A small cloud of smoke appeared in front of me. The smell of burning tar and nicotine hung in the air. The scent was calming, like an adult version of the faint vanilla a mother’s hands would smell like. It wrapped you up and held you slightly above the ground, letting you know you were safe, but not too safe. You could make it, you could be above everything for a second, but you knew you’d crash back onto that cement eventually.

A soft sigh fell from my lips as I opened my eyes and took in the soft hustle of the city. The digits on my cell phone screen indicated it was nearing three in the morning, but I didn’t dare move. This was his feeding time, the hour of the night he would find me, asleep in our bed. I could feel him feeding on me, feeding on the fear in my eyes, the muffled screams that would tear through the silence of his apartment.

Every night for the last four years I knew it was coming. Some nights he would be too drunk to feed. Others, he would still be full from the night before. Then there were nights like tonight; he was ravenous.

Bones ached where he had hit me. Muscles pulsed as the memory of his fingers digging into my skin flashed behind my eyes. I could feel the vicious hatred from his words, I could smell the strong scent of gin on his breath. My senses were forever ruined by the smell of gin; the feeling of someone's hands; the sound of their words.

The only reprieve I had was that he never came looking for me. He would forget some nights and wake up with no recollection of the terror he had caused me. He begged me to stay, he bought me nice things, he threatened me occasionally-nothing ever stuck.

Ashes drifted into the air and floated down the street as I dropped the small burning piece of paper to the ground. Crushing it with my heel, I grabbed another cigarette from my pack and lit the end without bringing my eyes down from the line of buildings before me.

Scanning over the towers of steel and cement, I felt a yearning deep within my aching bones. A strong need and envious want to be anywhere but here. I wanted to be in one of those apartments, peering out of one of those huge loft windows. I wanted to be looking out over the skyline, wondering if people like me existed; wondering what it would feel like to be unfulfilled.

To be a failure.

“Luca, he’s over here.” A male voice cut through the silence of the block. It was an unfamiliar sound so late at night. The rhythm of the city had not been interrupted in the last four years of you sitting on the same curb, looking at the same buildings, begging for the same sense of freedom and purpose.

Footsteps were faint, but heavy enough to reach my ears. I was curious. More that interested in the events that were being played out behind me. I knew of the men walking around at this time. I knew of the dead bodies that would surface. I heard about the vendettas, the rivalries and wars. I had bosses that owed money. I knew men that disappeared.

I never really believed it.

“I’ve given you more than enough time, Leo.” A new voice entered the mix. It was calm, deep, mysterious and stern. The kind of voice that a girl would dream of while she laid in bed, thinking about the tall dark and handsome man that would come sweep her off of her feet. The kind of voice that would set every nerve in your body on fire.

Before my mind could wander, the footsteps and comotion seemed to get closer. Holding my breath, I peered over my shoulder and watched as a man tumbled into the streetlight, his white tee shirt torn and blood stained.

My heart nearly stopped as I caught a glimpse of the shimmer of the metallic surface of a gun. I quickly got to my knees and crawled away from the scene. Pressing my back against the nearest car, I tilted my head back and placed my hand over my mouth as the voice came back to life.

“Luca, please,” another new voice called out. He was trembling, his voice shook something fierce. “I need more time, I need-”

A loud thud echoed through the night causing me to jump, my head slamming back into the car. Heart thudding in my chest, I bit down on the sleeve of my sweater and prayed to every other worldly entity I knew of that no one heard me.

“I extended the deal five times.” The deep voice I assumed was Luca boomed through the night. “You make me look incompetent to my business partners, my friends, and my family.”

The silence was deafening. As my heart continued to thump in my chest, I opened my eyes and watched as shadows shifted near me. Legs trembling, I bit down harder on my sweater and tried to talk some sense into me.

Did anyone really murder anyone anymore? It was 2018, not 1952. It had to be a scare tactic, it had to be fake. Could someone really be okay with the blood of a struggling man on his hands?

“Luca, Antonio, please… My wife, you know she is ill, you know-”

“Excuses!” The other voice I can now identify as Antonio boomed. The cold edge to his words was enough to make every blood cell in my body freeze. “We’re done here.”

A loud gunshot echoed through the street causing a squeak to fly from my lips. My heart was beating so fast I could barely feel it anymore. Legs trembling, I heard my feet shift in the gravel beneath me. Shaking my head, I went to lower myself to hide under the car when a hand slammed against the car. Another squeak left my lips, my heart exploding.

“Seems like we have a little mouse,” Luca hummed as he slid his hand down the car until it was on my shoulder. Shutting my eyes, I tensed under his grasp. Biting down on my lip, I felt his fingers apply pressure into my shoulder before they released me. “Get up, topolina.”

Legs shaking, I slowly pulled myself up and turned to the man, his strong features swimming in the shadows. Blinking a few times, I sucked in a deep breath and watched as his eyes flashed a few emotions before a soft smirk set itself on his lips.

The man put his hand around my shoulders and gently walked me over to the light. Keeping my eyes on my feet, I watched as the man walked me over to the edge of a pool of blood. Shaking my head, I picked my eyes up until they reached the man who was pleading for his life. A wave of sickness washed over me but was quickly replaced with anger.

“You’re a fucking monster.” I snapped as I watched the other man take the toe of his shoe and roughly push the older mans eyelids shut. “You’re both disgusting. He was a good man.”

“Excuse me?” The man snapped, his eyes darted to me. “You want to join him you little-”

“Enough, Antonio.” Luca sighed, his hand slowly falling from my shoulders, brushing down my back and then lightly grazing over my butt. Muscles tensing, I stood still as the man who had found me walked over to his friend and surveyed the dead man.

Nodding his head, he looked behind him, around, and then directly at me. “You decided to show up at the wrong time, tesora.”

“Don’t call me sweetheart,” I snapped my heartbeat starting to speed up again as anger started to pump through my veins. How could these men be so heartless? How could they just...

“You’ve got quite the fuckin’ mouth on you.” Luca snapped, his harsh gaze slicing through me from feet away. “A sharp tongue for a topolina too afraid to run.”

Grinding my teeth together, I watched as Antonio fiddled with his gun and then walked over to me. Shoving the barrel of the gun into the side of my head, I winced and stumbled to the side. Regaining my stance, I let out a short breath as I felt him lean into me.

“Where’s that mouth, princess?”

“Shove it up your ass. What are you his little work puppy?” I hissed, locking my eyes onto the man across from me, the one that had pulled me from behind the car. “Come leash your mutt.”

Antonio gave me a shove. As I stumbled to the ground, he twirled his gun around and went to bash me in the head with it when Luca’s voice froze him. “Antonio, enough. We do what we need to do, and that’s it.”

Quick, heavy footsteps sounded against the pavement. As they grew closer, I looked up and watched as Luca pulled the brunette off of me and then roughly grabbed me by the arm. As he dug his fingers into the same place that had been fed from the other night, I let out shrill cry and watched as the man let go of me, letting me collapse onto the pavement.

“What are you doing, pick her up.” Antonio yelled, “She saw the whole thing, what the fuck are you doing?”

“I know, I know,” Luca snapped as he looked at me, his eyes wide as he looked from his hand to me a few times. “Grab her and put her in the car.” Luca waved his hand and then took a few steps away before stopping. “Be gentle.”

“You want me to grab you a box of fuckin’ tampons while I’m at it you pansy mother-”

Luca twrield around and walked up to the man, his gun pressed against Antonio’s head, his finger on the trigger. Tapping it, he tilted his head to the side and snarled. “You’ve got a big fuckin’ mouth just like her. You’ll both be with Leo unless you shut up. Understood?”

Eyes darting to Antonio, I watched as the man swallowed hard and nodded. The rough features of his face softening. “I’ll put her in the tru-”

“Back. Seat.” Luca growled as he pointed to the car. “Hurry up.” He ordered and walked away, his footsteps heavy as he headed to the car and unlocked it. After pulling the back door open, he circled the car and got in the driver's seat. As the engine roared to life and the headlights illuminated the path to the car, Antonio gently scooped me up from the gravel. Adjusting me against his chest, he walked me over to the car and placed me down in the backseat.

Slamming the door shut, he pulled the passengers side door open and then quietly got inside. Once the door was shut, Luca gave me a hard glance through the rearview mirror and then hit the gas, slow enough that I wouldn’t fly forward into the back of his seat.

For a moment, as I looked up at the cloth covering the ceiling of the car, I felt… safe.

I wasn't near him. I didn’t have to feel his hands on me anymore. I didn’t have to feel his lips on my skin. My nerves froze at the thought. Stomach knotting, I put a hand over my mouth as images of him holding me down and yelling obscenities at me flashed through my mind.

Whatever this was. Whatever they were going to do to me was better than that.

Death was better than him, better than this life.

The car ride was short. After a few quick turns and speeding through red lights, the man pulled the car into a garage and slowly parked it in the back near a few other cars. Killing the engine, the man let out a deep breath and then pushed his door open.

“Go into the house.”

“You’re going to get rid of here without me?”

“No. Now go into the fucking house.” Luca roared as he slammed his hand down against the body of the car. Squeezing my eyes shut, I let a wave of terror wash over me as I heard the other man get out of the car and head across the parking garage.

When I had heard them speaking, I thought out of the two, Luca was the less terrifying of the two. His voice held so much more to it than Anotnio’s, but within the last hour, my mind had somewhat changed.

The back door opened, allowing light to flood into the car. As the man knelt down and looked up at me, he ran a hand through his nearly perfect hair and then let it rest on his shoulder. “Are you okay to walk?”

“If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with.” I sighed as I pushed myself out of the car, ignoring the minor scrapes and scratches alone my arms. Standing up, I turned away from him and took a few steps toward the trunk of the car. “Whatever else you had planned, I’d rather an execution.”

“Whoa, no one’s doing any of that.” Luca’s voice was relaxed as he walked over to me and took a large step in front of me. Staring into his chest, I let out a defeated sigh and peered up at him. “I’m keeping you hear until this Leo thing blows over. I can’t have you with that mouth, topolina.”

Shaking my head, I looked up at him and felt a weight start to settle on my shoulders. “So what, you’re going to lock me in a fucking cage?” Luca went to speak when I pushed passed him and started walking toward the exit. “I’d rather be dead.”

After a few more steps, I felt a heavy weight clamp down against my mid-section. As the man picked me up and tossed me over his shoulder, I went to protest when his hand gently clamped over my mouth. He was nice enough to leave enough room under my nose so I didn’t need to struggle to breathe.

“If anyone aside from Antonio finds out that I let someone live after seeing what we do, I’ll lose my seat.” Lucs was stern with his words. “You stay here, you shut up, and when this blows over with my people, I give you fifty grand, you leave the state and never come back.”

I didn’t say a word as he gave me a nod and then moved his hand from my lips. Walking me into the building, he set me down and then hit the up button for the elevator. Keeping a light hand on my shoulder, he looked down at me a few more times and then hummed.

“What happened to your arm.”

I stayed silent.

The elevator came and we both stepped inside. He seemed surprised he didn’t need to force me. As he hit the button with the scratched off number, the doors slid shut. Shutting my eyes, I felt the ache start to come back into my muscles. Grinding my teeth, I leaned back a little and let my head gently hit the back wall.

“Are you going to answer me?”

Again, I ignored his words.

The elevator paused and the large silver doors slid open. As he stepped out, I let out a small stream of air and slowly followed him, my head pounding as I looked down and watched his footsteps. When he paused at a black door, I blinked hard and then looked up at him.

“We aren’t going to get along.” He confirmed with a frown as he shoved his key into the door and twisted it.

“You had your chance.” I challenged, my eyes locking with his as the exhaustion started to wash over my body. “Deal with your choice.”

As we walked into the building, I kept my eyes on the ground as the man informed me to follow him. Swaying back and forth, I managed to make it to the room he had stopped at. Turning to me, he put his hand under my chin and tilted my head up so our eyes were aligned. Running his eyes over me, he quickly looked down at my dirty clothes that were hanging from my body.

As his eyes lingered on a bruise sticking out from under my sweater, he clenched his jaw. “This is your room. It has a master suite.”

With a nod, I took a few steps passed him before my legs gave out beneath me and I collapsed onto the hardwood floor. Pain radiating through my body, I pressed my forehead into my hands and went to let out a small sob when a large hand rested on my back.

“Let’s get you up.” Luca whispered as he gently helped me to my feet and walked me over to my bed. Sitting me on the mattress, he pushed some stray pieces of hair from my face and flashed his eyes over the exposed bruises on my collar bone. “Are you going to talk, topolina?”

Looking up at him, my body aching, I lifted an eyebrow and felt the corner of my lips tug into a smirk.

“Little mice can’t talk.”

The brunette stormed out and slammed the door behind him, leaving me alone to curl up in the foreign sheets as I softly cried myself to sleep.