When I awoke, Luca was gone.
I felt a twinge of disappointment even when I knew he probably left for my sake. I was the one that prohibited cuddling and sleepovers.
Glancing at the bedside table I took note of the time. It was nearly 5:00 p.m. How had I managed to sleep an entire day away?
After a hot shower, I descended to the main floor and entered the kitchen in search of food. The house was dark, empty. I felt unsettled being there alone. I knew there were men guarding the perimeter and that it was impossible for someone to reach this floor without the key to the elevator, but I hated being here alone.
I felt at ease when Luca was around. He was a powerhouse – his authority and strength filling every corner of any room he occupied. I was safest by his side – which was why I decided to stay.
After Jax’s threat to drag me back home, I realized my options were limited. I could have made a run for it – though I suspected it wouldn’t have taken long for Santiago to find me now that he knew where I was and with whom. On the other hand, I could stay right where I was, allowing Luca and the Moretti name to protect me.
The latter required some honesty on my part, so I admitted to Luca just who Jax was to me. I didn’t have the courage to give him the full story – that my husband was the one I’d been running from and that he was likely making plans to collect me – but with Jax in custody, I felt more relaxed.
Nearly two weeks had passed, and Santi still hadn’t shown up. Maybe Jax hadn’t told him he’d found me, after all. I knew I had to come clean with Luca soon. It was only a matter of time before Jax saw the benefit of revealing my identity to him. I was honestly surprised he’d held out this long.
I could only imagine he wanted revenge for the things that transpired when he arrived. Because of me, he was caught in the middle of his plans and tortured mercilessly. He was missing teeth and an eye because I’d told Luca he was indirectly responsible for my past abuse.
The fridge was bare except for a half empty carton of eggs and an open package of bacon. Remembering that it was the weekend, I realized Celine never got to do the shopping since Luca sent her home early.
Oh, well. I’d just have to run to the store and grab a few things. Maybe I could have dinner ready before Luca returned.
After changing into a T-shirt, yoga pants, and sneakers, I gathered my pocketbook and phone, pulled my arms into the sleeves of my coat, and stepped into the elevator.
When I reached the lobby, something felt off. I didn’t see any of the usual men that were posted near the entrance. The place was quiet – not even the doorman was present. Blaming it on my irrational fears, I shook the feeling off and stepped into the brisk night.
Winter had officially arrived, and though we hadn’t had our first snowfall, the temperatures were dropping to the low thirties now. I pulled my hood over my head and bundled up, wanting to keep the glacial wind from biting into my exposed face.
I still couldn’t spot any of the Morettis. Had they all been called to some sort of meeting? That would be odd, considering Luca normally required my presence to those. I assumed Ricky would be with Luca, wherever he was.
There was a bus stop around the corner and if I hauled ass, I could catch the next one and make my way to the supermarket. I’d pick up the things I needed and be back in no time. I could have dinner ready by 8:00 p.m., and hopefully Luca would be home by then.
I reached the bus stop and released a sigh – taking a seat on the bench and staring down the street. The bus would be arriving in the next few minutes. I could see my breath on the night air – the vapor puffing up from my lips and disappearing into the dark without a trace. My ears were cold so, I pulled the hood tighter around my head.
I heard footsteps approaching.
My heart jolted, that ridiculous fear trying to claw its way out of my chest. A man sat beside me; his face obscured by his hood. The moment he was near, I felt an undeniable urge to bolt. Going with my gut, I stood up quickly, intending to walk down the street toward the next stop.
I collided with something and felt a pair of hands curl around my upper arms. When I looked up, I saw a pair of light amber eyes. Eyes I’d looked into for so many years of my life. His face was hidden behind his coat collar and his hood covered his hair, but I knew.
He had found me.
“I’ve missed you, Muñeca.”
My heart fell into my stomach, a slight wave of nausea hitting me.
“Speechless? I’m at a loss for words, myself. You look beautiful.”
He reached up his hand and grabbed the back of my neck aggressively. I gasped when he pulled me forward – frozen in fear and unable to do anything but stand there as he took hold of me. All that time taking self-defense classes, preparing for the day I’d have to fight for my life, meant nothing. My brain just shut down.
“I was so disappointed when you left.” He pulled the zipper down on his coat with his free hand, revealing a face I had permanently etched into my mind – my nightmares. He was handsome, with perfectly symmetrical and chiseled features, but I knew the evil that lay beneath the surface. “Aren’t you happy to see me?”
He smiled, flashing his perfectly straight, white teeth. His dimple flexed the moment he grinned, and the sickness in my stomach intensified. The smile fell from his face and he was serious once more – holding my gaze intensely. I could see the rage simmering beneath his calm façade.
Looking over my shoulder, he nodded at someone. I was grabbed from behind and I finally snapped out of it. I couldn’t let them take me.
“No,” I said, the realization slapping me in the face.
Santi smiled, flashing that stupid dimple again. “We’ll talk soon, mi esposa.”
I shook my head in the negative, bucking against the man that restrained me. I felt something sharp prick my neck, and my vision instantly went blurry.
The drug swept through my bloodstream quickly, and I watched the world fade away in a fuzzy black cloud.
I woke to a splitting headache. Groaning, I rubbed my temples in an attempt to soothe the ache. I cracked my eyes open and immediately flinched away from the bright light filtering in through a window somewhere.
I couldn’t remember what I had been doing before I went to sleep.
And then the memories came flooding back. My eyes shot wide and I took in my surroundings. Sitting up, I found myself in the center of a king-sized bed. Before I had a chance to scan the environment, I heard him.
“Good morning, Muñeca. Did you sleep well?”
I snapped my head in the direction of his voice and found him sitting casually on a large sofa. Dressed in all black, he resembled the Devil himself. With dark curly hair and the light dusting of a beard on his jaw, he was as handsome as the day I first laid eyes on him. The trouble was, I had seen the ugliness beneath that beautiful exterior. I could never find him attractive after the things he’d done to me.
“Santi,” I said, the trepidation obvious in the shakiness of my voice. “Where am I?”
He held my gaze with his intense, amber eyes. They were like the color of caramel – the first thing I noticed about him when we met all those years ago. I used to fall into them every day of my life. Now, they only caused a knot to form in my stomach.
He sucked his teeth at me like I was an insolent child. “You lost the right to question me about anything when you walked out. I’ll be asking the questions.”
My eyes slipped shut as I braced myself for the coming discussion. Despite his calm demeanor, I knew the rage bubbled just beneath the surface. It’d been over a year since he last laid eyes on me – I could only imagine how deadly his anger would be.
I might have frozen up back at the bus stop, but I wasn’t about to lie down and let him hurt me again. Getting away from him had been the best decision I’d made for myself, even if I did end up a petty street thief.
“You know why I left, Santiago. You know I had every reason to.” I swallowed my fear, pushed against the crippling emotion that had kept me hostage all these years.
Enough was enough.
He clenched his jaw and rose from his seat. My heart automatically stuttered and I could feel my breathing accelerate as my fight or flight instinct took hold. He stepped toward me and I leaped from the bed, standing on the opposite side of the mattress so there would be some form of barrier between us.
“It’s useless to run,” he said gruffly, “the doors are locked and only my men on the outside have the key. Sit down, Muñequita, before I get upset.”
“Don’t call me that,” I spat, “I’m not your fucking doll. Not anymore.”
He lunged forward, using an arm to vault himself over the bed and grab me. The movement was so quick, I barely had time to register it. He had me pressed against the wall, his body pinning mine.
“As long as you carry my last name, you are mine. My wife. You belong to me.” He held my biceps roughly, pinning me with his pelvis and wedging a knee between my legs until I was helpless.
I didn’t want to cry, but the threat of tears was constant. My eyes burned as I fought them back, not wanting him to see how weak I still was. I couldn’t hold up my act much longer. I was terrified to my core because I knew exactly what he was capable of and how he preferred to punish me.
“It’s over, Santi. It’s been over a long time. Let me go and move on with your life.”
He pulled me away from the wall and shoved me back into it aggressively. My back slammed into the hard wall, the pain radiating throughout my entire body.
“No,” he growled, “it will never be over. We made vows. You committed to me for the rest of your life.” He slammed me into the wall again, making me wince as the agony tore through me. “And you broke those vows, didn’t you?” I remained silent, holding his gaze with loathing. He shook me violently. “Didn’t you?”
“What do you want me to say?” I yelled, wiggling in an attempt to break his hold. “Huh? What did you expect to happen? You beat me, Santi! You beat me so badly I couldn’t go outside for nearly two weeks. You broke my fucking arm,” I hissed, bucking myself off the wall in a fit of rage, “so what the fuck did you think would happen?”
The wretched tears broke through the surface, falling down my cheeks in quick succession. I was shocked to see his gaze soften – to witness the hesitation on his face as he flicked his gaze between mine.
“I love you,” he ground out, the emotion making his voice tight – restrained. “I love you so fucking much, you just get me so angry, nena. You never listened; you were always upset with me about work. You didn’t understand. I had to make you understand.”
“Understand what?” I growled, “that you chose to live a life of crime instead of getting an honest job? Or that you spent more time running the streets with Jax than you did tending to your wife? You broke your vows long before I did, Santiago. You’re the entire reason we fell apart, not me.”
He released me and took a step back, his fingers raking through his short curls. He furrowed his brows and stood there with his hands in his hair. I didn’t move a muscle, unsure what his next move would be. He looked deranged – like he’d lost his mind completely.
“I did this all for you,” he pushed out, the emotion heavy in his voice, “because I wanted to give you everything. I wanted to be able to provide for my woman, to make sure you never wanted for anything. We were poor, Calliope. We lived in a run down, piece of shit apartment in Harlem. Don’t you see? I did this all for you.”
I scoffed, stepping to the side to create another inch of distance between us. “You did this for yourself, Santi. I never wanted any of this. We were poor but we were happy. I never complained, did I? No. Because I loved you. I was happy even though you weren’t. I wasn’t desperate for money or assets. I just wanted you.”
I was surprised we’d talked this long. When things had gone from bad to worse, we barely exchanged words. He’d come home in a fit of rage if I didn’t have things done the way he wanted. If I showed the slightest hint of annoyance, he slapped me around until I begged him to stop. And then he’d take me to bed and force me to lie there as he used my body for his pleasure.
He completely ruined me.
So, why did I pity him when he looked at me with tear-filled eyes? Why did the agony in his gaze affect me so much?
“You loved me?” he asked, dragging a palm down his face. “You wanted me?”
I stayed quiet.
He stepped forward; his previous aggression gone. I didn’t flinch even when my instincts told me to run. He cradled my face in his hands gently, his thumbs stroking over my cheeks.
“You don’t love me anymore?”
My lids fell shut and more tears began to stream down my already sticky, wet cheeks. Their saltiness slipped into my parted mouth, forcing me to taste their bitterness. There was once a time when I would have done anything for the man in front of me. But, no more. My heart couldn’t love him because it was hung up on someone else.
Someone who saved me from the tragic life I was leading. Someone who had shown me endless generosity and understanding. A man that had fought for me and killed for me. A man who was impressed by me; the woman I was inside.
When I opened my eyes, I could see the defeat in his as clear as day. Without verbalizing my answer, he knew. I said it, anyway – needing to be as honest as possible.
“No, Santi. I’m not in love with you anymore.”
The anguish in his eyes quickly melted into wrath. I stiffened automatically; my muscle memory prepared for what was expected – the beating that was an inevitable result of my cold words.
His grip on my face tightened and he thrust one palm into my hair, fisting it forcefully. “You fucked him?”
I couldn’t stop the shock from entering my eyes. Did he know? Had Jax ratted me out, after all?
“Answer the question, wife.” He spat the last word at me with animosity. “Did. You. Fuck. Him?”
This was not a question I wanted to answer. It was the sort of thing that he’d probably kill me over. I could see the final threads of his sanity beginning to fray as the rage took hold.
My silence was answer enough. His eyes slid shut as he rested his forehead against mine. I remained perfectly still, listening to the ragged breaths he struggled to get under control. I could feel the pure, unadulterated violence rolling off him in waves. My stomach tightened in anticipation of his outburst.
“I certainly hope it was worth it,” he whispered, opening his eyes to pin me with his angry stare, “because I’m going to kill him for it. And you’re going to watch.”