T W E N T Y - S E V E N
She who walks the floors of Hell finds the key to the gates of own Heaven, buried there like a seed. ~ Segovia Amil
It was such a modest word for the world of hurt and agony inflicted on anyone. My open wounds were bleeding, my breath came in the ragged gasps, and my skin prickled in freezing coldness inside the dirty cell I was thrown into, but I still wouldn’t say it was painful.
The torment I have been through for the past many hours surpassed the vocabulary of suffering and misery. It was gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking and incomprehensively dreadful.
I braved against the assault, I fought the tears, and I held on to every hope in my veins, believing that my family would come for me any moment now. But everything was fading into nothingness.
“You would do yourself a favor if you do as you are told,” I heard Lorenzo over the chattering of my teeth.
Once those lecherous men left, Lorenzo came back with food—not out of care, but merely because he needed me alive for his profit. My refusal was straight up adamant. And like rapists, chauvinistic pigs, and animals—the word no didn’t register with him.
He called me an ungrateful bitch, among other things, and raped me until the last of the wild ember of hope and aggression was snuffed out.
Bound and abandoned on the cold floor, I cried and cried until I gathered the shattered pieces of myself to glue back together, and to rise like a Phoenix who defies the death pyre and spreads its wings—unshackled and unbound.
I refused to be the woman who gives up the hope to save herself, solely because I wouldn’t. There wasn’t a molecule in my body that didn’t know how to roar, rebel, and rage.
But I was also calculative and crafty in more ways than Lorenzo could fathom. In hours of my captivity, I capitulated at times to give him the impression of a successful trainer who brags about breaking a horse. I knew I couldn’t bear any more assault if I wish to escape this hellhole. And by surrendering small freedoms, I bought moments of comfort and rest.
Time lost its meaning for me as every tormenting moment was stretched and lingered. Exhaustion had almost taken over my body in the form of mild slumber when the door banged open loudly.
Lorenzo strode in with his usual abruptness. “Get up,” he ordered even though he manhandled my body to pull me up like a rag doll.
Pins and needles froze my limbs by now, but he cared for none, and simply started to drag me out of the room. “Where are you taking me?” I asked, trying to resist through my bound arms at the back.
“To someone who hates your family more than I do,” he answered.
“Wait, wait!” I said, and to my surprise, he did, slamming me against a nearby wall. The roughness of the bricks cut into my bare back, forming new bruises to wear as strength of power. “Make a deal with Viktor. He will give you everything in exchange for me.”
His cruel smile brightened. “A deal with your brother? So that he can kill me?”
“It will buy you your freedom. But if they catch you, Lorenzo, which they would at some point, you know what my family would to you,” I tried to reason, stalling the inevitable.
With his brutal hand, he groped one of my breasts, to the point I screamed in pain, and then slapped her hard.
“Listen to me,” he hissed, digging his fingers into my jaws. “When I will be done, your brothers and your father would be buried six feet under, and you will be spread and fucked until you forget your fucking name.”
“I don’t know about myself, but for your sake, Lorenzo, do not forget my name—because when you would be begging for mercy, begging for your life, it is my name that you’d have to address.”
He didn’t contradict but merely dragged me outside the abandoned compound. It was then I realized that I was doomed to multiple versions of hell.
A couple of masked, armed men approached as Lorenzo nodded at them and began to drag me frail body towards a wooden box. Fear clawed at the throat, and a sob exploded from my gasping mouth.
“Don’t…please—” An ugly piece of rag was pushed into my mouth, making me gag.
Two men held me on either side, with all their demon strength as Lorenzo fisted my hair and forced my eyes on him.
“This is the point where we say goodbye, Sam. Remember my words: stop fighting, and they’d let you live.” Lorenzo smiled wickedly and then released me.
No. No. Please! No.
Breathe! I told myself as I began to convulse. Physical pain began to ebb away at this point as insanity took over and gripped me like the jaws of a beast.
No matter how much I screamed through the muffled gag or thrashed through the binds, the men holding me were more powerful. They manhandled me into a wooden box, barely of my size, and shut the lid with punched holes.
That’s it, I knew. One hell to the other.
I had a faint understanding that the box I was in was being moved into a vehicle as the engine roared to life. He was going to sell me off like cattle. And whoever was going to buy me would use me as a pawn against my family.
And this knowledge spurred me into denial and dementia.
So, if I couldn’t save myself or be saved, I would rather die at my hands than let another animal break me or kill me. With this determination, I began to against the box like a madwoman.
The ache and the pain intensified—and it felt like a salve to my bound spirits.
All of a sudden, faint sounds of gunshots filled the air as the wooden box rolled down and slammed against a hard surface. The popping noise went on and on, and it gave me the thinnest of hope that maybe—just, maybe—I was going to be saved.
The vehicle crashed to a screeching halt, the firing ceased, as I heard heavy advancing footsteps. I was going to be saved! With every ounce of strength left within me, I began to whimper as loud as I could.
It wasn’t until the lid of the wooden box was lifted off, and I saw the faces of two vicious strangers looking down upon me that the last hope died in my body.
What was worse than grief? It was trading a moment’s happiness for a lifetime of pain and separation.
To experience that one real moment of love, to taste how it feels to be loved by the one and only, was such a tempting thought that it surpassed every sense of rationality.
All I wanted was to feel was Dominic’s thrumming heartbeat against my ears, echoing deep in my bones, even though I knew it was only a matter of time that I would be nothing but hollow—from inside out.
That night, after Dominic told me that he likes me and I had to take an abrupt leave, I was as happy as a carefree bird soaring high in the sky. The feeling was entirely unknown, for I have never known anything other than vengeance and anger. Ironically so, I fell in love with my nemesis.
Dominic Romano was the monster I was taught to hate but chose to love.
While there should have been irreparable devastation in my wake when I stormed into his life, it seemed that the tidal wave affected me more than it did anything to him.
So, who gained and who lost in this age-old feud of crime families? I was yet to figure out the answer.
Dante has been blasting my burner phone for the past twenty-something hours since I left Dominic’s warm company, but I was too much of a goner to give a damn to what he had to say right now. The rich, after-taste of the moments I had spent with Dominic was divine, and I didn’t want to be the woman I was before.
But I was also keenly aware of my father’s displeasure at being ignored. Dante, since my childhood, saw me as a means for revenge rather than his daughter, which was okay for me because you simply can’t crave parental care that you haven’t had before.
Missed call alerts and texts flooded my phone until I switched it off, dislodged the sim card, and went off to bed. I didn’t exactly remember when I fell asleep, but the relentless banging on the front door of my apartment woke me up with a start.
Goddamn it, Dante, not now!
“Wait, I am coming! I am coming!” I yelled groggily, hobbling out of bed to make it to the door.
But when I wrenched open the door, the surprise stumbled out of my lips before I could catch it. “Dominic?” I whispered and gasped, for the sight of his disheveled hair, hollow dark circles around his usually-magnificent blue eyes, and sadness on his features punched the breath out of my lungs.
He stood there, balancing his entire weight against the hands that gripped the frame of the door. “I didn’t know where to go,” he admitted brokenly, before wobbling forward and tightly embracing me like I was his lifeline.
Scrambling back a little to balance, my arms took him in, crushingly, and held him until he found his strength to move. Wordlessly, I led him to the bedroom and sat him down on the bed.
“What’s going on, Dominic? Did you find your sister?” I asked, as my gaze dragged down to his bloodied knuckles.
Dominic closed his eyes and shook his head as he replied resignedly, “No. We might never get her back.”
The last time I spoke to Dante, he told me that he had nothing to do with the recent attack, so for me, his involvement was ruled out. But Dominic’s family has cultivated enemies for the last three generations, and anyone could have taken Samantha Romano.
“Don’t lose hope,” I implored. “I heard that the entire Chicago PD is working overtime to find your sister. They would come up with a lead soon.”
My words fell on deaf ears as Dominic’s eyes looked distant, and his face somber. “Do you know why I came here, Lilliana?” he asked rhetorically as I kept stroking his swollen knuckles—gently and soothingly.
“I couldn’t let anyone see how weak, how vulnerable I am right now—not my brother, not my father, or any damn person. I am a Romano, so I am supposed to have a rock instead of a heart.” Dominic grabbed my wrist, tugged hard, and pressed my palm against his throbbing sternum. “See. I have a fucking heart. And I can’t tell that to any motherfucking person,” he hissed in pain and anger.
His grief shot through me like a glowering iron rod punched into my throat, paralyzing me.
Wasn’t this all I ever wanted in my life? I tried to reason with my unreasonable heart that making a Romano suffer and endure the pain of losing a loved one was the purpose of my existence.
His pulsating heartbeat somehow awakened my ever unfeeling heart. “Dominic,” I whispered. “Your family needs you now.”
His fingers wound tighter around my wrist as if he was trying to draw some strength from me. “Maybe…but I need you more than they need me now. I am not as strong as everyone expects me to be, Lilliana. But does that make me less of a man?” he begged to know.
The unspeakable sadness in his eyes intensified with every confession he reserved for me. And for my part, every one of those words sliced me into ribbons.
“No,” I choked and let the tears of pain and guilt roll down my cheeks. “It makes you perfect, Dominic.” Perfect for me. “A perfect son and a brother.” And a perfect lover.
He stared at me for long, and then let his fingers gently wipe away the tears. I knew how difficult it was for him not being able to cry.
His admission tore me into a million pieces and then put me back together, like some divine reconstruction of soul-making. Drawn to Dominic’s quintessential essence, I flung my arms around his neck and nestled my head on his shoulder.
It felt like I held the sun, moon, stars, and the entire universe in my arms. In the ultimate moment of blinding honesty, I heard him say, “Don’t leave me, please.”
And I didn’t.
I held him tight against myself until the crack of the dawn, when the faint light began to penetrate through the shaggy curtains of my apartment and stroked Dominic’s face in the softest of touches.
Weariness had almost pulled him down as his heavy-lidded eyes closed on its own under my warmth, but suddenly, the phone began to vibrate in his pocket.
Dominic stirred awake instantly, disoriented, and reached for it. When he pressed it against his ears, listened to it for a few seconds, his countenance changed.
“I need to go,” he breathed, disconnecting the call.
“Sure…but, who was it, Dominic? Did they find her?”
“No,” he replied confusedly. “But we may have an idea,” that was all I heard before he dashed out of my apartment.
Thank you so much for reading my story. I would be so glad if you guys could take out the time to review the book or let me know of your feedback.