T W E N T Y - E I G H T
“Names have power.” ~ Rick Riordan
I didn’t know if it was the throbbing pain that woke me up or the strangers murmuring around me, but even before I opened my eyes, I knew the place.
The rich scent of medicines and freshness of surgical sanitizer thickened the air. The subtle but continuous sound of beeping monitors was all too familiar for a doctor such as me who spent fifteen hours a day in the hospital.
It took a substantial amount of effort to lift the eyelids as black dots danced around while the light in the room felt harsh. Altogether, the feeling was otherworldly.
Helplessly, a low groan escaped my parched lips. And almost immediately, the voices in the room stopped at once.
“Get the doctor,” someone commanded in a grating tone, and I heard the shuffling of feet.
It seemed I existed in a limbo where I could perceive things with my senses, but I couldn’t move or touch—like my physical capability was entirely obsolete.
“Do you think she remembers anything?” Another voice spoke up, and this time, it was closer.
I kept blinking furiously to get a clear sight but couldn’t focus. In the background, the monitor beeped loudly now as I could feel my heartbeat escalating.
“Where the hell is the doctor?” The first voice barked out, shooting a sharp pain through inside my skull. For fuck’s sake, don’t fucking shout in a hospital! I wanted to tell the ignorant brute but was too frail to even mumble.
What happened next was sort of a blur but propelled me into prompt madness.
A colossal figure loomed over while another hand reached out to stroke my cheeks with the back of his hand. “Edward, she’s struggling.”
The touch of calloused knuckles sparked something ferocious within me, and instantly, the flood gates of painful memories of torture, abuse, and rape at the hand of the man I had once loved and trusted lay opened. The tidal waves were so strong that I was proverbially drowning—and gasping for air.
For the love of God, please, I cannot go through that again. I didn’t care who was coming to save me, but I knew that I had to do something to escape. My mind was more bruised than my body, and I was near delirium. However, there was still some light of hope twinkling inside the haunted house of my soul.
So I decided to chase the light.
There were too many people crowding around the bed by now. “Shit, shit!” Curses shot through the air, cutting into the hushed quietness of the room.
Muscular hands gripped my shoulders to immobilize me as I frayed my arms frantically to escape. It had to be adrenaline mixed with panic that fueled my actions when I managed to grab a cylindrical glass object—probably a glass—and slammed it against the biceps of the man holding onto my right side.
“Fucking Christ!” he screamed. And I stabbed him again, drawing a copious amount of blood as the broken glass pierced into his skin.
I have to escape. That was all I chanted in my head. I didn’t know where I was, or how far I was from home—but I had to escape the hellhole.
“This one is a savage,” I heard one of the men grunt. And I did agree with him. There was a wild, raw, and untamed spirit moving within me that kept me alive for all that I was worth and more.
And even when I would hate to admit that I was plummeting down towards the earth like a bird whose wings were shot and bleeding, I put up a fight regardless.
I thrashed and jerked against the hold of two strong men while distant voices floated into my ears above the throbbing pulse of my veins. My blood pressure must have shot through the roof because all I saw were black dots dancing before my eyes, my head felt light, and dizziness took over.
“Move out of the way! Move!” someone barked, as the hands pinning down my body all their strength slowly slid away. Unfortunately, I could only roll over the bed. And had it not been the very hands holding me, this time gentler than I ever been dealt with, I would have fallen off the bed.
I felt a needle pushed into my arm, and immediately, the lightheadedness began to coax me into a drug-induced headiness.
It wasn’t right. The whole thing…it wasn’t right.
The power of my limbs was gone by now, impaled and immovable, as I heard a man whispering, “You’re safe now. You’re safe.” It was tricky to recognize the voice, but the sincerity in the tone was unmistakable.
I didn’t believe him, though. I didn’t want to believe him.
“What if it’s a trap?” I doubted.
“We wouldn’t know until we go there,” Aurora said.
The moment Dante Moretti’s name popped up, we had the rat in our basement. Our men combed through every lane, alley, and corner of Chicago to capture the asshole who probably orchestrated the worst ever blow this family had ever survived.
But Dante Moretti turned out to be the biggest smug bastard I have ever seen, and I have seen my fair share. He was more of an animal than man, bragging on and on about his filthy plans for my sister, and manipulating us into killing him.
It was as if he wanted to die at our hands, having the satisfaction of the last laugh because he knew where Sammy was—and wouldn’t disclose. It drove us crazy, drove me hysterical, to the point I seek refuge with Lilliana.
“I checked with every location that Dante has been to for the past couple of years, and there was nothing about California,” I tried again, fighting to solve the riddle in my head.
Aurora stopped whatever she was doing to turn to look at me. “But California shares its border with Mexico. And I have been tracking the movements of the Cartel long enough to know that Juan’s operation base is nearby.”
“And all the more reasons to doubt this information!”
We have been looking for Sammy like madmen while the media played the news of her disappearance repeatedly. And all of a sudden, a mysterious phone call came in and told us that our sister was in a hospital in California. It was shady without reason, but what else could we have done?
“I don’t trust this information any more than you do, Dominic,” Aurora agreed. “But if it’s a trap, the motherfucking bastards better be well prepared because I am not in a mood to play, and I would shred them into pieces.”
While the jet was getting fueled and ready in half an hour, Dad, Aurora, and I prepared ourselves to board it. It was crucial for us that Viktor and Marco stay back in Chicago, despite Viktor’s vehement protest. I understood his desperations. He was burning from within, but we needed to protect our base—our home.
“What do we have on the owners of the Hopedale Hospital?” I inquired, strapping the gun holster.
“I had James go through the entire paperwork and information on the hospital, and it looks legit. All the paperwork checked out, and they have enormous philanthropic activities linked with it. The owners, trustees, and board members—I have gone through every file, Dominic. There’s nothing shady in them.”
I looked her way and assented with a slow nod. “Good. Let’s hope for the best.”
She gazed at me for a long moment before letting the cat out of the bag. “You have a back plan, don’t you?” Aurora asked point-blank even though she knew the answer very well as I did.
“If I know you very well, I know that you have a back-plan as well,” I retorted.
She came forward, lowering the volume of her tone. “Which is why I want you to let me in. I cannot let this go sideways.”
Frowning, I demanded, “What makes you think it would go sideways?”
Aurora debated an answer for a moment and sighed. “You go off the rails sooner than you think, Dominic,” she said, almost sympathetically, “And I understand why. You have been through enough, and it’s eating away your sanity.”
I scoffed. “I never had sanity in the first place. I need to bring my sister home, and for that, I am ready to do anything. So it has nothing to do with sanity, and everything to do with violence.”
“You’re not a woman,” she blurted, out of the blue.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I thought about this whole thing with a rational mind, pieced together every little information we had on Lorenzo and Dante, and came to this conclusion—they wouldn’t kill her. She is more valuable alive than dead. The best guess would be Juan transporting her to Mexico, back in his territory where Romanos have very little power. And the only way to reach them is to be sold.”
I raised a palm, interrupting her. “Wait—you mean, a sex slave? Are you fucking nuts, Aurora?”
Her brown eyes narrowed challengingly. “Are you underestimating me, Dominic?”
No, I wasn’t underestimating Aurora, but this was crazy. I didn’t doubt her strength or capability, but a mission like this couldn’t be discreet. You need men and surveillance, and a hell lot of other things to make it through. There was no fucking way she was penetrating a trafficking racket.
“Aurora, be reasonable,” I implored. “It is not a plan; it’s a suicide mission.”
Just then, a man came in and informed us that we were ready to go. Hurriedly, Aurora dismissed him and spoke to me in hushed tones. “Look, I don’t have much time to elaborate, so I would only tell you the basics on the plane. I know you have a backup plan of your own, and I didn’t want it to clash with mine. So, are we good?”
What choice did I have? “Fine,” I agreed.
The next four hours on the flight were excruciatingly slow and dreadingly calm. My eyes darted towards Dad, who was as broken as he looked. In the past twenty-four hours, he found that his adopted-daughter was missing, his old nemesis was alive and well, and he fought with his elder son and forced him to stay back in Chicago.
Sitting across from him was Aurora, who merely gazed out of the window and never took her eyes off while her finger kept stroking the trigger of her GLOCK.
“We have arrived in California, Sir,” the pilot informed us as we rose from our seats, desperate to step out.
Two armed men hurried before us to open the plane door, stepped down, while two others stood at the front. The moment three of us were out of the plane, a car already awaited us. And just when we approached the vehicle, out of nowhere, a shiny Maserati pulled up into the runaway.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Aurora stiffen and unlocked the safety of her gun. Two guards hurried over on either side of my father as I took a decisive step forward.
Two men stepped out of the car—well-dressed and unmistakably wealthy, with an aura of power encircling them like an orbit. I couldn’t recall their names at the moment, but I did recognize the faces. They were one of the wealthiest industrialists of the States, having a steady hold over the supply of oil, gas, and diamonds, and slowly slithering into telecommunication.
The blonder of the two, probably the older as well, buttoned the suit jacket as he came forward with an extended hand my hand. “You must be the Romanos. I am Edward Sauveterre, and this is my brother, Xavier.”
I shook their hands apprehensively, flicking a glance over at my father. “Dominic Romano. I don’t believe we have met before.”
“Actually, we haven’t,” Xavier Sauveterre replied this time who has a much younger voice and appearance than his brother.
“In that case, it is a pleasure. However, we are in a bit of a rush, gentlemen. So, I—”
Edward cut in before I could finish. “And I believe it has something to do with Miss Samantha Romano?”
Well, if he wanted out attention, he got them. I didn’t realize when my father came to stand by my side until he spoke up. “Where is my daughter?”
“You’d be relieved to know that she is safe with us,” Edward replied vaguely.
“Where is she?”Aurora asked, no—demanded.
Edward shared a hesitant look with his brother before explaining. “We found her in—I don’t know how to phrase it—in a difficult situation. She was in dire need of medical care at the time. So, we deemed it prudent to bring her to the hospital.”
“The Hopedale Hospital,”Aurora mumbled beside. “It’s managed by the Sauveterre Trust Fund.”
The men clued in as Xavier spoke for them. “The hospital made the call on behalf. Miss Romano is doing fine, given her condition. I understand you have questions, and although I don’t have answers to all, you can meet her yourselves and ask about the rest.”
At that, Edward Sauveterre added. “Miss Romano is not being very cooperative with us.”
I was at the end of my wits, for I didn’t to be happy or doubtful. Everything was too good to be true. So, I was partially glad when Dad made the call. “Let’s go.”
As we approached our vehicle, and so were the armed men, Edward halted midway, waving his hand at the weapons. “Is this utterly necessary, Mr. Romano? I think I have assured you enough that we do not possess a threat to you, or your family or even to your sister.”
“Just some security protocols,” I answered coolly. I didn’t trust them to escort us to the hospital alone or even the fact that they had my sister.
The Sauveterre brothers frowned, but, nevertheless acquiesced as Xavier muttered, “No wonder the first thing your sister did was stab us when she woke up.”
Now, this has to be my sister.
And that’s Chapter 28 for you all. Thank you so much for reading my story and voting for them. I couldn’t have done without your support and love.
Coming to the various theories and assumptions on the BIG surprise, what do you think is going to happen? Would Lilliana confront Dominic or simply leave Chicago?