CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - THE HEART THAT BREAKS
“There's something I have to tell you... it's about Marco...” My eyes shoot up to Luca at the mention of Marco’s name.
“Is he ok?” I ask, as concern consumes my thoughts. Luca nods and sits down next to me, taking my hands in his as relief floods through my body.
“Please believe me when I tell you that we had no idea... we never would have let him near you if we knew.” Luca says seriously. I look at him confused, my heart beating rapidly in my chest.
“Knew what?” I ask hesitantly, although, going by the look on Luca’s face, I’m not sure I want to know. He looks down at our hands and sighs.
“The secret function we had to attend... it was Marco's surprise wedding.” My jaw drops and I look at Luca in complete shock.
“Marco got married?!” Natalie's voice was full of anger as my heart dropped into my stomach. I swallowed the lump in my throat.
“There's more...” Luca says before hesitating. I'm not sure I want to know but I can't find my voice to stop Luca from telling me. “They've been together for 18 months... they have a 5 month old son.” I gasp as my throat starts to close over. Marco had a girlfriend and a child last time he was here... He cheated... and, I was the other woman.
Tears spring to my eyes and roll down my cheeks as my heart breaks in my chest. I feel so stupid. I developed feelings for a man who had a family back home. I was falling for a guy who used me. He played me. And he continued to play me with his messages after he left. A sob escapes my lips and Natalie rushes to my side, pulling me into her arms.
“I hope you kicked his ass.” Natalie says angrily to Luca.
“We wanted to. Believe me. Tony even pulled out his gun when we heard why we were there... but because of who he is...” Luca trails off with a sigh.
“It would have started a war...” I finish his sentence. Luca nods, his eyes filled with sorrow and anger.
“I'm sorry Nicola...” he says sincerely. I simply nod. It's not his fault. It's mine. I knew he was a player. I knew he was the devil. Yet, I fell for him anyway.
The weeks that followed the revelation of Marco's engagement and subsequent marriage, when I wasn't working, I was either in the home gym beating the shit out of the boxing bag or in my bed crying my eyes out. There was only 2 emotions I was feeling. The tortuous grief that stabbed my heart or the seething anger I felt at Marco. At the world. At myself. I felt dirty, so incredibly dirty that I was the other woman. My thoughts kept going back to one of fathers sermons, and never had anything he said ever rang more true at this moment than his words. "When you play with the fires of hell, you will get burned". And I had played, knowing full well the consequences, with the hellfire that surrounded Marco De Paulo and my burns were third degree.
As the weeks turned to months and the first leaves of autumn started to fall, the dark clouds that had engulfed my life were slowly starting to dissipate, allowing me a clarity I had never had before, a new look on this life I was thrown into. Had I stayed in the community I never would have felt the grief of Marco's betrayal. My heart would have never been scarred. But would I have ever really lived? No. I wouldn't have.
I would have been kept in that perfect delusion of a bubble, never really experiencing all that life has to offer. Through the heartache that Marco put me through I learned to truly appreciate everything I had in life. My view of the Tommy's, the Bryan's, Judy's and Brandon's, the Valentino's and Natalie's that have graced my life has shifted. I now feel a deeper love and respect for them than ever before.
But I also know I got lucky with them. I know now that I'm too trusting. I knew that Marco was a player; that he was using my body and later my heart as a toy, yet I never really understood what that meant. And now I know. Now I know that I will never allow myself to be played. I will stay away from the fuck boys that walk this earth, and never again will I so easily give my heart.
I never heard from Marco again. If he had tried to contact me I wouldn't know as one of my first actions was to block his number. Although I knew Tony and Luca stayed in contact with him for business reasons, they never mentioned his name around me, and for that I am grateful.
My smile slowly returned and by the time my 21st birthday came around, Marco was just a distant memory, the scar on my heart had faded, though surely will always be there, and my life with the Valentino's continued on. Natalie insisted that we go out clubbing for my 21st. I've never been one for clubs. It's not that I don't like them, but getting myself to a state of inebriation in a public place wasn't really the smartest idea. If father turned up I wouldn't be in any state to run. Still, Tony, Luca and Alessandro convinced me that they would stay with me, that they would protect me should my worst fears play out, so I agreed.
I slip on the tiny silver dress Natalie insisted I wear. It doesn't leave much to the imagination, tightly hugging my body and finishing at my upper thigh. There's no way I can bend down without giving everyone a great view of my backside.
Sighing, I strap on the matching stiletto heels and carefully stand. I'm going to break my neck tonight in these ridiculous shoes I know it. I check myself out in the mirror, my hair down and straightened, my makeup heavier than usual. I look straight out of the catalogue for skanks-r-us.
I shrug, knowing Natalie will be happy with my look and grab my clutch before making my way carefully downstairs. As I descend the stairs, gripping the railing for dear life, I hear wolf whistles and look up to see Natalie and Angelina waiting at the bottom.
“You look hot!” Natalie squeals and claps her hands excitedly.
“My bikini covers more.” I grumble as I tug on the bottom of the dress. Angelina laughs and shakes her head.
“You look gorgeous sweet girl.” I smile at Angelina as she pulls me into a hug and places a loving kiss on my forehead. “You're going to make Tony, Luca and Alessandro very busy tonight, keeping all the boys away.”
I can't help but giggle. The boys walk in and look at Natalie and I. Luca's eyes light up when he sees Natalie, drinking her in like a cold beer on a hot summer’s day.
“Wow...” he breathes out. I admit Natalie looks hot. Her tight black dress, covering just as much as mine, but with her beautiful curves she fits it perfectly. Natalie blushes as Luca takes her hands and moves them away from her body, looking her over. “I'm so going to jail tonight.”
I can't help but laugh.
“Are you really wearing that?” Tony asks as he looks me over disapprovingly. I look at Tony and simply nod. He sighs and nods his head towards the door. “You'd make my job as your brother easier if you covered yourself more, but I know you aren't going to listen.” He grumbles. Natalie and I giggle before giving Angelina a kiss on the cheek and following the boys out to the car.
Natalie and I clink the tiny glasses and down another shot, the vodka burning my throat slightly on the way down. I've lost count of the amount of shots we've done, or the amount of beer chasers we've drank. All I know is that my body and mind are numb, I feel free as the world spins around me and I love it.
Natalie grabs my hand and pulls me back onto the crowded dance floor. Our bodies close, we dance to the beat of the music, completely carefree, our personal body guards watching on from the sidelines. I've never been more grateful for them, one look from Tony sends any potential suitors running. Not having to fend off the unwanted advances of drunk and horny men, I can enjoy my time with my girl.
We dance for a few songs before going back to the boys for a drink. We sit down next to them in their booth and take yet another shot, quickly downing our beers afterwards. I know my feet are probably killing me, but the alcohol is creating a pain relief I don't know I need. Natalie grabs my hand and pulls me back up.
“Come on, I need to pee.” She says. I giggle at her slurred words as we stumble to the toilets, resting up against the wall as we wait in line. The line moves slow but we finally make it into the stalls. I do my business and stumble out to the sinks to wash my hands. Checking myself in the mirror, I look like hell. My hair messy, my body sweaty, my makeup smeared. But I don't care, the buzz from the alcohol bringing a smile to my face.
I leave the bathroom and walk back into the hallway to wait for Natalie. As I walk away from the line, I hear a scream. It sounded so much like Natalie. I run towards the voice, towards the end of the dark hall, and see Natalie getting pushed up against the wall by a large male. My eyes lock with a fear filled Natalie's and I react. I don't think about it, running towards them I grab the man’s arm and tug him off her. I swing my right hand and land a punch right on his nose, the sound of bones crunching ring out over the music. As if in slow motion his eyes roll back in his head and he drops to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
I grab Natalie and wrap her in my arms, her body shakes with sobs as I hear footsteps rushing behind us.
“What happened?!” The panic and concern in Luca's voice quickly turns to anger as he sees the man on the floor, and his sobbing girlfriend in my arms.
“He was forcing himself on her, so I punched him.” I say. Luca moves towards us and I let go of Natalie as he pulls her into his arms. My heart breaks as I take in Natalie's shaking form. I've never seen her cry. She's always so bubbly, so full of life, but the actions of this asshole has reduced her to tears. I find the anger at what he did to my friend returning to the surface. Before I can act out on my rage against his unconscious form, we are greeted by the club security. Tony wraps his arms around me as he speaks to them. I tune out most of the conversation until my ears prick at Tony's comment.
“So, I punched him.” My eyes shoot up to meet Luca's and he shakes his head, giving me a look to not say anything. We are escorted out of the club as the police and ambulance are called, the cold air sobering me up instantly.
Natalie and I sit on the bench, huddled together to keep warm as Tony talks to the police. They speak to Natalie who tells them what happened, replacing me with Tony. I hide my now swollen hand, not wanting Tony to be caught out in a lie. The man, still unconscious is placed in an ambulance and Tony is put in the back of a police car and driven away.
“Come on, let’s go home.” Luca says before he scoops Natalie up in his arms and carries her to the car. I follow behind them with Alessandro, utterly confused as to why Tony took the fall. Surely it was self-defence right? I get into the backseat of the car beside Alessandro and Luca drives us home.
“What happened?” We are greeted at the door by a sleepy Rafael and Angelina. Luca carries Natalie past Rafael and stops just inside the door.
“Tony was arrested.” Luca tells him. Rafael's eyes go wide as Angelina walks towards Natalie in Luca's arms and strokes her hair. “I need to put her to bed.” Luca says as he nods at Natalie’s sleeping form. Rafael and Angelina nod. Angelina removes Natalie's shoes before Luca carries her up the stairs. They turn back to me. I sigh and massage my throbbing hand.
“A guy was trying to force himself on Natalie in the hallway of the club. I punched him and knocked him out, but Tony told the security and police that he did it.” I explain. Rafael simply nods.
“Good.” He says. My eyes shoot up to meet his, confused by his reaction. He gives me a calm smile and wraps me in his arms. “It was self-defence, but you still would have had to be processed by the police. Your ID is good, but it wouldn't have taken them long to find out it is fake.” He explains. I sigh and nod against his chest.
“Tony knows this. Don't worry, he will be out in the morning and it will all go away.” Rafael says. I pull away from Rafael and give him an appreciative smile. I'm hoping it will go away, but the man was still unconscious when he was placed in the ambulance. I've heard of people dying from one punch. Could I really let Tony take the fall if he does?
“Come on, go and get some sleep. It will all be over in the morning. You will see.” Angelina says soothingly. I simply nod and hug Angelina before heading upstairs. And so ends my 21st birthday. With me putting a man in hospital and my brother taking the fall.