Sempre redemption, p.61
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.61

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 61

 

  She took a deep breath and glanced at Carmine, their eyes connecting. “He probably thought he’d have to break his promise, but he didn’t, because he did exactly what he said he would. Now that I’m ready, he helped me find my way home. I just wish it hadn’t really been the last thing he did. ”

  A tear slid down her cheek as she stared into swirling deep green eyes that seemed to beckon to her. He opened his mouth like he was going to speak, but no sound escaped as he moved his lips. It didn’t matter, though, because she knew what he was trying to say.

  Welcome home.

  The woman sitting beside Celia spoke up then, her voice laced with cynicism. “Who is this girl? How’d she know Vincenzo?”

  “This is Carmine’s, uh . . . ” Celia trailed off. “Well, Mom, this is Haven Antonelli. She’s—”

  “Antonelli? You mean that little slave girl?”

  People cringed and gasped, shaking their heads and muttering under their breath from secondhand embarrassment, but Haven just nodded. “That’s me. ”

  “I’ll be damned. ” The woman surveyed her. “I guess we can’t really call you that, though, can we? No, Federica’s grandbaby isn’t a slave. She’s family. ”

  Dozens of eyes shot straight to the woman at those words, a deathly silence falling over the room.

  “What did you say, Gia?” Corrado asked, blinking with shock.

  “I said she’s Federica’s grandbaby,” Gia replied. “What, you didn’t know?”

  “No, I knew, but how did you?”

  Gia waved him off. “Antonio told me ages ago. He was planning to kill that Salamander when he found out, but he never got the chance. God got to my husband first, I guess. ”

  Corrado gaped at her. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

  “You never asked,” Gia said, shrugging. “Besides, you all think I’m crazy, anyway. Would you have believed me?”

  A minute of tense silence passed before Corrado shook his head. “No, I probably wouldn’t have. ”

  40

  I fucking love you. ”

  The words still echoed in Carmine’s head an hour later. Could it be that easy? He wanted to believe it, wanted to give in, but he was still conflicted. He couldn’t be positive he could keep her safe or be the man she deserved. He struggled to function on his own, and the last thing he wanted to do was drag her down with him. He would never forgive himself if he got her hurt.

  Carmine glanced away from Haven, sighing as he considered that, and noticed Corrado watching him with a peculiar look on his face. His penetrating stare burned through him, painful and raw, a bit of pity lingering behind the obvious judgment. Carmine stared back, their eyes connecting for only a few seconds, but it felt as if an eternity passed under the scrutiny of his gaze.

  A phone rang then and Carmine breathed a sigh of relief when his uncle looked away. Corrado pulled out the phone, silencing the ringing before casually slipping it back into his pocket. He sat unmoving for a moment, his expression vacant and shoulders relaxed, but Carmine could tell from the way he flexed his fingers at his side that he was stressed.

  And Corrado on edge was never good for anybody.

  He draped his arm over Celia’s shoulder and pulled her closer, whispering something in her ear. She tensed as she listened, glancing past him to where Carmine stood by the door. When he saw her worry, every ounce of relief he had felt a moment before washed away. Something was going on, and based on Celia’s expression, whatever Corrado had planned most likely concerned him.

  Carmine wasn’t surprised. As long as Salvatore was still out there, somewhere, his life was at risk. Glancing at Haven again, his paranoia flared. They had fought to keep her out of the line of fire, and she had unknowingly walked right onto the battlefield.

  He stood there for another minute, his unease growing until it all got to be too much. He slipped out of the room quietly, desperate for a drink, hoping it would help him clear the convoluted thoughts from his head. He ducked outside, surveying the streets quickly for any sign of trouble, but someone called his name before he could get more than a few steps away. Carmine froze at the sound of the voice and glanced behind him, seeing Corrado following.

  “You’re leaving without saying anything? Where are you going?”

  Carmine sighed as his uncle paused beside him on the sidewalk. “Home. ”

  “Home?” Corrado shook his head. “As many times as I speak to you about your behavior, you’d think it would sink in by now! You have absolutely no respect for your family. You treat them as if they’re disposable to you. Do you even care what they’re going through right now? Your father’s dead!”

  Carmine scoffed defensively, words flying from his mouth as he lost his temper. “Yeah, because of you. ”

  Corrado’s eyes darkened. He grabbed Carmine before he could utter another word and slammed him back against the brick house. Clutching his throat tightly, Corrado pinned him there, cutting off the flow of air. Carmine desperately grasped at his large hands, trying to pry them off as he struggled to breathe, but Corrado’s grip was too strong.

  “If you know what’s good for you, you won’t ever speak to me like that again,” Corrado said, his voice low and laced with venom. “Your family is in enough pain right now. Don’t make me give them another reason to grieve. ”

  He let go and took a few steps back as Carmine bent over, gasping for air. “What the fuck?” he spat, his eyes burning with tears. Corrado stepped forward again and Carmine flew upright immediately, holding his hands up defensively. “Christ, I didn’t mean it! I, uh . . . I’m sorry, okay?”

  “No, it’s not okay,” Corrado replied. “This entire time I’ve been cutting you slack because you can’t get over whatever you shared with Haven, and now that she’s here, this is how you act? What’s wrong with you?”

  “What’s wrong is she shouldn’t be here,” he gasped, still trying to catch his breath. “She’s going to get hurt. They’re all going to get hurt. ”

  “You’re avoiding them to keep them safe?” Corrado laughed bitterly. “Well, that’s . . . honorable, I suppose, but it’s also insulting. Do you honestly believe I won’t protect them? That I can’t? They’re my responsibility. Keeping them safe is my job. If I didn’t know Haven would be perfectly fine in your presence, she wouldn’t be here right now. If I thought you posed some danger to my wife, I wouldn’t let you within a hundred feet of her. ”

  Corrado paused as his phone rang again, to silence it once more. “Do you understand what I’m telling you?” he asked, continuing as if it never interrupted. “The odds of Haven dying in an accident are far greater than the odds of her being killed because of someone as trivial as you. Because that’s exactly what you are—insignificant. Do you get that? You’re nothing. ”

  He paused once more as his phone rang again, anger clouding his face at the sound, but this time he didn’t even bother to look at who was calling. “I have things to take care of. Go be with people who actually care about you. Don’t waste the chance. You never know when you might only have a few hours left to enjoy them. ”

  A chill ran the length of Carmine’s spine at his words. He stood there for a moment after Corrado left, trying to calm down, and bummed a cigarette from the first person that happened to stroll by. The smoke burned his lungs as he inhaled, the nicotine instantly soothing his frazzled nerves. He took a few quick puffs of the cheap generic menthol before tossing it onto the sidewalk and stamping it out.

  The house was still noisy when he reentered, but the crowd from the living room had disbursed. He wandered through the downstairs and found Celia in the kitchen, surprise flickering across her face when she spotted him. “Hey, kiddo. ”

  “Hey,” he mumbled, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge. He desperately wanted a real drink, something hard and straight from a glass bottle, but he knew better than to pull out the alcohol there. “Is, uh . . . I mean, where . . . ?”

  “She’s
out back,” Celia said, knowing what he wanted without Carmine even getting it out.

  “Thanks. ” He headed for the back door, spotting them lounging on the old wicker lawn furniture as soon as he stepped outside. He strolled in their direction, suddenly nervous again, but it all faded away when Haven looked at him. A radiant smile lit up her face as her eyes sparkled. His heart nearly stilled at the sight.

  It took everything Carmine had in him not to fall to his knees right then and there and beg her to always look at him that way. He wanted to plead with her to never stop loving him, for her to forgive him for everything he ever did wrong, even the shit she didn’t know about and never would. He wanted her to grant him absolution, to be his saving grace, to swear he was worthy of being saved. He never wanted her to be ashamed, and he sure as hell never wanted to see disappointment in her eyes. He wanted her to be proud, and at that moment, he wanted to swear he would do anything she ever asked of him to make it so.

  But instead, he choked back the flood of emotion and kept his mouth shut as he grabbed a chair from the patio and joined them out on the lawn. He sat beside Dominic and directly across from Haven, his eyes fixated solely on her.

  “Hey, bro,” Dominic said, slapping Carmine on the back. “Back already?”

  He shrugged. ”I never left. I just went out for some air. ”

  “Yeah, I’m sure you went out for air,” Tess said sarcastically. “You smell like smoke. Go sit downwind from me. It reeks. ”

  “The wind isn’t even blowing, Tess,” he said. “Shut the fuck up. ”

  Haven’s soft voice captured his attention, an inquisitive look on her face. “You smoke?”

  “Every now and then I’ll have one, but I don’t make a habit of it. ”

  “Speaking of habits . . . ” Dominic motioned toward the bottle in Carmine’s hand. “Is that really water, bro? It’s not usually your beverage of choice. ”

  Carmine narrowed his eyes. “Yes, it’s water. Is it that hard to believe?”

  “Well, yeah. The only clear liquid you’ve had to drink in a year is vodka. ”

  “Bullshit. You can’t say that when you haven’t even seen me much. ”

  “That’s because you’ve been drunk the entire time,” Tess chimed in, laughing humorlessly. “You probably wouldn’t even remember seeing us. ”

  “I don’t drink that much,” he retorted, knowing it was a lie the moment the words came out. He’d drunk himself unconscious more times than he could count. There were definite blank spots in his memory, entire days he couldn’t remember.

  “Did you drink at all today?” Dia asked from her seat beside Haven.

  “Yeah, where’s your flask?” Dominic asked. “Do you have it with you?”

  Carmine dropped his gaze. The subject made him want a drink even worse than he already had. He started rubbing his neck absentmindedly, his anxiety growing. “What is this, an intervention?”

 
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