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  • Home > Katie Ashley > Runaway Train > Beat of the Heart (Page 23)     
    Beat of the Heart(Runaway Train #2) by Katie Ashley
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    “Don’t be a smartass.”

    I opened my mouth to protest when I was interrupted by the screech of a microphone. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I’m Vince—your band-leader here at Mama Sofia’s. I’m joined by Rico and Joey on the violins and accordion. First off tonight, we want to welcome a very special couple to the floor—Mr. and Mrs. Michael and Dorothea Castorini, who are celebrating their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary with their friends and family.” A round of applause went up over the restaurant as a silver haired couple teetered onto the wooden floor before the band’s riser.

    Vince smiled. “So for the happy couple, here’s their favorite song, Anema e Core.”

    As the familiar opening chords echoed from the violin, it felt like a knife speared my heart. A searing ache spread throughout my chest, sending tears to sting my eyes.

    “Mia?” AJ questioned.

    Embarrassment at my out-of-control emotions sent warmth into my cheeks. “I’m sorry.” I swept the napkin from my lap and dabbed my eyes.

    “Old couples make you weepy?” AJ asked.

    I hiccupped a laugh. “Not exactly.”

    “Then what is it?”

    With a wave of my hand, I replied, “Nothing I need to bother you with.”

    AJ reached over and grabbed one of my hands. “You know, most people think I’m just this goofball who never takes anything seriously and lacks any emotional depth or sensitivity. But that’s not true at all.” He squeezed my hand. “I can feel your pain all the way across the table. If it’s about a guy, I can handle it.”

    I stared into his dark eyes that pooled with empathy. Although I couldn’t fathom why, I drew in a deep breath. “Anema e Core was my late grandparent’s song. When I was growing up, they used to dance to it all the time. Even at their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary party, when my grandfather was on oxygen and was walking with a cane, they danced to this song. He always called her his anema e core—my soul and heart.”

    “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. “What—”

    He held out his hand. “Dance with me.”

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