Stryking Out:Assassins Inc. 4By: Stormy Glenn
I often got accused of having a sense of humor that ran to the bizarre. Truthfully, I probably did. The oddest things struck me as funny, whereas other things didn't at all. I laughed when I shouldn't and frowned when others around me found humor in something.
It made social situations awkward.
Which was how I felt as I stood around with a group of people at a party, watching as they all laughed at something some tall blond was saying, and totally not getting it. I glanced at everyone standing there, trying to understand what was so funny about what the guy had said.
I got nothing.
It was really hard to fit in, when you simply didn't.
The biggest problem was that I didn't care if I fit in or not. I knew I was antisocial. I just didn't give a fuck. Most people took one look at my tattoos and piercings and labeled me trouble anyway, so why should I try to fit in?
I was only being nice because my mother and her new husband were hosting this stupid party. Well, mostly because of my mother was. I adored her. The jury was still out on the new stepfather.
When I moved back from the group, no one noticed. Big surprise there. They were all too spellbound by the tall blond. I'll give you, he was pretty to look at, but he was almost too pretty, if that made sense.
It probably didn't.
His sunlight blond hair had just the right amount of wave to it, just the right amount of highlights to make it look real and not fake, even if I suspected it was. His teeth were shiny bright, his skin a golden tan and totally unblemished.
Freckles wouldn't dare mar his perfection.
He stood tall and straight, at least six foot two, maybe three, and his body was definitely filled out, with rippling muscles and tight abs. His fancy dark suit hugged his body in all the right places. It probably cost more than I made in a month.
It was obvious this guy didn't suffer from social inadequacy. He laughed at all the right times, smiled when he should, flirted with everyone, and told stories that seemed to have anyone within hearing distance enthralled.
He was utterly perfect, and I had an insane urge to mess him up.
I was only at this party because I had to be. I had been guilted into it by my mother. I had promised to stick around until ten o'clock. One glance at my watch and I knew had twenty-eight minutes of torture left.
"Frankie, love, I need you."
I'd heard that one before. It's how I ended up here in the first place. Still, as much as I hated it, I couldn't deny my mother. She had given birth to me after all.
"We're out of champagne."
I raised my brows. "Already?" The party had only been in swing for a couple of hours. How could they be out of champagne so soon?
My mother's hands fluttered against her chest. A sure sign of how anxious she was. "I just…I need you to go down to the wine cellar and grab some more bottles of champagne. Please. I can't go and Roman is busy talking to his friends and I don't know where Angelo went so—"
I held up my hand. "I'll go already."
"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you."
I loved my mother, really I did. She had single-handedly raised me after my father died when I was five years old. She had taught me how to be the man I was today, but there were times when she drove me positively insane.
"Where's the wine cellar?"
"In the basement."
I smirked. "Where's the basement?"
My mother gaped at me before narrowing her eyes. "Francis Xavier Martinez!"
I chuckled before leaning in and planting a kiss on her forehead. "How many bottles do you want?"
"Oh…uh…" She glanced over her shoulder to the crowd of people in the room. "Six or so should do it."
"You want me to bring up a case?"
"Oh yes." The smile on her face when she turned back around was all the inducement I needed to try and find the basement and bring up some more champagne for her. "That would be perfect, Francis. Thank you."
God, I wished she wouldn't call me Francis.
I smiled until she walked away to join her new husband then turned and headed into the house to look for the basement. It didn't help that I didn't live here and had no idea where anything was located. I'd only been here a handful of times.
My mother had married Roman Dominguez three months ago. While I was thrilled that she found someone who seemed to dote on her every word, I was not thrilled with the idea of having a stepfather or the stepbrother he brought with him.
Roman was loaded, which was good. It meant he could care for my mother in a style I could never afford. But I was the poor relation, and Angelo Dominguez, my new stepbrother, never let me forget it.
He actually seemed to go out of his way to show me up when he could. His friends weren't any better. They never acted out in front of Roman or my mother. In front of them, Angelo and his buddies were as nice as they could possibly be, which made me want to puke.
The guy was an ass. So were his friends.
I still hadn't decided about Roman. He seemed okay. He certainly adored my mother, and for that I was grateful, but he'd raised a jerk for a son.
I hoped it wasn't hereditary.
I walked around for a few minutes, opening door after door, hoping I'd come across a set of stairs leading down. I was about to give up when I spotted a maid in a very pristine black dress and white apron.
"Excuse me, miss?"
"Can you tell me where the wine cellar is located? My mother, Mrs. Dominguez, asked me to bring up another case of champagne."
The woman leaned back just a little. "You are Mrs. Dominguez's son?"
"Yes." I smiled as I held out my hand. "Frankie Martinez."
She frowned as if perplexed then slowly raised her hand to shake mine. "I am Marcy."
"Nice to meet you, Marcy."
"You, as well." The tension in her shoulders loosened, but just a little. "The wine cellar is in the basement, sir."
"Please, call me Frankie." I widened my eyes comically. "And I can't find the basement."
Marcy laughed before waving her hand back down the hallway. "Go down the hallway to the very end then turn left. The door to the basement is at the end of the corridor."
"Thanks. You've been a life savior."
I headed down the hallway in the direction the maid had pointed. I saw the heavy oak door as soon as I turned the corner. It made sense that the entrance to the basement would have a heavy door like that, especially if the basement housed a wine cellar.
I was practically giddy when I opened the door and saw the staircase leading down.
I'd found the basement.
As I reached the bottom, I realized it was unlike any basement I'd ever been in. The basement in my apartment building was cold and dank and often musty smelling. This one smelled strangely of cigar smoke and had walls made of fancy oak panels. It was nice enough to have the party down here.
There was a small hallway with three doors, one on each side of me and then one at the end of the hallway. I tried the door to my left first, but it was just a storage room. The door to my left was some sort of office, which left that door at the end of the hallway.
I breathed a happy sigh when I opened that door and found a room stacked with shelf after shelf of wine bottles. Nothing was really labeled, and I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for. I didn't tend to drink a lot of champagne. So I started moving around the room, pulling out bottle after bottle and reading the label.
I was about halfway through the room when I heard voices and footsteps approaching.
Curiosity had always been a huge downfall for me and had gotten me into trouble more times than I could count. Which was why I knew it was a really stupid idea to walk to the door to see who was coming.
I did it anyway.
Yeah, I was stupid like that.
I pulled the door open a crack just in time to see my new stepbrother and another man walk into the office I'd seen earlier. I stood there for a moment, tilting my head to try and hear them a little better, but their low murmur was too quiet.
I crept out of the room.
As I edged closer to the open doorway, the voices rose until I could understand what they were saying, and then I wished I had stayed in the wine cellar.
Hell, I wished I'd skipped the party altogether.
"How soon will you have my merchandise ready?"
That had to be the stranger because I didn't recognize the voice.
"They're ready now," my stepbrother replied. "I'm merely waiting on the transfer of the agreed-upon price to my account."
"You'll get your money when I see the merchandise."
The heavy aroma of a lit cigar hung in the air, messing with my ability to sniff out just about anything else. I hated that.
I moved to the edge of the doorway then pressed myself against the wall. After taking a deep breath, I peeked around the edge of the doorframe.
Angelo Dominguez was easy to pick out. He stood just a few inches taller than me, but his dark hair was slicked back with gel and his tan was as fake as hell. He always wore a gold chain around his neck, a diamond in his ear, and a Rolex on his wrist, even when he was in his bathing trunks.
It was ridiculous.
He wore a dark suit tonight, open at the throat. I suppose as suits went, it was a nice one. I wouldn't know. I didn't wear suits.
The other man was older, more the age of Angelo's father. He was dressed in a suit, as well, but he had a tie. I was pretty sure the watch on his wrist was not a Rolex. He also didn't look like a man who would be caught dead with an earring in his ear.