Despite my aching ribs, eye, jaw, and shoulders, I felt a weight lifting off my shoulders as I looked at Gio.
Everything I had planned over the past three months was coming together.
A familiar voice whispered in my ear as my hands and feet were cut free. “If you ever scare us like this again, you won’t be able to walk for a week after I’m done with you”.
A tear rolled down my cheek as Colt enveloped me in a hug. Luka, Aiden, and Greyson stood behind him in various stages of disarray. They looked like they hadn’t slept in weeks and each of them was outfitted with bullet-proof vests.
I shot Delgado a grateful look before turning back to Gio who was still struggling against the hold of the FBI agents. I walked towards him slowly, wanting to savor every moment of him being at my mercy.
When I crouched down in front of him, I think he would have strangled me if he hadn’t been restrained. “Did you really think you were going to be able to take me again?“, I asked rhetorically. “You taught me everything I know Gio. You should have been a little more original with your methods if you didn’t want me to notice I was being watched”.
He spat at me. Narrowly missing my face as I stood up to grab a chair. I bent down to pick up the gun that had been thrown to the ground when they restrained him, and a jolt of satisfaction trickled down my spine as fear entered his eyes.
“That fake band your guys made posters for and plastered all over my apartment? Come on now, Gio, that was overkill and it made me suspicious about the demo tape. Sure enough, when I checked it, there was a nifty little listening device implanted in the disc. I made sure to smash it before chucking it in the garbage. Oh, and the guys you had watching me all over the city should probably learn to blend in a little better. And while we’re at it, maybe don’t approach my boyfriend while wearing your signature cologne”.
Awareness slid across his expression as I finished speaking.
“You got sloppy in prison, Gio”, I taunted.
I thought he looked murderous before, but I was wrong. That was just anger. The look on his face now was full of poisonous rage that had been building up ever since I sent him to prison.
“I had agent Delgado over there place a few guys around me too just in case you decided to pull something. They’re a little better at blending in than your team. Delgado even volunteered to pose as a concierge to keep an eye out. And lo and behold, when I didn’t come back from my meeting with Vera without contacting him or the guys, he knew you had finally made your move”.
He gave Gio a mocking salute, causing him to struggle against his restraints in a move to make it to the agent.
“I should thank you”, I spoke again. He turned his head back to me.
“Yes. You should thank me for a great number of things, but do specify for me niece”.
I reached into my mouth to pull out a small silver, tooth covering. If you looked closely enough, a soft red light emitted from the center. “For not wasting any time bloodying me up. It gave these nice agents here plenty of time to find me when you activated my tracking device within the first minute of seeing me again”.
“You think you’ve won something, princess? You and those boys will never be safe. I will hunt you down even if I have to do it from the inside of a cell”, he spat at me. Sweat rolled down his face as his chest heaved.
I knew that. I had counted on it even. Gio wouldn’t stop until he got me back. Which is why I couldn’t risk leaving anything to chance.
“You lost, uncle”, I said softly. It was the first time I had ever called him that and the shock on his face was the most human I had ever seen him look. I wanted him to know that I knew what that word meant to him. It meant shared blood and history. It meant accepting that I was tied to him, and he was tied to me.
I wanted him to hear me call him uncle before I killed him.
The shot rang out as Gio’s head flew back from the impact of the bullet. I felt his blood hit my face. It was the only thing I felt at that moment other than the soft buzzing the recoil had left in my hand.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion after that.
Voices moved past me and people hurried around me.
Agent Delgado and his team cleaned up the body before he walked to my side and put his hand on my shoulder. “What do you want us to do with her?“, he asked me gently. Gesturing to Vera who had been remarkably silent this whole time. She sat against the far wall with her legs pulled up to her chest and tears running down her face.
Vera was an unexpected complication.
“Can you give me a second, Delgado? I think there’s more to her involvement than we know”. Delgado promised to let me handle Gio in whatever way I saw fit if I promised to assist him and his team in their future assignments from time to time.
I made my way over to her and sat down. We didn’t speak for a long while. Both of us watching Delgado’s team clean up the area and my guys do their best to stay out of the way. They looked shaken up and I knew I was going to have a lot of explaining to do upon getting home. The concerned looks they kept shooting my way almost made me feel bad for not including them in my plans.
“What are you going to do to me?“, Vera asked quietly.
I sighed long and loud. That was the question, wasn’t it? “I’m not sure”, I said honestly. “As I said before, I never realized you were a part of this”.
She let out a humorless laugh. “A part of this”. She shook her head. “No, I’m not a part of this. The only reason I am here is because Gio told me he’d finally let me see my daughter again if I helped him. It’s been 22 years since I’ve seen her, and I barely remember what she looked like as a baby”.
Tears fell in steady streams as she let her head rest against the wall. “I thought I had gotten her away from all of this”, she began again. “But I failed her. And you killed him. So now I don’t know if I will ever see her again and I don’t know what life I am going back to if you choose to let me go”.
My gut clenched at her words and bitter remorse clawed its way into my heart. “I’m sorry for my part in your unhappiness. Truly I am and I will do my best to help you. But... I couldn’t leave him alive. He would never have let all of this go if I sent him to prison again. I had to kill him, Vera,” I appealed to her.
She looked at me then and the full force of her emotion hit. All she wanted was to see her daughter again. She exhaled deeply before reaching her hand out to me. “You might as well call me by real name. Nicola. Nicola Moretti. I suppose we should make peace seeing as we are likely cousins”.
A roaring sound filled my head as I stared at her. It couldn’t be.
“You said your name was Nicola”, I breathed.
She cocked her head slightly. “Yes... why?”
I didn’t want to say it. It would hurt too much if I was wrong.
“Gio used to tell me stories of my mother when I was at my lowest. He told me he did so to inspire me to work harder, but I knew he only told me those stories to make me ache for something I would never have”.
“What does that have to do with me?“, she gazed at me with eyes that were all too familiar.
“He told me her name only once. It was Nicola”.
She looked at me then in a way that exposed me down to my marrow. She looked at me in a way that only a mother can look at her child. The moment she saw I had her eyes was the moment I knew it to be true.
The sob that escaped from her chest cracked open the fragile strength I was holding onto. “Emilia?“, she said desperately.
“Yes”, I cried. “My real name is Emilia”.
This woman was my mother. My mother, who was alive and who was willing to do anything to find me.
We clung to each other. Crying and holding each other tight enough as if to make up for 21 years of missed hugs and memories.
She stroked my hair as I broke down in her arms. “La mia ragazza, la mia cara ragazza. Mi dispiace così tanto non averti potuto salvare da questo mondo,” she said softly. (My girl. My darling girl. I am sorry I could not save you from this world).
I pulled back to look at her and placed my hands on the sides of her face. “Non essere dispiaciuta mamma. Hai fatto tutto il possibile per me”, I reassured her. (
She took my hands in hers then and kissed each finger with such tender reverence. “You are everything I ever wanted in a daughter. So strong and clever. So beautiful”.
I closed my eyes then and let every ounce of pain wash away for a moment.
I had my mother back.