Sempre redemption, p.50
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.50

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 50


  “Oh and someone came here yesterday! I don’t know who, because Mama made me stay away. She said it was for my own good, but what if it was my friend?”

  Chloe yelped. “My other friend,” Haven said quickly. “You’re still my bestest friend, but I have another friend that lives out in the world. Mama says the world is big. Did you know that? She says there are bunches and bunches of people out there, and there are so many houses! Like, bajillions of them!”

  She held her arms out wide to show her how many. Chloe got excited, jumping up and down and making noise. She quickly dropped her arms, putting her finger against her lips. “Shhhh, quiet! If someone hears you . . . ”

  “Too late. ”

  It felt like all the blood in Haven’s body froze. She jumped up and turned around, wanting to hide, but Frankie was there. He had her cornered.

  She stood like a statue, stubbornly, childishly hoping she would disappear and he wouldn’t see her anymore. He would go away and forget she existed again. She tried to count in her head, like her mama taught her to do when she was scared, but she got stuck after six, and he was looking at her too hard.

  Haven took a big step to the side, thinking she could escape, but it didn’t work. His eyes widened as he shook his head. “Don’t run, girl. ”

  She didn’t run. She stood like a statue again.

  He walked over and bent down, reaching his hand in the cage, snapping his finger. Chloe came right to him, whining for attention as he rubbed her head.

  “Do you like my beagle?” he asked, looking at Haven.

  She didn’t know what a beagle was but she nodded.

  “She’s a good girl, makes a good hunting dog. ” He patted Chloe on top of the head once more before standing back up. “Do you have a name for her?”

  She nodded again.

  “Will you tell me it?”

  Another nod. She didn’t know what else to do.

  He laughed at her muteness, and Haven squeezed her eyes shut tight when his hand came toward her. She braced herself for the hit, for the fingers digging in her flesh, the scratches and bruises, but none of it came. Instead, he patted her on the head like he had done Chloe. His hand was heavy, but it didn’t hurt.

  “You ought to be more careful, kid,” he said, still laughing to himself. “It’s never good when the likes of me can sneak up on somebody like you. ”

  It was then, as Frankie sauntered away, that Haven felt the telltale signs of her intuition striking, warning her when it was already too late.

  And years later, as she sat in a booth in the back of a small diner, sipping a cup of black coffee as Kelsey stabbed at a plate of scrambled eggs, she felt it stirring yet again. It started with a prickle, a tickle across her taut skin, before the tiny hairs at the nape of her neck stood on end. She ignored it at first, trying to pay attention to Kelsey, but the sensation just grew stronger and stronger.

  “Are you even listening to me?” Kelsey asked, pointing her fork at Haven.

  “Sure,” Haven said, absently rubbing her neck. “What did you say again?”

  “Let’s take a road trip. ”

  Brow furrowed, Haven stared at her friend. “What?”

  “Let’s take a road trip,” Kelsey repeated for what was likely the third time. “We don’t have anything else to do this summer, right?”

  “Uh, well . . . ” Haven hesitated. Road trip? “I kind of thought I’d just stay around here this summer and take a few extra classes. You know, get ahead. ”

  Kelsey dramatically rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. School will be here when we get back. It’s been a long year, and we deserve a break. ”

  “I don’t know . . . ”

  “Well, think about it. ” Kelsey threw her fork down and stood up, tossing some cash down on the table. “We can leave after the Novak Gala. ”

  “Okay,” Haven said, drinking the rest of her coffee before setting the cup aside. “I’ll think about it. ”

  She had no intention of thinking about it, no intention of leaving New York.

  The two of them left the diner, Kelsey once again babbling as they walked side by side toward the school. Haven was tense, her eyes darting around as they passed through crowds, surveying faces, analyzing looks. She kept peering over her shoulder, but she wasn’t sure why.

  What she was sure of, though, was the twisting in her gut, her intuition telling her that someone—or something—was there that shouldn’t be.

  * * *

  “Explain it to me again. ”

  Haven ignored Kelsey, acting as if her friend hadn’t spoken as she studied the canvas in front of her. The fresh paint glistened under the fluorescent lights of the art studio, the vast array of colors weaving together like a tangled rainbow.

  Abstract art—Haven was still trying to get the hang of it.

  “Does this look okay?” she asked anxiously.

  “It looks fine,” Kelsey said. “Now explain it to me again. ”

  Haven sighed. “We went out, it was nice, but it didn’t work. ”

  “And that’s it?”

  “That’s it,” Haven confirmed, still staring at the canvas. “Are you sure this is okay? Does it make sense?”

  “It’s abstract. It’s not supposed to make sense. ” Kelsey snorted. “I don’t get why you and Gavin can’t be friends. So there’s no spark, but you were totally friends before, right? What changed?”

  Haven sighed. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore. They had been talking about it for weeks. “I guess it was all or nothing with him. ”

  “Nonsense,” Kelsey argued. “He’s not that kind of man. ”

  Haven rolled her eyes. “You hardly knew him. ”

  “But you did. ”

  Silence permeated the studio. Did she know him? He worked at the construction site. Family business, he had said, but Haven knew nothing about his family. In fact, she knew little more than his name: Gavin something-or-other. She had heard his last name before, but she couldn’t recall it.

  “It doesn’t matter,” Haven said finally. “It wasn’t meant to happen. People come into our lives for a reason, so I have to believe there was a point to it somewhere, but it wasn’t for us to be friends, I guess. ”

  Setting down her paintbrush, Haven stepped back from the canvas. The spring Novak Gala was fast approaching, their submissions due by the end of the week, and Haven was struggling to create something she felt worthy of turning in.

  “I’m going to miss seeing his face around,” Kelsey said. “Talk about good looking!”

  Haven laughed. “If you like him so much, go ask him out. ”

  Eyes wide, Kelsey fervently shook her head. “No way. I couldn’t do that. ”

  “Why not?”

  “Because of you, duh,” she said. “It’s breaking the friendship code. ”

  “Don’t be silly. He’s a really great guy. Funny. Nice. You could definitely do worse. Actually, you have done worse. ”

  “You really liked him. ” A statement, not a question.

  “Yes. ”

  “Then why? Really?”

  Haven half shrugged, half shook her head. “There was nothing there. ”

  Kelsey’s expression softened. “Your ex. ”

  Carmine. “What about him?”

  “That’s why you felt no spark with Gavin. You had it with someone else. ”

  Haven thought that over, remembering the chemistry she had felt with Carmine. There had been electricity, so much he made her glow. The thought of never having that again, having to live her life with nothing but the memory of the way she had felt, troubled her. “Do you think it’s possible to feel it more than once?”

  “Absolutely,” Kelsey said. “I feel it every time a guy so much as looks at me these days. ”

  Haven laughed.

  “Or . . . ” Kelsey took a few steps toward her, scanning the colorful painting. “Or maybe I’ve never really felt it at all, and you’re just one
of the lucky ones. ”

  * * *

  “Corrado Moretti is notorious. They call him the Kevlar Killer on the streets, insinuating he’s bulletproof, untouchable, and maybe out there he is, but not in here. Here we seek the truth. Here we get justice. And justice, today, would be a guilty verdict. The defendant is a murderer, a liar, and a thief. Nobody is safe with him roaming free. We have proven he belongs to an organization that prides itself on killing, an organization that advances people for hurting others. What kind of organization does that? An immoral one. An illegal one. A dangerous one. ”

  The prosecutor babbled on and on as Corrado sat still in the hard chair, waiting. The eight-week trial was finally coming to an end with closing statements. It would soon be over and time to move on.

  Or so he hoped.

  When it was their turn, Mr. Borza stood and let out a bitter laugh. “The Kevlar Killer. It should be noted the media invented that nickname to sell papers. Sensationalized, to make money off an innocent man. The only reputation my client really has is for being a savvy businessman, a family man. His criminal record is clean. The government spent millions of dollars and thousands of man hours digging into every aspect of his life for years, trying to find something big, something scandalous, and the most they got was a bunch of heresy from convicted criminals looking for a way out of jail and a potentially unpaid tax bill, for which—if it makes them feel better—Mr. Moretti will write a check today. That’s it. ”

  Corrado tuned his lawyer out as he glanced around the courtroom, still banking on juror number six to come through for him. Mr. Borza kept it short and sweet, and the judge instructed the jury, sending them to the back to deliberate.

  “How long do you expect it to take?” Corrado asked after court was in recess.

  “There’s no way to tell,” he replied. “If they come back today, I’d say it’s good news. But honestly, Mr. Moretti? If they’re out more than forty-eight hours, I’d start praying for a hung jury. ”

  * * *

  Forty-eight hours came and went with nothing. Three days passed, then four. Corrado remained locked away at MCC, outfitted once again in an oversize orange jumpsuit. Warm weather had somehow crept up on them, the prison sweltering as the faulty air conditioner kept breaking down. The stench of stale sweat hung in the sticky air, clinging to everything its vileness could touch.

  Corrado’s patience dwindled. Every time footsteps approached his tiny cell, he stood at attention, waiting for them to deliver some news.

  None came.

  After a week, the jury sent a note claiming they were deadlocked and couldn’t agree, but the judge sent them back to deliberations, ordering them to give it a few more days. While a hung jury was certainly better than a guilty verdict, he wasn’t as excited at the prospect as his lawyer. A mistrial meant another trial. Another jury. More time away from his life . . . his wife.

  Twenty-four hours later, Corrado was lying on the bunk in his cell when heavy footsteps slowly approached the door. He got up and eyed the door, hoping against hope it was finally over.

  “Mail call,” the guy hollered, opening the slot in the door and dropping in an envelope. Corrado snatched it off the floor. Another false alarm.

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