I watched him sleep a few minutes longer. I couldn’t help it; he was beautiful. His face was completely relaxed, peaceful. My heart squeezed in my chest. The thought of leaving him behind killed me.
But I had no other option.
Quietly, I rose from the bed, taking his phone off the nightstand and tiptoeing into the living room. Swiping the home screen, I was relieved to discover his phone was unlocked. We had 24 hours left on the clock but putting it off would only make it harder in the end.
I found his recent calls and tapped the only unsaved number listed – the last call he had received. It rang a few times before he answered.
“Have you made your decision?” Santi’s voice came through the line – cold and arrogant.
He was silent a moment. Then, “Where is he?”
“Sleeping. He doesn’t know I’m calling.”
Santi chuckled. “If you’re going to plead for your life, save your breath. There’s only one way you come out of this alive, and you already know it.”
I suppressed the urge to curse him to Hell. “That’s not why I’m calling.”
“Oh? Then what can I do for you, esposita mia?”
I cringed – hating the way he called me his wife, even if it was dripping with sarcasm. “I want to make the trade.”
“Did you hear me?” I demanded, “I said let’s do this.”
“How do you plan to leave unnoticed? I assume that’s what you intend to do.”
“Don’t worry about that. Are we doing this or what?”
He took his time to reply. “Okay. How do you want to do it?”
I sighed, taking a moment to steady myself. I only had so much freedom left. Time was running out faster than I was willing to accept, but I needed to do this. I would never forgive myself if Carmen died because of me – not that I’d live much longer to suffer the guilt. Regardless, I couldn’t leave Luca that way – hurting over the loss of his sister and me.
I wasn’t sure about that last part, but it felt good telling myself he’d miss me if I died.
“First, I need to know that Carmen is alive. Otherwise, the deal is off.”
He sighed, doing little to hide his annoyance. “Bring the girl.”
I could hear a struggle in the background. Carmen cursing and a man grunting, followed by a shuffling sound and then her voice.
I blew out a sigh of relief. “Carmen, it’s Calliope. Well, Raven…but my real name is Calliope. Are you okay? I’m gonna get you out of there.”
Her gasp came through the line. “Oh my God,” she whispered, “where’s Luca? You can’t be serious… there has to be another way. I heard what they did to you. Did you try to see if Danny could help?”
I was surprised by her concern for me. “Everything will be fine. I just needed to know you were alive. Put my husband back on the phone.”
I could almost imagine the disgusted look on her face from the way she replied. “This piece of shit is your husband? You have terrible taste in men. Luca is obviously a huge step up for you.”
I ignored her rude comment. “Just put him on the phone.”
She hesitated. “Raven, I…”
“It’s Calliope,” I corrected, no longer seeing the point in keeping my identity a secret. “Just, call me Cal.”
She blew out a breath, static sounding over the line before she spoke again. “Don’t do it… this is all my fault. I know the truth about Jax. I was an idiot for bringing him to Mamma’s house. If anyone should pay for that, it’s me.”
Tears pricked at my eyes. “Carmen, it’s okay. You didn’t know. This has nothing to do with you or Luca. It has to do with me. It’s my fault, my problem. None of you would be in this situation if Luca had never met me. Please, just put Santi back on the phone. I’m gonna get you out of there.”
She sniffled. “I’m sorry I was such a bitch to you. I was wrong… you are good enough for my brother.”
“Enough,” a deep voice boomed. Another rustle echoed through the line followed by the sound of a struggle and a string of curses shouted by Carmen. Santi spoke through the line. “Satisfied?”
“Yes,” I answered, doing my best to conceal the fact that I’d just been crying. “Let’s get this over with.”
We discussed meeting at Central Park and worked out all the details.
I had an hour.
Scrolling through Luca’s contacts, I called Vinnie next.
“Boss?” His voice was groggy through the line.
“Vinnie, it’s me. Raven – Calliope – whatever you wanna call me.”
“What do you want?” His voice was stern, cold.
“I don’t have much time to explain… I know Luca didn’t go into details when he called you before, but the reason he asked you to clear out the warehouse was because Santi threatened to make a move on it.”
“I’m aware,” he hissed, “what’s your point? Where is my cousin?”
“Sleeping,” I replied, my patience wearing thin. “Please,” I pleaded, desperate for his help, “he has Carmen.”
This got his attention and he finally seemed ready to listen, asking me for all the details. I launched into my story, retelling everything Santi and Luca had talked about earlier that night. I relayed every detail – including the capsule of cyanide sitting in my shoulder beneath my scar.
“That’s fucked,” Vinnie replied, “but I can’t just show up and take you out of there without Luca knowing.”
I whined. “You have to. His security will never let me leave unless you’re with me. Aren’t you like his underboss, or whatever? There’s gotta be something you can do.”
He sighed. “Yeah, I guess I could,” he finally admitted, but then he was quiet.
“Yeah…” he trailed off, another long sigh coming through the line. “I’m not sure I can do it, though. I guess this isn’t the best time to admit this, but I sort of have a thing for you. You’re cool, or whatever. Luca’s lucky to have you. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous.”
My face heated, his admission surprising me. I had suspected he liked me a little more than a friend should, but he’d never acted on those feelings before now.
“I don’t know what to say, Vinnie…”
“You don’t have to say anything… Calliope? Pretty. It’s gonna take some getting used to. Anyway, I’m not exactly jumping at the opportunity to hand you over to this maniac. I’m sure Luca would agree.”
“What other choice do we have?” I whisper-yelled, wanting to remain quiet but needing to get my point across. “If we don’t make this trade in the next 40 minutes, Carmen will be killed, and so will I. This way, you get Carmen back and I’ll still be alive… which means I’ll have a chance to escape. I can’t do that if I’m dead.”
Another 20 seconds of silence stretched between us before Vinnie finally said, “Okay. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
I sighed, relieved. “Hurry.”
Twelve minutes later, the elevator pinged, and Vinnie stepped through the doors. I rushed into his arms, needing a hug now more than ever. Luca still slept soundly down the hall, and I did everything I could to stop myself from waking him up and kissing him silly.
It would hurt to never see him again, but I knew what would kill me more was the fact that I never got to say goodbye. The time we had earlier that night was the last memory of him I’d carry. His kisses, his touch – were all I had to hold on to during the dark times ahead.
Vincent hugged me close, his chin resting on my head. “I can’t believe I’m helping you do this,” he whispered, “Luca’s gonna kill me for this.”
I pulled away, looking him in the eye. “No, he won’t. He knew what it was we had to do. It’s my decision, and I don’t regret it for a second. He’ll understand why you helped me. I don’t wanna sneak around behind his back, but I know he wouldn’t have let me go so easily. I can’t ask him to choose between his sister and me, so I’m making the choice for him.”
He nodded. “I understand. You’re a fucking badass, you know that?”
I chuckled, blushing at the silly complement. “We have to go.”
We descended from the top of the building, the countdown from the penthouse ironically counting down the minutes of my freedom. We swept past Luca’s security without a hitch; Vinnie’s position as his second-in-command making it an easy feat. No one questioned him or why he was leaving the building with me in tow.
We got into his black BMW and he pulled away from the curb, my heart stuttering now that we were officially on our way to meet Santi. Bile threatened to rise in my throat, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I was shaking.
“Hey,” Vinnie whispered, his palm resting over mine on my knee. “You okay? We still have time to turn around…”
“No,” I insisted, forcing my legs to stop bouncing so dramatically, “keep going. We’re almost out of time.”
The park came into view, and my heart went into overdrive. This was it. My hands were clammy, my hair matted to my head because I was sweating so badly.
A black SUV was parked in front of us. The streets were quiet and empty. The streetlamps illuminated the park, revealing Santi and three of his men.
Vince stepped out first, ordering me to wait in the car. I watched from the window as he approached Santi and exchanged a few words with him. Finally, one of Santi’s men opened the car door and pulled Carmen out.
She appeared to be unharmed, leaping into Vince’s arms and sobbing on his shoulder. He patted her back, pointing at his car as if to tell her to go. She started toward me, and I heard Vinnie call my name. I sucked in a breath for courage, but none came.
Stepping out of the car, I crossed paths with Carmen. She cried harder when she saw me, and I finally saw the state she was in. Her pink skirt was covered in dirt, her hair a mess and her make up running down her face.
She hugged me.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, her thin shoulders shaking against me.
“Me, too.” I pushed her away gently, holding my head high as I walked past her and toward the end of my life.
That was what it felt like; like I was walking the plank to my own death.
I gave Vince a reassuring nod, which he returned with a sad look. I nodded again, and he slumped his shoulders, walking back to his car and getting in.
I watched them drive away.
When they were no longer in sight, I turned to face my husband. He opened his arms to me, a soulless smile on his face.
“Ven aquí,” he ordered. I walked until I was directly in front of him, and he wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “You made the right choice, Muñeca. You know this is right – we belong together.”
I was gonna be sick.