T H I R T Y - S I X
Unlove me, I dare you. ~ seeker
Boy, Marco was right. Even though I had managed to stay wide awake the first half an hour, out of curiosity’s sake, the rest of the long minutes were insufferable.
“I have to say,” I told Ralph, helping him into the car. “This was the last place I expected you to visit on a regular basis.”
Ralph didn’t say anything but only smiled. It was when the car pulled into the driveway of Marco’s place, and I shut down the engine that he finally spoke, breaking into the long silence. “The first time I met Sophia, she was kneeling by the altar and praying with her Rosary beads.”
At his revelation, my breath stopped for a moment.
Even after twenty-four years of losing the love of his life, Ralph held onto her memories like priceless gems.
This was the man who killed ruthlessly, who was nothing but merciless, and yet he had a heart full of unrequited love. Some people live their entire life looking for love, or anything akin true affection, and my mother was loved beyond her time and age.
If this wasn’t beautiful and tragic, I didn’t know what was.
“God, she was more beautiful than an angel,” he whispered, more to himself.
“Do you still come to the church because of her?” I asked, curious.
He smiled softly, taking my palm into his. “I come here to pray for her peace. Sophia once told me that there are only two safe havens in her life—two places where she feels the safest. One, when she’s with me, and the second was the church. I can’t protect her anymore, so I hope at least her God will,” he expressed painfully.
“I hope so, too,” I mumbled.
Ralph reached out, cupping the back of my head in a loving, assuring gesture of a parent, and it reminded me of my daughterly responsibility of letting him know what I have decided a few days back. “Listen, I…I have been thinking of something,” I began uncomfortably, contemplating in what manner should I put it forward. “I want to start over and—”
Ralph cut me off, in a panicky tone. “Do you want to leave?”
“What? No, absolutely not,” I dismissed. “I was thinking of taking up a job. I can’t simply stay at home. It’s driving me insane.”
Relief washed over his features as he leaned back against the car seat and nodded thoughtfully. “So, have you decided anything yet?” he asked, and in a way a father would ask his teenage daughter of her life’s choices, I thought. Which was funny because both of us had outlived that age and time.
“I can’t obviously go back to the cafe, but I can’t try other restaurants or diners.” I shrugged. With my zero educational background, this was the only option I can think of right now.
“It might get boring for your age...”
“I have done this before,” I insisted. “Besides, it’s not boring. I have seen a lot of girls of my age doing that.”
His head snapped towards me. ”Mia cara, what exactly are you talking about?”
Wait, what did he think I was talking about? “Waiting tables.” I looked at him, confused. “What were you thinking?”
His nostrils flared while his lips were flattened into a thin line, and in my limited time with Ralph, this was the first instance I have seen him truly angry. “I think I have acquired enough wealth in this life that my daughter wouldn’t have to wait tables to earn a livelihood. I will absolutely not tolerate this nonsense,” he declared with conviction and unlocked the door to step out of the car.
“Wait. Don’t.” I hurried over to his side, slipping an arm around him for balance.
Stubborn as he was, he refused my help, but I stood my ground, blocking his path. After a moment, he realized that I was, after all, his blood and shared his stubbornness in equal measure and let me lend a hand.
“Why the hell on earth would you consider waitressing?” He brought up the topic once again after I had helped him onto the bed.
Sighing, I sat down by his side. “I know you want to help me, but right now, I need to fix my life. I might be homeschooled, but there’s no educational proof that I can produce.” Ralph opened his mouth to interpret but I cut him off. “Yes, I know that it can be arranged. I just don’t want to go down that road. And how does it matter anyway? I may wait on tables, or own a restaurant, or go to a prestigious college, but at the end of the day, I will remain your daughter.”
I could see the wheels of resignation turning in his head, the apparent defeat over his expression. “Alright, if that’s what you want. But it’s all temporary.” He wagged his finger warningly. “And no bars or clubs.”
“No bars or clubs,” I agreed.
“I want to see you happy, tesoro.” He took one of my hands between his palms. “I would do anything to see you happy.”
The sincerity in his voice almost made me cry. I could have faked a smile and pretended to be happy, but I didn’t want to. Essentially because he’d see right through my lie, and it would hurt him.
And I, even in my insanity, couldn’t hurt this man.
“I will be,” I told him instead.
We were interrupted by a sharp and firm knock on the door, and instinctively Ralph reached for his gun from the side table. On another occasion, I would have laughed, but it tragically reminded me of someone who did the same.
Every time, a random memory would come floating into my mind, and I would shove it into some dark, void corner of my heart only to realize that memories were all I have left.
“Come in,” Ralph allowed as the door opened and revealed an impeccably well-dressed man.
There were only a handful instances in my life that I had been intimidated by the presence of a man, and it was one of those moments when Alessandro Romano walked into the room, donned inexpensive apparel and with his overbearing presence.
Until now, I have only seen his photographs and none of them did justice to his well-defined features. His heirs might have inherited his looks, but the sharpness of a seasoned kingpin was all his.
“Al, I see you have finally remembered your old friend,” Ralph taunted him playfully as he stopped at the end of the bed; both the hands were tucked inside the pockets of his slacks.
"Stronzo,” he snorted. “You must be really getting old if you keep disappearing like this.”
“Well, the idiots just got lucky.” Ralph shrugged.
Alessandro shook his head and both of them laughed, like the old men reminiscing over the jokes of their youth. He slowly dragged his gaze towards me, immediately making me conscious as I felt the need to disappear right away.
What was with Romano men and making me uncomfortable in every situation?
I was about to get up when Ralph wrapped an arm over my shoulder protectively and pulled me against himself.
“You have your father’s eyes,” he addressed me, musing over my face.
“She does,” Ralph retorted with every bit of pride and delight. ”Mia Bella ragazza.”
I looked between both men, blinking rapidly. “I...uh...excuse me. I will give you both the room—”
“No, no, it’s absolutely fine,” Alessandro Romano interjected and then drew his gaze back to Ralph. “If you have recovered, why don’t you visit the mansion? We have to take care of some unfinished business.”
My heart began to beat faster, drumming against the ribcage so hard that I thought I would explode. I knew what he meant by unfinished business, except I wanted nothing to do with it.
Ralph’s arm around me tightened possessively, only in a way only a father could understand while his voice hardened. ”Twenty three years, Al. He took away twenty-three years of my life when he kept me away from my daughter and killed Sophia and my son,” Ralph said, his voice dangerously calm.
“I understand, and this is why I ordered Viktor and Dominic to keep him untouched. But you know these young boys—they are impatient.” He clucked his tongue dramatically, and I dazedly listened to the conversation of these two seasoned mafia men, criticizing young blood for being too ruthless. It was hard to comprehend that someone would label Viktor and Dominic as ′boys’.
“Marco killed the boy yesterday,” Ralph added regrettably. “They have no control over themselves.”
“Why we don’t teach them how it is done?”
Ralph chuckled. “Retirement doesn’t agree with us, mio amico."
“No, I am afraid, it doesn’t. Would you like her to come with you?”
As badly as I wanted to watch Dante suffer, I couldn’t stomach going to the Romano mansion. My heart was already broken enough, and I couldn’t afford to shatter into smaller fragments of despair.
“No, Al,” my father decreed. “I don’t want her breathing the same air as the bastard. Whatever he has done, I’ll make him pay, but my daughter doesn’t have to be there.”
“Have it your way.” He raised up both the palms in surrender.
I sat down with James in our lofty living space of the mansion, with a perfected layout of tufted furniture and modern silhouette design because Lilliana had blown up the portion of the house where we had kept our servers and computers. While James was clever enough to back up the data, the punkass was pissed as hell for losing his so-called haven.
Viktor bribed him with a Porsche, but that has only worked so far before started bitching about the fucking sofa. For God’s sake, these were bespoke furniture.
“Can you access the security cams from here?” I asked, pointing at the screen.
I was about to leave for Mexico in two days with Aurora, and we needed every damn information in and around the place where Juan was hiding out.
“I can do anything,” he said haughtily, then mumbled to himself, “If my computer wasn’t blown up like firecrackers.”
“James, I am going to tell you this one last time,” I told him in an utterly calm voice. “And if I have to repeat it again, you’d be waking up tomorrow without your little balls—so answer me in straight words.
“Uh. Yeah. I think,” he grumbled, and when I glared, he added, “Provided if you install a chip into their main server, then I can remotely control everything, even from the moon.”
I slapped the back of his head. "Ow!”
“What about the blueprint layout?” I asked, snatching the laptop from him. “Aurora would be inside the building, and we would need a full-proof extraction plan for that.”
“The basement.” He grinned like a Cheshire cat, only so much hideous. “Do you know why the place is so secluded?”
He tsked loudly, shaking his head. “You really didn’t pay attention to your history classes.”
I was trying—really trying—not to lash out at, maim, or kill people around me, but James was working on my last fucking nerve. I was about to snap when he quickly provided, “A prison! Long ago, someone built an illegal prison that connects to a waterway.”
“How sure are you about it?” I inquired.
“This is the perfect plan,” he assured. “I know the helicopter extraction looks ridiculously classy for Mission Impossible movies, but let’s just say that you’re not Tom Cruise. So we would like to stick to my plan.”
“And what is his plan?” A voice spoke out as we looked up at the source of the grating sound and saw Marco sauntering into the living room.
Behind him, Dad and Ralph entered, too, except they moved toward the basement area. For odd reasons, my heart jumped and thudded.
Did Lilliana come with them as well?
My gaze wandered wildly at the entrance, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Maybe a quick sight of her face, those brown eyes, bronze hair neatly tucked behind her ears, or the cherry tinted lips that I have kissed several times and hankered to do it thousand times more.
Anything, fucking anything.
But it was empty.
“Why is he sitting like that?” Marco asked, pointing at James who had the better sense not to mess with him. Clearly, the memory of hanging upside down was still fresh on his mind.
“He doesn’t like the couch or the living room.”
James tried to give me a pleading look before Marco grabbed the back of his neck and squeezed hard. “Hmmm...why don’t you send him to my house? I’d make sure that he’s comfortable enough.”
“Argh!” James screeched like a baby bird when the hand tightened over his delicate neck.
“Go now, play with your video games because the grown-ups need to talk,” Marco ordered him with a sound slap on his back.
Wriggling out of his hold, he sprinted out of sight as if his ass was on fire.
“Seriously, stop scaring the kid,” I told him lazily.
“Well, I wouldn’t have to scare the kid if you didn’t call on an urgent basis,” Marco said, plopping himself down beside me. “So, what was the urgency?”
I fished out a phone from the suit pocket, handing over as he gave me a quizzical shrug. “Someone tried to hack into this phone at least seventeen times in the past week. This is Lilliana’s phone.”
Marco’s eyes widened a tiny bit before he took the phone in his hand, flipping it around. “Did you get anything from the IP address?”
I shook my head. “It’s a dead end. Who would desperately want to know about her location? And why?”
Marco snickered, pocketing the cellphone. “I am guessing it’s definitely not for pizza delivery. I will see what I can do about it, and ask Lilliana meanwhile about her mystery stalker.”
I didn’t have a good feeling about it, but I knew that no matter how fiercely I wanted to protect her, I have no right to do it. Back in some dark and deep corner of my mind, Lilliana was mine in every conceivable way, but not in reality.
She has a father now, a man who’d go to great lengths to shield her daughter. A brother, who would, in his silent, unfeeling, and impassioned way, ensure her safety and comfort.
“Marco,” I told him before leaving, “Don’t let anything happen to her.”
Hey lovelies, I hope you have enjoyed reading the chapter.
I know a lot of you are eager for updates, and the reason I don’t fix a day because it’s erratic. However, I make it a point to update about the schedule one day before on my Instagram account (catgirly93), so you guys can check it out.
P.S. The chapter is not completely edited, and hence, please feel free to point out the mistakes.