The Great Escape
Sicily, one month later
“I need the schematics by tomorrow, Leo, or you will be the one bound to a fucking pillar watching the tide roll in,” I hissed, my knuckles stretched taut as I clenched my fist. Typically, being home in Sicily brought with it a bit of respite—it was familiar territory, land I alone controlled. But there was one thing in particular I seemed to have absolutely no power over—not that I ever did, but at least she’d been sweet, compliant. But now, this problem had caused my patience to become even more thin.
Leo grit his teeth before nodding, turning to exit my grand office. Pissed off as usual, I threw my gaze to the billowing curtains, the sunshine bright and warm, the pool just outside a deep turquoise, its coolness beckoning me. I loosened my tie, spotting a dark haired beauty, her long tan legs stretched out across a chair. My sprawling mansion seemed to be crawling with unknown guests as of late, most of whom were gorgeous women. I had a feeling Gabe was inviting them over to help appease my virulent attitude.
For now, it would work.
I stood, pushing open the door and striding out into the sun, throwing my tie aside as I unbuttoned my shirt. She glanced up from her magazine, pouty red lips sending a jolt through me. I knew it was lipstick, and my desire began to fade. Only one pair of ruby red lips now haunted my every dream and waking thought.
She smirked at me, sitting up and placing a foot on each side of the lounge chair, spreading herself for me. She was dark, her skin sun kissed and bronzed, the deep purple of her tiny bikini only serving to accentuate her luscious skin. I ached to see a hint of violet veins, but they were nowhere to be seen. I threw my shirt aside, reaching for my pants as I paused before her. A strong scent of flowery perfume mingled with the breeze. Her hands jutted up, pushing mine away. I smirked down at her, her almost shaped brown eyes alight with mischief as she gave a tug to my pants, freeing me.
She wasted no time, gripping my length, circling her lips around me. I groaned in ecstasy, eyes slipping closed as I knotted my fingers in her long hair. This seemed too good to be true, too easy—and therefore, the fantasy clashed with the reality, and I felt empty. It didn’t matter, right?
“What is…your name…” I said, not all too sure why I was concerned with getting to know her. She paused to answer me.
“Giulia,” she said before nearly swallowing me whole. I moaned, pushing back into her, my mind’s eye conjuring up images of her, as it always did in these sorts of encounters. It was beyond help now. I felt a madman and a fool.
“Where are you from?” I said, attempting to distract myself. She paused again, this time seeming annoyed.
“Here and there.”
I glanced down at her, at the red lipstick staining my dick. She’d reached for the ties on her swimsuit, her ample, tanned breasts swinging free.
“Who invited you here?”
She glared up at me, flustered, before she stood and slid off her bikini bottoms. She was tall for a woman. She turned, bending on all fours on the chair and baring herself to me. Too easy.
“Just fuck me, Dante. I’ve been wanting you for years,” she said, pouting. It clicked, then. I knew I recognized her from somewhere. She worked at our most profitable club as a stripper. Overcome with a primal urge, I fished in my discarded pocket for a condom, rolling it on in haste before ramming into her. She sighed in contentment, able to take me in one go. I gripped her hips, wishing she hadn’t been able to, wishing she was smaller, more fragile—something I would have to be gentle with.
I was lost in my daydream of Eira, my eyes closed tight, her moans and cries grating to my ears. I grunted, finishing quickly, before stepping away. I heard the slap of shoes on concrete, and I turned, livid at being interrupted—livid that my reality didn’t mirror my dream. I’d only laid eyes on Eira a handful of times since bringing her to my home, and in those times her eyes were as cold and dead as a corpse. She haunted my every moment with that empty gaze.
Gabe smirked for a moment as he approached, before he turned business once more.
“What is it?”
“Next meeting is here.”
“I never scheduled—”
I heard her distinct, high voice, the clack of the thousand dollar pair of shoes I’d likely bought her. Blood drained from my face as I dressed in haste, throwing the condom over the hedge, keeping our conversation in English and hoping the woman I’d just fucked wouldn’t understand.
“Get her out of here, keep an eye on the girl. Meals to her room only,” I hissed, tucking in my shirt as Gabe coaxed up a grinning Giulia. I was sure he’d want his turn soon. And by the looks of it, she want him, too.
“Sure thing, boss,” he said with impunity. Just as the pair rounded the corner, her tall, slim figure approached, disdain on her face, a tight, cream dress plastered to her body. She wore oversized sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat, her long chocolate hair falling in waves to her ribs, a sneer on her face. I glared, eyes falling to her feet where my discarded and forgotten tie lay. Fuck.
“Ugh, you need better maids,” she said, leaning in as we pecked one another’s cheeks. She glanced down at her phone with a heavy sigh, typing away. I felt blood throbbing in my cheeks from the exertion of climaxing a few minutes ago, only slightly ashamed of myself.
“Nice to see you too, Giselle,” I growled. She ignored me, and it was then I heard a pair of little feet approaching quickly. She rushed from my office wearing a floral, yellow dress and tiny white sandals, hair in two pigtails on the side of her head.
With a grin, I crouched down, spreading my arms open wide for Ingrid to spring into. She was four, just as gorgeous as my sister, but sweet and calm as her father. I heard his chuckle as he emerged, holding the younger of the two girls, Mia. She was still shy, with bright blue eyes like her sister, made even brighter in contrast with their dark features.
Ingrid threw her stubby arms about my neck as I swept her up, placing kisses on her cheeks as she giggled. Giselle’s husband, Mateo, slid his arm around his wife’s waist, grinning at me.
“All Ingrid could talk about was her Un-tle Dawn-tee on our way here,” he said with a smirk. I swung little Ingrid to one side, holding her feathery weight easily as I reached out and clasped hands with my brother-in-law. Their match had been made by my father, one Giselle had been pissed about—until she’d laid eyes on him. He was tall, fit, with curly black hair and icy eyes, many years older than my sister, but solid and calm. They complemented one another well. Six months later, they were married. Nine months after that, little Ingrid was welcomed into the world.
My sister ignored us both, quite the disrespectful child most days—spoiled, for certain, but I’d let it slide until my nieces were out of earshot. Mateo’s foot nudged my tie, his eyes falling to it before traveling back to my face in a smirk. I shrugged a bit, and he kicked it aside into the landscaping. I nodded once in thanks.
“How was Norway?”
“Ugh, freezing, why did we go in the dead of winter, Mat?” Giselle said, throwing her hands down, shoving her phone in her purse and finally glancing around. Mia hugged her father, grinning slyly at me with a little wave. She was only two, but intelligent, a gift and a curse. Ingrid patted my shoulder, and I focused instead on her. Giselle was already pissing me off.
“Un-tle, umm…mom mommy said we can umm swiiiim and and watch moviessss,” she listed off, counting on her fingers all the things we’d do. I grinned, my heart exploding at her innocence and cuteness.
“Anything you want is yours,” I said, leaning in conspiratorially. “Even ice cream,” I stage whispered, eyes on my sister as she glared and Ingrid bounced in my arms. Giselle had a thing about sugar. She could kiss my ass. I’d spoil my nieces when I wanted to. Mateo laughed, grinning. We got on well, and I was thankful for him and how he aided in our business.
I set Ingrid down, letting her little fingers wrap around my index, leading them inside.
“I’ll let you settle in. What do you want for dinner? We can stay in, go out,” I pressed. Giselle’s phone rang, and she struggled to find it in her purse, hissing and clacking off without another word. I grit my teeth as I watched her go.
“Perhaps I’ll watch the girls while you teach her some manners, Mat,” I said, completely serious. He frowned, walking side by side with me down the hall.
“I would but…” he gave a shrug, small smile at the corners of his mouth. My stomach dropped.
“How far along?” I said with a knowing laugh. God, they were insatiable.
“Two months, we think. She doesn’t want to announce it yet, after…” he trailed off, and I gave a stern nod. She’d miscarried last year in her second trimester. It had torn her apart. No wonder she was being more irrational than usual.
“Well, congrats, either way,” I said, meaning it. He chuckled, shifting Mia. She rested her head on his shoulder, fingers in her mouth as she eyed me with a slight grin, cheeks dimpled. I blew a kiss at her, and she squirmed with a laugh, turning away.
“I could really use a son. Because God help me when these girls are older,” he said. I glared ahead at the thought. I’d protect them just as fiercely as I knew Mateo would. That didn’t stop monsters from sneaking in through the cracks, though.
“I hope so, too, for your sake,” I said, forcing a chuckle as I banished my dark thoughts.
“We’ll go get settled. I’ll see if Giselle feels up for dinner,” he said. I nodded, releasing Ingrid.
“Good to have you home, Dante,” he said, reaching for her hand as she protested her lack of ice cream. I winked at her.
“Good to be home,” I said, relaxing fully for the first time in months.
Giselle being too sick for dinner, Mateo and I entertained the girls, taking them for an evening swim. I waded to the deep end, wiping water from my face, motioning for Ingrid to jump to me. She shook her head, shivering near the edge. I chuckled.
“It’s warmer in here, silly,” I said as her teeth chattered and she grinned, her pig tails sopping wet and dripping, her little belly protruding from a healthy, robust Italian meal. She wore a Little Mermaid swimsuit, frills adorning it. I’d never seen myself becoming a father, until I experienced the love and adoration I held for my nieces. It still scared the hell out of me, but Mateo assured me it was well worth it.
“Go on, Ingrid, show uncle what we’ve been practicing,” he said from a chair, Mia wrapped tight in a towel in her father’s lap and watching this spectacle unfold.
I waded backward, tempting her.
“Mmm, I think ice cream sounds real good right now, huh, Mia?”
I grinned as Ingrid stamped her foot, setting her jaw and throwing herself forward. My arms shot out, catching her but still letting her splash. Mia clapped behind us. Ingrid clung to me like a barnacle, no longer shivering. Dusk had settled, orange and blue in the distance where the sun had gone down, a few stars sparking to life in the night sky. The lights in the pool gave everything a dreamy, peaceful glow, and all was quiet, serene. It was a stark change from prison, from New York.
“See?” I teased, squeezing her as she giggled, recounting in her babble everything she’d done to prepare for swimming tonight as I nodded, barely able to comprehend her when she talked so fast. I floated for a few minutes, chatting idly about business with Mat, promising for the thousandth time that the girls could have their dessert.
My eyes wandered up to my sprawling, typical Italian mansion, the windows spilling light into the evening. My eyes narrowed in, though, on one window in particular. Three stories up, to the right. It was wide open, a long rope of sheets knotted together unfurled and billowing in the wind as a raven haired beauty threw her leg over the side, her ass cheek peeking out from under her shorts, her feet clad in black converse.
White hot rage gripped me at her blatant stupidity, and—cursing—I stormed from the water, calming myself as much as possible as I handed my niece off. I rubbed my thumb over her worried cheek.
“Be back soon,” I said, eyes catching Mateo’s before I jerked my head to the sight. His jaw slackened.
“Do not tell Giselle. We’ll talk,” I hissed, storming off, dripping a trail of water behind me. I made it to her room, trying the handle out of habit, before I sneered, reeling back and using all my force to kick it open, listening as the wood splintered. I didn’t even register the pain in my foot. Her wide eyes caught mine from across the room, only her hands and the top of her head visible. With a squeak, she disappeared from my sight.
I flew to her, gripping the window sill and staring down. Her feet had lost their next step, an outcropping of stone, and she was clinging on to a thin, sandy block with one hand, her makeshift rope with the other. Her eyes were the widest I’d seen them, her face paling more each second. My heart leapt into my throat as adrenaline took over, pumping heavy through my veins.
“Eira,” I said, calming my voice, sticking my hand out to her. “Grab my hand, ok?” I said, my heart hammering as droplets of water dripped down my face from my sopping hair. I doubted the fall would kill a normal human, but after I’d had a specialist go over her plethora of issues, I knew in my bones she would bleed out before I could save her. Tears sprang into her eyes, stark fear in her gaze as she wavered on a breeze, tendrils of her dark hair spilling across her ashen face. She gave a slight shake of her head, petrified into stillness. I grit my teeth.
“That’s not a question, Eira. Do as I say, or you’re going to fall,” I said, my voice wavering in the angst I was trying to bury. She began to hyperventilate, short, quick gasps between her plump lips. Hissing, I gripped the side of the window with one hand, sticking my entire torso out to better close the distance between us. I beckoned her with a curl of my fingers.
“Grab my hand. I won’t let you fall, I swear,” I said, clenching my jaw, wishing my hand was drier.
“I…I can-can’t,” she puffed out, fingers slipping. In a last ditch effort, I lunged myself forward, encircling my hand around the wrist that held her sheets, and then threw myself backward as her fingers slipped from the stone. Air whooshed from my lungs as I collapsed on the floor, her body atop mine. I gathered my breath, lifting my head to eye her, but she was stilled into shock, trembling on me. I let my head thump, eyes rolling to her door as an upside down Gabe and Leo stormed in.
“What the fuck—” Leo began. Encircling my arms around her, I rolled, laying her catatonic form on the floor, hovering above her as my fingers swept the hair from her face. Her hands were surrendered by her chest, shaking hard as her eyes stayed glued to mine. The two stood there like imbeciles, angering me further.
“Get the fuck out,” I seethed, glancing up at them. Gabe snorted, pushing Leo’s shoulder as they obeyed. My eyes fell back to hers. I was livid with her for such a stupid move, but I knew I couldn’t blame her. She’d not come here under good circumstances by any means, and I’d yet to tell her the entire reason why. I still remembered the betrayal in her eyes as I’d held her to my body while Gabe drugged her for the flight home. If I was being honest, I saw the look in my nightmares every night.
My hand slid down from near her face until I gripped her bony hip—another shock. I knew she’d been refusing food, but hiding under baggy clothes, I’d not known the extent of her malnourishment. My teeth gnashed together. She shivered, goosebumps coating her arms, and I realized my wet swim trunks and hips were plastered to hers.
“You’re ok,” I said, lowering my voice. She heaved a huge breath, seeming to snap out of her shock, her face crumpling in defeat and sorrow and fright as a sob worked its way up her throat and past her lips. The sound was soft, little, just like how her body felt below mine. I felt stung, knowing I was the monster in her nightmares, the evil, hateful bastard who’d torn her away from her life. If her eyes haunted me, then her words to me back in New York had the capacity to gut me. She didn’t know that the things I’d loved the most in life had already been stripped from me.
I pulled away, sweeping her up and into my arms. Still a bit in shock, she didn’t struggle as I stormed from her room. Gabe lingered in the hall, eyes tense as he fell into step beside me.
“What do you need?”
In truth, I didn’t know what I needed, other than for her to obey me. It was high time she learned why she was here. I paused, turning to face him, my nieces flashing in my mind. I thrust her into his shocked arms.
“Meet me downstairs in thirty minutes. If she gives you trouble, restrain her,” I hissed, her wide eyes falling to mine. Gabe nodded tersely, heading the opposite direction. Poor Eira von Waldeck was about to see how ugly the world truly was.