It's been a year and a half since I've seen any of them. Thinking back, I remember, Jaz stayed on the floor, facing me, watching me cry, as her tears fell. She had no idea what happened, yet the sight of me broke her heart. I laid there, trying to figure out what went wrong.
It was nightfall by the time I decided to get off the cold floor. I didn't make it far, just to the couch. It took hours for me to form words. I poured my heart out and gave Jaz all the details. She had no answers and couldn't understand.
Exhaustion finally consumed me. I remember being in and out of sleep. Jaz left messages for Petro all through the night. He never responded, never answered. The last time I saw him was in the kitchen at the Malibu house, before I passed out. His cold eyes still cut through me. Raffaele, I haven't seen since the night we fell asleep together for the last time. My heart still wants to belong to the man that drove a knife through it. I love him so much, it's painful to wake up, to breathe and even exist.
The next morning, I left for New York with Jaz, moving to be closer to her. I used the money from my father's life insurance to buy a place, open a gym, and settle into a new life without the Morelli's, or my family. Jaz has been my rock; without her, I don't know what I would've done. To this day, I break down. We were raised with family values, loyalty. I guess that is why the betrayal still burns me to the core.
I had been in New York for a few days, when I started to feel sick. I hadn't been eating; I wasn't looking after myself, so I thought nothing of it. Jaz, however, bought me a pregnancy test, the positive test left me with so many mixed emotions. I was carrying Raffaele's child.
I accepted that the love of my life didn't want to be with me, but for the sake of my son, I made several attempts to contact him and Petro. The result, they blocked our numbers. To this day, no one knows of my son. My beautiful boy, who's not even one yet, is the only reason I'm piecing myself together.
My sisters, although they did text and call, the conversations were brief. They became different and distant. I was forbidden to talk about anything relating to Raffaele. They would hang up if I tried. I understand they're both in love with men that are part of his empire, but it still hurts. Both my sisters didn't want to be in the middle and risk their relationships. If I'm honest, I wouldn't want them to lose the men in their lives and feel as miserable as I do.
I sit back in the chair with my eyes closed, while Jaz finishes my makeup, or as I like to call it my mask. The one that hides the tear-stained cheeks, the one that hides the cracks. I'm back in California, back in the house that has so many horrible memories. When I unlocked the front door, the shattered frames had been cleaned up—the pictures placed in new frames and hung in place. I'm assuming it was one of my sisters. I had Jaz remove the pictures; I couldn't stand to look at them, happy moments that will never be again. I replaced them with pictures of Nathan.
I've tried to build myself up, find the courage for when I face them again. Tonight, came around too quickly; I'm not ready, I don't think I will ever be prepared. I managed to piece little pieces of my heart back together, and just with their thoughts, I shatter all over again. What did I do? Is the question on repeat in my head.
"All finished," Jaz's cheerful voice has me opening my eyes. "You look beautiful, Mina."
I glance into the mirror. I don't feel beautiful; I don't see it. I see someone who's broken and lost. I put on a meek smile for Jaz.
"Thank you, it's amazing," It's not a complete lie. She's a perfectionist.
"Mina, are you sure about this?" She places her makeup brush down and looks at me through the mirror. "I don't want to see you broken again," she whispers and wipes a tear away.
"I love you, Jaz. You don't need to worry."
She wraps her arms around me from behind; her teary eyes meet mine. "I love you too."
Patting her arm, I ask. "Can I have a few minutes, Jaz, please?" Her mouth parts, but she refrains herself, as her brows pull together in worry. She gives me a meek nod. I pick up the invitation looking at the happy couple; I didn't know she was engaged. When I received the invitation in the mail, it was a complete surprise.
We have the pleasure of asking you to join us in celebrating Antonio Bellucci and Natasha Alexiou's marriage ceremony.
She looks happy, beautiful, and part of me is overjoyed that she has finally let someone into her life. The other part is more hurt that I wasn't a part of anything. Attending this wedding is the most difficult thing I've had to do. I'm so nervous, anxious, and terrified. For some unknown reason, I'm ashamed to face any of them.
I've lost so much. I was raped, I miscarried. I lost the love of my life. Petro, my cousin, my brother, and my best friend abandoned me. He's never called, never texted. I thought I built friendships with everyone, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Tommy, Matteo, all the capos were cold towards me, harsh even.
I stand and take one last look in the mirror. My light pink dress with rose gold beading, is a beautiful dress, chosen by Jaz, low cut front, open back, very much appropriate for a lavish Italian wedding, with a little of Greek on the side.
"Hey, we need to get going soon." Stefano's voice frightens me, my body jolts, "Shit! sorry I didn't mean to scare you."
"I didn't hear you come in." I slip on my earrings, avoiding his eyes, he reads through my facade.
"Mina, we could attend the ceremonies at the church and skip the reception," he suggests.
Taking a seat back down on the chair, I turn to face him, as my tears breakthrough. "She's my sister Stefano, and despite everything I love them. I don't trust them, but I still love them. I'm just so hurt and angry." I evict the lump in my throat and fan the tears away. I'm struggling to hold back.
"If I don't go, I can never turn back time. I can never be part of the happiest moment in their lives." Stefano crouches down in front of me, taking my hands into his. He's become a true friend, supportive and easy to talk to. "Maybe one day, this hurt, and anger will disappear. Maybe one day, at least my family will know of my son."
"Jaz and I will always stand by you and Nate." He makes a heartfelt promise, not breaking eye contact.
Pulling my hands out of his grip, I stand. "Deep breath in, shoulders back, head held high, and Asimina, take steps forward." I give myself the usual peep talk.
Slowly strolling down the stairs, I focus on not tripping and breaking my neck. Jaz holds Nate in her arms, tickling the little boy. That curly giggle of his brings a smile to my face. He's my perfect baby, and I'm determined, regardless of what happens in life, to never let him feel the absence of his father.
I gesture him to come hither, eagerly kicking his little legs I take him into my embrace. He is his father's son. The only feature Nathan has taken from me is my eye color. He's a couple of months shy of a year old. I can't believe how quickly he's growing. I feel like if I blink, he will turn into a man, trimming his beard, driving, and drinking. "Don't grow up," I place a kiss on his chubby cheeks, handing my son to Jaz. I ask, "Are you sure you're okay with Stefano, escorting me tonight?"
"Are you kidding, I get this bundle of cuteness, and you're stuck with Stefano."
"She's right; I'm not cute, I'm sexy!" Stefano laughs, placing a kiss on Jasmine's lips, before he turns to me, "Let's go, Mina. The first church ceremony starts in half an hour."
"Why are there two church ceremonies again?" Jaz questions.
"One is held in an Italian church and the second in a Greek church. It's nice they are honoring both their backgrounds." I respond.
"Be the brave and bold Mina you have always been, Stefano will be right there with you." She wraps one arm around me while holding my son with the other. "Hold your head high. You're a force to be reckoned with." I smile.
"Are you going to tell him about Nate?" Stefano questions.
Shaking my head, no. "My sister's wedding isn't the place for him to find out about his son. At one point, I will, I must, for Nathan's sake." I lean over, giving Nate one last kiss, tentatively playing with his hair. "Be a good boy."
* * * * *
The drive to the first church ceremony is torture. I'm so fucking nervous and scared. Why am I doing this to myself? Do they even really want me here, or was the invite just for show? Sighing heavily, I try to settle my wild nerves and erratic heart. My breathing is rapid; I'm gasping for air.
"Stefano, I can't do this" My tears break through the second he pulls up to the church.
"Hey," He leans over, cupping my face. I'm crying frantically; my body starts to tremble. I can't control what's happening to me, no matter how much I gasp for air, it's not making it to my lungs.
"Fuck this; I'm taking you home. You don't owe them anything Mina, stop torturing yourself!" Roaring the engine to life, he reverses out, speeding down the road. He makes it half a block away when I ask him to pull over. Jumping out of the car, I start to pace, trying to compose myself. Stefano approaches consumed with worry; he embraces me.
I cry into the chest of my best friends' fiancé. Stefano holds me as I break down. "I'm sorry, you have an emotional, pregnant fiancé, and on top of that, you have my unstable self to deal with."
"Yeah, I'm outnumbered. Nate doesn't count. That kid is obsessed with my fiancé's breasts, I'm fighting an infant off!" He chuckles.
"Please, promise if this happens in front of them, you will get me out of there?" I plead.
"I promise. I will stand by you and hold you together."
I fan my tears away and take in heated and shaky breaths composing myself. Stefano leads me back to the car. I slide into the passenger seat and start touching up my makeup. It only takes a few minutes, and we are back at the church.
"Are you ready?" He asks. I swallow down my saliva, loosening my throat slightly.
"Hold me together," I mutter.
Interlocking arms with Stefano, we head for the church doors, my heart rate increases, and my palms are sweaty. I'm barely holding on. I take a deep breath and nod at Stefano. He takes a moment to study me first before opening the door.
My head is lowered, as I put one foot in front of the other, taking the first steps inside the Cathedral. Attempting to control the tremor in my body, a sharp intake of air composes me enough to raise my head. The Cathedral is beautiful, intricate carvings, decorative paints are on the ceiling with low hung lights. The smell of candles burning is soothing, but the silence is deafening. The only sound heard is the clicking of my heels.
Everyone has turned, looking in my direction. My eyes lock, with those dark brown orbs, that still intimidate me, my heart still races. I'm flooded with painful memories, making my chest tighten. My heart doesn't fail to remind me, the love it feels for him; even after the stabbing he delivered. It still loves him. His hair is shorter, and his shoulders broader, he's still handsome he's still a god, only he's a cruel one.
Unable to take his heated gaze, I divert my eyes away and glance straight head at the bride and groom. Nat's brows pull together; her features painfully morph as tears run down her face at the sight of me. I'm fighting so hard not to cry, but it's not because of Nat's display, her tears aren't fazing me. I'm falling apart at my son's face embedded in my mind; he deserves more than to be a secret. I squeeze my hold on Stefano's arm, as he pulls me into one of the rows.
"You're doing good," he whispers.
I give him a meek smile and swallow the emotions trying to choke me. Looking around the Cathedral, I make brief eye contact with my cousin, sitting next to Bianca. He shows no emotions, but neither do I. I turn my head away and don't spare him another glance. I remain focused on the bride and groom as the ceremony begins. Her maid of honor is Nora and the best man Luciano. Nat looks breathtaking; her dress is simple, it's fitted, mermaid style, and of course lace, with spaghetti straps.
Our parents would have been so proud. I am truly happy for her, and I wish her the happiest of lives, filled with love. Closing my eyes, I say a silent prayer that neither one of my sisters must endure a fate like mine.
I begin to get overwhelmed, with the constant glances from the Morelli's. "I understand a little of, what the priest is saying, but we can safely assume when the groom kisses the bride, the ceremony will be coming to an end."
Sighing heavily, I state, "I want to be the first one out."
At first, I was learning Italian to impress Raffaele; when I discovered I was pregnant again, I continued. I wasn't sure if the Morelli's would ever be part of Nathan's life, and I wanted my son to embrace both his backgrounds, learn both languages. I figured I could teach him.
Nodding, he leans in closer, "You're right. Nate looks like his father. You know the one over there, that hasn't taken his eyes off you."
"He probably doesn't want me here, Stefano. He's trying to intimidate me, so I leave," I whisper into his ear.
"Could be, but by the death stares he's giving me, he's showing jealousy!" Stefano hikes a brow.
Antonio dips Nat and kisses her, I bring my hands together, clapping for the happy couple. I'm determined to do my part, they may have done me wrong, but I will rise above it.
Standing from my seat, I nudge Stefano's arm, "That's our queue!"
I interlock arms with him once more, ignoring peoples' burning gazes on me. One ceremony down, one to go, and in a month do it all over again for Lia's wedding. This is torture; it's cruel. Stepping outside the fresh air is welcomed, filling my lungs with deep breaths, we walk to my Mustang.
"Mina!" My body stiffens.
This is what I was trying to avoid. I halt my footsteps and glance at Stefano, "Wait for me in the car."
"Lia," I acknowledge. Matteo stands next to her, protectively. I scoff at his stupidity; does he think I would hurt my sister?
An awkward silence falls, and Lia stares, I'm not sure if she's genuine or not, tears run down her face, and shaky breaths escape her. They sound sorrowful, but I was fooled once.
"You look beautiful, absolutely stunning."
"Thanks," I clear my throat and turn to leave.
"Wait!" she screeches.
Spinning around, I snap with annoyance. "What is it, Lia? Are you're going to stand there staring, or do you have something to say?"
"Sorry, we didn't think you would come." Her voice shakes. Matteo places his arm around Lia, while she sobs.
"So, I was right; the invitation was just for show?" I sneer. Christ, I'm an idiot for thinking it meant more.
"No! God no, Mina. We were worried you wouldn't come. Of course, we want you here!"
I glance at the others exiting the church, Raffaele and Petro stand in a rigid stance, next to each other, their eyes locked on me. I can't take much more of this. I need to leave right now.
"Well, I figured our parents would want me to be here. I did it for them. They would have wanted us celebrating these moments together, even under these circumstances."
"Who's your friend? Will you introduce us?" Her curiosity piques.
"Who he is and what he is, to me, is none of your business." I snap, I don't owe them an explanation.
"Mina, we are-" Upheaving my hand, I stop Matteo from going on.
"Don't you dare speak to me. I haven't given you the right to address me. You may be my sister's fiancé, but you're nothing to me. Looking at you brings bile into my mouth."
I quickly turn on my heels opening the passenger door. My wild and frenzy nerves have me demanding, "Stef, let's go now!"
Sliding on his shades, he roars the engine to life and reverses out. I glance at the Stallion pendant hanging on the rear-view mirror, and my tears flow. I left my car in California, with my mechanic, he drove it once a week, so the battery and engine wouldn't seize. I tracked his movements through the pendant, making sure he wasn't abusing my car.
"So, am I driving to the next ceremony?" Stefano interrupts my thoughts.
"Get us some burgers first!" I respond. I need food and bourbon to get me through tonight.
All morning I've been nervous and anxious. None of us knew if she would come. Nat has been on a roller coaster of emotions; Antonio has tried hard to comfort her. Their parents are dead; it's just the three sisters. Nat couldn't go through with the wedding if Asimina wasn't part of it.
My mother has had a few harsh words to say to me. She's hated my choices. When Asimina would call, she urged me to answer. God, I wanted to. Our phones were bugged, and all our conversation recorded, I couldn't risk it. In the past year and a half, my focus was to hunt The Mistake.
There's still no sign of my brother, but we finally had a solid lead. A DNA test on a John Doe patient came back as a positive match. We are still reviewing months of security footage for that specific hospital. It seems there had been several accidents and many emergencies around that time.
Antonio and Nat were just about to announce the cancelation of their wedding, since Asimina wasn't present, when the church door opened, and she stepped in. My heart skipped several beats. Breathtaking, stunning is what she is; I couldn't peel my eyes off her. I miss that woman; I love that woman.
Watching her hang off another man's arm, had my Demon frothing. The tightening pain in my chest was enhancing. I've learned to live with it since the day I left Asimina, it appeared and never subsided, today is the worst I've ever felt it.
She stands quickly and walks outside, in a hurry to get away from us all. I don't blame her. We deserve nothing less than hatred.
"I can't believe she came." Petro wavers my thoughts. My brother walks next to me.
"She did, with another man," I respond.
"He's probably just a friend," Petro, makes eye contact before continuing "However, he isn't one I know of."
"Find out his name, do a background check," I demand from Mariano.
My eyes are glued on her. She aggressively raises her hand and snaps at Lia and Matteo. I can't hear the conversation, but she's heated, her chest heaves with anger. Turning on her heels, she slides into the car with the unknown man. It's taking everything in me to hold back and not draw my gun.
Lia and Matteo make their way towards us, while everyone else exits the church. Matteo looks at me, shaking his head, he holds Lia as she sobs.
"Lia, what did she say?" Petro interrogates.
"Not a lot Petro, she was cold towards us."
"She said the sight of me brings bile to her mouth, that I'm nothing to her and never to address her again. She spat her word with malice," Matteo advises.
"Did you find out who the guy was?" It's my turn to ask a question.
"No, don't even attempt to ask about him! She almost tore shreds off me. Please don't push her; otherwise, she won't come to my wedding, and I want her there," Lia pleads with us all.
Nodding, I comply; this has been difficult for everyone.
"Raf," Petro pinches the bridge of his nose, he takes a deep breath. "She's shattered, the tremble in her body gave it away. This is agony for her. I know we haven't caught this fucker, but it's been a year and a half, we have leads."
I fuse my eyes closed, listening. I saw the pain in her gaze. I know what this is doing to her, it's fucking breaking her, it's breaking me.
"She needs to come home. Any longer and there will be no coming back from this. Even now, I'll be honest; I'm doubtful." He exhales heavily.
"Petro, you, and the sisters can try and mend things. Until this fucker is found and killed, she has no connection with me. Understood?"