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Chapter 77 : Madelyn

Chapter 77 : Madelyn
Monday, September 13th, 2021

I can’t breathe. My body won’t let me breathe.

I can’t think or talk or speak because I know the second I do something, I’m going to shatter. Hailey thought I already did, but she was very much wrong.

After what happened in Caleb’s office yesterday, Xavier let me leave, but he refused to let me drive. I was pissed he had his driver take me home at the time, but looking back, I probably would’ve caused an accident considering the state I was in.

He didn’t say anything to me as he opened the car door, but he didn’t close it even once I was inside.

For a moment, he had just looked at me before tilting my chin up to meet his eyes. I didn’t want to, but I did, hating to see his tears that mirrored mine.

“It’s okay if you never forgive us—if you never want to speak to us again, but I will promise you this. Your father will not die, even with the past I’ve had with him.”

I know that promise hurt him to say, and even if I didn’t want it to, my heart still bled for him at the fact he was willing to give up years worth of work and resources because of me. The truth is that I was mad at my dad too. How can I even look at him again without remembering the way I held Xavier on the anniversary of his mother’s death because he couldn’t take it anymore?

I was caught in the middle of two incredibly horrible situations, but I did know this. If my dad—if Marcus Caddel intentionally murdered Xavier’s mother out of revenge—I wouldn’t speak to him again.

“Please close the door.” I’d said quietly over my cries, but I knew he heard me.

The metal of the car soon became a physical barrier between us, but he listened. Now I was here, my hands gripping hard onto the bathroom counter as I stared at my reflection in the mirror.

My eyes were a bright green, even more prominent than usual because of the red puffiness of my face. My hair was frizzy from the way I brushed out all of the knots in anger just a few minutes ago, but the one thing I couldn’t stop from seeing was the way I wouldn’t stop pacing.

There was so much about this I still didn’t understand, but the only people who could give me answers were the three people I refused to talk to. If it weren’t for Hailey, I don’t think I would even be functioning at all right now.

If you can call this functioning.

Alec has stopped texting me, but I knew Caleb was still outside. For what reason, however, I didn’t know.

On top of that, it was impossible to not feel on edge with everything around me so broken. While I don’t believe my father is foolish enough to be caught off guard at his own event, thoughts of if he was okay invaded my mind again and again.

Things can always go wrong, just as they are ever changing. The world is cruel like that, and half of the time you just have to hold on and pray for what you can.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t in one of those moods.

Waiting has made me restless, and even though I thought I might pass out from the food I haven’t eaten, I knew one thing. I needed out.

Turning on the bathroom sink, I repeatedly splashed icy cold water over my face as though the nip of it would dull the nagging ache in my heart. It didn’t, but at least I was a little more awake than a few seconds ago.

Drying my skin hastily with a face cloth, I tossed the material onto the counter as I spun away and slowly dragged my feet back towards my bedroom.

I had to force down my dizziness with each tired step, but I think I just needed to get out of here for a while—to get away from them.

Everything, and I truly mean everything, hurts. I couldn’t even breathe in without my lungs burning with the same sense of loss I feel in my heart, so I needed to leave.

But, there was still one person I had to speak to, and I prayed with every part of me that she wasn’t in on this too. That discovery would be like the last tap to a web of breaking glass that causes everything to fall apart, but if I’m being honest, I feared I was already there.

“Madelyn?” I hear Hailey’s soft knock at my door, probably having heard me getting up for the first time in hours.

“You can come in.” Came my reply, but I didn’t even recognize the sound of my own voice layered with so much of everything I didn’t want.

Instantly my door opened, a slow and hesitant entrance, but one nonetheless.

Hailey’s eyes were on me, or more so the fact I was actually out of bed. In her hand was a large cup of coffee, and if the circumstances were any different, I would’ve smiled at the sight.

She can’t even stand the smell, so I knew she had to be really concerned about me to make it anyways.

“Hey.” She says as she takes a step into the room, looking to find me rummaging through my clothes and failing to actually choose something to change into.

I watch absently as she sets the mug down on my bedside table, my eyes catching on my alarm clock beside it showing 4:13 p.m.

I hadn’t even realized how late it was.

“Thank you.” I nod appreciatively, but I hope Hailey knows that I’m thanking her for so much more than the coffee. She has been more of a friend to me than I could ever ask for, and I was going to miss her so damn much when I leave.

The truth of the fact is that Caleb was right about one thing. I wasn’t safe here anymore. I wasn’t going to live off of them in one of their safe houses, and staying here in a house surrounded by guards 24/7 isn’t realistic either.

The only way out was taking that part of my father within me and hiding until not even Xavier’s tracking could find me.

I didn’t know what to do, but I wasn’t ready to see them yet just as I was nowhere near ready to say goodbye. And yet, I still feared that was the only option I would soon have left.

______

A weird sense of deja vu filled me as my hand grasped onto the steel handle of The Horizon Cafe, opening the doors for what could very well possibly be the last time.

The familiar fresh smell of baked goods welcomed me with my first step in, but even that just didn’t feel the same this time around.

Caleb was gone when I left Hailey’s to come here, and I was still deciding whether or not it was a relief or yet another thing to stress me out. I’m still waiting for that moment when everything falls apart from beneath me, and I wondered if the way Jolene’s eyes met mine would be that tipping point.

With my walls up, I watched as the older woman tensed, her gaze assessing before tension lined the soft wrinkles across her forehead.

Whispering a hurried sentence to the employee I’ve come to know as Pablo, he nodded once before taking over what Jolene had just been doing. I couldn’t tell if her reaction was because I visibly looked like hell or because she’d been expecting me, but I suspected I was about to find out.

“Who do I need to pay a visit to for this?” Was the first thing she said once she’d rounded the counter, not paying any mind to the fact we were surrounded by customers—a few of which definitely heard the threat in her tone.

It was so normal I felt, if only for a second, I could breathe again without the weight of everything else around me.

When all I was able to do was shake my head and pray Jolene would understand, she gently yet firmly gripped onto my forearm until she was leading us away to the back.

There it would be quiet, and like everything else, I found myself wondering if it was a blessing or a curse.

Nothing was spoken when Jolene opened the door to the same storage room I’d helped her organize mere weeks ago, but I suddenly hated the silence that came with it.

“Are you hurt?” She asks after a small stretch of time, her eyes flicking over my face down to the clothes Hailey had to pick out for me since I couldn’t do it myself.

She’s been everything I’ve needed and more, but we both knew why I needed to leave. Jolene was my last goodbye before them, and it was taking everything in me to formulate an audible response.

“Not physically.” I managed, but when she pulled me into her arms and hugged me, I wasn’t strong enough to stay up. Gently, Jolene guided the both of us to the floor, pushing away a box so we could rest our backs against the wall. I cried as she brushed my hair back behind my ears before simply holding me and letting me fall apart.

She had to have known who caused my pain, because there was no chance in hell Alec, Caleb, and Xavier wouldn’t be by my side right now if I was sad from anything else. I hated the truth of that, but there was no denying it no matter how painful it was.

“It’s just... I don’t know w-what to do.” I sobbed, Jolene’s comfort becoming a life line I wish I never needed. As she held me, I had a feeling she knew why I was crying, but I didn’t have the energy to push her away right now.

I took that comfort and held it close to me, accepting that things could never be the same now that so much had gone wrong.

I was leaving, so I took this moment to try and give myself the closure that felt impossible to gain, but still, I tried.

“You already knew?” I sniffled, not wanting to hear the answer I was already expecting to come. Marcus or not, Jolene has been like a mother to me since I moved to New York. The problem is that none of them held secrets out of ill intent, which is why for now, even though I knew it was all a lie, I let myself pretend I was okay.

“I figured it out when Xavier came in for coffee the other day.” Jolene admits, but she was unapologetic in her words. “To say I was surprised is an understatement, but you can’t let this beat you down, my dear. Not yet.”

I didn’t stop her as she turned my head to look at her, her touch loving even though her hand shook just slightly.

“You’re allowed to be in pain, and I hope you give those boys hell, but they are the safest place you can be right now. Believe me when I say a lot of shit is changing today, and if there was any time to make an attempt on you, it would be now.”

My eyes dipped down as I wiped some of my tears from my face, exhausted and so incredibly drained. Someone had followed me here to the cafe, and I have a strong feeling Caleb will be waiting outside for me when I leave.

I forgave them within days of learning they were in the Mafia, but this is so much different in ways I haven’t even processed.

They lied to me again, just as my father did for most of my childhood. I’m so sick of everyone around me thinking I can’t handle things. Most of my reaction now is based on the fact of so many secrets being kept at once, but if they had just told me, a lot of this could have been prevented.

Or at the very least minimized.

“The time to shut down is not yet, no matter how hard it may be.” Jolene shakes her head, but I can tell she’s just as hurt by this. Alec, after all, is her nephew. I think she understood where so much of this betrayal was coming from because of that, but that didn’t make it any easier in the end.

“I know.” I whisper, knowing she’s right, no matter how unfortunate that may be.

Vincent is after me right now, and he is not a man to be trifled with. I may have caught him off guard that one day, but I make no mistake it was because I was a woman and he’s a moron. He will not underestimate me again.

“It’s just, I’m terrified that if I see them again, I’ll forgive them for everything.” I say, taking a deep breath and forcing myself to continue. “I’m not staying away to punish them, but how do we move on after so many lies? How can Xavier even love me when my father...” I couldn’t finish my sentence but Jolene understood.

She gave my knee a squeeze with a sad look that speaks of a kind of wisdom that can only come from age and experience.

“How can you love Xavier when he has a father as vile as Vincent?” She counters, causing my heart to stop.

I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but admittedly, I’ve felt a little guilty too about all of this. Before I knew my father was Marcus, I’d hoped with every part of me the men I loved would get their revenge, even if it meant killing the person who has caused them so much grief. I love Xavier despite his blood, but I can’t imagine it would be easy for him to reconcile with who mine is.

“Relationships are complicated, my dear, but blood will never equal the child. I don’t doubt for a second that those boys don’t love you with everything they have, even if they were idiots in keeping things from you.”

The problem is that I already knew all of this. It was because I still loved them it was killing me to stay away. Things just weren’t as simple as forgiveness anymore, though. Caleb, Alec, and Xavier were supposed to be ambushing my father’s event right about now, and the consequences of resisting will be life changing.

Jolene will forever be the mother I never had, and despite how I’m feeling at this point, she was right. I couldn’t run blindly—not that I planned to—but there are probably eyes everywhere I go now.

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try to escape the harsh truths that reality brings forth, the only real option is to face it and learn how to adapt.

“I—”

“Madelyn!” The sound of my name interrupted what I’d been about to say, though it wasn’t that but rather the voice that said it that had me stiffening.

Xavier’s tone was one of panic, and it was the only reason I didn’t try to act as though I hadn’t heard him.

“They’re here.” Jolene says, but there’s something about the way she now holds herself that makes me suspect she wasn’t talking about the man who calls my name again.

She was stiff, and Jolene always had a usual flow to herself that was graceful yet firm when needed. This right now was tense, and it was the threat of something else that caused her to stand with me and open the door with caution.

“Jo, have you seen—” Xavier starts but his words stop when he sees me, just the sight of him becoming a punch to my gut.

Truthfully, he looked like hell too, but unlike me he had a cut that was long and fresh across his forehead, dirt smeared across his left cheek.

“Sweetheart, I know you’re mad, but I need you to come with me.” Xavier says, desperation clear in his tone. Something was wrong, yet I could still hear the customers happily eating at their tables.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, not resisting when he grabs onto my hand before whispering into Jolene’s ear. He told her they would talk later but that she shouldn’t leave the cafe tonight.

I admired the way she didn’t show any fear or panic, but I still didn’t miss the frown she gave at Xavier’s rough appearance.

Looking out the window where I could see cars moving normally down the street, I furrowed my eyebrows as I tried to find something that was wrong but couldn’t.

“Xavier, what’s happening?” I ask again, a little louder to pull his attention to my words. There was something sad about the way he looked at me in response, however it was what he said next that had my stomach clenching with nervousness.

“You were followed here and it wasn’t by one of us.”

That was the only explanation I got before Jolene slipped around the both of us, whispering something she assured only I could hear on the way past.

Xavier was already too busy moving to notice, but there wasn’t a single word I’d missed.

“Remember who the real villains are.”

Plural, not singular.

I barely even got the time to comprehend that warning before I was being pulled forward, Xavier’s body discreetly yet very distinctly shielding my body with his.

Something had happened outside, and I wasn’t even able to turn and see Jolene one last time before my hair was being whisked backwards from the wind. There was an unsettling kind of chill to it, however, that wasn’t there when I first walked through these same doors.

It caused the hairs on the back of my neck to rise, but when my eyes connected with Alec sitting in the passenger seat of a pickup truck, my heart dropped at the sight of his white shirt torn and soaked with splatters of red.

_____

I didn’t fight them when they drove me to their house, and I haven’t said a single word since I discovered the fresh blood hadn’t been Alec’s.

The drive back was awkward but after learning there had been a man working for Vincent waiting for me in my car, I didn’t have much desire to talk.

In combination with the stress of everything else, all I wished to do was sleep in hopes my dreams could let me escape if even for a few minutes.

We were all completely and utterly exhausted, but I was too tired to care about the sideways glances I got from Caleb or to ask about how the cut got across Xavier’s forehead.

There had been so much unresolved tension in their car it’d felt like a blessing the second I stepped out into the parking garage, walking myself to the elevator knowing the other three were following behind.

It was Alec who placed his hand on the scanner to gain access, soon controlling our ascent to the first floor where the doors opened with a ding a few seconds later.

Like the car, I was the first one out.

My steps were hurried because I could feel the fissures of my heart expanding with each sharp breath, but when a hand wrapped around my arm, everything around me exploded.

“Madelyn,” Caleb pleaded softly as he tugged me back, and the second I spun around to meet his chest, I wrapped my arms around him no matter how hard I wanted to push him away.

The problem with love is that it can never be black and white, but that’s what makes it all consuming in the ways no person can come back from.

I hadn’t lied when I said they were my everything, and as I felt Caleb’s hands pull me close by my back, I realized that my pain wasn’t weakness. There was a certain kind of strength in vulnerability, and I let them see me for what I was.

A little bit broken. A little bit scared. Forever theirs just as they would be forever mine.

This wasn’t me forgiving them for their lies but merely accepting things for what they were. As I finally let myself fall apart in the place I felt safest, I gave into Caleb’s touch knowing we didn’t need to figure out any solutions right now.

While nothing about this was simple, I found comfort in the fact we were all here, somewhat okay but most importantly alive.

“I’m so sorry, Madelyn.” Caleb cried, holding me as close as our bodies would physically let us. “I’m so fucking sorry.”

I could hear the pain in his words, and as hard as it was to understand this moment couldn’t last forever, we were pretending as though it would. With Alec and Xavier at our sides, I felt okay again, even if it was temporary.

“I know.” I whispered against his chest, my words slightly muffled by the material of his shirt. It didn’t matter because I knew he heard me.

Yesterday, Caleb had told me the ending of his book was good but not happy. Right now, that felt a lot like our story. For better or for worse, these three men have taken the person I was and helped me to become a person I didn’t believe I had in me.

Before them, I wanted a love story like the ones I saw in movies and read in books, but what they don’t often tell you is that even those scripts are flawed. It was them who taught me it was the mistakes that meant it was real.

I may still be furious with them, but we could worry about everything else later.

Right now, I just wanted to let ourselves be together, even if it turns out our happily ever after isn’t as in reach as we’d hoped it would be.


- End of Chapter 77 -

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