I found Alex smoking a cigarette leaning against the SUV as I approached from behind. He must have heard me because he stomped it out quickly and spun around.
“Where were you?” I just laughed.
“Does Angelina know you haven’t quit?” He had promised her he would before the baby came but apparently he was having a hard time.
“I actually had but today was a cake topper. I just needed something to take the edge off.” I nodded understanding. Today literally changed our lives forever. It saved us all legally and financially.
The drive home always felt quicker coming back from Somerville. Maybe it had something to do with the magnetic pull that North End had on us Rossi’s. It was home.
Later that night I rang Howie to see if he had any Friday night plans. He said he was going to Viza, a dance club I frequented often before the kidnapping. I begged to go with him and I could feel his resistance. Who wants to go hit on women in front of their little sister?
“FINE. BUT. Do NOT tell Alex I took you. He will freak.” I jumped for joy and ran downstairs to see if Angelina had any clothes I could borrow. She agreed while scolding me for going to such a wild club, but I didn’t care. I had finally made it back to a normal life and I wanted to celebrate our victory and dance the stress of today away. I wanted vegas bombs and an endless supply of beer.
A black dress, short, with sparkles scattering all down the sides hugged my body as I sped to the club in my BMW Alex let me use to get to work since I had an hour and a half commute one way now.
Viza sat on the corner of a busy strip of restaurants, shops and other bars. The rain softly fell and added to the dropping winter temperatures. The club thumped loudly as I pulled up to the valet and I stepped out. Giving the man my name and number he drove my car off. Howie stood to the side with a few guys and one other girl. Tyler I think her name was. I had met her once before at Alex’s wedding but it appeared she was someone else’s date as a tall latino man had his arms wrapped around her waist. He saw me and nodded and raised his hand in line. I ducked under the red velvet rope as we quickly moved our way up to the front of the line. I could feel a few eyes jealous that I didn’t take to the end of the line. The bouncer glanced at me and I wrapped my arm around Howie’s arm and they let us in after checking IDs. Tyler and her date Manny made it in but the third guy got stopped for his fake ID. We all laughed as he shrugged. Giving it the old college try and then he sulked down to one of the nearby restaurants.
A dark shadow brushed past me as I entered but it came and went so quickly I assumed it was security. They held the leash tight here and I never felt like the place was lacking a good set of eyes. But I couldn’t seem to shake the cold off as we entered the massive building.
The music was so loud it thumped through my chest and we all made our way to the bar for shots. My Maker’s Mark burned so, so good as it made its way down my chest. I finally shook that chill away as Tyler dragged me to the dance floor. The guys ordered a beer and sat and watched over us. They weren’t interested in the dancing, just the show.
Maybe five songs passed before Tyler shouted over the music that she needed to go to the bathroom. I nodded and made eye contact with Howie who was talking casually to a tall, thin blonde. He waved around the beer in his hand, his free hand rubbed her arm gently and she blushed. I just laughed and closed my eyes and dove deep into the lush sounds and beats that made my whole body tingly, then soon numb.
A pair of hands made their way to my hips as I swayed my body back and forth. My arms stretched up to allow him. It had been awhile since I had danced with a total stranger. But he was great. He could keep up with me, it’s like we had danced a thousand songs before.
When the song ended he leaned down and whispered in my ear, “I miss you…” the throaty, dry chuckle that followed snapped me back and made my heart race faster than this EDM club’s song selections. It was Johnathan. I knew it without a doubt. I jerked my body away from the lurking figure and spun around to see nothing. Just an empty section of the dance floor and the crowd of people dancing and jumping. The liquor made me feel suddenly nauseous and out of control, so I ran towards the bathroom. I shoved my way through the crowd. People shouting curses at me and spilling drinks on the floor, I busted through the door and brushed past Tyler.
“OH MY GOD! Lo are you okay?” she gently tapped the open stall door as I emptied my stomach into the toilet. She took a step in as I flushed the contents away.
“Do you want me to get Howie and Manny?” I just shuddered and grabbed the stall wall to stop the spinning that filled my head. My legs failed me and I slumped down to the cold tiled floor. She rushed out and it wasn’t but a minute before a female bouncer and Howie made their way in. She cleared the girls out and directed them to another bathroom.
“Loreina, honey what happened?” I swallowed to hold back the tears. And tried to pull down my dress that had ridden up to expose my legs and thong. Howie unbuttoned his black cardigan sweater and covered me up. He turned to the bouncer and asked her to let Manny in to help me up off the floor. The two men grabbed my arms and once I stood, Howie carried me to a back exit door that led out to the backstreet behind the club. My body didn’t even shiver from the cold air that grazed my legs because I was chilled thoroughly to my core.
“Loreina, hey.. Shhh it’s okay honey. Did you drink someone else’s drink? How are you feeling?” he held back a shiver as the cold air hit him, he brushed the hair from my eyes. Tyler handed me a wet paper towel for my face. I just shook my head in response and whispered to go home. I didn’t say anything else til we got in my BMW.
“I-I saw him Howie. I saw Johnathan.” his face went from concerned to raged. The lights of the car bouncing off the concrete made the rain look like tiny falling stars.
“WHERE?! INSIDE? WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY ANYTHING?” I just hung my head and tore the wet paper towel into little flakes.
“Well I didn’t actually see him but he was there, Tyler went to the bathroom… and I felt his hands on my hips... He whispered into my ear…” the tears I’d been holding back welled up in my eyes and threatened to break the brave damn I had built up.
“FUCK!” Howie’s temper showed as he slammed his palm on the steering wheel. His eyes were fixed on the road but all he could see was red. I knew that look well, that’s the same anger Johnathan always brought to him and Alex. After a calming breath and a few turns along our route home, he spoke. “Okay. I’ll go talk to Alex. I’ll make sure he stays calm. But I’m gonna need you to tell him everything Lo. He can get the club’s video surveillance in the morning.” I nodded and sniffled, managing to keep my tears in. For now. Alex had a way of breaking open, he knew the combination to my locked brain and heart. It was his job. Putting the fear of God into people. His enemies and his men. Extracting the most secret thing people have. Things they’d never give up. He could always reach inside and pull it out with his bare hands. It was all the same to him once his rage boiled over. I knew what to expect once we got home, he’d be mad at me but mostly Howie for even bringing me.
I can’t lie, I was nervous as hell to tell Alex. The same pounding in my chest returned that I had when I called him from Neil’s phone. Was it shame for being a pawn again? Fear of what he would do to retaliate against Johnathan?
“Howie this better be fucking good. I was asleep. It’s two am…” Alex came down the stairs in his sweats, his shirt stretched out, his hair shaggy and disheveled. I sat on the couch, my legs pulled up to my chest and a blanket tucking me all in. I turned my face, not wanting to look at him. It was shame. I felt it. I was ashamed that I couldn’t even enjoy my life without a constant cloud filled with lightning over me. This is not how I want to live my life. I wanted Johnathan dead. I remember when I first left Johnathan and broke off our engagement. I begged Alex not to kill him. Johnathan never let up on the harassment, mental abuse, stalking. I would stay up at night, praying for him to stop and see the way he was behaving. But then the kidnapping was a whole new level of evil from that man. I was absolutely terrified for my life now. But somehow a part of me still loved him, well maybe it wasn’t love. Maybe it was compassion. A yearning for the teenage boy I fell for.
“Hey Lo, what are you doing up,-” he paused seeing me hiding my face. He must have put some clues together. “Howie what the hell-”
“Alex she is okay, just let her speak…” I felt the love seat dip down as Alex sat. He did something unexpected and blew out a long calming breath before tugging at the blankets trying to get my attention.
“I should have stayed home. I got too comfortable. I thought he had forgotten about me. Out of sight out of mind. But It’s my fault… He followed us into Viza” I whispered through my hands. Alex pulled me into his chest.
“Loreina. Please stop crying… you’re killing me.” I dug deep and turned off the tears. My fists clenched tightly. Anger taking over my fear as a realization hit me like a train.
“I cannot live like this. This needs to end.” Alex’s eyes met Howie’s.
“She needs protection til I can hunt down that bastard. I want your best two guys on her. One of my drivers will take her back and forth to work.” Howie nodded once and got up to put in the calls.
“Are you hurt?” I shook my head no. “What do you need?” I stared down the hallway. I didn’t know, so I shrugged.
“I don’t wanna feel anything.” Alex rubbed my back and stood to get me something.
“Take this, it’ll help you sleep.” I took the tiny white pill in my palm and examined it.
“It’s a Valium. It’ll relax you. They gave it to me when I had the bullets removed last year. I used to go ballistic when Angelina would change my bandages.” I nodded remembering now. He demanded he go home a week early post surgery. They gave him these pills, clean bandages and a pat on the back. They were probably glad to see him go. He is an impossible patient. He ripped out his IV. Twice. He told the male nurse that washed his legs a little too close to his groin to take a good look at what a man’s balls looked like because he wouldn’t live long enough to see his full grown.
I swallowed the pill and went upstairs to take a hot bath. Lucas stood outside my door and nodded, a kind smile painted his face and eyes.
“I’ll be here all night if you need me, ma’am. I hope you’re able to get some sleep.” I returned his smile and went into my room. I didn’t have the energy for small talk.
I ran another hot bath, this time with lavender salts and played Frank Sanatra over my glowing bluetooth speaker. The colors filled the bathroom and I killed the overhead light. My eyes drifted close and James Arthur’s voice surrounded me. The steam carried the smell from the air into my pores. Before I knew it, I was asleep.
I woke up to a dark bathroom, in cold water, and with my speaker dead. Great. I wondered what time it was. I reached out blindly for a towel as I stood. I just walked in the dark to my bed and flicked on the light. I half dried off and pulled on my oversized Rolling Stones t-shirt. As I turned down the covers, I felt the Valium kick in again. The sleep that was to come would be so good.
Saturday came and went. I didn’t leave my room. Just sat at my small wooden desk and prepared a few things for Monday morning. I had emailed Neil letting him know I’d be in at nine o’clock. Not wanting to eat much; I skipped breakfast and lunch. I did have gatorade though. That had to count for something.
Two soft knocks came through the door and Angelina poked her head in.
“Hey beautiful!” Her smile was genuine and always welcomed in my personal space. She really was the only one who I liked around when I was having a hard time.
“Hey mama!” I met her there in the doorway and hugged her around her big belly. Six months came and went so quickly for her. She sat a paper plate with a few salty and a few sweet snacks. Her eyes met mine and they encouraged me to eat something.
“Angelina, you’re so sweet to me but I’m just not hungry. I’m sorta nervous for tomorrow morning. This is a huge project starting up for us.” she nodded understanding.
“You need this job, it’s something to distract while Alex tries to track down Johnathan. I heard him talking to Lucas and Gray this morning. He apparently inherited a bunch of chain gas stations, most likely shell companies also. His power is growing. It’ll make it harder for him to hide. Don’t worry. Your brothers will find him and they will protect you. Us.” her hand met her round belly and I swallowed thinking about how he would just run those businesses into the ground in months. He’s careless in all he does. There’s no way he could keep up with all of them. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried he would find a way to take me again. But Lucas and Gray, my body guards, were good at what they did. Gray protected our dad. He was older but still at the peak of his game. A Marine retiree. He would stop bullets for us if it came down to it.
I grabbed a reese cup and bit it in half. I let a small moan escape my lips. I hadn’t had these since I was a kid. Angelina’s pregnant snack game was on point. She joined me and had the other and we sat and savored the candy. It was a long time before I broke the silence.
“Well, I should go talk to Alex before I go to bed.” she just shook her head slowly taking another piece of chocolate.
“He’s in a meeting at the office right now.” I held back a frustrated sigh, knowing it was my own fault for staying upstairs all day. I just needed to talk to him to get me out of this foggy head space. He was great at snapping me back to reality. Even if it was a little intrusive and mean. Tough love was instilled in us early in life. I still needed it sometimes.
We left my room and she broke off on the second floor for their bedroom. We kissed cheeks and she let the door close slowly behind her.
I made it to the office in the quiet part of the house where a few empty bedrooms muffled the sounds the best.
“Neil, I don’t want to get on Shamus’ bad side. If you can’t allow the shell companies; it’s fine. I’d rather have a solid business relationship and not be partners than create tension in your family… alright well if you’re sure… yeah. Sounds great brother. I appreciate it again. Oh before I let you go, I have a bodyguard for Loreina now. Yeah, I know. She’s got an ex stalking her, though. I just feel more comfortable this way, Somerville is a long way from me and Howie. I’ll send over a photo for your security team. This guy needs to be wiped off the map. ASAP. No exceptions… yeah she’s okay. She needs this to focus on.” My heart dropped. Neil now knew about Johnathan. Embarrassment engulfed me and got stuck in my throat as I waited for the call to end before knocking.
“Yeah?” I pushed the door open and stepped inside. The door clicked behind me, closed.
“I just wanted to talk to you before morning.” My eyes met my feet and resisted confronting Alex so late at night.
“Oh, okay. What about? Are you nervous? I am so excited for you.” A chuckle rumbled through our chests. I shook my head sitting on the corner of his desk beside him. He turned his body to look at me and leaned back in the chair. He laced his fingers together behind his head.
“Why did you tell Neil about Johnathan?” The remark escaped before I could stop it. He closed his eyes and rubbed his beard he was growing in. He thought for a moment before speaking. His patience was growing thin with my whole situation, I could see it taking a toll on his life.
“You mean very much to me. I have to protect you. I promised dad. I will not let either one of you down. Johnathan is a direct threat to that promise. He is growing in power. I don’t know what kind of men he has behind him now, but at some point that demon will rear his ugly head and I won’t have my mistake be the reason you’re taken again or worse Loriena. Now if youre done juding the methods I use to protect my fucking family I’d like to go to bed.” His legs pushed him away from the desk so he could stand and put up some paperwork. I done fucked up. I had a smart mouth and more often than not, it didn’t do well for me. This is not the way the conversation went in my head. I don’t know what else to say except to apologize and walk out.
So I decided a shot of Makers would be my night cap so I walked over to the kitchen and grabbed a shot glass and a new bottle. I could hear foot falls approaching but I didn’t turn.
“In the blink of an eye you were gone. I’ve never been more scared in my life. I saw your car still in the parking lot and your keys on the ground and I screamed your name, ran around the building and in the woods for hours. Howie lost his voice for two days. It’s not just me telling your business to strangers. It’s keeping the few special people in my life safe. I just hope you can understand.” I looked at the amber colored liquid in the tiny glass on the counter in front of me before I slammed it back. I turned and looked Alex in the eyes. Sadness. Just pure sadness painted his face. I blinked a bit longer than normal, remembering waking up in that cell.
“I do. I understand.” I stopped before I got emotional and hugged him.
“I’ll see you in the morning then.”