The fall of our secrets

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Chapter12

“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

Walter Winchell

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

Ethan:

Nina was a good fighter. She was fierce, fast, and strong-willed. As they say, she was a rare jewel in need of refining. I remarked as I dodged her blows and jabs. She managed to land one here and there, but they required some work.

If she ever found herself against an ordinary fighter, I am sure she would win the fight without any problems. But for now, I was out of her league, especially since Lillian was now out of the picture.

I ducked another assault from Nina. I moved so fast, and before she could blink, I had her in a headlock. I was careful not to tighten my grip around her neck, but at the same time, I applied the right pressure so she won’t get away.

I could feel Nina’s hands on my forearms, trying to loosen my grip, but I knew she couldn’t succeed.

“Say the magical words, and you will be free,” I whispered in her ear teasingly. I was aware of our proximity, but I decided to ignore it and focus on the moment.

“You wish,” Nina whispered back, and I must confess her bravery astonished me.

I felt a presence in the room, and I looked up only to meet uncle jasper’s icy blue eyes.

“I see you are busy, Ethan,” Uncle spoke coldly, and his blue eyes zeroed on my arms around Nina’s neck.

I immediately loosened my arms around her and was thankful when she stepped away from me with no delays. I really didn’t need a lecture from my uncle on proper behaviour and other technicalities.

“Hello, Uncle Jasper,” I said formally and shook Uncle’s hand. He gave me another severe glare before he drew me in his arms. I returned the hug and grinned mischievously at him.

I turned my gaze to Nina, who was standing to the side. “Uncle, I want to introduce you to Nina. Nina, this is my uncle Jasper.” I saw the exchange of handshakes between my uncle and Nina. Both were firm in their grip, and I had to hide a smile at the stubborn look that crossed Nina’s face.

“The famous Nina, finally I had the chance to meet you,” Jasper said in a fake, pleasant tone. I could see the wheels working inside his mind, and I was sure he would have a thing or two to say about Nina as he was analysing her with his keen eyes.

“Thank you, sir,” was Nina’s reply.

“Where is Lillian?” I asked as I looked around the room and realised my cousin was nowhere. How could I miss her leaving? Sure Lillian was stealthy and could slip from any room whenever she wishes, but I could sense my surroundings very well.

"She left a while ago. I encountered her on her way upstairs.” Jasper spoke with a hint of disapproval in his voice. I would hear about this mistake later.

“What brings you here, uncle?” I asked, trying to change the subject, as I didn’t want to get chewed out in front of Nina.

“We need to talk. You have five minutes to meet me in your office.” Jasper ordered tersely and left the room.

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

I chuckled at the expression on her face and shook my 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 mission. Shower and take some rest. We will talk later.”

I smiled at Nina and reached to put one of her stray hairs behind her ear. Even this tired and sweaty, Nina glowed. I smiled at myself and quickened my pace towards my room.

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

Uncle was looking out the window when I entered my office. I claimed in my desk chair and offered one to Jasper. “You may have a seat, uncle.” He nodded and took the seat across from my desk.

Respect is the thing I love the most about my uncles and my father. They have authority over everyone in their world.

They are the bosses. But if they come to visit your territory, they respect you and give you the space you need.

“Do you want to drink some coffee?” I asked Jasper, as I knew he always loved to have a cup of coffee in his reach.

“No, I just drank two cups already.” Jasper shook his head. His expression was friendly and relaxed, but I knew better. He would never come here without a hidden agenda. “So, how is it going?”

“Everything is under control,” I said with a smile of my own.

“How about Nina? Is she coping well?” He asked next. I had a hard time hiding a smug smirk at his questions. I am sure it was hard for him to hold off his questionnaire all of this time.

“She is doing well. Lillian and I are helping her to adjust. I think she will be an important member of our family soon.” I spoke honestly.

“From what I saw earlier, she can manage herself in a fight. She landed some good blows against you.” Jasper remarked with a pointed glare my way. Before I could say anything, he added. “I have to see her in real action before I decide if she is worth it. The missions are chosen.”

At his words, I straightened in my seat and gave him all my attention. “Here, take a look.” He said as he handed me a hard drive.

I inserted the device into my laptop and read the five missions my father chose for us. I raised an eyebrow and asked in confusion. “There are no details here. It is just the names of the missions.”

“You know your Father. Damien is a secretive man, and he wants everything to remain between us. He doesn’t trust the network to send you any information. He is too suspicious. You need to go to the company tomorrow first thing in the morning. You will receive the details of your first mission there. How and by who, I don’t know. I am just relying on your Dad’s instructions.” Jasper spoke in his usual heavy voice.

“Okay, I will inform the girls about the plans once I get them. I have a feeling these missions won’t be easy.” I said with certainty.

“Ethan, Nina is the only partner you will have,” Jasper said.

“What about Lillian?” I asked.

“First of all, this whole thing is about Nina. We want to test her and see her capabilities. Secondly, Lillian needs medical help. I won’t allow her injury to become worse.” Jasper answered.

I nodded in agreement. Lillian needed to get help for her knee. I really didn’t want to see her suffering because of her stubbornness.

I gave Uncle Jasper a pleading look. “Go easy on her. She means well.”

Jasper chuckled and shook his head. “I don’t know what I am going to do with you. You all mean well, but at the same time, you always end in trouble.”

“We are not that bad,” I complained.

“Besides, don’t concern yourself with Lillian. Be afraid for yourself when I have my hands on you.” He ignored my whining and gave me a dark look.

“Hey! What did I do?” I protested. Jasper just narrowed his eyes and waited for me to realise my mistake. It was one of his techniques that all my cousins and I hated with a passion. Suddenly, it dawned on me, and I slumped in my chair.

“Come on, Uncle. I just lost focus for one moment. I am always aware of my surroundings.” I justified my actions even as I know it won’t change my fate.

“Don’t let her beauty lure you to safety. Be careful, nephew.” Uncle Jasper said as he rose from his chair and buttoned his jacket. “I will leave now. See you soon.”

Uncle left my study, but his words would repeat inside my head all day. Was I distracted by Nina’s beauty? I shook the thought out of my head and left the office.

I found Lillian sitting in the living room. I went to her and squeezed her shoulder in comfort.

“It will be okay,” I assured my sullen cousin.

“You are not the one in Jasper’s bad books. He won’t let me live it down. You know how he deals with lying and hiding an injury. God help me when word gets to my old man, and he learns about this.” Lilian sighed and shook her head.

“Well, I am really resisting the urge to tell you I have told you so, but since you are too sad, I won’t rub salt on the injury,” I said with a teasing smile.

“Look who is talking. May I remind you that half of your groundings were because you risked yourself and went on a mission or insisted on training while you were injured?” Lillian asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Okay, okay,” I said with my hands up in surrender. “Don’t bother yourself with all of these details. You must focus only on your recovery.” I said seriously and kissed her forehead. Lillian gave me one of her radiant smiles.

It was afternoon when Jasper sent his driver to pick up Lillian. She said goodbye to Nina and me before she left, with the promise of coming back as soon as possible.

“So, what now?” Nina asked as she sat on the sofa and turned on the TV.

“You have as much rest as you can. The next days will be tiring.” I said while texting Enzo and giving him instructions for tomorrow’s meeting before leaving for the first mission.

“What do you mean?” Nina asked as she tore her eyes from the screen and focused on me.

“When I get the details, I will inform you,” I answered her.

“The missions are starting,” Nina stated.

“How did you know?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

Nina shrugged her shoulders and said calmly. “Only a fool wouldn’t realise this, Ethan. It was nearly a month after our encounter with your father. I don’t think a man like him will delay the inventible for long.”

She impressed me with her analysis, and I nodded my head in approval. I decided to give her the truth. “The missions had arrived, but I don’t know the details. I will get them tomorrow, and we will go from there.”

Nina just nodded her head and focused back on her movie.

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

Morning came too soon for my liking. I looked at my phone and saw it was only seven in the morning. But since Jasper said it would be early, I know it would be really early. The man doesn’t joke about punctuation.

I took a quick shower, changed into one of my suits as I knew I would spend my day closing deals and holding meetings.

I grabbed my keys and phone before I headed to Nina’s room. She had to go with me since I could not leave her alone without company.

I knocked on her door twice but didn’t get any response. Praying she was decent, I entered her dark room. The curtains were shut, and I could barely see my way to her bed. I reached over and turned on her bedside lamp.

I shook her gently, but she only stirred and snuggled closer to her covers. I sighed in frustration and tried harder. Nina opened one eye and looked at me.

“What do you want from me at this hour?” She snapped and raised an eyebrow, waiting for my response.

“We have to go to the company. I have to finish some business before we receive the details and start our missions.” I explained.

“Come on, Ethan!! Can’t you just let me sleep? You go and do whatever you need to do. When you are back, we will discuss the missions. I am sure I won’t have a chance to stay late in bed for a long while.” Nina managed to say through her sleepy voice.

I looked at my watch and cursed under my breath. It was already eight in the morning, and I was still at home.

What would go wrong if I leave her here alone? The house was secured, and cameras were everywhere. I really need to move before I am late for my meetings.

“Fine, you might stay home, but don’t do anything stupid,” I warned her, but I only got a grunt from Nina. Knowing I won’t get anything else, I left the room, hoping I won’t regret this later. All my training and years of experience were screaming at me to keep her under watch.

She was new and not trustworthy yet. I nearly turned back to her room, but I knew it was a battle that would take time to win, and I didn’t have much time.

I arrived at the company in record time. If my mother was still around, I was sure she would have some not very nice words to say about my driving habits.

Enzo was in my office typing away on his laptop. His hair was tousled, and it appeared as if he didn’t sleep at all.

“Morning,” I said as I took my seat behind my desk and turned on my laptop.

“Morning,” Enzo replied with a yawn.

“Didn’t you sleep at all yesterday?” I asked while reading through my endless emails.

“There is no time for sleeping, my friend. Between university work and the company, I am overwhelmed.” Enzo said without even looking up from his laptop.

I felt a pang of guilt hit me hard. I was the one who convinced Enzo we should start this project before graduation. We were both taking courses online and only went to university for exams. We were majoring in business management, and it was our last year. Thank god the exams were months from now, or I am sure we will both fail.

“Once we close the deal with our partners and start the production, it would be fine,” I said, trying to make him feel better.

“Don’t worry about it, man. We will do it.” Enzo said with his trademark smirk.

Before I could answer him, a knock interrupted us. I looked up to see Linda, my secretary, standing at the door.

“You have a visitor, sir,” she said, but the look on her face was a little funny, as if she was trying her best to keep a blank expression.

“Who?” I asked with confusion since I know my appointments didn’t start until later in the day.

“An elderly woman who insists she must see you. It is something about a promise you made to her.” If anything, her words didn’t clear my confusion. They just made me more confused.

“Okay, let her in,” Enzo looked at me with surprise. It wasn’t my habit to accept meeting strangers without appointments. Today, I was making an exception. I just shrugged at him and waited for my guest to enter.

I never thought the day would come when I would meet a woman who would make me want to laugh and cry in frustration at the same time.

The woman who entered my office was in her late seventies. She was wearing a pink skirt with a matching pink coat. It was so hard to stare at her without blinking. Her grey hair was up in a tight bun with a large hut on her head, which was pink, of course. It was like Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter.

Oh! my god! I was making references from movies again. You are getting old, Ethan!!

Enzo wasn’t as lucky as me and let out a chuckle. The woman turned her glare to him and asked with an arched eyebrow. “Something wrong, young man?”

“No, madam. I apologise,” Enzo said while trying hard to contain his laugher.

I shot Enzo a glare and offered the woman a seat across from my desk. “You want something to drink, Ma’am?” I asked politely.

“It is Eliza, young man. And no, I want nothing. I am here to deliver a message, and I will be on my way.” The woman said in a tough voice, and for the first time, I noticed how cold her blue eyes were. I straightened and decided I must listen to her carefully.

“We will have this discussion in private,” The woman said while glancing at Enzo.

“Whatever you want to say to me, you can say it in front of Enzo,” I said in my non-nonsense voice.

“I don’t have time for your stupid banter. I promised your father you are the only one who will hear my message, and I always keep my promises. After I am out of here, it is your business with whom you will share the information.” She said in a matching tone.

This old lady was getting on my nerves. If she thought I would let her win this, then she was wrong.

“Eliza, Enzo here is my friend. So, either you say everything while he is here, or you can go.” I said firmly, letting her know the discussion was over.

“Okay, I will leave then. Your father will hear about this.” She snapped as she started rising from her chair. I didn’t budge and just gave her a pointed glare.

“Okay, okay, I will be out until you are done with your conversation.” Enzo excused himself and exited the room quickly, not giving me a chance to argue.

“You have a clever friend, young man,” Eliza’s words caught my attention, and I gave her an icy glare.

“Relay your message so I can resume my work. I have a busy day, Ma’am.” I said sharply, daring her to contradict my words.

Eliza gave me a gentle smile and shook her head in what I swear was fondness. This woman was so strange, and it was grating on my nerves.

“I am here to give you the details of your first mission,” She said calmly, and I felt my jaw drop to the floor.

Really, Dad!!! This is the best you can do to relay information? You are getting senile in your old age.

I scoffed internally at her words but made sure to keep my face emotionless. I just nodded at Eliza so she can start speaking.

“So, as you already know, your first mission will be freeing the minister’s daughter from her captors. Her dad is in deep trouble with the underworld organisations and doesn’t want the police to get involved. Damien wants to give the man a favour so he can get more from him in the future. You know how your dad thinks.”

I let out a chuckle at her words and nodded in agreement. Dad was a man who doesn’t play around. He never gives anything without a price. The poor man didn’t know what will hit him.

We spent the next two hours discussing details and arranging protocols. I give it to Eliza. She was a smart woman who had a sharp mind. She was efficient and clear in her orders.

By the time she left my office, I was exhausted. The next days would prove challenging. Once I looked over the new passports and visas she provided for us, I decided to give Dad a call. It was early in New York, but knowing Dad, he would be in his office after his daily training.

“Good morning, Ethan,” Damien’s Salviatti voice echoed from the other side.

“Morning, Dad,” I said with a smile taking over my face. I always pretend I don’t need my parents in my life, but deep down, I know I crave his attention and love.

“To what I owe the honour of hearing your voice?” Dad teased with what I know was a smirk on his face.

“You owe it to Eliza,” I answered dryly. Dad laughed at my answer for a long time before he caught his breath.

“How did you find her?” Dad asked between chuckles.

“Infuriating, irritating, nerve-wracking, and the list is endless,” I responded seriously.

“I never thought I raised a son who can disrespect women like this,” Dad admonished in the same teasing voice as before.

“And I never thought I would meet a woman like this. Really, Dad!! Didn’t you find anyone better than her to deliver the details?” I asked with exasperation.

“Ethan, my dear son, the woman you are criticising was your father’s nanny. I never saw a woman who can complete tasks the way she does.”

For the second time this day, I felt my jaw hitting the floor. “I understand now why you were always behaving,” I said seriously, eliciting another laugh from Dad.

“Ethan, I trust you to complete this mission with no problems. The man is desperate, and I gave him my word that the operation will go smoothly.” Dad’s tone changed from playful to deadly serious, and at that moment, I realised the amount of responsibility on my shoulders.

“Yes, sir. I know, and I will do my best to make sure nothing will go wrong.” I meant every word I said to Dad.

Before I could say any other words, a panicked Enzo entered my office. I didn’t like the look on his face, and with a quick goodbye to Dad, I raised an eyebrow at my friend.

“We are screwed,” Enzo said and threw himself on the chair.

“What do you mean?” I asked in confusion.

“Guess what? The Andersons who were begging to be our partners just announced their new project. It is the same as ours, Ethan. There is nothing different. Even the presentation and the invitations we were preparing to send are the same.” Enzo spoke in defeat and put his head between his hands.

It was the first time in my life I didn’t find the right words to say. Ethan Salviatti was speechless. I reached for my laptop and logged in to Anderson’s company site. There, I saw all my hard work in front of my eyes. My efforts, fights, and late nights were in the hands of my rivals.

How did it happen? No one had these details but for Enzo and me. How did we let it go like this? We stayed silent for a few minutes before Enzo looked at me and said.

“What are we going to do now, man?” I hated the pain in Enzo’s voice. This project was our baby, and we gave it all we can.

“There is a traitor among us, my friend. I don’t know who, and to be honest, I don’t want to waste my time on whoever is the scam. We will hold a board meeting and announce the failure of this project. Everyone saw the news by now. After that, we will see how it will go.” I sighed and closed my eyes. I never thought I would lose this battle, but here I was licking my wounds.

Enzo rose from his chair and leaned closer to me. I saw the fire of determination on his face, and his powerful words made me thank my luck for our friendship.

“If you think I will give up on this, then you are wrong, Ethan. Once this mess is cleaned up, we will start from the beginning. The idea is ours, and we will make it better than the original plan. We will succeed in this. I won’t allow some loser to take it from us.”

We arranged for the meeting to be held after an hour. It wasn’t an easy task to tell your employees that you failed in your project. I could read support and determination on the faces of some of them. On the other hand, others looked defeated. I knew that by tomorrow, I would receive many resignations.

I wrapped the meeting after giving instructions on what I want to be done in my absence period.

“I need to leave now. You know I have a trip to plan.” I said to my best friend as we exited the elevator and headed for my office.

“Yes, I know. I will update you daily. Don’t worry, finish this mission and come back.” Enzo said as he clasped my shoulder and squeezed it.

“Don’t drink too much,” I warned as I took my car’s keys. I knew Enzo would spend the night at a pub trying to erase today’s events so he can come back stronger tomorrow.

“Drive safely,” Enzo shot back meaningfully. I chuckled at his words and left the office.

Once I was behind the wheel. I let out my anger and pressed the gas. The Ferrari lurched forward, and I zoomed out of the parking lot. Speeding through the highway gave me the adrenaline I was craving.

It was freeing to pass cars and drive without aim. Whenever I was sad or troubled, I got high on the feeling of freedom. It relaxed me and gave me another perspective on my problems.

By the time I pulled outside the apartment complex, my mind was in the right place.

Whoever did this to me may think of himself as a winner, but sadly, he doesn’t know that losing one round doesn’t mean losing the battle.

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

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