F I F T Y - O N E
I blankly stared down at the clock on the phone screen. 22:00. Two hours left to strike midnight and this day would be officially over.
The day I was supposed to get married.
The day Lilliana would have been my wife.
The day that would have marked the beginning of a lifetime for us.
Closing my eyes, I heaved a long exhale and propped my head against the headboard. Even though the curtained darkness of closed lids, it was her face was floated in—over and over again. It was the first time I realized that I might wear the skin of a monster, but my heart was still human. And I belonged to her.
The pain that hit me came in waves. It clawed under my skin, infused with the blood in my veins, and drilled into the marrow of my bones until the ache made me hollow inside out.
I tried to focus on Lilliana, and the thought almost flayed me alive. What the hell was she going through in the hours we’d been apart? The cesspool of infernal darkness pulled me down and began to drown me in it.
The pain drilled deeper.
The sensations spiked.
It became impossible to pull myself out of the pit until the sound of the door cracked through my defences. In a flash, my eyelids snapped open, and head cocked towards the entrance.
I sighed both in relief and annoyance. Today, I’d prefer to be alone and without the company. He strolled in lazily, eyeing the unopened bottled of brandy perched on the bedside table, before joining me on the bed.
“Do you need anything?” I asked Viktor.
Instead of answering, he sprawled out to grab the bottle of brandy and began to uncap it. “I am not letting you drink this alone.” He took a long swig, bearing the burn down his throat and passed me the bottle.
Pity. That’s what I saw in his eyes for me.
I placed the bottle back down. “Look, I am not planning to get drunk. But I really want to be alone now.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I was just about to disagree when he stopped me. “You are not in this shit alone, Dominic. Think about Lilliana and everything she is going through.”
Viktor always knew where to press and how to make it hurt. “Why are you meddling? You didn’t even like Lilliana before,” I reasoned.
“That’s because I knew for sure that she would be the death of you.” He looked away but not before letting a wry smile played on his lips. “In a way, she is. But it has nothing to do with her ill-intent and everything to do with our enemies.”
“I might have been beaten down, Viktor but that doesn’t I am out of the ring.” I sat straighter, levelling my gaze with his. “This is not your fight or anyone else’s. It’s mine, and I will do what’s needed.”
The sheath of steel hardened his features. “As long as you are in the ring, I fight. You can accept it gracefully, or not. Either way, I am going to look out for you.”
“And that’s exactly what makes me look weak!” I yelled, unable to contain the wealth of rage I have been holding back. In a second, we were at each other’s throats’—exactly the way men fix their emotions when their worlds are tumbling down around them.
Our fists froze mid-fight as the eyes darted towards the door. Sammy was standing at the door, still in her scrubs and evident displeasure etched across her tired features.
“I have never thought that I have to be a responsible one in my life,” she hissed, rolling into the room with an angry gait. “But you two seem to be ruining my adulthood plans. So I suggest that you grow a fucking pair if you still haven’t.”
I let Viktor go, dabbing the bleeding corner of my lip while he cricked my neck. “Both of you,” I pointed—“Leave. Pity is not what I am looking for tonight.”
“Wow,” Sammy gasped. “Was that pity when you held me for six nights in a row because I couldn’t sleep from the nightmares of the rape?”
“Goddamnit!” I gritted while Viktor glared at her. We wrung ourselves dry with guilt for what had happened with our sister, shouldering the blame for it. Even with the bastard rotting six feet underground, it never pacified our collective anger.
“Exactly that’s my point,” she argued. “This isn’t the first time we are facing an enemy, and something tells me that it won’t be the last. The only way we come out of this thing is through the family.”
There was a percussion beat of silence as we glanced at each other.
Three people with formidable power, unbeatable determination, and a surname to our backing, and somehow, we all felt backed into a corner.
“I am sorry,” I was the first one to break the silence as I slumped back to bed and rested my head between the heels of my palms. “But the shit’s too deep and personal for me.”
“You mean personal for us?”
The fourth voice floated into the room, and all of us turned around to it. I would be lying if I’d say that my heart didn’t feel like a thirteen-year-old at the sight of her.
Lilliana…she was here.
Our eyes snapped to each other like powerful magnets and didn’t flinch. It didn’t matter how many people were present in the room; everything and everyone seemed insignificant.
“Let’s give them some privacy,” Mia’s voice brought me out of daze as I recalled her presence. It was her who first welcomed me into the house when I showed up unannounced with a bear hug and immense relief.
Viktor offered a small smile on his way out, and I believe that was the best he could do while Samantha silently placed a hand on my shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze before leaving.
The door closed behind me as I stood frozen in place and unable to move. I was happy, torn, exhausted, and doleful, but most of all, I was relieved to be standing in his room, in his presence and breathing the same air as his.
One second, I was standing across from him, and in a flash, I was in his arms. Dominic tethered me so firmly into himself that as if holding me wasn’t quite enough for him. He had to feel every ounce of me pressed into every ounce of him.
He pulled back slightly and looked at me with a hint of infinite sadness in his eyes. In all my encounters with this man I love more than my life, I have known a few about things about him—Dominic was monstrous in general and miserable in his exceptions.
And I told myself that, as his better half, if I couldn’t fill the gap with my cruel streak, then maybe I didn’t deserve him as much.
He held my face in hands and asked me with a brittle expression, “Tell me it’s you, or have I gone completely nuts?”
I tried my best to smile because it was difficult the way he bracketed my cheeks. “I can kick your nuts and make you believe, if that’s you would like.”
Dominic laughed under his breath as his fierce hold somewhat slackened, and he tugged me towards the bed. As we sat facing each other, I realized how much I had missed him in these few hours apart. Placing my palm over his, we both sucked in a breath, suffering the familiar tingles and longings.
“Thank you,” he murmured, “For everything.”
“Dom, you don’t need to thank me.”
He flinched as if physically hurt. “No, but I owe an explanation.”
I bit my lips, wanting to deny this conversation but couldn’t. “I don’t need an explanation, Dom, but I just want to know the specifics. How on earth she could get the better of you?”
He raked a hand through his tousled hair before he began. For the next ten minutes, he narrated over the details, and every little thing he could remember from the night of the incident.
“The last thing I remember was walking to the office room. I know she accompanied me, except I can’t truly remember the reason.” He let out a long sigh and squeezed my hand. “I don’t know what difference it would make, but I still want to say this: I am sorry, Lilliana. I am sorry to put you through something you don’t deserve and to have you carry my burdens. I would fix this, but I need some time—”
I snatched my hand from his, fisted his collar and brought him closer until our breath mingled. “Dominic Romano,” I gritted. “Don’t you dare! We fix this together. We might not have picked the fight, but there’s no way in hell I am letting another person spoil our happiness.”
I kissed his lips, chastely and softly, before pressing my forehead to his.
“Stay with me,” he breathed, pulling me to his chest.
We sat there in a long, comfortable silence and continued to hold each other. My train of thought went back to all those times we had to fight tooth and nail because we race against time and destiny.
“Sleep, Dom. Please,” I said as I had to force him to lie down. Dominic was reluctant, but the weights dangled on his eyelids and strained. And since he was awake for more than thirty-six hours, exhaustion found him too quickly.
I sat by him, running my fingers through his hair until he fully saturated into a profound sleep. It was only then I wriggled out of bed and kissed his cheek.
“When you wake up tomorrow, I’d have a surprise for you,” I whispered to his sleep.
After what we have lived through, our connection had reached an almost reverent level that didn’t need to be discussed or analyzed. All that mattered was we’d ceased to be two people with two separate pasts and futures and blended into one.
We’d truly earn our tomorrows even if I have to bring down hell.
Casting one final glance, I left his room.
I padded downstairs, past the living room, and into the partitioned area operated as office space. It was softly lit, apart from the bright glowing lamp on the table. Since the door was already wide open, I gently tapped on it to steal his attention.
Viktor looked up from his computer screen as I walked into the room. By the look on his face, he was neither expecting me nor thrilled about it. “I was hoping I would find you here,” I said.
“And you did.” He extended an open arm and gestured at the chair across from him. “What’s on your mind?”
“Can we skip the facebook-one-liner and get to business?”
He raised a brow but didn’t crack a smile. And the small nod was my cue to begin. I took out my phone, pulled up the details, and slid the device towards him. “Do you know Ben Gordon received a dozen calls from Sophia’s father in one week before his death?”
The expression on his face told me he didn’t, as should no one. The second Aurora called me and said that she had an inkling about Roberto Bianco’s involvement; I had to pull in every favour in the book to get the phone records.
Viktor scrolled through it at least thrice before meeting my gaze. “Where did you get that?”
THAT was his question?
“There’s no way Sophia pulled this shit alone,” I replied with a shrug, leaving Aurora out of the conversation. She liked to operate alone, and I respected that. “Aside from Carlos Sanchez, they would still need an insider. Who is better than a shady businessman who’s in bed with the Romanos?”
Viktor placed down the phone and leaned back in his seat comfortably. “Roberto Bianco is a useless piece of shit. He doesn’t have so much balls to come after us.”
Whatever happened to hubris as a sin?
“And that is exactly the kind of attitude that landed me on my ass. I hate to say it, but I underestimated Sophia too,” I reminded him.
“Why didn’t we find anything from Ben’s office?”
“That’s because someone has already wiped off the digital footprints. His death was pre-planned. Once we find out who did it, we would deal with him or her accordingly,” I said.
Viktor tapped his fingers on the desk and slowly nodded as he processed the information. The silence stretched as he finally looked me in the eye with the same look he had the first time we met. Rather when he showed up at my apartment with Marco and a severed hand of God-knows-whose.
“Why are you coming to me with this?” he asked. And if I was not mistaken, he had a faint resemblance of a smile on his lips. “You have Ralph and Dominic on your side already.”
“And I am not planning to build a soccer team.”
This time he grinned like a cat that ate the canary. “No, you are trying to score.” He propped his elbows on the table, crossed them, and lean in. “And if Ralph and Dominic get involved, you will have to sit on the sidelines and watch them fight. You would also have to follow the rules. And something tells me that you are not exactly the girl who wants to sit out on the game or follow the rules.”
It was my turn to smirk.
“Your brother won’t be waking up for the next four hours or so. How about we pay a visit to Sophia before she starts creating any more trouble for us?”
And that’s Chapter 51 for you all.
I am kinda stoked about this whole Viktor-Lilliana partnership ;-)