Wicked Tastes by Alice May Ball


Chapter One


Iswing the black Porsche Cayenne out of the dusty lot and away from the meeting. I’m shaking my head, trying to get free of the thick, dark clouds in my head. I’m going to need a council of war.

I stop to pick up a burger and fries that I’ll eat in the car. The gorgeous girl in the window has bright blue eyes, a smile like sunshine, and a name tag that says, “Cheryl.” When she leans forward to hand me the order, a button pops on her tunic and she gives me a view of the swell of her stunning cleavage.

Breathily she asks, “Can I do anything else for you?” She touches her neck and bats her eyelids, “Sir?” She draws it out. Pinches the side of her lip with her teeth. Her eyes roam over my body. She looks at me with a mix of hunger and fear. Like she’s hunting to be the prey.

“Thanks,” I shrug. “No.”

My Cosa Nostra casino has three gourmet restaurants, and a bar with national award-winning bar snacks. And still, every morning, I crave the first juicy bite of a well-seasoned burger, the tang of the pickles and tomato, a crunch of lettuce, and the thick melted cheese, all wrapped in a warm, yielding bun.

As I eat, I think about meaningless sex. Thrashing around for an hour or two with someone like Cheryl might help me relax. Unwind. I hate the shallow, empty feelings afterwards, though. I’ve been around too much for all that nonsense. Maybe it’s a shame, but I’m not so easily amused these days.

Between bites, I make one last call to the head of the L.A. Franconi family.

I grit my teeth through the anonymous voicemail announcement, yet again. Angry and impatient, I chew and swallow a bite of burger that I’d rather have savored. As evenly as I can, I leave my message.

“Leo, if you don’t come to your daughter’s wedding and give her away, if you’re not here to put your blessing on the union, you will regret it the rest of your life.” In an attempt to sound friendly, friendlier than I feel, I add, “Ask me how I know.”

His daughter, Lily, will marry my son Giovani on Saturday, whether Leo comes or not. Lily and Giovani are a golden couple. They may well be a match made in heaven. The Franconis and the Morettis are definitely not.

Either way, our families are headed for tough times, and Leo not taking or returning my calls is not a good sign.

I’m there for my family, even though it hasn’t always been easy. At last, now I can be there for both of my daughters. And my sons, with all the regrets I have there. I’m there for the firm, too. Our people are loyal. They’ll do anything for the family. And I repay their loyalty. I take care of them. If somebody needs something and they come to me, it doesn’t matter who they are, I’ll be there.

Now, today at least, I’m even there for Leo Fucking Franconi’s family.

At my age and stage in life, I guess it’s a lot to ask now, but I do sometimes wish someone was there for me.

Somebody who got me. Someone I could kick back with. Someone I could be on a level with, who I didn’t have to make a show or wear a face for.

As soon as I hang up on Leo’s voicemail, before I’ve got a clutch of salty fries between my teeth, Giulietta, my youngest daughter calls. Her bright voice makes my spirits lighten and rise. Her laugh is a welcome distraction. She and her sister Mia are with the bride, Lily, and they’re getting ready to leave the bridal shop.

The address is on my way. I haven’t had much of a chance to catch up with Giulietta. I almost never see her sister Mia these days either, so I jump at the chance to pick them all up.

Here Comes the Bride is the name of the bridal salon. When I turn in to the lot, the salon looks like it’s made out of white and cream silk, lace, and taffeta. Like a courtesan’s boudoir that’s been bleached. I get so many conflicting feelings. All of them unwelcome. The thought of going into the bridal store makes me want to turn and run.

I call Giulietta and tell her I’ll wait for them in the car.

“Don’t be silly, Daddy. Come in. Wait at the reception desk.” Her voice bubbles with froth and giggles, “if you’re shy about coming near the changing rooms.”

Reluctantly, I agree. I was never able to refuse anything to either of my daughters. As I walk in the front door, a girl steps out behind the desk and offers me a seat.

Seeing her is a jolt. Like a flashbulb moment. The innocent gleam in her eyes, the ripe fullness of her curves, the sight of her she makes me hard.

The girl’s eyes gleam. She looks back at me like a pinned butterfly. Her lips part. She makes my heart bang. I haven’t felt anything like this in a long time. Many years.

The scent of her hair makes my mouth water and my senses spark with a taste like strawberries and cream, dripped through, slathered in a dark, sinful honey.

She’s shy. I can tell. A breathless blonde. Bouncy and bright, smiling to cover her shyness. But in her mischievous eye, I feel a streak of wickedness that could be as deep and as dirty a channel as my own.

I catch myself watching the front of her dress, stretched tight across her thighs. The fabric grips and holds the curve of her ass. And I’m wondering how she tastes. The girl’s eyes gleam, fixed on me with what feels like a mix of fear and fascination.

Then, I hear Gulietta’s laugh and she bursts through the door, with Mia and Lily in tow. They hug the girl, blowing kisses, saying, “Thank you, Poppy.”

And they bustle me to the car. Poppy. Her eyes and mine are still locked, and I have to drag myself away. Poppy.

In the car, I ask the girls, as casually as I can, “Is she coming to the wedding?”

“Poppy?” Mia’s eyes sparkle with a sharp gleam in the rearview. She and Giulietta look at each other, widen their eyes, then laugh.

Giulietta says, “Why do you ask, Dad?”