldn't want to see her daughter?

"I contacted her," Adriana assured him. "She ... I don't think she's in a good place. She was pretty angry I even called her."

"What do you mean by that?" he asked, more concerned than curious. Was the woman a drug addict or something?

"It's just a feeling I get," she told him. "Nikki was very clear that she didn't want anything to do with Nora or me, and I should lose her number, but ... she was kind of slurring, and I'm pretty sure I heard a man's voice in the background."

"So, she was probably drunk," Matt said, glancing in the direction Nora had headed to make sure she wasn't listening. He didn't want to judge the woman, but he thought she might regret it someday.

Addie nodded. "I'll try again when things calm down," she said. "They deserve a chance to know each other without Papa chumming the waters."

"Right," he said, making no comment either way. "So, it's after midnight. Want to show me around or wait until morning?" he asked. For some reason, she'd led him into the kitchen, but hadn't said why.

She chuckled faintly. "I guess that depends whether you want the nighttime tour, or a nightcap," she pointed out, gesturing to a drinks cabinet that was well-stocked.

"I wouldn't turn down a drink," he admitted, smiling. Fortunately, he wasn't an alcoholic, but he didn't mind a drink every now and then to calm his nerves.

"Help yourself, then," she said, offering him free rein in the kitchen with the alcohol. "I think Nora's just gone straight to bed. She really doesn't do late nights."

"Does that mean she'll be up bright and early in the morning?" he said, as he did just that and helped himself to the drinks cabinet. "Want anything?" he asked, as he picked through what was there.

"She usually falls out of bed around 10," Adriana predicted. She tilted her head to look around him at the contents of the cabinet. "I wouldn't mind a shot of whiskey."

He arched a brow at her choice, obviously impressed. No girly drink for her then. "I wouldn't either," he said, searching and finding a couple of shot glasses and filling them from a bottle of Maker's Mark Kentucky Bourbon.

She caught the raising of his brow, her own rising in amused challenge at his expression. "What can I say? I like a mouthful of fire now and then."

"More like a stomachful," he countered, turning to hand her a glass before lifting his own in salute. "Bottom's up," he said, in place of "Cheers", tilting the glass back and draining its contents in one quick swallow.

She toasted him herself, knocking back the shot in one swallow just as he did. She only grimaced a little, setting her glass down on the counter with a smile. "That's gonna hit me in about ten minutes."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," he teased, taking her glass to the sink, along with his own, and rinsing it clean. They were both strung pretty tight; it would do them both good to relax a little, especially considering the fact that they hadn't yet consummated their marriage.

"Well, I guess it depends whether or not we get started with anything, doesn't it?" She giggled softly, shaking her hair out from her neck. "Today felt long."

"Just today?" he asked, smiling in amusement. As far as he was concerned, the last few days had been long. He didn't think any of them had slept very well, but hopefully, they could make up for that tonight. "Bedroom? The clock is ticking," he teased. She had given him a ten minute time limit.

She laughed, her hands coming to rest on his hips as she leaned into him. "We have plenty of nights to come," she promised, kissing his chin before drawing away. "Come to bed, baby."

"You want me to bring the luggage up or leave it here?" he asked, though he didn't seem to worried about it right now, given how she had moved close. He drew her hair back from her face, his fingers grazing her cheek.

"We should probably bring it up with us," she agreed with a faint sigh, tilting her cheek into his touch. The whiskey was definitely hitting her, that much was obvious. "Unless you want to wander around in a towel tomorrow morning where Nora can see you."

"I wouldn't want to give her a heart attack," he said, though the view wouldn't be much different than that of him in swim trunks. "I'll get the luggage," he volunteered, touching a kiss to her brow before going to fetch the luggage.

"Well, it's more that she'll try and steal the towel, but okay." Adriana laughed, easing back as he kissed her brow. "You're such a gentleman," she said, tilting her head to admire his backside as he bent down. "I just want to bite your ass sometimes."

"Is that you or the whiskey talking?" He chuckled at both her comments, resisting the urge to wiggle his ass at her. Instead, he took up their luggage, slinging one bag over his shoulder while carrying the rest. "Lead on."

"Maybe both, who knows?" She was still smiling, though she was definitely a little blurry around the edges, the alcohol taking the edge off her tension as she relaxed. Easing past, she turned out the downstairs lights to lead him upward, onto the main living floor, where wide windows looked out over a vast expanse of scrub and mountains.

Was it taking advantage of a woman who was tipsy if she was your wife, he wondered, especially if she was ready and willing? He banished that thought from his head. Maybe he was too much of a gentleman, but when they finally did make love for the first time, he wanted her to remember it. He followed just behind her, pausing only a moment to admire the view.

With the moonlight shining down on the desert, it was certainly a beautiful view, and one he could take advantage of in the bedroom Adriana lead him to - tastefully decorated, with more wide windows and a very wide bed, clearly designed for a couple who might not always want to be right on top of each other.

The more he saw of the house, the more he realized how shabby the lake house was in comparison, though it had cost a fortune. "This is nice," he said, as he set the luggage down in an out of the way spot and took a look around.

"It has been a family home for a few generations," she said softly, but she couldn't hide how pleased she was that he liked the house. "I guess it just proves that all the women in my family have good taste, right?"

"They do as far as houses are concerned anyway," he said. He couldn't really speak to anything else, as he'd never met any of them besides Addie. "I was looking forward to ..." He trailed off. What was the point anyway? It was just a house, but it would never be the same.

"We can make a home together someplace else," she murmured, leaning against the post of the bed as she met his gaze. "This place isn't home. It's a rabbit hole to hide in."

Matteo Alessi

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Re: Lying Low
« Reply #8 on: July 22, 2020, 05:43:00 PM »
"It looks pretty good to me," he said, not only talking about the house, but the view as he turned to face her. She was only a few steps away. Only a few steps and he could pull her into his arms and kiss her the way he wanted to, toss her onto the bed, and officially make her his wife. So why was he hesitating?

She solved the problem for him, pushing out of her lean to walk those few steps and claim a kiss from his lips. She tasted of whiskey, her body warm and sleepy against his, yet even the languidness of her kisses was brimming with tenderness.

He smiled down at her as his arms slid around her waist, his lips savoring hers, both of them tasting like whiskey. "Don't you want to brush your teeth before bed?" he teased, somehow knowing that was the last thing of both of their minds.

She grimaced. "Do I have to?" she asked, her tone as whiny as a child's. "One night won't kill me, right? Bad breath won't kill you, either."

"You don't have bad breath," he assured her, chuckling. "I don't think the tooth police will arrest you for missing one night," he teased, wondering just how much longer she was going to be able to remain upright.

She beamed, resting her nose against his for a moment. "I'm sorry I'm sleepy," she apologized. "I'll screw your brains out in the morning, promise."

"They say the best things are worth waiting for," he told her, brushing another kiss to her lips before sweeping him up in his arms and gently laying her down on the bed. "Go to sleep, baby. I'll still be here in the morning."

She squeaked as he lifted her up, giggling for a moment before sinking into the soft sheets, her hand groping for his. "You promise?" she asked softly, showing just a hint of the loneliness they had not even begun to scratch the surface of together.

"Promise," he assured her, kissing her again. "Get some rest. You deserve it," he whispered, his fingers gently touching her cheek in a soothing caress.

She smiled into his kiss, wriggling to kick her shoes off and over the end of the bed before curling up with her head on the pillow, eyes drifting closed easily. "G'night, Matt. Swee' dreams."

"Goodnight, Addie. Sweet dreams," he echoed, brushing his lips against her cheek, as her eyes drifted closed. She was still dressed, but it hardly mattered. It was just about making her comfortable. Wrinkles didn't matter.

The only wrinkles that would matter in time would be the ones they made together - wrinkles formed from years of smiling and laughter together. And those wrinkles were very much something to look forward to.