I stared down at the black marble headstone in St. Matthew's Cemetery as tears made twin tracks down my cheeks. It was my twenty-sixth birthday and the twentieth anniversary of my mother's death. I ran my fingers over her name--Antoinette Hermonne Martinelli--and then slowly sat down and rested my back against the cold stone. My head dropped to my chest, and I spoke softly to the woman who couldn't hear me anymore.
"He was denied parole again, Mama. I made sure I was there to tell the board everything he did to you. There were three new members today. I told them about every punch, every kick, every broken bone. I told them about every hospital visit and every time he wouldn't let you go to the hospital. I showed them the pictures you left for the police, and the board listened. Again. Four more years of peace without wondering if he will come find me and finish the job he started." I sighed and wiped the tears from my face. When I looked up, I took a deep breath. "I love you, Mama, and I miss you terribly."
I sat there for almost an hour, and I only looked up when I saw two large black combat boots stop in front of me. When I saw the person attached to those boots, I gaped.
"I thought I might find you here, Chiara."
His voice was deep, much deeper than I remembered, and I smiled up at my former best friend. "Brenden! What are you doing here?"
He gestured with his head behind him. "My dad passed yesterday. I'm here to take care of shit because of it."
"Yeah, I heard about that. His lungs finally gave out, huh?"
"I guess so. Can't say I'm too upset about it, though. He was a fucking bastard."
I stood up and brushed the dirt off my black pants. It was only then that I realized that someone was standing behind Brenden Borget. She was shorter than me by about three inches and dressed all in white. Like me, Brenden was in all black, and he looked delicious. He was close to a foot taller than me now, and I realized it had been ten years since I had seen him last. I knew he had hated his father, and I couldn't blame him. The man had been a neglectful fuck who had barely spoken to his son the last three or four years before Brenden ran away.
He grinned, and all the feelings I'd had for him in high school came flooding back. He was absolutely gorgeous. He crooked his finger at the woman without looking at her, and she stepped to his side, but she kept her eyes on the ground. I eyed her critically and then looked at Brenden as he put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.
"This is my wife, Angelina. Say hello to my best friend, Angel."
In a soft voice, she said, "Hello, ma'am. It's very nice to meet you." She didn't offer her hand to shake, and she didn't look up from the ground. A suspicion began to worm its way into my brain, and I studied my friend carefully.
"Wife? Since when, and why didn't you invite me to your wedding?"
"We've been married three months, and I didn't even know you were still here. I only heard old Mr. Simmons mention your name this morning when I went into his store. That's when I knew you had stayed." He cocked his head at me. "Why, Chiara? You wanted out of here just as much as I did."
I shrugged. "Where would I go, Brenden? I didn't have your brains or balls, and I had to stay close to my mother." I looked down at the headstone. "He was denied parole again."
"That doesn't surprise me. If he'd been released, you would have been furious."
"Yes, I would have." I smiled at him. "It's so good to see you, Brenden." I stepped close to him, and he let go of his wife to enclose me in his strong arms. She just stepped back and clasped her hands behind her back. The suspicion was growing into a certainty, but I shoved that thought to the back of my mind and just clung to the only person who had been my friend through everything in my life, the fantastic and the horrible. "I missed you," I whispered as the tears threatened to fall again.
He caught his breath and held me tighter. "I missed you too, baby girl." He kissed my head softly, and the tears trickled down my cheeks to soak into his t-shirt. "Shh. Don't cry. He'll never hurt you again. You know that, right?"
"Of course I do," I said, but the words were almost lost in the sobs that were suddenly wrenched from me, and Brenden effortlessly swung me up into his arms and carried me to a black SUV that was in the parking lot of the tiny Catholic cemetery in White Brook, West Virginia. His wife followed us, and when we reached the car, she opened the front door, and Brenden sat me down on the seat. Then she got in the back.
"Buckle up," he said, and we both did as he said, although I heard a quiet "Yes, Sir," from his wife as she did so. That's when I knew. I knew what their relationship was really all about, and it thrilled me. Brenden got in behind the wheel and said, "Where to?"
I sighed and rested my head on the back of the seat as I stared at him. "I don't care. Anywhere but here."
He grinned at me again, and my heart did a flip-flop. "Is the Ice Shop still around?"
"Yeah," I said distractedly. "It's changed owners, though, and it's not as good as it used to be."
He shrugged one shoulder. "I'm in the mood for some ice cream. Let's go." He sounded like he was used to being obeyed, and I smiled.
We reached the small ice cream store all of two minutes later, and Brenden held my door for me as I climbed out. Then he opened the back door and said, "Get out, Angel."
When she answered with another soft, "Yes, Sir," and climbed out, he took her hand and ran his thumb over her knuckles before raising it to his lips and kissing them tenderly. She smiled up at him, and there was naked devotion in her gaze.
"This used to be the best ice cream in West Virginia, my Angel," he said as he walked toward the door. "Less than two hundred square feet of space and forty-seven luscious flavors to choose from." Then he looked at me. "Unless that's changed in the past ten years?"
"No, there's still the same choices, and I seem to remember that you were never the vanilla type."
He chuckled, and Angel giggled. He pulled her to his side and said, "No, vanilla is not my first choice. I like something a little riskier. Maybe the Oreo coffee this time."
I laughed. "What do you mean this time? That's what you always got."
"Is it?" His eyes went wide with faked innocence. "I'd forgotten."
I slapped him on the arm. "Right. Like you could ever forget that." We had entered the small shop. "Why don't you sit with your lovely wife, Brenden? I'll order for us." I looked at the smaller woman. "What would you like?" My question was a test to see if I was right about them.
"She'll have the chocolate mint," Brenden said decisively, and I nodded, positive now that I was right. Then he smiled down at her. "I'll get to taste it later, right, my love?"
"Yes, Sir," she answered with her own smile, and I nodded and went to the counter while they took a seat in one of the three booths. Five minutes later, the ice cream was ready, and I took it back to them, but I slowed my steps as I heard Brenden's quiet, tight, angry voice.
"That's enough, Angelina!" he was saying, his back to me. "She's an old friend, that's all. I've known her since I was three years old!"
"Yes, Master," she whispered, and I saw her shoulders slump. I stepped up to the booth and put the ice cream down on the table. Angelina flinched when the bowls clattered slightly, and Brenden huffed out a frustrated breath.
"Thank you, Chiara," he said, a frown still on his face.
"No problem," I answered as I sat across from them. Angelina's eyes were on the table, and I didn't miss it when her breath hitched. Brenden put his arm around her again, and she leaned her head on his shoulder briefly before picking up a spoon.
"May I ask you something, Brenden?" I asked, keeping my eyes on his wife.
I shifted my gaze to his and had to keep myself from falling headlong into his brilliant blue eyes. "You're her Dom, aren't you?"