F O R T Y - N I N E
Every fucking nerve in my body twitched at the sight of her. And I had to summon all my self-control and patience to suppress the urge to get up and kill her right now.
I wouldn’t put a bullet between her eyes, I had already decided that. I would rather have my fingers wound around that tiny throat, make her pay for every breath, and relish her journey to hell.
Sophia Bianco sat cross-legged in my living room, only a couple of metres away from me and smiling. Never have I been repelled by a woman as annoying as her.
I was a fool to believe her casual talks under a drunken spell last night. I only remembered seeing her face, her whiny voice blabbering something about married life until a waiter brought another round of drinks that she shamelessly downed with me. What I couldn’t remember for the life of me was how I ended up in a room with her.
“I was expecting a warmer welcome.” With a smirk, her gaze travelled around the living space, from Viktor to Mia to Aurora and then came back to mine. While all of them managed to plaster an impassive look, it was my fury that was tangible in the air.
I was a fraction of a second away from pouncing when I felt a hand on my shoulder holding me back. The nails dug into the point of pain, silently begging to pull back, and I knew it was Aurora. Over the years, I came to realize that Aurora and I were kindred spirits in some way that was difficult to explain. We had a matching temper, rash and impulsive, and we firmly believed on the motto —‘shoot first, ask later’. So somehow, she knew how excruciating it was to bottle up your anger and cap it tight for another time to explode.
Viktor cleared his throat. “You dug a grave for you and your family. I hope you know that.”
“Not if I put your family first.”
To my dismay, her voice reeked of misplaced arrogance. I pushed the thought back and focused on the matter in hand. “I don’t have time and patience to deal with a parasite like you. So name your goddamn price and get the fuck out of here.”
“I have always loved this side of yours, Dominic. Rogue and reckless. It makes you so…hot.” She smiled lasciviously. “Is that how you impressed that slutty brunette?”
I had blood in my eyes, like when those invisible veins in your eyes fill up and make their presence felt. I jerked up, and my fingers were around her throat in a flash. It took all the strength my brother and Aurora had to pull me back.
It took Sophia a minute to regain the colour she lost, but when she did, her smile brightened. “If there’s a single scratch on my body, the entire Chicago would know what kind of monsters you all are.”
“When the time comes, you will meet our monsters first,” I snarled.
“Keep your empty threats to yourself, Dominic.” She narrowed her eyes. “They don’t scare me anymore; in fact, it’s boring and repetitive.”
“If there’s anything worth remembering about you, Sophia, that is, you are an attention-seeking whore. We know the video is fake, and you are desperate. Get to the fucking point. NOW!”
She grinned like she was enjoying this. Then her face snarled into something spiteful, something uglier…just like her. “The point is that you chose her over me, Dominic. A girl who has no worth or status to match yours. And you wanted me to sit back and watch the ugly Cinderella show?”
“I am surprised you think you have any worth or status. The very wealth of your family comes at our mercy. Every business your father conducts is at our pleasure. Your entire clan lives. Because. We. Allow. It.”
“So what? You favoured us because you needed us, too. Don’t make a big fucking deal out of it. Everything was mutual.”
“Well, it won’t be after today,” Viktor replied. “We can assure you that.”
Sophia was about to say something when her phone beeped. She glanced at the screen, locked it and then looked back at Viktor. “I have a proposition. If Dominic agrees, we will leave this entirely behind us.”
“Never.” I slammed my hands on the table. “Don’t even bother.” Whatever she wanted to propose, she could shove it back to her ugly hole for all I cared.
“Let’s hear it first,” Mia bargained, throwing me a quick glance.
“I want Chicago to know that new Mrs. Romano is coming, and I want them to know it from Dominic,” Sophia announced. “A marriage. That’s all it will take to end this.”
And the second she stopped talking, my gun went off. Patience wasn’t my forte, and I wasn’t motherfucking trying to gain brownie points by being calm right now. But Sophia got lucky when Aurora pushed me away, and Viktor held me down by all his strength.
“GET THE FUCK OUT!” I roared.
Her nose flared as she grabbed her bag and scanned the faces for the last time before leaving. “This isn’t over, Dominic.”
Oh, it was over. I had already decided that.
That precise moment, I gave up what the world thought of me and Lilliana, or what our families were trying to mend, or the reputation that was at stake.
Lilliana and I, we found each other in tragedy.
We found our love amidst hatred and blood feuds.
We were fucking done proving the entire world who owed us nothing.
“Somebody pick up the goddamn phone!” Viktor barked at one of the men when we were too consumed and emotionally battered to think and act.
It was the fifth or sixth time the ring echoed.
The news it carried, was another storm.
“Boss, someone blew up the safe house,” Luca informed. “We lost three of our men. And Marco is in hospital.”
** ** **
How many godforsaken times do I have to wait in the same corridor? For Stefan, for Viktor, for Sammy, for Lilliana...I’ve lost count. And now Marco. I wanted it to stop for once because I was tired.
For the first time in my life, I was truly tired. If there was an option to leave it all behind, I would have chosen it.
When I saw Lilliana, her eyes swollen, her face and clothes bloodied, it gutted me to the core. I knew it was an image that would haunt me for a long time to come.
She sat beside Ralph, who held on to her hand like dear life. In a way, it was accurate. Lilliana was all Ralph had apart from Marco.
Viktor and Mia rushed over to them. And as they conversed, Lilliana finally looked up and our gazes locked.
God, she looked at me like I never wanted her to look at me...like a vulnerable human. And every corner of my heart knew that my Lilliana was anything but fragile.
And when someone as strong as hers breaks, it generally takes an astronomical amount of pain and courage to put the pieces back.
I didn’t realize I froze on the spot because all I saw was Lilliana, frantic and running towards me, and in a heartbeat, her body clung against mine.
Instinct acted on its own, and my arms tighten around her lithe frame. It was my turn to hold on to her like dear life, press my face into her hair and inhale her scent like she was my next fix.
Lilliana sobbed into my shoulder, her body trembling, and I had the urge to hold her even tighter.
“I need you,” her muffled croak reached my ears.
Her words... I felt her words in every part of me.
“You have me, love,” I whispered, trying to calm her hiccup breaths. “You will always have me.”
What seemed like an eternity later, her sobs sunken to sniffles. “I am okay now, I am okay,” she whispered, trying to squirm away, but I kept an arm over her shoulder to keep her tethered to me.
Because I needed her too. What could have been the happiest day of my life was unexpectedly turned into a nightmare, and I didn’t how I let it all get it this point. My life was crumbling down, and if there was anything I wanted to hold on to, it was Lilliana.
So, yes, I needed her as badly as she needed me.
** ** **
“What were you doing at the safe house, Lilliana?” Viktor asked softly when all of us sat around Lilliana in the waiting room for Marco. It was past five hours and still there was no news.
Bad news is still better than no news, I tried to convince myself.
Lilliana joined us once washed the dry blood off her hands and face. I took her in my arms, pulling her close on the couch.
“We were about to follow a lead on Carlos Sanchez,” she replied tiredly. “But Marco wanted to visit the safe house before that. So I tagged along.”
“That uncle of Sophia?” Aurora asked as bewildered as we all were.
“Yes,” Lilliana nodded and went on to describe an erratic timeline from the cartels in the ’80s, to Dante in early ’05 to our present situation. It all seemed like a sandcastle, based on hunches and weak information, but it was still something.
“And you saw Carlos in the car?” I asked her.
She nodded confidently. “For a fraction of second, but yes.”
Aurora, who was dreadfully calm and deathly quiet all along, finally stepped forth with her questions and curiosities. She even put in her own bit of information, having spent time in Colombia herself and dealing with cartels to establish a steady flow of cocaine into Chicago through our impenetrable network.
“Number plate, model…anything?” she inquired.
“Black SUV. Illinois plate. 0622KA18.”
“A car can very well be stolen for shootouts,” Viktor said, scrubbing a hand over his face. “And if Carlos saw Lilliana, chances are that he already left Chicago or planning to leave. I have my men on Sophia all of her family members, so we have to wait a bit.”
Aurora shook his head. “Still, if Marco wanted to follow the lead, it definitely meant something.” That was all Aurora said before she asked Viktor for funds and ammunition. Our father had built a vault for unlimited supply because he knew that at some point in our lives, we would need cash and weapons exactly for situations like this.
** ** **
I had abandoned fear a long time ago, so long ago that I almost forgot how metallic it tasted until today. With every passing second, I felt the white walls of the hospital around me were closing in and that I’d be trapped in them forever.
My eyes glazed over to the people in the waiting room, and even though they stood in solidarity with me, I was still all alone.
It was the most naked, elementary truth of the moment that clawed at my heart and made it bleed.
Dominic had Lilliana, Viktor had Mia, Lilliana had Ralph...everyone had someone to fall back to me except for me.
All along, the only person I ever had was Marco.
And all I will ever need was him.
Whether I wanted to believe it or not, whether I wanted to accept it or not—it didn’t matter.
I felt different with him, I breathed differently around him.
Marco was with me, he was inside of me, in every corner of my body and soul—in strength, in weakness, in hope and in longing. There wasn’t a part of me that didn’t belong to him.
In return, I wanted to keep to him all for myself.
And right now, someone out there, some two-bit fucking asshole, who wanted to take him away from me.
And I would be damned if I let him live.
** ** **
I always knew Marco was family without a shred of doubt in my heart, but the notion enacted more firmly when we stood there, holding our bated breath and silent prayer, for his recovery. In a profound way, I came to realize how intricately he was carved in all of us.
To Viktor and I, Marco was a big brother, like we all need at some point in our lives—to guide, to counsel, and to fall back to.
To Sammy, he was her first love. And even though she gave it away a long time ago, a part of her adored him as much.
To Ralph, he wasn’t just his son but the meaning of his life and reason for his existence.
To Lilliana, he was simply family. And for a girl who grew up without one, it meant the world to her.
To Aurora, Marco was her past, present and future.
And now, she was going for Carlos Sanchez. Whether he would see it coming or not, it didn’t matter. I knew Aurora would make him wish he wasn’t born.
Now, we know Aurora isn’t exactly sane when she is angry, right? ;-)