Sempre redemption, p.3
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.3

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 3


  The loud bang of a gunshot ringing out in the distance. A piercing scream cutting through the air. Nicholas dropping to his knees and clutching his chest as he opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. There was nothing but strangled silence. He was gone within a matter of seconds.


  Fucking dead.

  “It’ll only take a few minutes,” the detective said when Carmine didn’t respond. “May I come in?”

  Carmine shook his head, barely able to get out the words. “Go away. ”

  Before he could slam the door in the man’s face, Vincent’s voice rang out behind him. “Let him in, son. ”

  Carmine turned to see his father standing on the stairs. He had to have heard wrong. Vincent DeMarco would never willingly invite law enforcement into his home. “Excuse me?”

  “You heard me. ” Vincent descended the last few steps into the foyer. “Let him ask his questions. ”

  “No way,” Carmine spat. He was about to ask his father if he had lost his mind when his brother interrupted.

  “Where the hell’s the food? I’m starving here,” Dominic hollered, stepping out of the great room and glancing toward the front door. His eyes went wide when he saw the police officer. “Whoa, definitely not the delivery guy! What did you do now, bro?”

  Carmine groaned. Why did he have to assume it was him?

  “He isn’t here for Carmine,” Vincent said. “He just has a few questions for Haven, and then he’ll be on his way. ”

  Begrudgingly, Carmine moved aside so Vincent could lead the detective into the family room. Dominic excused himself, bolting upstairs and dragging Tess along with him. Carmine went to close the door when a car pulled up, the Chinese delivery guy parking behind the unmarked police cruiser. Carmine shoved some money at the guy, then snatched the food and slammed the door, dropping their dinner off in the kitchen before hurrying to the family room.

  Carmine sat on the arm of the couch beside Haven, not wanting to be far from her, as the man cleared his throat. “I’d prefer to speak to her alone, if you don’t mind. ”

  “Unfortunately for you, I do mind,” Vincent said. “I invited you in, but I won’t be put out by you. ”

  “Fine. ” Detective Baranski pulled a small notebook from his pocket and flipped it open. “Haven, do you know Nicholas Barlow?”

  Haven picked at her fingernails as she started stammering. “Yes. Well, I know who he is, but I didn’t really know him that well. Or, I mean, I don’t . . . not didn’t. ”

  Her panicked eyes darted toward Carmine briefly before settling on the floor.

  “When’s the last time you saw him?” Detective Baranski asked.

  “The end of September,” she said. “Carmine had a football game that night. ”

  “And did anything out of the ordinary happen at the game?”

  “I kicked his ass,” Carmine chimed in, wanting to spare her from having to recount it. “That’s not really out of the ordinary, though. We fought all the time. ”

  “Huh. Well, what happened after the fight?”

  “He ran off,” Carmine said, “just like every other time we fought. ”

  The officer eyed Carmine suspiciously. “Was that the last time you saw him?”

  “No, I saw him a week after that,” Carmine admitted. “I was taking the SAT at the high school when he showed up. ”


  “For shits and giggles. Why does anyone take the SATs?”

  “I’m not asking you why you took the test,” Detective Baranski said impatiently. “I’m asking why he was there. ”

  Carmine shrugged, knowing what he meant the first time but not wanting to answer that question.

  “Did anything happen then?”

  “Exactly what happened every other time the two of us got together. ”

  “Another fight. ” The officer nodded as if it were no surprise. “And the last time you saw him, Haven, was at the football game?”

  “Yes. ” She hesitated before shaking her head. “Well, no. I saw him later that night at Aurora Lake. We talked and then I went home. ”

  “And that was the last time you saw him?”

  Her eyes quickly scanned the room as Vincent nodded, the movement so slight Carmine barely caught it. “Yes,” she whispered. Lying.

  “Do you have any idea what might’ve happened to him?”

  She didn’t hesitate this time. “Yes. ”

  Tensing, Carmine looked at her incredulously. What the fuck?

  “The night at the lake, he said there was nothing left here for him,” she said. “He talked about leaving, just disappearing, to start over somewhere where nobody knew him. I thought he was venting, but I wonder if that’s what he did. ”

  “It’s possible. ” The officer closed his notebook and returned it to his pocket.

  “I can’t help but think it’s my fault,” she continued. “Maybe I could’ve stopped him, or helped him. Maybe then he wouldn’t be . . . gone. ”

  Carmine’s chest tightened with guilt at her words.

  “You can’t blame yourself for decisions other people make, miss,” Officer Baranski said, standing to leave. “I appreciate your time. If you think of anything else that might help us find Nicholas, give me a call. ”

  He pulled out a business card and Haven gingerly took it from him. Vincent showed the officer out and Haven sat still for a moment before crumpling the officer’s card up in a tight fist.

  The tension in the room mounted. Carmine couldn’t stand the silence and turned to her as soon as the front door closed. “You really think this is your fault?”

  “Of course,” she said quietly. “If I hadn’t—”

  “That’s ridiculous,” he interrupted, not giving her a chance to explain. “You didn’t cause any of this. ”

  “But I did,” she said. “Don’t you see? All of it was me, Carmine, all because I’m some Princi—whatever! A stinking princess! Your mother and Nicholas died, Corrado got hurt, and you gave your life away like it didn’t even matter! What’s next? How much more is going to happen because of me?”

  Carmine knew it then, seeing the tears flooding her sorrowful eyes, tears she had been holding back for weeks. The button had been pushed. The nuclear bomb had been ignited. Their fragile bubble of contentment was about to fucking explode.

  “I won’t let you take that burden,” he said. “And don’t you dare feel guilty for what I did. If you wanna blame anyone for it, blame me. I did it because I wanted to, not because I had to. I did it because I love you, Haven, and you didn’t force me to fucking love you. I did that shit all on my own. And I don’t regret any of it. ”

  “Why not?”

  “Why would I? You’re finally safe. You’re finally free. ”

  “Am I?” Haven shook her head with frustration. “Am I safe? Am I free?”

  “Of course you are. ” His brow furrowed. “Why wouldn’t you be?”

  “I don’t know,” she said, tears running down her cheeks. “I don’t even know what that means. ”

  “We’ve talked about this,” he said, throwing up his hands in exasperation. “It means you can do anything you want—go where you wanna go, be what you wanna be, do what you wanna do. Fuck, be who you wanna be. ”

  “Can you?”

  The question caught Carmine off guard. “Uh . . . ”

  Her voice cracked from distress. “Don’t you see, Carmine? How can I ever be free if you aren’t? How can I do those things if you can’t?”

  “I think . . . ” A ringing cell phone in Carmine’s pocket shattered his train of thought. He trailed off, pulling it out, and didn’t have to look at the screen to know it was Salvatore. Haven stood up without a word and started out of the room, but he called after her. “Wait, Haven. We need to talk about this so just . . . wait, okay? This will only take a minute. ”

  She stopped near the foyer and turned to him, tears still falling from her eyes. She said nothin

  His phone continued to ring in his hand and he groaned, knowing he needed to answer it. Taking a few steps over to the couch, Carmine sat down, his back to her. “Yes, sir?”

  “I wondered if you were going to take my call,” Salvatore said.

  “Of course I was,” he muttered, dropping his head and running his hand through his hair. He spotted the cop’s business card in a ball on the floor and snatched it up, frowning. “It’s just hectic here. I didn’t hear my phone. ”

  “Ah, well, I’m just calling to see how your holiday’s going. I assume Corrado has arrived, but I can’t get him to answer a phone, either. ”

  Carmine’s brow furrowed. A social call? “Yeah, he’s here. I think he’s asleep. ”

  “Makes sense,” Sal said. “He’s still recuperating, so I’m sure he needs his rest. It hasn’t been the same without him. It’ll be wonderful to have both of you on the job after Christmas. ”

  The color drained from Carmine’s face. “Excuse me?”

  “Corrado didn’t tell you yet?” Sal asked. “I’ve requested he bring you back with him. I’ve been more than accommodating with your, uh, situation, but it’s time you build your life here. Chicago’s your home now. It was always supposed to be. ”

  “But it’s only been—”

  “It’s been a month,” he said pointedly. “There’s nothing left there for you. ”

  Carmine knew there was no arguing with Salvatore. He had made his decision and nothing would change his mind. “Yeah, okay. Fine. ”

  “I’m glad that’s settled,” Sal said. “I look forward to having you close by, Principe. Tell Corrado to call me when he wakes up. Buon Natale. ”

  Carmine hung up and glanced out of the room, wondering how much Haven had heard, and frowned when he saw the deserted foyer.

  She hadn’t waited for him, after all.

  * * *

  “Is he okay?”

  Vincent looked up from the papers on his desk, peering through his reading glasses at his son. Carmine strolled into the office, throwing himself down in the leather chair across from him. He slouched, his body language one of nonchalance, but Vincent could see the genuine concern in his eyes. “Your uncle?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “He’s, uh . . . he’s still recovering,” Vincent said. “He’s only been conscious for a few weeks. He shouldn’t even be traveling yet. ”

  “But will he be okay?”

  “You heard your aunt Celia. She said he’d—”

  Carmine cut him off. “I know what she said, but I’m not asking her. I’m asking you. ”

  Vincent set the files down and leaned back in his chair. He removed his glasses, rubbing his tired eyes while his son quietly awaited a response. Carmine rolled a small ball of paper in his palm, tossing it from hand to hand.

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