Sempre redemption, p.6
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.6

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 6


  Sighing, Vincent flipped the page in the notebook and paused, holding it up. The color drained from Carmine’s face as he stared at another drawing, this one just as in depth as the other—except, instead of a monster, he was staring at an angel.

  The drawing of his mother struck something deep inside him, seizing his heart in a vice grip and constricting his chest.

  “The same way she drew Maura,” Vincent said quietly. “From memory. She’s already told me she hallucinated in the warehouse, and Carlo has a face no one would forget—clearly, considering you remember him and you rarely notice anyone except for yourself. It’s not a far stretch to say she saw him as a child. ”

  Carmine rolled his eyes, not buying that explanation. “What if you’re wrong?”

  “I’m not,” Vincent said.

  “But what if you are?” Carmine asked again. “What if he was in on it all?”

  “He wouldn’t be. His loyalty to Sal is unwavering. He’d do anything for the Boss, would never betray him, and Sal feels the same way about him. It’s just not plausible. You can ask Corrado if you don’t believe me. ”

  “And you can ask Haven,” Carmine said, his father’s unwillingness to even consider the idea annoying him. It was certainly nothing new, but it grated on his nerves now more than ever. “I’ll leave you alone now so you can call back whoever it was you were really talking to. I have my own shit to figure out. ”

  He stood to leave when his father cleared his throat. “Ascoltare il tuo cuore, Carmine. Just remember that, and I’m sure you’ll do the right thing . . . whatever that may be. Like I said, you are your mother’s child. ”

  Ascoltare il tuo cuore. Listen to your heart.

  If it weren’t so distressing, Carmine might have seen the irony of what his mother had always said. A person couldn’t escape fate, because what was meant to be would always be. No matter how hard Carmine tried to avoid the Mafia, he came back to it in the end.

  And Haven had been destined for freedom . . . his mother made sure of that.

  Carmine stepped out of his father’s office and pulled his cell phone from his pocket, scrolling through his contacts until he came upon his friend, Dia. He dialed her number, listening as it rang and rang, and let out a deep breath when her voicemail picked up. “Call me when you get this. ”


  Merry Christmas!”

  Haven jumped at the unexpected voice and spun around from the kitchen window. Celia stood just inside the doorway, smiling warmly, her eyes bright and awake with enthusiasm, even though the sun had barely started to rise outside.

  “Uh, Merry Christmas,” Haven said. “Good morning. ”

  Strolling over to the pantry, Celia rooted around, pulling out what she would need to make Christmas dinner. She was dressed in a gray long-sleeved dress and a pair of matching heels, her shiny dark hair cascading down her back and her makeup freshly applied. It was the complete opposite of how she had appeared when Haven last saw her in Chicago a mere month ago. Her glow was back, compassion and love radiating from her like warm sunlight.

  Longing struck Haven’s chest. It made her think of her mother. Oh, how she missed her, especially on days like this, days when she needed someone to talk to, someone who truly knew her and would know what to say.

  “Isn’t it awfully early for you to be awake?” Celia asked.

  “I guess so. ” Haven turned back to the window. The darkness gradually faded with every second that passed, making Carmine’s car more visible in the front yard. “I couldn’t sleep. I had a lot on my mind last night. ”


  “Like everything. ”

  Celia laughed. “Well, that certainly clears it up. ”

  Haven managed a smile as she peeked at Celia, her good mood infectious. “It’s just that Carmine got back really late last night. He was gone all day, told me he had shopping to do, but he didn’t bring any bags home. ”

  “Ah, shopping. ” Celia sighed knowingly. “Corrado used that one. Of course, he knew enough to stop by a store and buy something before coming home—usually throwing in some flowers to butter me up. I kind of miss those days, believe it or not. He doesn’t bother anymore. ”

  “With flowers?”

  Celia laughed again. “With excuses, kiddo . . . although, flowers again would be nice. It’s been ages. ”

  Haven toyed with the hem of her shirt, mulling over Celia’s words. “Doesn’t it bother you to be lied to, though?”

  “At first it did. I would get so angry with him, thinking it meant he didn’t trust me. I told him I wanted us to have the kind of relationship where we told each other everything. ”

  “What changed?”

  “He told me everything one day. I never asked him again. ” She closed her eyes at the memory, pausing to shake her head. “I think it’s easier for them to not bring that stuff home. It helps to know they have a sanctuary, that one place they can go and not have to be Mafiosi for a while. I’ll never be able to forget the things he said that day, the look on his face as he talked, as much as I wish I could. I don’t like my husband killing, and while I selfishly prefer it to him being killed, I learned that day that I don’t want to hear about it, either. ”

  Haven wasn’t sure what to say. “I can’t even think about Carmine being that way. That’s not him. That’s not the boy I know. He doesn’t . . . kill. ”

  “You’re right,” she said. “It wasn’t Vincent, either, believe it or not. Maura was afraid the man she loved would disappear, but they won’t if they have a reason not to. Carmine will always be the same person deep down inside. He’ll see things he’ll wish he could forget, and he’ll have a lot of guilt over things he can’t control, but don’t we all? Your love will still save him at the end of the day. ”

  Haven frowned. “It doesn’t feel like it anymore. ”

  “That’s because you’re scared,” she said, wrapping her arms around Haven in a hug. She stroked Haven’s hair with her hand, just like her mother had when she was younger. The ache in her chest intensified. “Neither of you seem to realize fear can be a good thing. It’s healthy and keeps us safe, warns us of danger. When you stop fearing things, you stop fighting. You lose motivation. You lose perspective, and you never want to do that. ”

  A throat cleared behind them. Celia let go of Haven and turned to look, tensing. Corrado leaned against the door frame, his arms crossed over his chest. “Am I interrupting?”

  Haven dropped her gaze to the floor. She hadn’t seen him since they had shown up. He had remained upstairs, secluded from the family. “No, sir. ”

  “Of course you are,” Celia said. “We were having girl talk. ”

  “So I heard,” he said. “I thought we agreed you would stay out of it. ”

  “And I thought you knew me better than that,” Celia replied. “You really can’t be that dense, Corrado. ”

  Haven gaped at Celia, stunned anyone would speak to him that way.

  “Pardon me for hoping you’d listen to common sense for once,” he countered. “Meddling in other people’s affairs—”

  “Only gets people hurt,” she said, cutting him off. “I know. I’ve heard you say it a million times, but they’re just kids, for heaven’s sake. ”

  “They’re adults,” Corrado said. “What they choose to do in their private lives is none of our concern. ”

  Celia laughed dryly. “None of our concern? Have you forgotten you vouched for her?”

  “That doesn’t mean I own her!” Corrado snapped, shooting Haven a quick glance that sent a chill down her spine. She had never heard him raise his voice before.

  Celia narrowed her eyes. “No, but it’s your job to help her. ”

  “I know what my duties are,” he responded coldly. “I’ll watch her. ”

  “Like Maura was watched?” Celia raised her eyebrows. “You told me to stay out of it, to mind my own business. A lot of good it did then, huh?”

  “Maura wa
s not my responsibility. She was Vincent’s. ”

  “You’re right,” Celia responded, “but Haven is yours. ”

  Corrado stood silently and stared at her, his expression blank. Celia stared right back, her gaze unwavering. The tension in the room mounted with each passing second. Uncomfortable, Haven fidgeted, feeling dizzy as the blood rushed furiously through her.

  “I, uh . . . I probably shouldn’t be here,” she whispered, turning for the door. She made it as far as the foyer before Corrado’s firm voice rang out, the sound of it halting Haven in her tracks.

  “Stop. ”

  She turned around as Corrado stepped into the foyer, glancing at her briefly and nodding before heading for the great room. She watched him for a second, unsure of what to do, before following slowly behind.

  The sun started to peek over the trees outside, but the room remained eerily dim. Haven was as quiet as a corpse as she took a seat on the couch and picked at her brittle fingernails, purposely avoiding Corrado’s powerful gaze.

  “Do you know what it means to vouch for someone, Haven?” he asked, breaking the tense silence that quickly enveloped the room like a thick, toxic cloud.

  Without looking at him, Haven nodded stiffly. “Carmine said it meant if I ever told about where I came from, you’d get in trouble, but I swear I never will. ”

  He held his hand up to silence her before she could really start pleading her case. “It’s more than that. It’s not just what you say and who you say it to . . . it’s what you do, too. People like me—we vouch for others every day. Associates, friends, family. We swear they’re good people, that they’ll never bring us any harm. We swear they’re trustworthy. If we’re wrong, it means we lied. It means they don’t benefit us by being out there in the world, by being alive, and frankly, maybe we shouldn’t be either. Your life may be your own now, but I can’t have that doubt lingering over my head, so there are some limitations because of the circumstances. ”

  Haven tensed. “Limitations?”

  “Yes, limitations,” Corrado said. “It’s better than the alternative. ”

  “What’s that?”

  “Going to stay with Salvatore,” he said. “Or death. I’m not sure which you’d find worse, but neither would be pleasant. So limitations it is. Besides, everyone has them. Most people are ruled by petty laws—wear your seat belt, don’t take what’s not yours. Catholics follow the Commandments—don’t covet thy neighbor’s wife or take the Lord’s name in vain. Nuns commit themselves to celibacy, lawyers and priests rely on confidentiality, and we, Haven, take a vow of silence and loyalty. We all live through the same Hell, just with different devils. ”

  Pausing, Corrado tinkered with his wedding ring. Haven wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say, so she said nothing. He continued after a moment. “Our devil doesn’t give the benefit of the doubt. Our devil shoots first and asks questions later, if at all. One look, one wrong move, and you’re guilty. They’ll carry out your punishment before you even know you were accused. Our devil shows no mercy. He can’t. You got that?”

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