I woke up to darkness and concrete.
Wherever I was, no sunlight was able to show through and the grime-covered floors, cracked and broken, were illuminated by harsh fluorescent lights.
I took in my surroundings and dread settled over me. My hands were tied behind my back and the metal of the chair I was sitting on felt so cold that I could have mistaken it for heat. Another chair sat opposite me, and a small wooden table was pushed against the wall to my right.
Images were spread about the table, but I couldn't make out what anything was. The only sounds I could hear were creaking metal and the sound of my own heart beating loudly in my chest. I was alone. Or at least... I thought I was.
"Welcome back Emilia. I was worried we had killed you before we got to have our little reunion".
My head whipped to the side to find Gio strolling into view. His voice still grated me after all these months, like nails on a chalkboard.
"Come now... you didn't think I'd just forget about you", he said tauntingly as he stepped closer to me. With one hand in his pocket and the other behind his back, he looked so irritatingly calm.
I wanted to claw his eyes out.
"What? Cat got your tongue you little bitch?". It was then that he brought his other hand from behind his back, and the gun he had been hiding came into view. I did my best to school my face into a mask of indifference. It wouldn't be the first time he had threatened me at gunpoint.
"Perhaps this can serve as a conversation starter then". I didn't break eye contact with him as he swung and clipped my jaw with the barrel.
I let out a low grunt but did my best not to scream. That fucking hurt. But I'd be damned if I was going to let Gio know how much. I knew how to take a hit.
When I raised my eyes to meet his I clenched my jaw and did my best not to look away. There was something different about him. The collected man I remembered only seemed to be a surface-level mask for the one I saw now. The cruelty that he rarely showed to others, but used as a weapon against me, now covered his face. For the first time since I put him away, I wondered what happened to him in prison.
This new Gio... seemed unpredictable. It set me on edge.
My refusal to speak only pushed him further down whatever rabbit hole he was spiraling down and this time, his fist covered in rings swung into my left eye with a force that almost sent my chair backward. And then he swung again. And again. And again.
My vision blurred over and tunneled at my periphery. No. Fuck, no I was not passing out right now. I couldn't risk taking another hit and losing consciousness. I did my best to sound bored as tears ran down my face. "How can I help you, Gio?".
"Oh, has our traitorous little princess decided to speak now? Good. I was about to let loose and you know how... unpleasant, I can become when I don't get my way". He sat down in the chair in front of me, resting an ankle on his opposite knee and smiling at me in a way that made my skin crawl.
"Name calling is beneath you Gio. I thought you always said you were a man of action", I said slowly, spitting blood out of my mouth in his direction.
His eyes locked on the spot my blood had landed and he spoke without taking his eyes off it. "I don't think you could afford for me to take any more action against you right now Emilia".
He looked back up at me and smirked. "Let's skip the pleasantries and get down to business".
"And here I was about to ask you how the rest of the Moretti's were holding up. But you're right. Let's skip the pleasantries because I can't bring myself to care".
He leaned forward, putting both feet on the floor before lazily pointing the gun at me. "I'd reconsider how you speak about our family my niece. My patience for your attitude only stretches so far".
A laugh tore out of me then, bold and careless. "That was never my family. You are not my family", I said as I worked to control my laughter. "You are monsters that took me away from my real family".
Gio, flipping his chair in the process, stood and pressed the gun against my temple. "We. Gave. You. Everything", he whispered. "And you... what did you give us? Nothing but betrayal and prison sentences".
"I gave you my sanity! My fucking body! My god damn self-respect!", I screamed. "Nothing? You call that nothing? You broke me! I don't owe you or the rest of the Moretti's a fucking thing. You all got what you deserve".
Gio pressed the gun harder into my head. Hard enough that I knew it would leave a bruise if he kept it there much longer. He exhaled then and backed away from me, raking his free hand through his hair. "I forgot how vexing you could be, Emilia".
"I forgot how short you were", I taunted.
His answer was a sharp backhand to the face and punch to my gut. "You say I broke you? You do not look broken to me. In fact," he walked away from me then to grab some of those pictures off the table I had seen earlier. "You look positively rejuvenated".
My heart dropped as he turned the pictures around so I could see.
Me with Aidan. Me with Colt. Me with Greyson. Me with Luka. All of us together as we sat at a booth in a club. Greyson and I in class. Luka and I walking through the city as he took pictures. Pictures of kisses, hugs, shared jokes, and intimate moments that were supposed to be for us alone were now being used to fuel Gio's campaign of revenge against me.
I looked up at him, past his hands furiously flipping through the stack of pictures meant to throw me off. He looked murderous.
Suddenly I got it.
That crazy look in his eye. The reaction to me dismissing my relationship with him and the Moretti's.
He was right, actually. He didn't break me. And that in turn, was breaking him. I hadn't been tucked away in a corner, frightened to rejoin society. While it took me some time, I healed. I put myself back together and found something that he was not in control of. People that love me unconditionally.
This whole thing wasn't just about getting back at me for bringing down the Moretti's. This was Gio's vendetta against the weak little girl that he thought belonged to him.
That girl never existed though. I was never weak.
"Tell me Gio, what is your play here? You've got me where you want me and we both know I'm not getting my hands out of these knots so indulge".
He chucked the pictures at me and they fell to the ground like oversized confetti. It took everything I had not to look at them longingly.
"The play, dearest, is to bring you back to Italy. You are going to help me rebuild the empire that you destroyed. Why would I kill you when I could just put you right back in the place that you thought you escaped from. I'm going to enjoy seeing that spark fade from your eyes again".
I scoffed. "You are a lot of things Gio, but stupid isn't... well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Surely you know I'm not helping you bring power back to the Moretti name".
He uncrossed his arms and gestured to the pictures that were scattered at my feet. "Surely you know I will kill them and make you watch if you don't come willingly".
My silence was answer enough for him.
"That's what I thought". He walked away then, disappearing as he opened a door that was behind me. "I've brought you a present. A homecoming present if you will, seeing as we leave in 20 minutes".
Footsteps echoed behind me, and I closed my eyes. Wishing with every fiber in my being that he hadn't captured one of the guys.
What greeted me when I opened my eyes was a relief. And a punch to the gut.
"Vera", I acknowledged.
"Hello, Emily". Her voice was thick with tears, and I noticed bruises trailing from her temple down to her throat.
The satisfied smile that broke across Gio's face as he put his arm around her shoulder was disturbing. I had trusted Vera and he was getting off on that.
Suddenly, gunshots sounded behind me followed by raised voices. Enough of them that I knew what was happening on the other side of that door. I had planned for it.
I shifted my focus back to her. "You were the one thing I didn't count on. The one piece of the puzzle that I failed to put together".
Confusion clouded both of their faces and Gio tensed up, causing Vera to flinch at his side."What the fuck do you mean?", Gio roared as he pushed Vera to the ground and rushed to get in my face.
An explosion rocked the room, forcing Gio to stumble back and my ears to ring. I barely felt anything besides the adrenaline that was coursing through my veins.
The room filled with people dressed in head-to-toe black and outfitted with military-issue handguns and bulletproof vests. Lead by special agent Riley Delgado.
Before he could get a chance to react, Gio was swarmed by agents who knocked the gun out of his hand and forced him to his knees. The look on his face: priceless.