As Marc D’Alessio followed his girl Angelina Giardano into the bedroom, he tried to shake the trapped feeling that had hounded him all day.

What the fuck was wrong with him? This had to be one of the best Christmases he could remember. He and Angelina had played Santa’s elves to his buddy Damián Orlando’s newfound daughter this morning. Well, that had been a high until the orphaned kitten they’d brought the little girl had triggered an emotional meltdown for her mama. Did witnessing that have something to do with his mood?

Angelina rested her head against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around her. He’d found the woman of his dreams a few months ago and couldn’t believe his luck that she was still with him despite a huge mistake on his part. They’d been together almost three months, closing in on his record with Pamela Jeffrey, his last girlfriend.

He crushed her closer to him, as if afraid she’d leave. Or perhaps his unsettled feeling had him worried he’d leave her; he’d certainly done that enough times. How could he even think of doing such a thing? They weren’t even having any issues worth fighting over. Why these unbidden thoughts about someone leaving?

Marc decided to make sure she wasn’t sending some vibe he was picking up on. “You okay, cara?”

“Better than okay, Sir. You got me to a very good place, but I’m exhausted.” She pulled away and stared up at him, a bliss-filled smile on her face, before placing her hand behind his neck and dragging him toward her face. Her lips were warm, inviting, and promised this evening wasn’t going to end in them rolling over and going to sleep right away.

Angelina broke the kiss and stepped back. “I’ll join you in bed after I take a shower.” She hadn’t bothered to dress from their time in the tower room. Watching her strut toward the head gave him a renewed sense of pride in the red marks he’d placed on her ass. The sashaying of her hips conveyed her pleasure in them, too. Angelina brought out the Dom in him as no woman had before.

He began undressing and hanging up his clothes as he continued to analyze what had him so off-kilter. Dinner with Angelina’s family had gone well, considering her brothers didn’t think much of anyone she dated. The setting had been the picture-perfect, Italian-American family gathering. Shit, despite his being born in Italy, that dinner had been an eye-opener. Meals with his family were formal, stately affairs—seating charts, waitstaff, and course after course served precisely on time. The Giardanos, however, sat wherever they liked at the table for eight after filling their plates to overflowing from a buffet stocked with enough food to feed a platoon of Marines.

The noise level had been mind-numbing, too. At one point, Angelina interjected a comment into a conversation happening at the opposite end of the table before going right back to her discussion with her youngest brother, Tony, seated next to her. How she had picked up on two separate conversations at once without missing a beat both impressed and confounded Marc.

Still, nothing that would account for the way he felt. They’d come home to top off the day with an intense, satisfying session in the playroom. He loved getting kinky with his girl. It relaxed them both. So why did he feel…disconnected?

He loved Angelina and wanted her in his life more than his next breath—no, not wanted, needed. What was keeping him from proposing? Angelina had made no mention of leaving him, and yet the thought haunted him, as if he expected it to happen any day.

Tonight, he planned to focus on her completely, worshiping her body. Reminded how sore her ass would be, he walked over to her vanity and retrieved the tube of lido.

Beside her hair clip, he noticed her red hairbrush had been replaced by one with a wooden handle and back. A vague feeling he couldn’t even name washed over him, and he picked it up. His friend Luke had branded his artist’s mark on the front of the wooden handle.

“Marco, spazzolami i capelli. ”The older woman’s disembodied voice asking him to brush her hair sounded oddly familiar, as if coming from a place deep inside him. Who was she? Definitely not Mama’s voice.

“I’m sorry, little one…you didn’t mean for me to get hurt.”

His chest grew tight, and he dropped the brush as if it had grown red hot. But the voice echoed in his head.


*     *     *


Angelina, don’t even go there.

Marc had seemed so distant when she’d come out of the shower. He’d applied the soothing ointment to her burning butt. However, before they could make love, he pleaded exhaustion and rolled over. His uneven breathing made her doubt he slept despite the hours they’d lain here, which only left her to wonder what had changed his mood.

The day had been so good. Even her four brothers had played nice at Mama’s for Christmas dinner. Although they never liked anyone she dated, they knew she was more serious about Marc than she had been about any past relationships.

So why did she get the feeling Marc was retreating from her?

From the night they’d met at Rico’s, he’d gone hot and cold on her. Sometimes she wondered if planning a future for them might just lead to heartache. Could he ever commit to something more than living together?

She reminded herself again not to be so pessimistic. Marc just happened to be a very private man. He shared himself with her in amazing ways, becoming more creative the better they got to know each other. Hard to believe they were living together already having only met in September, well not counting that time she had no memory of in August.

Maybe they’d just moved too quickly. She yawned, and her eyelids drooped. She’d give him time…

Mamma, no!”

Angelina jolted awake and turned to find Marc lying on his stomach, punching at the pillow underneath his head.

“Scusami! Scusami!”

“Marc, wake up! You’re dreaming.”

Her words had no effect. His face turned toward her, perspiration plastering his hair to his forehead. The light from the bathroom showed the torment on his face.

Marc had always been plagued by nightmares but had never called out to anyone in Italian before. Other nights, she’d always thought he was remembering combat duty in Iraq. He’d taught her soon after she moved in here never to touch him while he slept without announcing herself, but his continued thrashing told her he wasn’t hearing her.

Without warning, he rolled toward her and onto his back. His swinging arm sucker punched her. Regaining her breath after a moment, she straddled his waist, her sore butt burning against his skin as he tried to buck her off.

She grabbed his wrists to hold him down. “Marc! Wake up! You’re scaring me!”

His brows scrunched in confusion. Had he heard her now? His eyelids fluttered open, and he stopped struggling. He’d come out of it. Thank God.

“You had a nightmare.”

He reached up to brush the hair from her face. “Are you okay, cara?”

“I’m fine, but you scared the crap out of me. What was that all about?”

His face grew puzzled. “Strangest dream. A woman I called mamma who wasn’t Mama. And Gino and I were in combat but on opposing sides. Then there was a wolf.”

She grinned at him. “No more leftover lasagna before bedtime.” She bent to place a kiss on his cheek before stretching out beside him. She needed to comfort him rather than go back to sleep, as if she could sleep now anyway.

He stroked her belly, and she winced when he touched where he’d punched her.

“What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?”

Angelina stroked his chest, fingers running through the sprinkling of hair. “I’m fine, Marc. You scared me more than anything. I’ve never heard you talk in your sleep before. Or scream like that.”

“What did I say?”

“Mostly yelling at your mama not to leave you. You said you had a different mama in the dream?”

He nodded before shrugging. “Maybe not. She looked a bit like Mama, only…younger than I can remember her.”

She felt his heartbeat returning to normal under her hand. “Oh, and you kept saying you were sorry about something.”

He stopped breathing. “Did I say who I was speaking to?”

“No. Do you remember from the dream?”

He shook his head. “No, I don’t remember much of anything now.” He turned on his side and pulled her against him. “Sorry I woke you, cara. Let’s go back to sleep.”

A kiss on her shoulder blade sent a thrill down her spine. Did he really want to sleep—or was he finally going to make love to her the way she’d hoped he would after her shower?

The way his arm grew heavier gave her the answer. Soon his breathing was slow and even.

At least one of them could sleep. Visions of a wolf now invaded her thoughts—specifically, the wolf mask Marc wore the night he rescued her at the club. She hadn’t told him what she’d done to it yet. He hadn’t replaced it, thank goodness.

Maybe Marc’s days of wearing a mask were over. Dio, she hoped so. Slowly over the months he’d given her more and more tiny glimpses into his soul while still keeping so much to himself. The man was more private than anyone she’d ever met.

What secrets does that mind of yours hold back from me, Sir?


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