“Luca, wake up.”
I groaned, spent from the previous night. I had no desire to wake up yet.
“Not now, baby. We still have time…”
An angry foot tapped against the floor. “Luca.”
The grogginess cleared away when I recognized the voice that spoke to me. My eyes shot open and I sat up quickly, not caring about my nudity in the least.
Carmen spun around, horrified. “Oh my God, Luca, put some pants on!”
I picked my sweatpants up off the floor and pulled them on. “Carmen?” I breathed, rushing to my sister, grabbing her by the arms to see if she was real. Was I dreaming? I pulled her into a hug. “You’re here…”
She hugged me tight. “Yes. Now get dressed, we have to go get her before it’s too late.”
“What?” I pulled back, catching her gaze. “What are you talking about?” I scanned the room, searching for Calliope. “Where is she?” My heart dropped.
Carmen’s lip quivered, her eyes filling with tears. “She saved me, Luca. She made the trade.”
I couldn’t breathe. “What?” I yelled, my fingers fisting my hair. “What the fuck? How? When?” I grabbed Carmen by the shoulders, shaking her – demanding answers.
Vince walked into the room.
“What the fuck is going on?” I demanded, releasing Carmen and approaching my cousin. He gave me a dejected look, his shoulders slumped.
“No,” I hissed, taking a threatening step toward him. “You helped her, didn’t you? You made the trade behind my back?” I was frantic, my mind on the cusp of exploding.
“It was the only way, man. He was gonna kill Carmen. This way, they’re both alive and we can figure out a way to save her.”
I wanted to strangle him. I needed blood, and Vince was looking like a pretty good target right about now. I shoved him against the open door – the handle making a loud noise as it banged into the wall behind it.
“She’s as good as dead now!” I yelled, shoving him again. “You idiot, I was gonna come up with a plan.”
“What plan?” Vince yelled back, pushing himself off the door and squaring up with me. “He had the power to kill her with a fucking remote control that you had no way of getting to! If you had wasted any more time, the damn thing was gonna go off and kill her anyway. And then he would have murdered Carmen. What the fuck were you gonna do, Luca?”
I clenched my fists by my sides, my rage getting the better of me. Like a provoked bear, I huffed, my breaths deep and heavy. I was so angry, I felt like I could transform into the Hulk at any moment. I wanted to tear everything apart with my bare hands.
“It was the right thing to do, and you know it,” Vince said, his voice calmer now. He assessed me, a look of disdain on his face. “I’m sorry, Boss… I know you care about her.”
It was more than that. She was the center of my focus – the most important thing in my life. I cared about her deeply. She was dear to me – a close friend. A confidant.
I had promised to protect her.
Instead, I had failed her.
“Fuck,” I sighed, deflated. I could feel myself shrinking – my anger melting away only to be replaced by a profound sadness.
Carmen came up behind me, her slender arms wrapping around me from behind. “We’re gonna get her back, Luca.”
I appreciated that she was trying to make me feel better, but there was no we. There was only me.
And I was going to get her back.
After ushering Carmen and Vincent out of the house, I snatched my phone from the nightstand. When I swiped the screen with my thumb, there was a note on it – typed on the memo pad app.
I quickly scanned it, my heart throbbing and my breath catching in my chest. It was from Calliope.
Please don’t be mad.
I did this because I knew you would never make the decision to do it on your own. You would have tried to find a way to save me, and Carmen would have died in the process.
I can't be upset about that, because your heart is the best thing about you.
I’ll be okay, you don’t have to worry about me. I’ll find a way out, even if it takes years.
I want to thank you for everything. You saved my life in more ways than one. I’ll always be grateful for that. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.
I love you, Luca, and I’ll never forget you.
I sucked in a shaky breath, hitting the ‘save’ button and clearing the letter from the screen. I took a moment to collect myself. I hadn’t been this emotional about anything in a long time. I was usually angry all the time – so feeling this overwhelming grief was new to me.
She said she loved me, but I think I knew what she meant by it. She loved me the same way I was beginning to think I loved her; as a friend. The closest friend I had. I couldn’t let her down like this – I had to find a way to get her back.
Regaining my focus, I selected Santiago’s number from the recent calls list and held the phone to my ear. It rang, and rang, and rang. Finally, his voice came through the line.
“I figured you would call sooner or later.”
I found my rage all over again, my jaw clenching as I fought to stay my temper. “Where is she?”
“She, as in my wife?” He emphasized the last word on purpose. “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
I scowled, even though I knew he couldn’t see me. “I want to talk to her.”
Santiago laughed; the sound devoid of human emotion. “Not gonna happen.”
My eyes slipped shut as I battled for control. That monster within threatened to break free at any moment. “What harm would it do? You already got what you wanted. I can’t do anything from here.”
He was quiet a moment, considering my words. “No.”
I nearly growled. “Fine. I’ll skip ahead to the negotiations then.”
“This should be interesting,” he drawled, purposely acting as though the proposition hadn’t enticed him.
There was a brief pause, and then, “Five million what?”
“That’s how much I’ll pay you to release Calliope and walk away from her. Forever.”
He laughed. “That isn’t enough.”
“Ten,” I said quickly.
I ground my teeth, frustrated that I wasn’t getting my way. “Twenty.”
Another pause. “It doesn’t matter how much you offer. I’m not interested in the money. I want her.”
“Everyone has their price,” I insisted, unwilling to take no for an answer.
“She isn’t for sale.”
His implication was affronting. “I don’t want to buy her, asshole. I want to buy her freedom. Fifty.”
He loosed a surprised sound. “You’re serious.”
“I don’t say anything I don’t mean,” I retorted, losing my patience. “Do we have a deal or what?”
He thought it over for a minute or so. “Sorry, but no cigar. I appreciate the offer, though.”
I was getting desperate and he knew it. “Let me talk to her.”
“Jesus, you really don’t get it,” he jeered, “she’s mine. She isn’t for sale and you’re never going to see her again. Have some dignity and let it go.”
“What do you want?” I growled, no longer able to hold my composure, “my arms business? The location of my blueprints? They’re yours if you let her go.” I didn’t even care anymore. I had enough money to start that business over. It was a small percentage of my company. It meant nothing to me – not compared to Calliope.
“Your offer is tempting,” he replied, “but I can’t accept. My lovely wife has promised me her full cooperation in exchange for leaving your family alone. So be grateful, Mr. Moretti. Your family will live to see another day. Someone will get to you eventually, but it won’t be me. So, go. Enjoy your sister and the rest of your family. So long as you stay the fuck out of my way, we won’t have any issues. Consider this war over.”
I wasn’t willing to accept that. “Fuck that,” I hissed, “let’s meet in person.”
I was seething – my teeth clenched so tightly my jaw started to throb. If he wasn’t willing to negotiate, then I was going to have to force him to cooperate. I would bring this war to his front step if I had to.
My anxiety got the better of me as I thought of the terrible things he would do to her. Would he beat her for having escaped his clutches for so long? He had broken her bones before. Would he do it again? I feared for her safety, her life. He knew we slept together, and I was terrified he would make her pay in the worst possible way.
I was going fucking crazy. I had to get her back, but the Cartel was a formidable foe. I could take them on with just my men, but I didn’t want to have to. Many lives would be lost, and I would hate to bury so many members of my family.
I needed reinforcements – back up. An idea struck me, but I wasn’t sure if I had officially slipped into a state of insanity.
Still, it was worth a try.
She was worth the try.
A/N: Hi readers! I want to thank you so much for sticking with me throughout this journey. We are nearing the end of this novel, so I wanted to announce that I have decided to make it a series. It will likely be 2-3 books max.