Way To The Heart
Last night’s date went unexpectantly well.
I was freaking out going into it but after a while I found myself laughing and talking with Max without a single care.
We didn’t spend the night talking about what our future is, instead we talked about Arrow and that we will be teaching our child archery. Not sure how that helps me figure things out but maybe that’s the point, I need to stop thinking.
But the feeling of ease around Max is gone and now my stomach is in a tight knot for date two.
“You’re cooking?” I couldn’t help the surprise in my voice when I walked into Maximus’s apartment to find him in the kitchen. “Are you making the food truck a thing?”
Maximus rolled his eyes, spun his dry towel and whipped it towards me. A laugh bubbling out when I dodging the hit that would have snapped my ass painfully.
Putting the towel over his shoulder he motioned for me to sit down at the kitchen island. “I’ll have you know I’m an excellent cook.”
I hummed taking a cup of tea he passed me. “And who told you that? Ex mistresses?”
He scowled and grabbed a knife to chop up mushrooms. “My mother actually, she taught all her sons how to cook.”
Taking a sip, I smiled. “Sounds like my type of woman. You’ve never spoken about her other than that she was killed, what was she like?”
His movements stopped for a few seconds until Maximus cleared his throat tossing the mushrooms in with a pan with other veggies. “She was the warmest person you would ever meet. Dad used to joke about her taking home strays, she would find people on the streets than argue for them to join the family and take care of them. Think half our mem are strays she brought home.”
I didn’t say anything watching the small smile on Maximus’s face from remembering his mother. “In the mafia world, having sons could be dangerous, similar to royal families I suppose. Only one can inherit the power.” He chuckled cutting up a scallion. “Mother would take us to the kitchen where she would teach us how to cook. Get us to bond as brothers to make sure we don’t ever turn on each other. Family is first, mafia second. Mother used to say cooking is the way to someone’s heart.”
I smiled. “She sounds like she was an amazing woman.”
He nodded putting a tomato mixture into the pan with basil. “She was, would have loved you.” His comment made my heart warm and I took a sip of the tea to cover my smile. “What about your mom?”
I choked on my tea, my hand going on my chest trying to get air back in my lungs. Waving Max away I sat up. “Uh, my mother well the nicest way I could describe her is that she is a gold-digging whore.”
His eyebrows shot up. “That’s the nicest thing?”
I leaned on the counter watching him cook. “We were never close, she hated me since I was a mistake and ruined her life. Growing up, she married multiple different men before my grandmother took custody of me when I was sixteen. Monica took men based on their bank account, not personalities.”
“And those men?” He growled.
Tilting my head, it took a while before I understood what he wasn’t asking. “Oh! I wasn’t abused or anything. It was more of me being ignored, no one paid attention to me till Anthony and Nanna came along.”
“Stella, still counts.”
I leaned back in the chair shrugging. “Wasn’t all bad. I have my small family now so I can’t complain.”
“Is she the reason you wanted to make sure we tried to make this work?” He asked softly making me nod.
“Our child deserves to be loved and wanted.” Not wanting to talk about Monica and ruin my night, I shrug. “Do your brothers have partners?”
Maximus threw his head back laughing and threw pasta in a bowling pot of water. I couldn’t help the flutter I felt when he laughed, it let me have a glimpse into him and not who he needs to show. “Lorenzo is betrothed and Romano loves Anastasia but won’t make a move.”
Putting my cup down felt my mouth drop and eyes bug out making him laugh. “Lorenzo is betrothed? Like betrothed? That’s still a thing?”
“Sometimes.” He chuckled, my teeth biting my lip making him laugh at whatever expression I had on my face.
“Who is she? Will he be married soon? Wait, did they get any choice in their ‘betrothal’ or are they in some forced marriage thing because even though I don’t know your brother I can help him dismantle bullshit traditions.”
I stopped my rapid questions when Maximus froze, his body rigid.
Watching the way, he careful breathed made me realise there is a lot of pain I don’t know about in his life.
He cleared his throat shaking off of his thoughts. “Take a seat at the table, I’ll bring your dish over.”
Respecting his privacy, I picked up my tea and sat down at his dinner table. Yes, I want to learn more about Maximus and his past, but I would never force him to talk about something that is obviously painful.
Maximus took his time plating our dinner, allowing me to listen to the soft music playing while glancing around at the different family photos. In every single one I could tell who was Maximus, he’s always smiling.
After a couple minutes Maximus walked over to me, placing the food down on the table.
He sat down beside me, taking my hand and kissing it gently. “I’m going to tell you what happened, then we will not talk about the darkest time in my family.” Nodding he took a deep breath. “My family was very close with the Peskovia family, a small mafia best known for art smuggling. When they had their daughter Davina and my parents had Lorenzo the Dons betrothed them to bind the families together.”
Maximus looked over to a picture on the wall, my eyes following his to a family photo of three boys and who I assume are his parents. My eyes found the mother with a big smile and arms around her sons.
“Know how I said having brothers in the mafia can be a dangerous thing?” Maximus’s voice turned to ice making me flinch looking from the picture to his face. A haunted look on him. “Don Peskovia had a younger brother, one who wanted his brother’s power. One night he and men infiltrated the house killing the Don, his wife and loyal men… My mother was there that night, Davina was sick so she went over to bring her homemade soup. They murdered her, my father spent years hunting down the man who did it before he killed himself.”
“How old were you?” I asked horrified that he lost his mother in such a brutal way along with his father.
His jaw clenched looking at the family photo. “Fifteen when my mother died, seventeen when father died.”
“And Davina?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.
He shrugged. “No body was found, could be alive but hopefully she is dead. Her uncle is a cruel man.”
Dropping my head on his shoulder, I felt Maximus’s hand begin to run through my hair. “I’m sorry you have felt so much pain.”
“It’s the life.” He muttered still looking at the photo.
Shaking my head, I sat up, my hand cupping his cheek to look at me, a brokenness in his eyes. “Don’t do that. Just because you are in the mafia doesn’t mean you have to accept and be immune to pain. It’s okay to acknowledge it, doesn’t make you weak.”
Maximus slowly looked at me, his hands coming up to brush against my cheek. “Thank you.”
He cleared his throat looking away from me to move his food around. “I appreciate you listening but is it okay if we talk about something else?”
Taking a bite of my food I slowly nodded. “Sure, we can talk about how you are my new personal chef.”
Maximus barked out a laugh while I took another bite of his pasta, the dish filled with perfect flavour balance. “Oh, is that a new job title of mine?”
Chuckling I nod taking another tasty bite. “Oh yes.”
“Hmmm, well I’m glad you enjoy my cooking.” Maximus smiled into his wine.
“Oh, I do.” I took a slow bite. ” I usually take breakfast around eight, lunch around one and dinner is this normal time.”
Maximus chuckled. “Should I also pack you snacks?”
“No, I think I can manage.” Chuckling I watch Maximus relax into his chair, the broken look in his eyes from talking about his mom’s death gone.
“Hmm.” Maximus took a sip of his wine. “Maximus Sorrentino, co-CEO of Sorrentino Incorporated, Underboss of the Sorrentino Mafia and private chef to Stella Sorrentino.”
I coughed on my tea. “Think you got a little ahead of yourself there.”
He shrugged unapologetically. “How is your new dress project coming?”
“And he not so subtly changes the conversation.” I chuckled taking a bite. “I have finished the dress sketch and began cutting the fabric, I’m going with red silk.”
Maximus looked me up and down. “You would look good in a red silk dress.”
I laughed shaking my head. “What I’m designing is not my style plus still grieving over the blue one that was bought a while ago.”
He hummed taking a bite. “You would have looked gorgeous in it.”
There was a sparkle in his eyes that stopped my fork in my hand. “What’s that look for?”
“Nothing.” He shrugged.
Rolling my eyes, I took another heavenly bite. “Alright keep another secret.”
Maximus chuckled shaking his head. “Hey, I don’t want to rush us but…”
Titling my head I watch him tap his fingers on the table. “Are you nervous? I don’t think I have seen you nervous and I’ve seen you shot before.”
“Yeah well… I was looking into finding a good obstetrician.” He said slowly.
Oh, the baby, yeah, we should talk about that.
It just makes everything feel so… awkward.
Puckering my lips, I nod. “Cody works at a pedestrian office, he works with a great Obstetrician who he has already scheduled me with.”
“When we going?”
For the third time tonight, I coughed on tea. “What?”
Max smiled softly and leaned over. “I told you, I’m here with you every step of the way. If it is okay, I would appreciate going with you to see the Obstetrician. Want to make sure my girls are okay.”
“Your girls?” I chuckled, slowly relaxing back into my chair. The first wave of awkwardness slowly disappearing and I was back to being with Max, not Maximus Sorrentino.
He coughed into his hand and rolled his shoulders. “Uh yeah, sorry I didn’t want to make things weird, that sort of slipped out. But yeah, my girls, I don’t know, anytime I think about us having a kid I sometimes picture a little girl with your heart.”
A smile spread onto my face, the fact that he thinks about me and our child warmed my heart with hope for the future. “I haven’t thought about gender yet. Mostly hoping I can stay alive long enough to meet them…”
Max reached over to take my hand but I waved him away. “Stella, you can talk to me.”
Carnellio flashed into my mind but I pushed him out “I know and I’ll send you the appointment info. So, Romano and Anastasia, isn’t she the private chef?”
He leaned back into his chair. “Mhm. They are both emotional islands, Romano is cold and Anastasia doesn’t trust but they find warmth in each other.”
While we continued our dinner, I let myself dream of the family we could have if I feel safe making that choice.