Addicted to Santino by Amarie Avant

1

Gina Galloway

“Is it Christmas already?” I whimper, my entire body shutting down. Complaining isn’t my customary MO. I’m dominant. On occasion, my Manolos might walk all over an employee. But only after I’ve issued the same command and that person’s screwup has cost tens of thousands of dollars. People call me a she-devil behind my back. While I prefer any sentiment, regardless of how spiteful, is said straight to my face.

But I’m not standing before someone for whom I sign a paycheck. Instead, my expensive suede booties drown in wet cement. It’s a warm day in Manhattan as I slowly descend into the unfortified pavement on the sidewalk. A boutique store has captured all of my attention. The windows are designed with frosted edges. A painting of a cheerful snowman, with a midsection rounder than Saint Nick, grins back at me. It’s as if he knows how unlucky I am during the holidays.

I’m not ready . . .

My assistant replies in my earbud, “Gina . . .? Gi—”

Someone grabs my waist from behind—the picturesque window with Christmas memorabilia disappears.

Manicured fingers curl around my designer handbag, I slap the perpetrator. Now, I’m not the tiniest woman on the block. I applauded my weight loss from the beginning of summer until now—I went from a size sixteen to a fourteen. Still, someone has lifted me with firm, gentle hands like I’m a feather. A slimy squishy sound irritates my ears as I ascend from the cement abyss. Only a fraction of an inch of my booties around the ankle have retained their Persian rose coloring.

Yet, my mouth goes dry as my eyes slither up and down the stranger, and not because of my shoes. Stop it, Gina. You are a Galloway. You don’t eat men with your eyes! I’ve never taken a second glance at his type. He could be splayed across one of those muscley calendars for horny women, each page parading a diverse fetish. This one’s a construction worker.

At well over six feet tall, the caramel-coated man is enormous. A white shirt stretches across his rippling chest and abdominals. His imposing shoulders extend from here to Starbucks across the street! Again, I remind myself I’m not that type of female. I prefer a lean man, incapable of flipping and tossing me around in bed like a fucking baton!

There’ll be no flushing with embarrassment. One mustn’t admit mistakes, no matter if the proof is all over their expensive heels. Squaring off my shoulders, I snort, “What are you doing? Stop touching me!”

For a second, the stranger drinks in my shock with a satisfied grin.

Again, I pop his meaty bicep with my purse.

“C’mon,” he coaxes in a hypnotic tone. Alright, that Italian accent made me cream a little. His dark, piercing eyes warm my core as he adds, “Sweetheart, I was just helping you.”

My nipples harden into pebbles as the Italian’s hands clutch my waist, holding me close. Can the stranger feel my tiny hard nipples fighting against him? I doubt it because the gigantic erection in his pants is fighting back.

Raising my purse, I whack at his dense bicep, again arguing about him touching me.

The Italian flashes a white grin, resembling the type of trouble I'll never need in my life but secretly desire. In his native language, he’s calling me all sorts of crazy and has the nerve to smile. Hmmm, he doesn’t know I can understand every-single-word.

As if mesmerized, my plush lips open just slightly. I lay on a star-struck grin and wait for him to finish bashing me.

Once complete, I blink. “So, you speak in that seductive language? You run those dark eyes all over a woman’s body. In response, women drop their panties, regardless of the words coming out of your filthy mouth?”

The look on the dirty Italian’s face reads that our encounter has yet to transition into debauchery. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“First name, Crazy; last name, Conceited,” I reply. “Or was my name ‘ridiculously beautiful with a stick up her ass’? That’s what you referred to me as, right? Please confirm, am I ungrateful?”

Though he realizes I understood him, he clears his throat. He raises a hand to his chest. In a mesmeric tone, he says, “I’d never say such a thing to you, sweetheart.”

“Well, I’m fluent in Italian and Spanish. I beg to differ. However, I pay assholes to assist with consultations in Mandarin. So what was with, ‘amore a prima vista’?” I clear my throat, glancing down at my pleated skirt. Fingers toying with the gathered edges, I tell myself that he isn’t the reason for my sudden inclination to touch something. “Is that extra reference how you sleep at night for bad-mouthing a woman?”

The Italian is so tall that he has to tilt his head down, as he’s clearly eager for eye contact. When he has it, he murmurs, “Amore a prima vista.” His tongue dips out, tracing over his bottom lip.

In response, the lips between my curvy hips go berserk. In a trance, I stutter, “You-you say that ev-every time you meet a new conquest, too?”

God, Gina, what the hell is wrong with you?!My core turns traitor as a shiver surges from head to toe. Anticipation wraps around my entire body as I await his confirmation that those words, ‘amore a prima vista,’ are handed out to women like we’re kids in a candy store.

The Italian’s gaze is all the more penetrating. “I’ve never said it in my life, Bella.”

“And Bella?” I snort. The Italian’s calling me beautiful like it’s the name my momma gave me.

“Is there any other word for a gorgeous woman, Bella?”

“I see; you use that term like oxygen. But you’ve never said, I’ve just met you, and I love you?” My voice hollows over how vulnerable I feel uttering those preposterous words.

He growls, huskily, “You’re the first and only. Love at first sight, Bella.”

“Stop calling me ‘Bella’,” I order. Or I will hit you with my purse again. Then bite and scratch and—oh damn, Gina!

“No, Bella.” I’m lost in the genuine, dreaminess of him. “This is where you insert your name so I’m able to switch things up on occasion.”

He winks. Another waterfall gushes between my pants. This is pure game. I should walk away. This asshole has played the field so long even he believes such foolish attempts.

But I cock my head ever so slightly and analyze him. “So, you’re saying, first, I should tell you my name. Second, you believe I’ll be around for you to refer to me by my name or Bella at your leisure.” I stare at his confident eyes and warn myself to not get lost in the depths of them.

A genuine smile fades the fury of lust on his face. He gestures, “So, you mentioned Christmas?”

“I was. Addio,” I wiggle my fingers. Saved by my Uber Lux at the curb. One of my favorite drivers, Thomas, greets me with a nod, opening the back door.

“Should I circle back to your apartment?” he quietly suggests.

“Thanks.” I offer a curt nod. So much for a brief, leisure walk before spending the day—and sometimes night—slaving over paperwork.

In my Bluetooth, I ask, “Nikki, it’s not Christmas, right?”

All my assistants have heard more words than necessary while waiting for me to respond to them. Nikki’s no different. She promptly replies, “Well, Ms. Galloway, if you count Christmas in July.”

“No, I do not.” Oh, thank God. I contemplate, sliding into the leather seat. Every minute of my life is designated with a task for business and, on occasion, pleasure. The holiday season never meets my expectations. It exceeds my outlook if you take into account the shit hitting the proverbial fan.

“So, boss, why do you hate Christmas so much?”

Glancing out the window, I watch as Thomas slides into traffic. “It’s not that I hate Christmas; I love it. The family gets together, dropping less than subtle hints as to when or if I’ll find a man.”

“I understand,” Nikki replies.

Although she’s fresh out of college, I doubt she truly understands. I’m 28 years old, young enough, but too focused for age to matter. “Well, the part I actually love is, how four generations of Galloways, my momma,” I clear my throat. Damn, I’m usually impersonal with my assistants, and this one is new. “The women in my family set aside our sadity mannerisms for peach cobbler bake-offs.”

“What’s sadity?”

“Uppity, sweetheart. Then after the sweets, the gloves come off. But that’s to be expected. The next day, I’m another friggin year older. Thus, making Christmas great.” I mutter, unable to get the man’s words, “amore a prima vista,” off my mind. How could it be love at first sight on his part? Hell, I’ll be honest; it was lust once I figured he wasn’t trying to rob me. But love at first sight? Can’t be. I pout. The Italian never asked for my number. Twirling a finger around my necklace, I imagine how I would have climbed him like a tree–once.