The silence was deafening.
Patrick and Peter stare at Diego as if he was a ticking bomb that could go off at any given moment. Diego was relaxed, his arm stretched on the back of my chair, but his eyes were resolute as he looked back at my brothers.
So far, the only words the three had exchanged was “Hello.” Now, we were sitting around the dining table at Peter and my apartment, food that was growing cold put on the table, and they were all having a pissing match to see who lost their nerve first.
I had my money on my tough-as-nails boyfriend to emerge as victor.
When none of them spoke for five more minutes, I decided I was hungry and that I could at least eat while watching the show. So I cut a slice of my famous lasagna, put on my plate, and began munching. Then I poured myself some orange juiced and made sure to slurp as loudly as possible.
Still, no one spoke.
I was halfway through my second slice of lasagna when finally, as I’d suspected, Peter lost and bit out, “Get your hand away from our sister.”
Here we go.
Diego didn’t move, instead just said, “I don’t want to.”
Peter’s eyes narrowed in anger, but Patrick was the one who spoke next. “I’ll cut right to the chase,” he said coolly, “I don’t trust you.”
Diego didn’t tense, didn’t move at all, but when I glanced at him, I saw his face grew serious. “I know you don’t. I’m here to remedy that.”
“I helped you out six years ago,” Patrick said, his voice hard, and this time, I tensed, because I had no idea what he was talking about. “I know everything about you, because I assisted the attorney I gave your case to.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, and I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from demanding what was going on.
“For which I am very grateful,” Diego said evenly, his eyes focused on Patrick. “Otherwise, I would’ve spent more time in jail.”
“More time?!” Peter snapped, eyes round with shock. “You’re an ex-con?!”
“Yes,” Diego said flatly.
“I could give a flying fuck about that,” Patrick said, to my shock. “I read your file. I know why you were sent to jail. The judge was a racist cunt who ignored the evidence that you killed that man in self-defense and instead sent you in on involuntary manslaughter.”
Diego seemed suddenly confused, almost as much as I was at the moment, but Patrick wasn’t done. “I also knew I had to help you out to pay off my debts to you for saving my siblings’ life, so I made sure to connect you with the best attorney in criminal defense, and I don’t blame you for what happened in that awful barn, either.”
I remembered, then, that Patrick had given Diego his business card with his number when we visited him in the VIP room in the Greenwich hospital. I just never thought… Patrick would’ve told me if he talked to him, wouldn’t he? And why didn’t Diego say anything about it?
“What I worry about is not whether you’re a good man or not,” Patrick’s face was grave. “Obviously, I think you are. But my sister was a fucking mess after you left her, and for that, I don’t know if I can ever forgive you.”
Shit. “Patrick - “
“No, Paige,” my brother shook his head. “He needs to understand what kind of state you were in. She wouldn’t eat,” he turned his fierce gaze back to Diego, whose face turned even darker than before, “she couldn’t sleep. She started smoking again. She was like a fucking zombie. I had to force her into therapy, had to make sure she could live instead of existing - “
“Patrick - “ I tried again, my heart hammering in my chest.
“ - And in the past two years, she was finally in a good place,” Patrick didn’t listen, his eyes set on Diego. “She had a steady job, managed to have some kind of a normal life, and she was fine. Tell me, then, how can I trust you? How can I, in good conscience, as a brother who loves his sister to death, allow myself to hand her over to you?”
I was angry now. “No one is handing my over to anyone, you chauvinistic - “
“You know why I left.”
My mouth clamped shut and I turned to look at Diego, my eyes wide. His were on Patrick, hard but determined. “I was doing everything to protect her from those people. From me and my past. I know I don’t deserve her, and probably never will. I know I hurt her more times than I can count. I hate myself for it,” his voice turned bitter. “I hate that I hurt her. I hate that I had to leave her. If I was just less of a fuckup, I would’ve stayed, I wouldn’t have pushed her away, and I would’ve had all this lost time to be with her. But I’m not leaving her now,” his voice was flat. “She chose me. She knows about my past. She knows about everything I did. She knows, and she still chose me. I’m a selfish prick, but I love her more than I’ve ever loved anyone in this world, and I would’ve given her the fucking moon if I could. But since it’s me she wants, however absurd it might be for me, I’m not going anywhere.”
An anger had risen inside me when he talked about me as if I wasn’t in the room, but now… Now I just wanted to paste myself to him, hold him in my arms, and never let go. What the hell did I ever do to have a man love me as much as Diego did?
Patrick studied Diego for a few, terse moments in which I held my breath, my heart wanting to escape my chest, as he’d contemplated what Diego had just said. Then, after what felt like forever, he said, “If you ever hurt her again, I’ll make sure you regret the day you were born.”
“Don’t worry,” Diego gave him a hard look. “It wouldn’t happen again.”
I realized then that Diego had passed. And a smile spread on my face just as Peter snapped, “What the fuck, Patrick?! How come you’ve never told me you kept in touch with the bastard? Or that he’s an ex-con - “
“Shut it, Peter,” Patrick cut him off crisply. “It was between Rivero and me. You had nothing to do with it.”
Peter was livid, but then he turned to Diego, and said, “I’m grateful that you saved my life that day, but if you hurt my sister, I swear to God - “
“I’ve had enough!” I yelled, making all men turn to look at me. “It’s Christmas Eve, dinner is cold, and I want you all to stop threatening my boyfriend and eat, for God’s sake, of I’ll punch you all in the fucking face for acting like sexist, chauvinistic assholes!”
I glowered at them all, and while I knew none of them found me threatening, they humored me by shutting up and eating the cold food, which I refused to heat up. Then, quietly, I murmured to Diego, “We have some stuff to talk about later.”
He glanced at me, sighed, and murmured back, “Somehow, I have a feeling you’re going to be the scary one in this relationship.”
When dinner was over, I made coffee for everyone, and as I did, I heard Patrick grilling Diego about his work. He was impressed that Diego founded Workeen, even though his voice told nothing of the like, but didn’t quite manage to hide it when Diego told him he was working on his PhD in Economics, and aspired to eventually become a professor in the field.
“I use my experience as being head of the data analyzing in Workeen to write some research papers,” Diego told my brother, “and so far, it goes well.”
“Interesting,” Patrick murmured.
Peter, however, found it hard to wrap his head around it, and he asked, “What made you come up with the idea for Workeen?”
Diego sighed. “When I got released from jail, no university was willing to accept me, thanks to my criminal records. I got into the uni I eventually went to by pure luck of having the Dean of Admissions being a friend of my dad. When I finished my masters, though, and tried to apply for jobs, I found it difficult to be accepted, both because of my background, and, I know, because of my race. So the idea to have a platform that matched employers and employees based on a clear resume and not any other detail came from that place.”
“Wow,” Peter said, sounding fascinated. “Being an ex-con must be rough.”
“You have no idea,” Diego almost scoffed.
I brought over the coffee and sat down next to Diego again. His arm went to rest on the back of my chair again, playing with my hair where neither Patrick nor Peter could see. “I know,” I said, grinning at Peter, “my boyfriend is smart.”
“Yeah,” Peter agreed, squinting at me. “Which begs the question, what he’s doing with a dummy like you.”
I threw a piece of the cake I’d baked at him, knowing he was just teasing. “Fuck you, too, Pete.”
He smirked at me, but then turned to Diego and started talking to him about the algorithms Workeen used for their app, as if he couldn’t help himself. I didn’t blame him; despite the fact my brothers were disinclined to trust Diego fully, Diego’s compelling charisma and charm were hard for them to ignore, and they were caught in this as much as everyone else often did. I wasn’t even sure Diego was aware of this power of his, and it just made me feel smug. Because if he kept this up, my brothers might end up loving him more than they did me, which, in my opinion, was the best case scenario, considering how they’d acted just an hour ago.
Eventually, dinner was truly over, and Patrick left. Peter retired to his room with a tired ‘goodnight’ after he finished doing the dishes, and I was left alone with Diego in my room.
We were lying in bed together, and I knew it was the perfect time to bring up my questions. “Neither Patrick nor you told me you were in touch after you left, let alone that Pat helped you out with the legal work regarding the whole thing.”
Diego sighed and looked at me with weariness. “It wasn’t like he and I were in touch. He just helped me out, and after the whole thing was over with, I never spoke to him again. I think Patrick assumed it would be safer not to mention this to you because he wanted to help you… get better.”
There was a question in his voice, and I found myself sighing as well. “I get that,” I murmured, “and I know now why you broke any ties with me or didn’t bring it up when you told me weeks ago about what you’ve been doing after you left. But you should’ve told me this before dinner.”
“I know,” he said, hugging me to him. “I’m sorry. It was a mistake on my part.”
I nodded. “Apology accepted.”
He smiled briefly, but then grew serious. “You didn’t tell me you went to therapy.”
Now it was my turn to grimace. “It just didn’t seem important, you know? I told you about Wyatt,” I said a little tersely, “and I told you that how I was after you left wasn’t all you - “
“It just makes me feel more like an ass,” he grated out. “And I hate that I was a trigger in all this.”
“I know, Diego,” I said, cupping his face, “and I forgive you, remember? I don’t hold it against you anymore. I understand where you came from, and while a lot of what made you do what you did is fucked up, I understand it now.”
“I meant what I said to your brothers,” he said, eyes locked on mine. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay. I love you, Paige, and since I’m lucky enough that you love me, too, there’s no place I’d rather be than here with you.”
Damn him. I grabbed his face and kissed him, crushing my lips against him, entangling my tongue with his, and then leaned back. “When this period is over,” I look him in the eye, “I’m going to fuck your brains out.”
He grinned at me. “Here I am, being all romantic and shit, and you ruin it. Again.”
I smirked. “I think I’d like to ruin it a bit farther,” I said, and my hand went to his boxers, shoving under them to grab his already erect cock.
His eyes narrowed on me. “What are you doing?”
Not replying, I pushed him on his back, knowing he let me do it, and crouched between his legs, looking at his beautiful cock, and gave him a long, languorous lick.
With Peter’s room being right next to mine, I had loads of fun torturing Diego, who had to hiss out curses instead of shouting them, as I very well knew he wanted to. And when he came, it was with a row of expletives that would’ve made a prostitute blush.
And I just marvelled in the fact that this glorious man was mine, with all his flaws, with all his fuck-ups, and, as he promised, that he wasn’t going anywhere this time around.