Sempre redemption, p.71
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.71

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 71


  “There’s this thing tonight. Everyone’s supposed to be there. ”

  “What kind of thing?” she asked, her eyes narrowing slightly.

  “Just a thing,” he said, shrugging. “The new underboss’s son is getting married or whatever so they’re having a get together at Sicillitas. ”

  Typically those kinds of events took place at the Boss’s house, but Corrado wasn’t like the guys who used to run things. He tried to keep the Mafia out of his home, so special occasions were often spent in someone’s business now. Sicillitas was an upscale Italian restaurant owned by one of the Capos.

  “So you have to go,” she said quietly.

  “We,” he corrected her. “Corrado specifically said ‘You and Haven. ’”

  She frowned. He didn’t blame her. He didn’t want to go either, but Corrado was all about showing a strong front. He had gone out on a limb and vouched for her, something that made a few of the guys question his judgment. Haven integrating smoothly into their world was important to him.

  Plus, even if Corrado would never admit it, Carmine was pretty sure he actually liked her being around.

  “We won’t stay long,” he assured her. “The first chance we get, we’ll get the fuck out of there and do whatever you want. ”

  “Fine,” she grumbled.

  He watched as she gathered her stuff, cleaning up paints and throwing away the discarded papers. He felt bad for not helping, but he knew he would do more harm than good. This was her sanctuary, and you just don’t go fucking with someone else’s safe place.

  She put on her coat and grabbed the painting of the tree before turning back to Carmine. “You ready?” he asked. She nodded and smiled softly, but it didn’t reach her eyes. No, they were filled with dread, the happiness he had given her moments earlier forgotten.

  It made his chest ache. He needed a drink. Or two. Or ten. Something—anything—to dull the bitter ache of disappointing her.

  Carmine led her out of the studio and she got into the passenger seat of the Mazda, clicking her seat belt in place as he climbed in beside her. The drive home was silent, awkwardness surrounding them, seeping through Carmine’s skin and twisting his insides. He hated when things got like that between them, because he never knew what to say to her. Sorry you’re annoyed, tesoro. I can’t help I’m a loser and Get used to it, since I’ll probably keep disappointing you just didn’t seem to cut it, even though it was how it usually made Carmine feel.

  She said not a single word when they arrived home, grabbing her things and getting out of the car before he could even shut off the engine. She used her key and disappeared inside without waiting for Carmine. He took his time and she was nowhere to be found when he finally made his way into the house. He went straight for the refrigerator, opening the freezer and grabbing the chilled bottle of Grey Goose. He pulled the top off, tipping the bottle back and taking a long swig.

  He leaned against the counter and sipped on the vodka. His chest still ached, the alcohol doing nothing to ease his guilt, as he listened to the shower turn on and back off again on the second floor.

  He heard her footsteps in the hallway eventually and replaced the top on the bottle, slipping it back in the freezer as Haven made her way downstairs. The moment he saw her, his heart skipped a beat. Her damp hair was slightly wavy, the dark locks nearly identical in color to her plain black dress. Her bare feet slapped against the wooden floor, exposing strikingly red painted toenails, but her skin, while scarred, remained untainted by makeup.

  Simple, but beautiful. That was her.

  Haven eyed Carmine peculiarly when she saw him lingering in the kitchen. “What are you doing?” she asked, her eyes drifting to the freezer before settling back on him. He didn’t blame her for her suspicions. She knew him well.

  “Nothing. ” It was true. Sort of. He wasn’t doing a thing but standing there.

  “What were you doing?” she clarified.

  “Nothing,” he said again. Not so true that time.

  “Uh, okay,” she mumbled, still watching Carmine as she walked to the sink. “Are you going to change before we go?”

  He glanced at his clothes. He had on a tie, at least—seemed good enough to him. “Do I need to?”

  She shrugged. “I don’t think Corrado would be happy about the shoes. ”

  His gaze shifted to his Nike’s. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said, pushing away from the counter. He started to walk away but Haven grabbed his arm to stop him. He turned around, looking at her curiously, and she yanked Carmine toward her as she stood up on her tiptoes.

  He froze, dumbfounded, as she smashed her lips to his. When he finally got his wits about him, he parted his lips to kiss her back, but she abruptly pulled away, letting go completely. She took a step back. “You were drinking. ”

  There was no anger, not an ounce of hate in her voice. She wasn’t accusing Carmine—it was a simple statement. He had been drinking.

  “A little,” he replied. She nodded and turned away to look out of the window. He stood there for a moment, but she didn’t speak again. The subject was closed, nothing else to say.

  He headed upstairs to the bathroom and glanced in the mirror, surveying his reflection after splashing water on his face. He hardly recognized himself some days. Dark, heavy bags aligned his bloodshot eyes, his skin dry from the fickle Chicago weather. He had slicked his hair back that morning with pomade so it appeared a shade darker, making him seem paler than usual.

  He went into the bedroom and grabbed a pair of black shoes from the closet, sitting down on the edge of the bed to put them on. Haven walked in while he was tying them and scrunched up her nose. “Your shoes are scuffed. ”

  “It doesn’t matter. It’s not like the military where I need to shine the sons of bitches. ”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yeah, I’m sure,” he replied as he glanced at his watch. It was already fast approaching eight o’clock, when Corrado had told Carmine to be there. “Are you ready?”

  Carmine waited as she slipped on a pair of black heels, and they both grabbed their coats before heading out again. Haven was quiet as she got in the car, not speaking as he pulled away from the house. He fiddled with the radio anxiously, needing a distraction, and Haven just stared at him with a frown.

  “What now?” Carmine asked, annoyed.

  “Nothing. ” She stressed the word, her answer speaking volumes. She was sending a message with that motherfucker. It was a You asshole, who do you take me for? I can’t believe you thought you could fucking fool me kind of nothing.

  “I’m sorry. ”

  “Are you?”

  “Yes. ”

  “For what?”

  He looked at her, knowing what she wanted to hear. She wanted him to apologize for drinking, but he couldn’t do it. “I’m sorry for disappointing you,” he said. “I hate that shit. ”

  “I know,” she replied, reaching over and stroking his cheek before running her fingers through the hair near his neckline. She hit a snag and he grimaced. “What I hate is when you do your hair like this. ”

  He glanced in the rearview mirror at himself. Corrado preferred them to look clean-cut, but he hated it, too. “I kinda look like my fath—”

  He gripped the steering wheel tightly, unable to even get the entire thing out. It had been four months . . . about sixteen weeks . . . one hundred and twenty-something days . . . and the wound was just as raw as it had been that fateful night. He still saw it sometimes when he closed his eyes, reliving the moment his father had taken his last breath.

  Sometimes it was so hard he could barely breathe, in so much pain he felt like he was the one with the bullets lodged in his chest.

  Haven massaged Carmine’s neck as he focused on the road, trying to get himself back under control.

  “So since someone’s getting married, does that mean I can have whatever I want?” she asked offhandedly, distracting him from his though

  His brow furrowed. “What?”

  “Isn’t it true when someone gets married, you can ask a Mafia boss for something and he can’t refuse?”

  It took a moment for what she had said to register. He laughed. “Have you been watching The Godfather?”

  She blushed. “No. ”

  “Well, it’s not true, anyway,” he said, shaking his head. “They say the day of the Boss’s daughter’s wedding he won’t refuse anyone a favor, but it’s bullshit. ”

  “Oh,” she mumbled.

  “What would you want, though?” he asked curiously. “If you could have one wish granted, what would you ask for?”

  “I don’t know. What about you?”

  “I’m happy,” he replied. “There isn’t really anything anyone could give me. ”

  She looked at Carmine incredulously. “There is something someone could give you. Actually, it’s what I’d ask for. ”

  “What’s that?”

  “Your freedom. ”

  Carmine wasn’t sure what to say. “Well, too bad it doesn’t work that way. ”

  “Yeah, too bad. ”

  They arrived at the restaurant within a few minutes. He led Haven inside and saw his uncle right away, sitting at a table in the back with Celia. A slew of men gathered around them like a massive human shield of protection, but Celia managed to spot them through the crowd. She waved, the movement catching Corrado’s attention. He looked over as they approached, his expression blank, but Carmine could see the annoyance in his eyes.

  “Up,” he barked at the two guys sitting across from them. They didn’t hesitate before pushing their chairs back, vacating them, and Corrado motioned toward the now empty seats. “Sit. ”

  Haven immediately took a seat in the first chair, looking at Carmine apprehensively. He gave her a smile, trying to be reassuring, but the truth was he was just as nervous.

  “You’re late,” Corrado said, glaring at Carmine from across the table.

  He glanced at his watch: five minutes after eight. “I guess I am. ”

  “You guess you are?”

  “Yeah,” he replied. “I tried to be on time, but I—”

  “But nothing. ” His voice was sharp and Carmine shut up right away, a few people quieting down as they looked in their direction. “There’s no excuse for tardiness. ”

  “I know, I’m just saying—”

  “I know what you’re saying, Carmine,” he interrupted again. “And I’m saying there’s no excuse. ”

  “Yes, and I—”

  “He’s sorry,” Haven blurted out.

  Corrado looked at her peculiarly, his expression unreadable. “Is he?”

  She nodded hesitantly. “Yes, sir. ”

  “Well, at least there’s that. ”

  Things were tense as Corrado continued to stare them down, Haven still fidgeting and making Carmine even more anxious. After a moment Celia sighed and shook her head, turning to her husband. “If you’re done throwing your weight around, I’d like to eat. ”

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