F O R T Y
I didn’t remember how time flew by after I had tucked her closer to my body, carefully spooned, and anchored against me. I’d never felt so peaceful in my life before today, living one heartbeat at a time. Each thrum, each beat was a reminder that Lilliana and I have endured a storm and overcame it.
We must have fallen asleep because when there was a loud knock on the door, the sunlight had already retired from the room. The loud banging woke Lilliana as well as she stirred in my arms.
“Clothes...Dom, I need clothes,” her voice croaked from slumber as I rolled over the other side and grabbed my discarded shirt to help her into it.
Putting on my jeans, I went on to unlatch the door that opened to Marco. Not a good time, I wanted to say and shut the door to his face, but he stormed in with a scowl.
Thankfully, Lilliana was well-covered and under the sheets, but I knew Marco to pick up the tell-tale signs. For crying out loud, there were discarded clothes strewn around the room, hers and mine. The bed was a mess, and so was our hair.
“If it is not a dire emergency, get out,” I groaned at him.
“You are lucky I am having this conversation in your room and not in front of Ralph,” he seethed with contained rage.
“What happened now?”
“What happened is that I found that scumbag Andrew.” Fuck.
“Really?” Lilliana was both shocked and relieved. “Where did you find him?”
Ignoring her, Marco glowered at me. “When were you going to tell me?”
Lilliana looked between us puzzledly. “What are you talking about?”
Grunting, I shook my head and sat down on the edge of the bed, and muttered, “Never.”
The truth was, I found him the next day I brought Lilliana home. In one of our casual conversations, she told me that Andrew was gay, and he often hired male prostitutes over his place. In fact, he was addicted to sex, and thus, it was easier for me to lay a trap for him.
I had my reasons to do everything on my own.
Ralph had already settled his score with Dante. As a father, he was supposed to be careful and protect her, but he failed. So, I owed him nothing to have a slice of the revenge that I wanted.
“You have been misleading me for days now,” Marco accused. “You have no right--”
“I have every fucking right on her!” I roared. “Marco, you know that very well as I do. Let it go,” I warned.
He looked between both of us and translated my anger. Marco wouldn’t throw stones at glass houses when he himself had been protecting Aurora for years, whether she needed it or not.
“Fine. I get it.” He calmed down after some time and raised his palms in surrender. “But someone has to tell this to Ralph, and I am not going to be that someone. So you better man up and face the music.”
“I will talk to Ralph,” Lilliana offered, her gaze dancing between us.
“To begin with, he wants you to come home,” Marco said to her. ”This isn’t your home.”
I knew the arrow was directed at me, but it was also a wakeup call. Maco was partially right in his taunt, so I decided to interrupt before Lilliana could retort. “You are right, Marco. This place isn’t her home.” I looked at Lilliana, who was watching me with a bewildered expression and turned to Marco once again. “So, I am going to make a permanent arrangement about that, so this can be her home.”
Two weeks later -
I knew women could be infectious the day I saw my brother buying flowers and knowing the difference between two kinds of red color. But I never thought I’d be discarding four shirts in an hour to make sure I look bloody presentable.
The white looked too formal, the black was too dark, and the rest of them were dull but for the blue that I had finally fixed. I knew Ralph’s opinion wouldn’t matter much over the color of my attire, but the reason I wanted to put an effort was the one who drove me crazy in more ways than one.
The case in point was four fucking shirts.
And yet I was in love with her.
As I barged into Viktor’s office, he lazily gazed up from the computer screen. Over the leather couch, Marco was busy making a drink for himself without a care in the world.
“Is this okay?” I asked Viktor, smoothing a hand over the fabric as he quirked a brow quizzically.
“I have to meet Ralph to talk about Lilliana. More like a blessing sort of a thing,” I clarified.
He cocked his head to the side, eyeing me up from head-to-toe like I jumped out of Animal Planet. “You are looking like a douche bag.”
Asshole. A five thousand dollars customized Tom Ford can’t make me look like a douche bag.
So I turned to Marco, who always has a remarkable taste in style and class. “What do you think?”
“For God’s sake, Dominic, Ralph knows you since you were crapping in your diapers. And do you think he gives a damn to what you are wearing?”
And then Viktor butted in. “Isn’t this ironic now,” he told Marco, chuckling. “He is asking for your opinion while he takes official permission from your father to officially screw your sister.”
I glared at him. “Viktor, this is not funny!”
“Not to you! To me, it’s hilarious.”
“Asshole!” I muttered, walking over to Marco and snatching the drink from his hand.
“Umm...Dominic, I might not be an expert here,” Marco drawled. “But, are you sure you want to get drunk before you meet Ralph?”
“Do you have any better suggestions?”
Viktor laughed boisterously from across the room. “Let him drink, Marco. I want to see Ralph kicking his drunken ass.”
As I turned to scowl at him and barely restrained myself from throwing the glass at his head, the door opened and in walked Mia. “There you are! I have been looking for you the entire house.” She rolled her eyes and trotted over with a giant bottle in hand. It has unnecessary frilly ribbons hanging around and half covered in a blinding silver wrapper.
“You are going to need this,” she said, shoving the bottle in my hand.
“Don’t you think drinking the whole bottle is a bit too much?” Marco asked curiously, eyeing the bottle of red and then at Mia.
“It’s not for him, silly!” Mia glared and then turned to me with her four-hundred-watt smile. “You are going to give this to Ralph.”
“Clearly, Ralph needs to drink the full bottle before allowing his daughter to marry Dominic,” Viktor chimed as he rose from the chair and came over.
Mia scowled at three of us with a dismissive shake of her head. “It’s a courtesy,” she took to explain. “When someone invites you for a formal dinner, you bring a thoughtful gift. How difficult it is to understand for all of you?”
I rolled the bottle, noting the complicated bows and ribbons around it. “Are you sure it will work?” I asked skeptically.
She gave me a look that said you-are-a-dumbass. “Ralph is Italian by heart. Do you really think he wouldn’t appreciate a classy, expensive, and rare bottle of wine from someone who is going to his prospective son-in-law?”
The gong finally rang in my head. Fuck, she is a genius.
“God, Mia! Thank you so much.” I hugged her tight and kissed her cheek.
Viktor wasted no time in snatching her away from me and pulling her into his arms. “Get your own woman, moron. This one is mine,” he growled and kissed her hard and long on the spot where I had pecked her as if to obliterate any sign of another man’s mark upon her.
Mia, in turn, tipped her head back to look up to her Neatherdral husband and smiled adorably. She kissed the slope of his jaw that instantly melted the rough exterior of my brother, like dripping molten steel inside lava.
It reminded me of Lilliana in a myriad of ways.
I have loved in the oblivious belief that she could be mine one day, despite the stones fate threw at us.
Each time I lost her, it only reminded me how desperately I wanted to tuck her by my side and never let her go again.
And I was exactly going to do that.
“Thanks again.” I winked at Mia, slightly holding up the bottle before walking out of the room.
“Don’t screw up,” I heard Marco yell from behind.
My relationship with Dominic was like an open secret. Everyone knew, but no one talked about it. And this included Ralph as well. Maybe, just maybe, he thought not talking about it was going to make it all go away. It was the ultimate male psychology that suggested that if they wouldn’t talk about something, it would magically vanish into thin air.
Given Dominic’s colorful history, which Ralph knew of for years now, it was highly unlikely he wanted me to be with him. Fuel was added to the fire when Dominic took care of Andrew, undermining Ralph in a way that did not go well with him.
And now I had to sit them down for a civilized dinner and make sure they didn’t kill each other.
I’d rather get a colonoscopy.
Putting down the tube of mascara, I picked up the comb and brushed my hair for the last time. A moment later, when my phone beeped, I glanced at the screen and saw Marco’s text about Dominic.
“I have been shot twice and survived. So, I can survive this as well,” I whispered to myself in the mirror, letting out a heavy exhale and got up.
Walking down to Ralph’s room in an elegant, very sexy but very uncomfortable pair of stilettos, I gingerly knocked on his door. When he allowed entry from the other side, and I strode in and found him relaxed on the couch with a glass of whiskey in his hand.
“Er...he is on his way,” I told him in a manner not to spike his displeasure.
Ralph took the last swig of the glass and wrapped an arm around me, pulling me closer. ”Cara mia, is it too late to screen your boyfriend?”
Laughing, I rested my head on his shoulder, mighty and powerful. “Please don’t give him a hard time,” I pleaded, knowing that Ralph has all his guns ready to fire - literally and figuratively.
“I would try--only for you.” The resentment was clear from his tone. “But I can’t promise anything.”
“Thank you,” I said softly.
My father let out a heavy breath. “I have seen that boy over the years,” he paused to search for the right words to describe Dominic’s debauchery. “With various women...and now, he is acting like a saint and a loyal man.”
I stifled a chuckle. Dom was anything but a saint; however, he was loyal. I knew it in the marrow of my bones that he was not an infidel, and he would never be.
“Believe me; I am fully aware of his past. And I am so also aware of the things he has done before. But I love him.” I tipped up my head to look into the eyes of my father and let him see the truth for himself. “And he loves me too.”
“I get it,” he gave in at last. “But this is happening too fast. And I found you after all these years only to have to get married to...to him!”
I wouldn’t lie that the thought crossed my mind as well. And I did voice it to Dominic that maybe we could wait for a couple more months, but he didn’t want to stay apart any more than I do.
We have been through hell and back, pried apart through storm and fate that we couldn’t wait to be each other’s as man and wife.
“Do you really believe my marriage can keep us apart?” I shook my head slowly through the haze of tears. “Never. You are not the only one who found me; I found you, too, Papa."
All this while, I never regarded him with a title, only because I didn’t know how to say it. It is easy for an infant, who is learning new words and expressions, to pick up a word and blabber it out innocently. As for me, it was difficult to center all my feelings in a single word that incorporates the essence of fatherly love.
I found Ralph after twenty-three years of grief, pain, and suffering. And in a couple of months, he soothed away all the abandoned memories. So, how does the one word substitutes for all?
"Mia figlia,” Ralph breathed, smothering the top of my head with kisses. ”Sei il mio cuore, bambina.” You are my heart, girl.
I could hear the soft sniffle as he pressed me tighter to his chest. Closing my eyes, I concentrated on his soft grated voice, chanting, ”my little girl," again and again.
The intangible loss of Ralph in my early years was so acute that we made the most of our circumstances when fate granted its blessings.
In his heart, I found a home I’ve searching for all my life.
I will give you guys a little spoiler for the next chapter. It’s mostly Ralph v Dominic, and it is hilarious! I have been planning this scene past one month, and I have assembled a bunch of crazy shit for this scene. Hopefully, I wouldn’t make you all wait much for the next one.
And let me know what you think of this Chapter. Love and hugs! XOXOXO