Chapter One: Brenna
I looked up at the old brick façade and the black wrought iron detailing around the front stoop and couldn’t believe I was back.
The cab pulled off, back out into traffic, before I had the chance to change my mind, hop back in, and head anywhere but home. I cursed my rotten luck and looked around. The old neighborhood looked the same: old brick Philly row homes, but clean and orderly—one of the richer south Philly neighborhoods.
Briefly, I wondered how many crimes had been committed in the halls of the houses that I could see. I wondered how many crimes had been committed in my own house.
Probably a lot.
With a sigh, I lugged my over-filled suitcase up the stoop and stood in front of the door. Did I have to ring the bell and knock, or could I just walk right in? That was a weird thought; it was my childhood home, after all, though I hadn’t been back in years. I opted for informal, grabbed the front door knob, and pulled it open.
I could feel that my back was covered in sweat already as the air conditioning hit me hard. I must have looked like a mess. It wasn’t a long trip from New York, but it felt like it had taken ages. I hated riding the train, but there were no other good ways to travel. Plus, I had left in kind of a hurry.
It wasn’t good to be home. Far from it, actually. I hadn’t exactly left on friendly terms, and my relationship with Daddy dearest had been strained at best ever since. We spoke a few times a year on the phone, but that was about it. Pleasantries, the bare minimum of small talk, and then nothing for months at a time.
Still, it was a nice trip down memory lane as I walked into the familiar foyer. Pictures of myself as a kid, smiling into the camera, my mom smiling up by my side, my dad with his typical mean mug look. I smiled softly to myself. That was back before she had passed away, before things began to take a turn, before I knew what dad did for a living. Those were the good old days.
“Hello?” I called out, and heard only my own voice echo back at me.
Typical. Of course my dad wasn’t home. He was probably too busy breaking some guy’s knees or whatever it was he did all day. Then again, I was a few hours early, so I could probably cut him a little break on that one.
With a grunt, I lugged my suitcase up the stairwell, heading for my bedroom. It wasn’t exactly graceful, but I was exhausted and alone and anyway, so what did I care? I was home; I didn’t need to be on all the time.
I looked around my nearly-empty childhood room and tossed the suitcase onto the bed. There wasn’t much left of it: everything I had cared about I had brought with me, and it looked like my dad hadn’t exactly kept it up.
I sighed. I guessed there would be plenty of time to redecorate.
My stomach grumbled as I looked around, and I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since I left New York. There wasn’t exactly enough time to have a nice meal; I hadn’t really given much thought to my escape. The only thing that mattered in that first hour or two was getting the hell out of there before things got even worse. I had been frantic as I threw things into my suitcase and ran out of my apartment, trying to get the image of what I saw out of my mind. Her blonde hair, bobbing up and down. The look on his face.
I shook my head. I couldn’t deal with those memories, not yet. Food first, emotional healing later. Maybe.
The hallway was empty as I walked quietly back toward the thin staircase that led into the kitchen. I remembered the hundreds of times I played in that space, running around and climbing down the weird staircase, which I now realized was for the servants or whatever back when the house was first built in Colonial times. I'd had a pretty good childhood, though my dad wasn’t the most attentive person in the world. But he had shielded me from the worst of the shit that went on around us, keeping me blissfully ignorant. I'd lived in my own little bubble, daughter of one of the largest Irish Mob bosses in the entire city, the Mob Princess. I remembered all the men that came in and out of the house, and how kind they were to me. At the time, I had thought I was special. Now I realized they were just trying to suck up to my dad.
As I neared the back staircase, I heard a creak, and the door to the bathroom pushed open. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Warm, steam-filled air rolled out as a body stepped into the hall. I practically shrieked, surprised as hell, as this damp, gorgeous torso appeared in the doorway. I gaped at him, not sure why some random guy was coming out of my shower. He was ripped like crazy, all muscles and perfectly toned abs, and all he was wearing was a thin white towel wrapped around his waist. I could see the outline of every one of his muscles glistening from the water from his shower. My heart started hammering in my chest as I ran my gaze along him.
“Shit, sorry,” I stammered as my eyes ran up his body and locked onto his face.
And that’s when I got the real shock.
“Hey Bren,” he said, grinning.
I couldn’t believe it. I recognized the voice, but it hardly matched up with my memories. We hadn’t seen each other in years, not since that time just before I left for college. Which, actually, was another thing I didn’t want to think about—one of many. But he had gotten taller, fuller, even better looking if that was possible. The only guy to ever turn me down, the cocky asshole that was always around our house when I was in high school, my pseudo-stepbrother, Colin Blake.
“Colin. Wow. You’ve uh ... grown up.”
I felt myself blush. Seriously? What was I even saying?
He laughed. “Yeah, you too. Last time I saw you, you were headed out to college, all fresh-faced and ready to take on the big city.”
“What are you doing here?”
He shrugged. “Right now, I’m talking to you, and it looks like you’re trying not to stare at my nakedness.”
I forced myself not to blush any more. “You just surpr