The fall of our secrets

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Chapter11

“Understand that some of your enemies are amongst your best friends.”

Jean Maurice

********************

Nina:

It had been so long since I woke up with a smile on my face. I stretched my arms above my head and looked at the clock on my bedside table. It was nearly eleven in the morning, which was surprising, as Ethan never let me sleep this late.

Coffee aroma invaded my nostrils as I opened my bedroom door. I didn’t bother to change out of my pajamas and headed to the kitchen, where I found Lillian and Ethan chatting.

Ethan gave me an amused look because of my childish outfit and shook his head.

He said with a gentle smile on his handsome face. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” I muttered while moving towards him. My eyes honed on the cup in his hold, and I knew I must get my hands on it. I was too lazy in the morning to prepare my own cup. I gave him a cheesy smile to distract him before I snatched the cup of coffee from his hand and started drinking it.

“Hey! That was mine,” Ethan exclaimed and made a move to reclaim his cup.

“And now, it is mine,” I shrugged and continued sipping on my drink without care.

Lillian clearing her throat brought us back to reality. She was frowning at me with a calculating look in her green eyes. I gave her a look that would hopefully prevent her from saying any stupid nonsense.

“You have to leave right now, or you will be late,” Lillian said from between gritted teeth.

“Are you going somewhere? Do I need to get ready?” I said with a frown on my face as I wasn’t in the mood to do senseless missions today.

Lillian turned to me and said with a sickly sweet smile on her face. “No, dear, Ethan has a date today. You will be staying with me.”

“Oh!” I said like a stupid little girl and then got up from my seat, leaving the cup of coffee on the counter. “Good, I wasn’t in the mood to be out anyway. Enjoy your date.”

I hurried out of the kitchen and back to my room. I sat on my still messy bed and took deep breaths. I don’t know what was wrong with me, but my heart was beating harshly against my ribcage.

What the hell? Why am I acting like high school teenage girls? Get a grip on yourself, Nina. What did you expect? Huh! Did you think you will live a fairytale story where you will fall in love with prince charming?

I shook my head hard to get rid of these absurd ideas. Ethan didn’t mean anything to me, and he would never have a special place in my heart.

I reached over and turned on my phone. Several calls and texts’ notifications bombarded the screen. I ignored all of them since I knew they were from Alberto. I browsed my contacts list, and I pressed Lexie’s name.

“Hi,” My best’s friend groggy voice filled my ears. I could practically picture her snuggled into her covers with her eyes barely open.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” I said with a bright voice. I chuckled when I heard my friend groaning.

“Don’t you have a watch at your house or what?” Lexie asked with irritation.

“I know what time it is in New York. I wanted to be your alarm for today.” I teased. I heard some shuffling on the other side before Lexie spoke again.

“How are you doing?” Lexie asked with concern clear in her voice.

“I am trying my best to reign in my anger. I have a huge desire to march to Alberto’s office, plant a bullet between his eyes, and be done with this.” I expressed my honest emotions and the ideas swimming inside my head.

“It is too early to be this violent,” Lexie remarked.

“Let’s not talk about me and my endless problems. How about you and Aria? How is it going?” I changed the subject to something that can hopefully bring me out of my dark thoughts.

I spent the next two hours listening to Lexie’s recall of these last days.

I was so happy to get the chance to talk to Aria as well. Her sweet voice and the excited way she described her past week gave me enough reason to smile and feel relief. My baby sister was happy, and that’s the most important thing for me.

It took a lot of convincing from Lexie and me to assure Aria that going to school was more important than staying home and spending the day talking to me. After promising my sister to call as soon as possible and saying goodbye to Lexie, I cut off the call.

Looking at Alberto’s texts gave me a headache even before reading them. With a sigh, I scanned through his words and replied to the ones I deemed important enough.

With a final stretch, I headed to the bathroom and changed out of my pajamas. Since I was at the house all day, I decided to wear jeans and an off-the-shoulder sweater. I brushed my hair and put it in a high ponytail. As I was wearing my shoes, a knock sounded on my door.

“Come in,” I granted permission to whoever was standing at the other side of the door. To my surprise, Lillian entered my room and leaned against the door frame. As usual, she was stunning in a short tight blue dress and black flats. Her blonde hair was wavy and flowing over her shoulders.

“Would you like to watch a movie with me?” She asked with a sour expression on her face as if the words left a bad taste in her mouth.

“How come you are offering your enemy a seat on your couch?” I asked sarcastically as I looked at the mirror to put my earnings.

“Didn’t anyone teach you how to use your tongue?” She asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Unfortunately, no,” I answered her question with a serious expression on my face.

“I never thought that I would be arguing with someone just because I asked this person to watch a movie with me,” Lillian said exasperatedly as she moved from the door and entered my room fully.

“Then, don’t ask me. If you want to watch a movie, go ahead and do it alone. Don’t drag me in this just because your dear cousin asked you to do it.” I said with a sweet smile on my face.

“You know, you are too clever for your own good,” Lillian said with a smile that would match mine in its fakeness. “I made a promise to my cousin, and I will keep it even if I have to tie you and force you to watch the screen.”

I ran my hand through my hair and gave her an annoyed look. “Okay, I will watch a freaking movie with you. Are you happy now?” I said as I moved past her and out of the room.

“Yes, of course,” Lillian said with a satisfied look on her face.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself. I am bidding your will just because I am bored.” I spoke in hopes I will be able to wipe that look from her beautiful face, but to my irritation, she winked at me and said, “Keep telling yourself whatever helps you to sleep at night.”

I chose to leave this argument for now as I was sure I would lose it no matter what I said.

I followed Lillian to the living room, and I sat on the chair while she took the sofa. I was surprised when the movie started playing on TV. I looked in Lilian’s direction with a raised eyebrow.

“We are having a “step-up” marathon today.” She answered nonchalantly.

“You know, it is rude to invite someone to be your partner in watching movies, and then you impose on him which movie he must watch,” I spoke sarcastically.

“I saw the look in your eyes when you saw the starting song, so don’t pretend you don’t like it. I am sure you are in love with it.” Lillian remarked with a wink.

I rolled my eyes at her words and focused on the screen. To be honest, I was impressed with her sense of analyzing people around her. Lillian proved day after day that she wasn’t just some spoiled rich girl. Well, she was spoiled and rich, but I think you got my point.

Time passes quickly when you are doing something you love, and watching dancing movies was one of my best time-passing activities.

At one point during the movie, I found myself easing up around Lillian. We argued about who was the best dancer and why. Lillian was adamant about her opinions, and I liked how she stood her ground.

I never thought that day would develop to the point where we both were dancing together and imitating the actors in the movie.

“You are a terrifying dancer,” Lillian said while she laughed hysterically.

“You are not bad as well,” I said while trying to catch my breath. Keeping up with professional dancers wasn’t an easy fit. We were in our tenth dance when the music stopped.

Lillian was the first to look around the room, and Ethan was standing with his arms crossed over his chest. I could see the muscles of his muscular arms showing through his shirt sleeves. The frown on his face made him look younger and hotter.

I swallowed hard at my strange thoughts and shook my head to be back to reality.

Lillian glared at her cousin and spoke with accusation visible in her tone. “You have to spoil our fun.”

“It is his job to put a cloud on others’ fun.” I agreed with Lillian without even thinking about it.

“How was your date?” Lillian asked next, and I felt like a cup of freezing water was thrown on my face. In my excitement with Lillian, I have totally forgotten about Ethan’s date.

Ethan didn’t give Lillian the answer to her question. Instead, he stared at her with his green eyes as hard as jewels. “We need to talk about that, cousin. Meet me in the ring in five.” Ethan said and exited the room without as much as a second glance.

I looked back at Lillian and was about to ask her about what was going on, but I stopped myself when I saw her pale face.

“Lillian, are you okay?” I asked with concern.

“I must go. We will talk later. ” Lillian said and started heading to her room, but I grabbed her arm to stop her.

“I will go with you,” I spoke with resolve.

“What? Why would you do that? You don’t even know what you are getting into.” Lillian protested.

“Well, we are dancing partners. I think we must be together in this.” I shrugged my shoulders.

“Damn it! I have only three minutes left.” Lillian cursed as she looked at her watch. “Come on, follow me. I don’t have enough time to argue with you.” Lillian said and ran to her room with me on her toes.

It was the first time I entered Lillian’s room. It smelled of Lavender and some fancy perfume. I didn’t have the time to look around as Lillian threw shorts and a tank top my way.

“Change into those.” She said in a hurry and ran again to the bathroom.

With a shrug, I started changing my clothes. But before I can even finish wearing shorts, Lillian was in front of me wearing a similar outfit to mine.

“What the hell?” I exclaimed as I finished closing the buttons.

“Oh, god! I am going to be late because of you. Hurry up! Nina.” Lillian pleaded as she wore her tennis shoes.

I did my best to finish wearing my uniform in record time as I could sense the emergency in Lillian’s voice. Once we were both ready, we headed to the elevator, and Nina pressed the buttons to the ground floor.

“Where are we going?” I asked with curiosity.

“To the gym.” She answered.

“Why?” I asked again, with my curiosity getting the best of me.

“To meet our doom.” Lillian groaned, then added. “We will meet Ethan in the boxing ring.”

When Lillian noticed my silence, and the question marks visibly written on my face, she sighed and explained further. “In my family, it is a tradition that whoever wants to settle a debt or disagreement can challenge the other to a match in the ring. It is used as a form of punishment as well, where our elders hand us our asses. There are no rules in the ring, apart from not killing each other or causing severe injuries. Also, when one of the parties involved in the match gives up, then it is over, and they consider the issue solved.” By the time Lillian finished explaining, we were on the ground level.

“Why did Ethan challenge you?” I asked as we ran/walked through a long corridor.

“Apparently, my little cousin didn’t like the idea of me setting him on a date, and he wants retribution,” Lillian replied to my shock with a smile.

I nearly told her my opinion about this matter, and I was a half mind away from leaving her alone since I thought she deserved whatever would come her way. Instead, I shook my head and said with confidence, “don’t worry. It is two against one. He won’t have a chance against us.”

Lillian chuckled and shook her head. “You don’t know Ethan at all. Prepare your body for a sore night as he won’t give us any leniency.”

Before I could speak another word, Lillian opened a metallic door, and we entered a dim-lighted room. The room was equipped with every machine you could imagine. It was like paradise to gym lovers.

“What are you doing here?” Ethan spoke harshly to me.

“I have a score to settle,” I said with a smirk on my face as I righted my stance.

“Alright, you are on. Just don’t come crying to me by the end of this.” Ethan warned with a stern voice.

“You wish.” I challenged back as we took our fighting stance.

“Not yet,” Ethan said as he looked at his watch. “You were late for ten seconds. You know the rules, Lillian.” He said while looking at his cousin.

Lillian groaned and looked at me. “Every second you are late, it means a lap around the gym.”

“What?” I looked with my mouth hanging open.

“You can leave if things are getting hard for you.” Came Ethan’s annoying voice from behind me.

“Let’s go, Lillian. We have an asshole to beat.” I growled and started running with Lillian beside me. “We have to win this, or I won’t be able to sleep,” I said through gritted teeth.

“You are an easy target for Ethan’s jibs. He is always like this whenever there is a confrontation. I call it the ring mood.” Lillian chuckled as we both started on the second lap.

“We will be tired by the end of this,” I complained as we finished another lap.

“And it is his intention,” Lillian said as she nodded towards Ethan, who was leaning against the ropes of the ring.

The sneaky bastard! I will show you what it means to lose.

I thought furiously and then turned to Lillian and asked with an arched eyebrow. “Why are you smiling?”

“I like those moments with Ethan. He deserves happiness in his life, and I will do my best to give it to him even if it means I will end up here every time.” Lillian expressed with a fond look in her eyes.

“You love your cousin, don’t you?” I remarked as I can recognise this look anywhere. It was the same look I give Aria every day.

“Yes, more than life itself,” Lillian said heatedly.

We finished the laps in a short time. Lillian was a fast runner, and I liked how she was standing face to face with her cousin. She gave him a challenging look and spoke with a voice that matched her look perfectly. “Are you ready to lose, cousin?”

“Are you kidding me or yourself, Lillian? We both know the winner of this fight.” Ethan said effortlessly. Then Ethan’s expression darkened, and he spoke through clenched teeth. “How dare you put me in a compromising situation with Melissa?”

I didn’t give Lillian the chance to defend herself when I exclaimed, “You set him up with Melissa? Couldn’t you do better than her?” I scrunched my face in disbelief.

“Really, Nina! You are not helping here.” Lillian whined.

“I have half a mind to group up with Ethan against you.” I threatened, only half lying. Because sincerely, If I had known the blind date was Melissa, I wouldn’t have gotten so jealous.

Finally, you are confessing your irrational feeling! My inner demon clapped and gave me a victorious look.

Shut up! I don’t need your useless comments now. I snapped back at my inner thoughts, which were technically me.

Great, I was going crazy now. I thought bitterly. I was brought out of my daydreaming when Ethan’s voice spoke loudly. “Let’s start.”

I looked at Lillian and gave her an exasperated sigh. “I will help you only this time since I know Ethan would kill you otherwise,” I said as I looked at Ethan and his muscular frame.

Lillian nodded and gave me a grateful smile. We took our fighting stances, imitating Ethan.

No one made a move for several moments. I was getting agitated with every passing second. It wasn’t my style to wait for my adversary to make the first move. I looked at Lillian with a questioning look, but she just shook her head.

I waited for another two minutes before I lost my patience and moved quickly in Ethan’s direction. I aimed my fist towards his jaw, but he ducked, and I nearly lost my balance. Lillian took the chance of this distraction and tried to tackle Ethan from behind, but to my astonishment, he avoided her move and jabbed her in the ribs.

We continued like this for almost an hour, when I started feeling tired.

Looking at Ethan’s sweaty face and matted hair, I can tell he was getting tired as well. Lillian and I could win if we continued at this pace.

Deceiving Ethan or fighting him face to face proved futile from the start. That’s why we decided to follow another strategy. After all, it was two against one.

We took advantage of our speed and attacked with full force, which forced Ethan to retreat and block our jabs. He did a decent job at that and had even landed a few well-placed punches while we barely landed a blow.

The three of us were catching our breaths when Lillian raised her hand and said breathlessly. ” I give up,”

I looked at her incredibly with my mouth hanging open. Lillian dared to shrug her shoulders at me and spoke tiredly. “My ankle is killing me. I can’t continue this fight.”

Before I could comment on her words, Ethan spoke with concern. “Are you okay?”

“Don’t worry. It is the usual pain.” Lillian assured him and went to a refrigerator in the corner of the room. She took a bag of ice and started applying it to her ankle.

“You must see a doctor, Lillian. Don’t be stubborn.” Ethan said worriedly and moved to his cousin’s side. It was so overwhelming for me to see such care and love in his eyes. I had to look away from that scene, as I never had someone who looked at me this way.

“Don’t be a worrywart, Ethan.” Lillian chided with a gentle smile on her face. Ethan ruffled her hair and nodded his head before his expression changed, and he said with a smirk. “We are done then. I am the winner.”

I focused my attention back on him and raised an eyebrow. “Who said we are done?”

“Your partner gave up. You are the losers.” He shrugged.

“No way in hell. I am not willing to give up. I want to win this fight.” I spoke with resolution.

“I don’t have the time to continue playing this game. I won, and it is final.” Ethan spoke in a steely voice.

I ignored his words and confronted him. “You must be afraid to insist on winning this way. Don’t fret. I will go easy on you.”

Ethan gave me a dark look and went back to the ring. I smiled in triumph and winked at Lillian, who shook her head and gave me thumb-ups.

On this round, Ethan wasn’t as patient as before. He wanted to end this match as fast as possible, and he wasn’t hesitant about it. He didn’t even give me the chance to correct my stance before he delivered a painful jab to my right side. I breathed through the pain and forced myself to block his next blow.

It took me a great effort to force him to go back to his side of the ring. We exchanged blows back and forth. I smiled when Ethan winced at a partly hard blow to his jaw.

Ethan gave me a smirk as he rubbed his jaw. “Nice move, but you won’t win.” Before I could even decipher his words, Ethan moved to my side and caught me in a headlock.

I put my hands on his thick muscular forearms and tried to get away, but it was futile. I knew I must find another way to loosen his grip on me.

“Say the magical words, and you will be free,” Ethan whispered in my ear. I could feel his hot breath fanning my neck, and I took a deep breath.

“You wish,” I managed to say through my ragged breath.

A throat clearing interrupted us, and I looked up to see a man in his late thirties staring at us. I could see the similarities between him and Ethan, and I concluded he was one of his relatives.

“I see you are busy, Ethan.” The man spoke coldly, and his blue eyes were intense as they looked at us.

I felt Ethan’s arms getting loose around my neck, and I understood the message and moved away from him.

“Hello, Uncle Jasper,” Ethan said formally and went to his uncle. The two men exchanged firm handshakes, and to my surprise, Jasper drew Ethan into his arms.

Ethan returned the manly hug and smiled at his uncle. He then looked at me and said. “Uncle, this is Nina. Nina, uncle Jasper.”

I nodded my head in greeting and extended my hand towards Jasper, who took it and shook it firmly.

“The famous Nina, finally I had the chance to meet you.” He said in a pleasant voice that sent chills down my spine. How ironic! I never thought that someone who smiled at you could give you the creeps.

“Thank you, sir.” I found myself replying without a thought.

The man’s attention moved once again to Ethan, and I was thankful his eyes were not on me anymore.

DAMN the Salviatti men. They all have the same blue eyes that give you the impression they could look inside your soul without a problem.

“Where is Lillian?” Ethan asked to no one in particular. I shook my head and looked around the room.

True to his words, Lillian was nowhere in the room. I realized I was too wrapped at the moment I never noticed her leaving.

Great job, Nina! Now, you are losing your focus as well. Continue like this, and you will find yourself six feet underground.

"She left a while ago. I encountered her on her way upstairs.” Jasper spoke with a hint of disapproval in his voice. I didn’t miss Ethan’s grimace and his way of trying to change the subject. “What brings you here, uncle?”

“We need to talk. You have five minutes to meet me in your office.” With those words, Jasper took his leave.

“What is it with you and the rule of five minutes?” I rolled my eyes.

Ethan chuckled and shook his head. “It is a long story, and I don’t have spare time to tell it. Being late to a meeting with Jasper is a suicidal thought. Go, shower, and take some rest. We will talk later.”

Ethan smiled at me and left. I sighed and closed my eyes for a few seconds. This family was strange, and I don’t know what I will do with them.

Damn you, Alberto, for putting me in this kind of petty situation. I cursed him under my breath as I made my way to my bathroom to take a much-needed hot shower.

While I was towel drying my hair, my phone vibrated, and I looked at the message. It was from none other than the source of my problems.

I read the message and felt my blood running cold. Alberto was asking me to do the impossible. I plumped down on the mattress and typed quickly.

Have you gone mad???!!!!!

I bounced my knee rapidly as I waited for his reply. It didn’t take long for it to come.

No, I know what I am doing. Your job is to obey my orders.

I typed a quick reply, and it took him mere seconds to respond.

I gave you enough time, but you never acted. I am done with your games.

Give me some time to do what you want. I sent my reply.

This time, Alberto’s reply made bile rise in my stomach. I nearly flung my phone against the wall when I saw Lexie and Aria’s photos in several places and several poses. The bastard was following them, and now he was threatening their safety to force me to do his orders. With a resigned sigh, I typed.

Yes, I will do it tomorrow. And I clicked ‘send.’

***************

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