Beat of the Heart


Page 17






Glancing from her to the building, I shook my head. "Why do you look so upset? Mama Sofia's is nothing to be ashamed of. It's one helluva gold mine for your family I bet."

"Yes, it is," she replied modestly.

"Seriously, Mia, this place is awesome-I mean, not only is the food amazing, but everyone who works there is fabulous. You come from good people."

"Thanks."

Then it hit me. "Wait a minute. You're Duke's daughter?"

Mia paled a little further. "Yes."

"Fuck me, this is intense."

"I guess this means besides being a connoisseur of Italian food, you're also a traitor to your culture by liking American football?"

I laughed. "Yeah, I guess you could say it like that. But come on, your dad's a legend around these parts."

With a shadow of a smile, Mia replied, "Not to mention his face is plastered all over the back wall of the restaurant."

"And for good reason." Enzo aka 'Duke' Martinelli had been one of the best wide receivers the Atlanta Falcons had back in the late 70's and early 80's. An injury had taken him out of the professional football arena, so after spending a few years teaching and coaching, he'd started a restaurant on the side with his parents. That had grown into what was now Mama Sofia's. I'd gotten the lowdown one night when after casually asking to meet Duke, he came out and had dinner with me. "Your dad is amazing."

"Wait, you know, know him?"

"Oh yeah."

Bringing her hand to her forehead, Mia leaned back against the seat. "This is a nightmare."

"It shouldn't be. He really likes me."

Mia closed her eyes. "Even worse," she said in a whisper.

Benny interrupted us by knocking on the door. "Ready sir?"

After I nudged her, I gave Mia an encouraging smile. "Come on, I'm starving. You made me work up one helluva an appetite."

I hopped out first before turning back to offer Mia my hand. As she slipped her hand in mine, her complexion had turned positively green. Her first steps out onto the pavement were wobbly, and I wondered if they were from our previous activities or from nerves? Bringing her hand to my lips, I kissed her fingers. "Look, cariño, if you're going to be this uncomfortable being seen with me around your family, we can eat somewhere else."

"Everywhere else will be slammed at this time." She gave a slight shake of her head before swallowing hard. "We might as well go in." She sounded like someone headed off for an execution, rather than dinner.

"Alrighty then." I turned back to Benny. "I'll have them send out a menu for you. Get whatever you like."

His eyes widened. "Oh, that's not necessary."

I grinned. "With what I've put you through, I think you've more than earned yourself a dinner."

He chuckled. "Thank you, sir."

Placing my hand on the small of Mia's back, I led her to the front of the restaurant. When I held the door open for her, she refused to step inside. Instead, it was like she preferred to hide behind me. With a sigh, I ducked inside and let her follow me. Looming over the hostess stand was my buddy, Angelo. At the sight of me, a grin spread on his cheeks . "Hey stranger, long time no see. I thought I saw your name on the books tonight."

We gave each other an enthusiastic handshake. "Good to see you, man."

"I gotta say that the new album is fucking kickass." At his cursing, he quickly glanced around. When he saw no one had caught him, he added, "Seriously."

"Thanks. I'd like to take credit, but that always goes to Jake and Brayden for their songwriting skills-well, and this time Abby."

"Yeah, that duet is killer." Peering over my shoulder, he asked, "Ah, you have a lucky lady with you tonight. I'm used to you flying solo with us."

"Um, yeah," I murmured, rubbing my neck furiously while trying to figure how to play this off. When Mia continued hiding behind me, I laughed. "She's a little shy."

Recognition flooded Angelo's face. "Mia?"

"Yeah," she squeaked.

Angelo's almost unibrow furrowed. "You're with AJ?"

"Sort of."

It took a moment before a beaming smile lit up his face. "Holy shit, you two are dating?"

I started to open my mouth, but Mia surprised me by stepping in front of me. Plastering on a smile, she said, "Actually, I was hoping to fix him up with Dee, but he got called in to take someone's shift."

Angelo's tan face paled considerably as he glanced back and forth between Mia and me. "AJ, I didn't know you were…" He appeared to be struggling with the words. "Um…out."

"Me either," I hissed through clenched teeth. When I shot Mia a death glare, she cowered a little. "How about that table, huh?"

"Yeah, yeah, sorry." Angelo fumbled with two menus before handing them over to the seating hostess. "Have a good dinner."

"Thanks," I grumbled. I could feel his heated gaze on me as we made our way through the packed restaurant. Boisterous conversations and clanging silverware assaulted my ears. The hostess escorted us over to a secluded corner booth. Candles burned in the red votive candles, giving off the highest romantic vibe. "Enjoy your meal," she smiled at Mia before glancing over at me.

"Thank you, Gabriella."

Once we were alone, I motioned for Mia to sit. After she slid across the leather booth seat, I also sat. "AJ, I-" She nibbled her bottom lip nervously.

"Look, for the record, I have nothing against gay people-hell, my brother, Antonio, has been out since he was fifteen. What I do have a problem with is you skewing my image for your benefit."

"I know, I know. And I'm truly sorry. But you have to know what it's like to a have a big family all up in your business, right?"

"Yeah, try having the world all up in your business."

She nodded. "Since Dev and I broke up, everyone, from my father to my uncles to the freakin' bus boys, have been on me to date. Think of it like Dee's behavior but on Italian steroids."

Even though I was still pissed, my lips turned up in amusement at her description. I didn't expect her to reach across the table for my hand. "I just wanted to try to enjoy tonight without all the other bullshit hassle, okay?"







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