In Wounded Rhymes [Mafia Games X]
In Wounded Rhymes [Mafia Games X]
Author: M.Z. Mauve
Book I Preview + Prologue

Copyright © 2020 by M.Z. Mauve

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without written permission of the copyright owner except for the use of quotations in a book review.

•••• PROLOGUE ••••

3 years earlier

• Paris, France •

Failure.  

Complete, utter failure.

The word rang in his concussed head for days now, ridding him of much-needed sleep and peace of mind.  He failed the assignment.  

The subject escaped the raid.  Seven long weeks of risky, exhaustive investigative work just spiraled down the drain in mere hours.

Unfortunate, but, his luck just ran out. 

Naked and alone, Théo took a long drag on his second stick as he stared at his pale reflection, the grayish smoke fleetingly obscuring the aftermath of his latest mission.

The dark skin under his droopy eyes near matched the purplish bruise below his nasal bridge.  "Just minor damage to the septal and lateral cartilage," the doctor had said.  It should heal nicely soon.  Minimal to no scarring.

Nothing makeup couldn't hide in seconds.  But his face still hurt like someone bashed it in with a baseball bat.  He touched the tip of his nose.  "Merde."  It still hurt like a bitch on steroids.

On the bright side, no more nosebleeds as of yesterday and he got home safe without blowing his cover.  Hopefully the photographers and casting agents wouldn't mind the slight dent on his moneymaking face. 

"Pute."  Théo put out his cigarette and binned it. For a minute, he gargled the taste and smell of cigarettes out of his mouth with some peppermint mouthwash.  Appreciating the total privacy he had today, he trudged out of the dim bathroom to get dressed, his concentration still hostage to his unpleasant thoughts.

For the first time since he signed up for the job,  he felt the cold slap of reality reminding him of his weaknesses and "somewhat lacking foresight", as his new boss had tactfully coined it.  Disappointing how it took a few years for him to finally acknowledge the truth...

On top of that botched mission, he picked up a new vice that was undoubtedly forming into a dangerous habit.  An expensive one, too—a pastime he couldn't really afford with his current day job.

But that wasn't the worst part.  His stupidity and the consequences of that assignment almost took his nephew's life.  A kid.  Just a clueless little child.  Abducted in broad daylight just days after Théo got extracted from that international crime gang.

Coincidence?  Nah.  

He wasn't a firm believer in coincidences.  He gave it the benefit of the doubt once or twice.  But after finding out more about his last subject's connections, he was almost 100% sure someone in that highly suspicious bunch of foreign crooks took revenge on him by harming his family.

The mere thought left him sleepless lately.  He wasn't used to this much anxiety.  He wasn't used to failure.  Firstborn syndrome or whatever the shrinks called it.

His bosses from his secret side job said it was his only mission this year.  Brief, direct objectives.  Should be easy.  Basic intel gathering.  In and out.

"Stupide, arrogant, vieux sac à merde..." Théo murmured to himself as he put on a clean shirt and jogger pants.  No need to look his best today.  The next photo shoot was scheduled the following week.  No runway stints this month, either.

Without bothering to fix his short hair, he stepped out of the loft in his old sneakers and gym-friendly getup.  Maybe he'd lift a few to get his mind off his shitshow of a performance in Britain.  Or go hiking with strangers who knew nothing about him.  

Distractions.  

Yeah.  He just needed a good distraction—something to pick up the tiresome pace of his dismal weekend.  He wasn't really in the mood for hard drugs today. 

3:09PM

"Putain de merde."  After he almost doubled over in pain, Théo backed away from the stupid glass door with his hand fully covering his nose.  Thick, solid glass just hit his face.  Like a dozen consecutive jabs right on his injury.  The pain in his nose and cheeks only intensified when he winced.

"Shit."  

Shit?  That's all she had to say?  He scowled and glanced down, suppressing the growing urge to swear louder as his eyes tried to focus on the pair of boots almost touching his shoes.  

Was she blind?  Or just plain careless?  Stupid American...

"Oh m—   Sorry. I'm really sorry."  The girl took a step forward to get closer to him.  "Desolée. Je suis navrée."  Her dainty hand had been covering half of her pale face since she rushed out of the boutique.  

Huh.  She spoke like a local.  

At the sound of the woman's somewhat raspy voice speaking his native tongue, Théo perked up and stopped avoiding her eyes, his palm still hiding his injured nose as best as it could.  

He wasn't planning on being social today.  At all.  It was a busy city.  Noisy.  Heavy traffic.  People all over the sidewalks just going about their day.  He could get away with it if he just minded his own business all day.  But now it was clear he had to talk to someone besides himself.  

"Ça va?" The girl kept staring at him.

"I'm fine," he muttered to the young American standing inches away from him.  His entire face still hurt, but nothing he couldn't handle.  To make her feel worse, though, he had to look believably pained.

"Did I..." The woman in the plain white shirt and black leather shorts leaned closer till her cold hands touched his forearms.  "Shit. Did I break your nose?" Genuine panic widened her hazel eyes.  "I'm so sorry."

Definitely American.  East Coast accent.  He often worked runway and print jobs in New York.  He could spot an American just by their distinct lilt.  A smirk threatened to replace his scowl.  Something in the guilt-ridden look on her freckled face amused him, distracting him from his ill thoughts all weekend.  "No. I'll live," he mumbled in reply.  

"Can I take a look? Please?" The girl took another step closer till her leather boots touched his sneakers and her bare knees brushed against his pants.  Her perfume reminded him of jasmine and roses.  

Mild but addictive.  "I'm fine,"  he repeated in a calmer tone, appreciating the amount of concern in her almond-shaped eyes and slightly furrowed brows.  They looked light brown, like her wavy hair that barely reached her chest.  

College girl?  Her legs and arms looked svelte like the rest of her physique.  Her baggy shirt didn't hide her curves;  her leather shorts looked uncomfortably tight around her hips.  Aside from the faint lines on her jowls and the crow's feet beside her heavy-lidded eyes,  the graceful, confident way she carried herself assured him she wasn't barely legal.  

"But your nose is bruising," the woman muttered.  Her bangs partly covered the frown that wrinkled her pinkish lips.

"No. Not your fault."

"Oh. Thank God." She breathed out a sigh but took another step forward.

"Basketball injury last week." Théo beefed up his lie with a grin.  He couldn't touch his face anymore as her cold hands were now practically giving him a nasal examination in the middle of the sidewalk.  A passerby glanced at them but walked on, ignoring their ongoing awkward exchange. 

Now the woman was squinting while her soft fingers touched his jaw, tilting his head upward as if she was checking his septum.  "Sorry. Just checking, and makin' sure I didn't make your nose bleed." She clicked her tongue and smiled.  Cute dimples formed below her lips.

He simply stared back at her.  Just now his brain recognized that he had a thing for women wearing V-neck shirts and leather shorts.  The suede boots completed her whole look, matching the warmer than usual weather this afternoon.  He cleared his throat.

The way her thighs pressed against his and the gentleness of her pale hands on his face just shot a rush of blood down his crotch.  Her angelic scent was doing a number on him, too.  Then she bit on her lip to stop herself from giggling—maybe at her clumsiness and his misfortune?

At the sound of her breathy giggle, his dick got hard almost instantly, tightening his briefs under his sweatpants as she stood too close to him.  It could just be the sleeplessness, combined with the aftereffects of that male enhancement pill he'd been taking to satisfy his subject's insatiable appetite in bed.  Just part of his tasks and strategy to get into Masha's head, the focus of his last mission's objectives. 

Wait.  He hadn't taken a pill since the day he flew out of Britain. 

"Sorry. I was on my phone."  American girl made a face again after pulling away from him. 

"All good. I'm Théo,” he said before grabbing her palm for a handshake.

The woman looked surprised for a second before her beautiful smile narrowed her eyelids and showed her dimples again.  "Via."  She shook his hand firmly. 

"Via. Is that short for something?"

"Veronica." 

"Ah. Nice to meet you, Via." 

"Likewise." She backed away a few steps after her smile widened.  "Again, I didn't mean to...  Please put some ice on it when you get home."

He grinned back at her.  His filthy mind was imagining pulling her closer to kiss her pretty mouth just to stop her from apologizing and worrying too much. For a moment, they just stood in the middle of the sidewalk while staring at each other.

Then a shrill noise cut through the awkward silence.  Via excused herself to take a phone call.  They stood right outside the boutique entrance, and she got busy on her phone for a while.  She mentioned a dental appointment, then some medical terms and something about nose injuries.  

Was she asking for medical advice?

"Okay. Yeah. Okay. Call you later. Bye, Mommy."  Via hung up and turned to regard him.  "Sorry."

"No problem," he mumbled in response while trying to calm his unwanted hard-on under his not so thick jogger pants.

She averted her gaze but kept up a pleasant smile.

"Here on vacation?" he asked without realizing how cheesy it sounded, until she chuckled and glanced away.  He should get going since it was obvious she had somewhere to be, but his feet and legs wouldn't move for some asinine reason. 

"Yeah. Just a quick one." A shy grin faintly curved her lips.  "Tour break."

"Tour?" 

"I sing in a band."

"Ah. Cool."  Théo took two steps closer to her to get a whiff of her perfume again.  It just smelled great.  Almost...seductive.  Or maybe it was just his testosterone level making him hornier than usual. 

So far, their interaction told him she was a bit of a goody-two-shoes in her mid-20s who still calls her mother "Mommy" and  dresses like a hot college girl.  Not exactly his type.  But now he was itching to ask for her number. 

Worse:  he was thirstily imagining dating her just to ruin her innocence.  

Shit.  He was being a real creep now.  Oh boy.  He should back off and get going. 

"The heck d'you think you're doing, Reynaud?"

The high-pitched complaint snapped him out of his dirty thoughts at once.  He glanced to the tall, skinny and familiar blonde who just stepped out of the boutique.  Her scowl made her blood-red lips pout.  

Crap.  It's Jamie.

"Are you seriously flirting with my best friend?" Jamie's evident incredulity arched her perfectly drawn brow with her keen blue eyes watching every second of his reaction.

Best friend?

"Out of all the girls in this city..." She scoffed.  "What? Got her digits yet?" Jamie grabbed Via's arm to pull her away from him.  Then Jamie stepped forward to pinch his cheek.  "Nice shiner, blondie." She cackled.  "Pissed someone off lately?"

He groaned in pain while she laughed beside Veronica who looked utterly speechless right now,  glancing at him and Jamie with scrunched brows.

"You comin' to Laurin's party next week?" Jamie asked in a chipper tone when he didn't say anything. Her smile showed off her nice teeth that looked the same shade as her platinum blonde hair.  

Veronica's her best friend? Weird.  "What?" Théo held back a frown while waiting for the pain in his face to subside.

Looking busy putting together the puzzle pieces, Veronica stood still beside Jamie and gave him a tentative smile.

"Next Saturday. Be there." Jamie turned her back to him to mumble something to Veronica.  Then Jamie held Veronica's wrist and glared at him for a second.  "Text you then."  

"Okay..." he mumbled, confused and caught off-guard.  "Where you going?"

"We're running late for my dental. See ya."

"Bye, Théo. Just put some ice on it." Veronica smiled at him one last time before Jamie could drag her away from him.  Jamie already pushed her into a cab before he could even react.

"Bye," he muttered to himself.  He just stood and watched them leave him alone on the sidewalk.  He scowled.  "See you around."  

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