T H I R T Y - F O U R
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Kahlil Gibra
The moment those words slid out of my lips, I knew I had gone too far to come back. It hit her with force equivalent to a ship against an iceberg. Lilliana stilled under my hold; her brown eyes were wide and filled with a strange fear I have never seen before.
By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late.
So, I released her immediately, resulting in her staggering balance to slump down on the bed with a thud. The echo her distaste was so strong, and the weight of her fear was so crushing that I could stand one more second in the room.
I stormed out of there, dashing past the guards and servants peppered in every corner of this mansion, and finally managed to find an empty room. It was then the rage took over my mind, madness coursing through my veins like heroin in my bloodstream, and I needed a fucking outlet.
I punched into the wall, again and again, until I could get rid of this feeling.
“It was supposed to be. I wasn’t—fuck!” I chanted incoherently as my fists collided against the hard surface, leaving my knuckles bloody.
In all my anger, in all my experiences, I never thought I’d go insane in a manner where I’ve to inflict pain on myself to feel better.
Maybe, it was in my DNA, after all.
Maybe that’s why Stefan, my youngest brother, had put an end to himself that night.
My train of thought was lost into the pain until a powerful force shoved me against the floor.
“What the fuck are you doing, Dominic?” Someone blasted in my ears.
Sprawled on the floor, I looked up to see Aurora gazing down at me with a horrified expression.
Fuck. Why can’t people leave me the hell alone?
On my feet in less than two seconds, I pushed her aside, but Aurora was in no mood either. She grabbed me by the collar, demanding, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
The toxic adrenaline was still rushing through me, and with that, I twisted her wrists and thrown her off me.
Out of nowhere, a solid kick landed in my midsection, knocking the breath out of me and forcing me to double over in pain.
Holy mother of fuck, it hurt.
It hurt so much that I saw stars.
I groaned against the floor, helplessly pinned to the ground as a large palm pressed against my shoulder blades.
“Go! I got him. Go!”
It was a male voice—it was Viktor’s.
“He is not in himself,” Aurora argued.
“I can handle him. Leave!”
Maybe Aurora actually listened and disappeared as the clack of her high heels became distant, and Viktor helped me onto a nearby chaise.
We didn’t talk for a long time, solely because I couldn’t, and he didn’t want to. Instead, he grabbed a bottle of whiskey, took my hand, and poured the amber liquid over my knuckles.
“Argh! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” I screamed my lungs out, instinctively retrieving my hands. Shit, it burned like dickens.
“You might need a doctor later,” Viktor said in a calm and disinterested tone like he was talking about the weather. He grabbed the other hand in the same manner and poured alcohol over it, much against my wishes.
Tell you what, the pain didn’t lessen even though I knew what was coming, but I managed to bite down the scream.
“Care to explain?” he demanded, sitting down beside me.
I was too much in pain and too fucked up to elaborate. “Nothing.”
“What did Lilliana do this time to get under your skin?”
“It wasn’t her this time—it was me,” I confessed.
Viktor’s head snapped at me instantly. “You didn’t do anything stupid, Dominic. Did you?” I didn’t answer but nursed the wounds. At places, the bleeding didn’t seem to stop. “Goddammit! She’s Ralph’s daughter!” Viktor gritted.
“She’s alive. I didn’t touch her,” I replied stoically.
Viktor’s sigh of relief was soft but audible. We sat in silence for some time, because as Made Men, we never spoke of the predicaments that ailed us. Either we faced them or crushed them—there was no healing or overcoming whatsoever.
“I told her that I’d force myself on her,” I spoke softly, breaking the silence.
Viktor didn’t anything immediately but only wore an expression of disgust that spoke volumes. Then, slowly—very slowly—he shook his head. “That’s a low blow, Dominic—even for you.”
Like I didn’t know. “Do me a favor, Viktor,” I begged softly. “Don’t let me near her—ever. I honestly don’t trust myself around Lilliana. And I don’t know if I am capable of staying away from her.”
Lilliana, for all her faults and betrayals, was better off me.
Dominic’s words cut me so sharp, so brutally that all I could do was blink. In a split second, he released his hold and dashed out of the room, leaving me empty.
It wasn’t my blurry vision, foggy mind, or clogged heart that numbed my senses. It was the man that stood before me moments ago who, with his cruel words, left me shattered.
Dominic Romano might not have been a man of many things, but he was not a rapist. His decadent sex life has nothing to do with his abominable desires but everything with his charm and sexual magnetism.
But then, why me? To what extent did he want to hurt me to cross every line of decency left in him?
Strangely enough, Dominic wasn’t the only man who broke my heart.
The fact that Dominic came to me has confirmed that they found my biological father. And since Ralph Alessi made no attempt to visit me—his own flesh and blood—I could safely assume that he wanted nothing to do with his illegitimate daughter.
In my mind, I didn’t harbor too many delusions, but a curtsy appearance out of curiosity’s sake was definitely wishful thinking.
But I was denied that, too.
Heartbreak and abandonment were an excruciating combination of pain and suffering.
A wave of chill washed over me as I could no longer sit upright. My body fell against the small bed, twisting into a fetal position as my head began to spin. For once, I wished to be dead and be reborn as a girl who was not bound to the whims of men. But, life hardly came with such customized happiness.
Stars exploded before my eyes; my limbs shivered violently, driving my whole body into a convulsion that ultimately made me lose consciousness.
When I woke up next, I was a different room.
It took enormous effort to turn my head left and right to take in the surroundings - the sight of Chicago through the large window, covered in rich colors of the golden and crimson radiance.
It was, then, the reality hit me.
It wasn’t a different room—it was a different place altogether. Romano Mansion didn’t have sight of Chicago skyline whatsoever. Moreover, the room was designed in a contemporary style, while Dominic’s home was more refined in Italian architecture.
Where was I?
Groaning, I struggled to sit up and began to peel off the layers of cashmere blankets over my body. I was up on my feet when the door swung open, and Marco walked in.
With wide eyes, I stared at him like a deer in headlights. He was technically the enforcer for the Romanos, executing people for their convenience. And if I was here---
“You might want to sit down before you pass out,” he cautioned coolly, pointing his finger towards the bed. “Then I would never hear the end of it,” he mumbled to himself grumpily.
It made no sense, but I immediately sat back down on the bed as he sauntered closer.
“I—when...uh...” I opened my mouth, but only slurred nonsense came out.
“You fainted almost fourteen hours ago with high fever and low blood pressure,” he answered one of my million unasked questions.
“Oh, okay.” I looked around the room briefly. “Where am I?”
“This is my place,” he replied and hesitantly paused for a bit. “Are you feeling better enough to walk?”
“Uh...yes, I am fine now.” I nodded vehemently. “I can leave if that’s...you know...”
“I didn’t ask you to leave,” he snapped. “I asked whether you are fit enough to walk.”
“I am,” I shot back tersely, standing up.
“Then come with me.” He offered me a hand while I dubiously stared at it. I had no idea where he was taking me, and I knew he wouldn’t answer me if questioned.
Marco sighed a little. “You have better sense to be afraid right now, Lilliana, but rest assured, I am not going hurt you after I have asked you if you were feeling better.”
“You have a reputation,” I retorted, gingerly taking his hand.
“That I do.”
Marco led me out of the room, considerate enough not to walk too fast or in long strides. As I glanced around the house, which was a little short of the luxurious Romano mansion, I could help but notice it reflected an exquisite taste in decor.
The blend of contemporary furniture and monochromatic color scheme, combined with expansive floor-to-ceiling windows and undeniable sleekness, truly made it look like a masterpiece.
“You have a gorgeous place,” I complimented as we ascended the floating staircase. In return, Marco simply nodded.
Stopping before a room with a closed door, he regarded me for a second before speaking in a low tone, “Don’t break his heart.”
What is that supposed to mean?
He didn’t give me a chance to voice the question and opened the door to the room to reveal the sight before me. A shiver snaked up my spine, stiffening my muscles; and had it not been Marco herding me inside the room, I wouldn’t have moved an inch.
There, in the center of the huge bedroom, a man was sitting with his back propped against the headboard. His left arm was bandaged and rested onto a sling hanging down from the shoulder. And even though his face was slightly bruised, swollen at places, it didn’t take me long to recognize him.
He looked different in pictures.
I have never seen Ralph Alessi in the flesh, and in the light of the man whose genes I shared so accurately.
I might have inherited the feminine features of my mother, but the whiskey brown of my eyes and the bronze glow in my wavy locks were all Ralph’s.
And he saw it too.
The sun lines around his eyes crinkled, his mouth opened, and whispered, “Sophia.”
The way my mother’s name rolled out of his lips, it was more than a loving remembrance—it was ardently wishful.
I was vaguely aware of Aurora’s presence in the room alongside Marco, who silently excused themselves and slipped out of sight, closing the door with a soft thud.
Time stopped ticking for both of us, probably the universe trying to compensate the cruel game of fate that separated us in the first place.
A moment later, I hurried over to him when he began to struggle out of bed. “You shouldn’t be getting up,” I offered, but who could argue with these mafia men?
Ralph flashed a tender smile as he watched me dreamily. The aged-love he had for my mother cast a crystal reflection in his eyes. This love was the testament that everything they had shared between themselves was nothing but pure affection.
“My goodness,” he breathed in a thready whisper. “You are so beautiful. Just like my Sophia.”
His right hand palmed the side of my face before pressing a kiss to my forehead.
“I... didn’t—you...” I kept stumbling over words as too many emotions clogged my brain.
Instantly, Ralph’s arm snaked around my shoulder and pulled me into a tight embrace against his chest. It was in that ultimate moment I felt the entire weight of my guilt, conscience, and misfortune shifted.
Sobs broke out of me like an overflowing dam, convulsing and heaving in great gulping breaths. It shocked me as I didn’t know that I was capable of shedding endless tears.
Perhaps, it was the paternal affection I never realized that I crave so much in my empty life or if it was the simple gesture of acceptance.
But, either way, I was broken and reconstructed exactly the way I wanted to die and be reborn.
And that’s Chapter 34 for you lovelies. This rendezvous between Lilliana and Ralph was a long-awaited moment, and honestly, I didn’t want to rush it for either of them.
Having said that, we would see a bit of Ralph in the upcoming chapters but I would try and keep it more around Dom and Lil.
I know a lot of you darlings are eager to know whether the story has HEA or not, and the answer is—YES. But, they would go through their fair share of turbulences as I don’t want to write enemies-to-lovers romance circled around sex.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the story so far. Please take a moment to drop in your comments and suggestions to help me write better. Sometimes, different perspectives really help a lot as I don’t have beta readers.
Love and hugs, as always!