"That's really beautiful," AJ said softly.
For some reason, I felt compelled to keep talking to AJ. "I never knew my real mother-she was some sports groupie who basically hooked up with my dad because he was Duke Martinelli. She wanted to trap him into marrying her, so she got pregnant. Four months after I was born, Dad blew out his knee. She figured her meal ticket had dried up and she didn't want to be saddled with a kid, so she left us both. My grandparents moved down here from Jersey to help my dad with me, and they never left. My grandfather died when I was fifteen, and that was gut-wrenching. But my grandmother-she was my mother. And when she died nine months ago…a little bit of me died as well." I didn't bother stopping the tear that escaped and trickled down my cheek. "She was my anema e core."
Without a word, AJ left his seat to come sit by me in the booth. Before I knew it, he had an arm around my shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Mia."
The room began to spin in a dizzying flurry. I'd let my guard down and let him see more than I should have. "No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought this up. I-" I started to edge away from him, but he gripped me tighter.
"Don't pull away because you think showing some emotion is going to turn me off. Because that's the farthest thing from the truth." He gripped my chin, tipping my head up to meet his gaze. "Remember what I said about wanting people to be real?"
"Yes," I whispered.
"I know for you to be letting your guard down, showing this emotion-it's about as real as it gets for you, right?" When I bobbed my head, he gave me a reassuring smile. "I'm right here, right now. I'm not going anywhere because I want to be here for you."
His tender words and the comfort of his embrace caused all reason to leave me. Instead, I let myself snuggle closer into him.
With my face pressed against his chest, I finally murmured, "Thank you…for listening to me and for being here."
"No problem." His lips brushed against my temple. "I wish I could say I understood the pain and what grief feels like, but I've never really experienced overwhelming loss. My mother's parents died before I was five, so I really didn't get the chance to know them. Six months ago, my buddy, Jake's, mom died, and that hurt like hell. But I can't imagine losing your whole world like he did…or you did with Mama Sofia."
I gazed up at him. "You're a really decent guy, you know that?"
He chuckled. "You're just now realizing that?"
"I'm serious. I mean, you're a famous musician with money and good looks. You could be a real asshole."
"But I'm not."
I shook my head. "As much as I would like for you to be, you're not."
AJ's brow creased in confusion. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Even though I could've avoided the question, I wanted to be real for him. "You being decent will just make it harder for me in the end."
He stared intently into my eyes, searching them for the answers I wasn't ready to give him. It would take a pretty strong blast of dynamite to get past the walls I'd erected around me to protect from the pain previous men had inflicted.
When AJ abruptly pulled away, I felt bereft of his comforting embrace
He held out his hand. "Dance with me."
I started to protest, but at the insistent gleam burning in his eyes, I thought better of it. Instead, I rose up and put my hand in his. He then led me across the restaurant to the dance floor. We sidestepped through the other couples, edging over to the bandstand.
As the music grew louder around us, I teased, "Do you wanna be deaf by the end of the night?"
He glanced over his shoulder and winked at me. As the last chords of the song wound down, applause and whistles rang throughout the room. The elderly couple smiled and waved before starting to make their way off the dance floor. The guys shuffled their music, preparing to play something else when AJ called, "Play it again, boys." At Vince's surprised look, AJ added, "Please."
Vince must've met AJ before because a wide grin stretched on his face. "You heard him boys. Anema e Core it is,"
As the opening chords started up, AJ quirked his brows at me. "You wanna show-off what you learned tonight?"
I grinned up at him. "I'm not sure everything we did back at the dance studio is appropriate."
AJ returned my grin. "That's true." His arms snaked around my waist, drawing me flush against him. Instinctively, I wrapped my arms around his neck. One of his hands splayed across my back, his thumb rubbing back and forth across the exposed skin above my dress. I shivered under his touch, causing him to tighten his arms around me. "How about we try this instead?" he questioned, his breath fanning across my cheek.
I fought to catch my breath. When I could finally speak, I replied, "I think…this is nice."
He snorted. "You and your usage of nice."
Pressed tightly together, we swayed as the passionate words of the love song echoed through the room. I closed my eyes and rested my head against AJ's chest. Tuning out the sounds around me, I focused on the gentle beat of his heart, thrumming through his shirt. "I can see why your grandparents liked this so much," AJ said, breaking the silence.
"Really?" I murmured.
"Yeah, it really speaks to the beauty of true love. Kinda reminds me of one of the first songs I learned to play on the drums, Amorcito Mio. My Tio Diego he's the one who got me started playing music. He used to have a band back in Guadalajara. His song with my Tia Anita was Amorcito Mio, and he used to play it all the time."
"That means, 'my love', in Spanish right?"
AJ nodded. "Yeah, but sorta more affectionate like 'my baby' kinda usage, too." He stared down at me. "Like I would want to call you, amorcito mio."
"You would?" I questioned softly.
"Yeah, I would." He then brought his lips to mine. In that moment, I didn't care we were on display in front of the entire restaurant. All I wanted in that moment was AJ's lips on mine and his hands on my body. Wanting him to deepen the kiss, I opened my mouth. He obliged me by flicking his tongue against mine. I moaned as I slid my hand up to tangle in his hair. I got so lost in him and what we were doing I didn't realize the song had ended. It wasn't until a more upbeat tune blared around us that I jerked away.