Sempre redemption, p.52
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.52

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 52

 

  He shrugged, stepping forward. “Kelsey invited me. ”

  “Oh. ” It took a second for those words to sink in. “Oh! So you and her . . . I mean, you guys . . . ?” She paused, brow furrowed. “What happened to Fred?”

  “It’s nothing like that,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m not interested in her. ”

  “You’re not?” Guys were always interested in Kelsey.

  “Nope. ”

  “Why not?”

  “I don’t know. I guess my interests are elsewhere. ”

  “Where?” she asked. He cocked an eyebrow at her playfully, and a warm blush rose to her cheeks. “Oh. ”

  Gavin laughed, turning from her to the painting. “It’s nice. ”

  “Thank you,” she said, relaxing a bit as she gazed at it too. “What do you see?”

  He was quiet, studying it, before a smirk lifted the corner of his lips. “Spark. ”

  Nailed it right away.

  The Gala carried on as Haven was showered with praise. She basked in it, sipping seltzer water and hanging out with Gavin, laughing and chatting the night away. Kelsey appeared at some point, briefly stopping her to say hello, but Haven barely noticed amidst the chaos. It was more than she had expected, receiving so much acclaim over something she had poured her soul into, and by the time the evening started winding down she felt as if she were floating on air.

  It was toward the end of the evening when Gavin’s phone rang, interrupting the tranquility. He pulled it out, silencing it. “I have to get going. Work stuff. ”

  She frowned. “Thank you for coming. ”

  “My pleasure,” he said genuinely. “It was nice seeing you again. ”

  “You, too. ”

  Smiling, he reached over and caressed her flushed cheek. “See you around, Haven. ”

  Before she could come up with any words, he walked away. It wasn’t until after he passed through the door that what he had said struck her. It sounded so natural coming from his lips, so casual, that she was lucky to have caught it at all.

  Haven.

  Coldness washed through her so fast she visibly trembled. Her eyes remained glued to the exit he had disappeared through as her mind frantically worked. Could she be mistaken? Had she misheard? Maybe he misspoke and didn’t really know at all. She had never told him—she was certain of that—so she couldn’t imagine where he would have heard her real name.

  Trying to squelch her panic, she walked over to the guest book and flipped back through it, reading the countless names until she came to his: Gavin Amaro.

  Her stomach dropped.

  She bolted straight for the door. Bursting out to the sidewalk, she took a deep breath of the fresh night air, her heart beating like wildfire in her chest.

  She felt it then, the current running across her skin, jolting her spine and warning her. Intuition. Terror coated her like ice as she let out a shaky exhale, swinging around abruptly to face whoever was there.

  And in an instant, she nearly lost her balance in her high heels as she stared at a startlingly familiar face, so close she could reach out and touch it. She didn’t, though. She couldn’t move. She just stood there, completely still, as she whispered his name. “Dr. DeMarco?”

  * * *

  “Hello there. ”

  Vincent’s greeting hung in the warm air around them, lost somewhere between his lips and her ears. She gaped at him, her face a sheet of white like she had seen a ghost, as she stood in the middle of the sidewalk, wobbling in a pair of high heels. “Dr. DeMarco?”

  He let out an awkward chuckle when she said his name for the second time. “Yes. ”

  She shook her head in disbelief, cautiously surveying their surroundings as she took a step toward him. “Is something wrong? Did something happen?”

  “No,” he said, anxiously rubbing the back of his stiff neck as someone stepped out of the gallery behind her. He averted his gaze, turning slightly so he was angled away until they disappeared down the street.

  Paranoid, maybe, but he had good reason to be.

  “Are you okay?” she asked, taking yet another step toward him. “You seem . . . ”

  “Sketchy?” he guessed when she trailed off.

  “More like nervous,” she replied.

  Nervous. That was putting it mildly.

  “I’m okay,” he assured her, giving her a smile, hoping it would ease her concerns. “Do you think we can go somewhere to talk?”

  “Uh, sure. ” Haven glanced briefly behind her at the art gallery before starting toward him. She only made it a few steps before kicking off her shoes and carrying them. She nodded at him, smiling sheepishly, as they started down the street. They walked in silence, her eyes darting to him periodically as if still in disbelief, while he kept his head down, monitoring their surroundings.

  It only took a few minutes for them to reach their destination. Haven pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the front door of an apartment. Vincent ducked around her, not waiting for an invitation, and exhaled with relief once he was safely away from the public street.

  “This is your place?” he asked, glancing around the one-bedroom apartment he’d stepped into. This is the place Corrado set her up in? “It’s kind of small, isn’t it?”

  “Not really. I mean, it’s bigger than the horse stall I grew up in. ”

  Touché.

  “So was there something you wanted to talk about?” she asked, nervously sitting in a chair in the living room. “Why are you here?”

  Vincent strolled over, taking a seat in the center of her couch. “I was actually hoping you would tell me about your kidnapping. ”

  As if by some miracle, Haven managed to turn even paler. “My kidnapping?”

  “Yes,” he replied. “You don’t have to, of course, but I just wondered if you could tell me who you remembered seeing there. ”

  She hesitated, her forehead scrunching up in concentration. “You already know. I mean, they were there when . . . well, when you came for me. ”

  “Yes, I know, but I’d like to hear it from you,” he said. “I’d like to know what you remember. ”

  She let out a deep sigh as her gaze drifted to her hands in her lap. He could tell she didn’t want to talk about it and nearly felt ashamed for bringing it up to her, but it was important he heard it from her. Very important. “Nunzio was there. That guy Ivan was in charge. There were some other men, but I don’t know their names. Mostly Russians. And the girls . . . the nurse showed up, and then there was the other one. ”

  “What other one?”

  Haven hesitated. “I don’t remember her name. ”

  “Okay,” Vincent said. “And that’s it?”

  “Uh, yeah, I guess. ”

  “You guess?” Vincent rested his elbows on his thighs, leaning forward to look at her pointedly. “Who else was there?”

  “Just people who don’t exist anymore,” she whispered. “If they ever did. ”

  Vincent quietly processed that, the meaning sinking in as he thought back to the images he had seen in Haven’s notebook. The memory stung. “Maura. ”

  “Yes,” Haven whispered. “And my mama. And Number 33. ”

  His eyes met hers, curiosity brewing inside of him. “Number 33?”

  “A girl I saw at one of those places . . . she was for sale. She was number 33. ”

  Vincent frowned when it struck him what she meant. “An auction?”

  “Yes. Frankie took me as a kid. ”

  Sickness stirred Vincent’s stomach. He never knew. “Why?”

  “He said it was to teach me a lesson,” she replied. “The girl tried to escape, so well . . . Frankie killed her. He said it was what happened when people like me forget their place. It’s why, when you said you were going to remind me of my place that day, I thought . . . ”

  Vincent closed his eyes when she trailed off. He could still remember the look on her face when she came around that afternoon, waking up hand
cuffed to the post of her bed. “Please,” she had whispered. “I don’t want to die. ”

  Before Vincent could come up with words, Haven spoke again. “I know they weren’t really there, but I saw them in the warehouse. They talked to me. They gave me the strength to hold on. ”

  “Was there anyone else?” Vincent asked. “Maybe someone less desirable, like a . . . monster?”

  Haven remained still, staring at him, before softly whispering, “Carlo. ”

  Vincent was stunned. “You know his name. ”

  “I heard Frankie say it the day of the auction,” she replied. “He wanted my master to sell me to him. Terrified me. I thought he’d do it. ”

  “Thank God he didn’t. ”

  “Yeah, but he still taunted me over the years. I’d see him when he came to Blackburn. He’d stand there and stare at me. Just stare. He always hurt my mama. He always . . . ” She paused, angry tears glistening from her eyes. “He did things to her, but never me. He just watched me all the time, like he was waiting for when the time was right. ”

  “And you saw him when you were in the warehouse?”

  She nodded, wiping her eyes as a tear fell down her cheek. “I imagined him, I guess. Standing over me, just staring as usual, like the time still wasn’t right. He looked older, but it was definitely him. I’d never forget that face. ”

  Haven let out a bitter laugh while Vincent remained stoic. He hadn’t wanted to believe it, but something about her words made him wonder if she hadn’t imagined it at all.

  “Thank you,” Vincent said. “I just needed to hear you confirm it. ”

  “You’re welcome. ” Haven eyed him peculiarly. “Are you sure you’re okay, Dr. DeMarco? Won’t the people who monitor you track me here now?”

  “I don’t have my ankle monitor on anymore. ”

  Her eyes widened. “Is your trial over?”

  He stared at her, realizing at that moment how cut off she was from everything. He had been following her for weeks, gathering the courage to approach her, unsure how she would react to a wanted man showing up at her doorstep . . . a man most people suspected to be dead. But she didn’t even know. She knew nothing.

  Standing, Vincent stretched his aching back. “It’s not over yet, but it will be soon. Nothing to worry about. ”

  “Okay. ”

  “Anyway, I should be going. I’ve taken up enough of your time. ”

  Haven walked him to the door, the two of them silently hesitating in the foyer. There was so much Vincent still felt he needed to say, the words stuck on the tip of his tongue. He nearly managed to force them out, overpowering his lingering pride and overabundance of shame, when the front door to the brownstone thrust open behind them. A female’s laughter carried through the downstairs.

  Vincent immediately dropped his head, his eyes darting to the girl. She looked at him with surprise, and familiarity struck Vincent as he vaguely recognized her.

  Senator Brolin’s daughter.

  “Oh, wow,” she said, a grin lighting up her face. “Another one?”

 
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