But before he could decide, the man was gone. The door barely whispered as it closed, but Gabriel flinched anyway.
Catching his reflection in the massive foyer mirror, Gabriel straightened his black bow tie, double-checking the perfectly aligned collar of his crisp white tuxedo shirt.
Not bad for a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. If the boys from North Beach could see him now, they’d believe he was the badass villain he pretended to be.
Maybe it was the mirror. It was ten feet tall and gilded in antique gold. It covered a third of the wall in the vault-ceiling marble foyer. The antique reception table and side chairs dotting the walls were equally ornate and oversize, grandiose—just like Ricco Botelli’s drug lord aspirations. Gabriel’s mouth curved in a faint, contemptuous smile.
One final time, his fingers lingered over the smooth satin edging of the collarless jacket. He wasn’t one to pay a lot of attention to his appearance. Elegant cheekbones, long-lashed hazel eyes, and an unexpectedly engaging grin made up for a multitude of grooming sins. And, of course, you couldn’t beat the best tailoring money could buy—or at least that you could afford. That much Gabriel knew. But then his mama had spent her life working in the San Francisco garment district.
As his fingertips brushed the satin trim, a tactile memory from the previous night’s tryst with the nameless stranger flooded him with phantom sensation: the wet trail of a man’s mouth over his bare, sensitized skin—that silky-smooth slide, branding a hot trail of pleasure into his flesh. He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the feel of the stranger’s large, sure hands on his body, dimly aware his cock was reacting, swelling to half-mast. Even his nipples hardened against the cool linen of his shirt. Heat rose in his cheeks.
Glancing over his shoulder at the catering staff busily taking care of last minute details for the evening’s reception, Gabriel covertly rearranged himself in his trousers, thankful the tailored pants had pleats. He buttoned his jacket for added security.
“It looks better unbuttoned, G.” Small, silver-tipped hands slid around his waist from behind and delicately popped the button open.
Gabriel caught the hands as they dropped lower, turning to face their owner. He smiled a killer smile and pointedly clapped Gina Botelli’s wandering hands together, pushing her—not ungently—away from him before releasing her.
“Gina. I thought you were waiting to make your grand entrance.
You know, sweep down the staircase like Scarlett O’Hara.
Bowl over your future husband with your grace and beauty.”
Or, failing that, the dowry she brought as West Coast crime boss Ricco Botelli’s only surviving relative.
Gina offered a gurgling laugh, the naughty glint in her eyes warning Gabriel before she stepped in closer. Again he captured her hands as they dove toward his belt. “I’d rather bowl you over, bel ragazzo.” She nipped his earlobe before he stepped back.
He murmured, “Now, now. You trying to get me killed, angel?”
Gina wrinkled her pert nose. “What my big brother doesn’t know won’t hurt him. And Jesus Sanchez doesn’t own me.”
“Ricco knows a lot more than you think he does.” Gently, but firmly, he forced her back a few more inches. “And Don Sanchez will be arriving any moment. And even if he wasn’t, you’re promised to him, remember?”
“Promised! You mean like I had a choice?” She opened her mouth to say more, but Gabriel cut in fast. If she was smart, this was a conversation she wouldn’t have with him or anyone else.
Yet Gina continued bitterly. “This isn’t a marriage, it’s a business merger. That’s all Ricco thinks about: expanding his empire. All he cares about is making new connections, forging alliances, building new supply lines and distribution channels.”
Did she really understand what she was saying? Gabriel was never quite sure.
Gina gave a desolate little sniff. “He cares more for his money than for my happiness.” Her velvety dark eyes welled with easy emotion.
Gabriel said evenly, “Don Sanchez is a powerful, wealthy man, Gina. As his wife, you’ll have everything you ever wanted.”
Sure, Jesus Sanchez was a crook and probably a psychopath, but he was the most powerful drug lord on the continent. As the prospective bridegroom for a crime family daughter, that made him quite a catch.
Gina’s stare grew a shade calculating. “Including you?”
Gabriel lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Only if you want my head served on a plate, Salome, because that’s what’ll happen if either your brother or Don Sanchez thinks we’re playing fast and loose.”
“Salome! ” She was smiling, unfazed by the picture he was trying to draw her, but then, in her own way, Gina Botelli was surprisingly sheltered and maybe even a bit naïve. Slyly, she added, “It might be worth one night.”
“It might be.” He winked at her, flirting back just enough to not piss her off. “But trust me, angel, I’m not your type.”
“I think you are.” She leaned in close and tugged at the bow of Gabriel’s tie, pretending to straighten it under the disinterested glances of the caterers and staff. Her lips parted, her breath smelling faintly—disarmingly—of bubblegum, as she dropped her hand, relying on the positions of their bodies to hide her actions. Fingers skimmed the fly of Gabriel’s pants.
“Gina!” At the shout from the other room, Gabriel took a prudent step back. Annoyance flickered across Gina’s face.
Ricco Botelli’s voice rang off the walls in the marble foyer.
“Christ, here you are!”
Gabriel met his boss’s unsmiling black look without expression.
Botelli turned to his sister.
Gina lifted her chin. “What’d you think, I ran away?”
“Don’t be a smart mouth.” Botelli took Gina by the elbow and gave her a nudge in the direction of the sweeping marble staircase that dominated the back half of the entry hall. “Wait up in your room, mia preziosa. I want to introduce you properly to Don Sanchez.”
“It’s a little late for that!”
“Hey, mind your manners.”
“It’s boring upstairs. Why can’t I wait here? G and I were talking.” Gina wriggled free of her brother’s grip. Botelli pulled her away less gently this time. Gabriel moved clear of the wrestling match.