Sempre redemption, p.72
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.72

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 72

 

  Corrado finally broke eye contact with Carmine to look at her. “I’m not throwing my weight around. ”

  “Yes, you are,” she said. “You’re just a big bully. You act like he blatantly ignored what time to be here. It was just a few minutes, no harm done. ”

  “This time,” Corrado retorted. “It might not mean anything right now, but five minutes can be a matter of life and death in other situations. ”

  “Yes, other situations. Meaning not this one, so give the boy a break. ”

  “He’s not a boy, Celia,” Corrado said, his expression darkening a bit.

  “He is,” she argued. “He’s my nephew. ”

  “He’s my soldato. ”

  “He was my nephew first. ”

  “It doesn’t matter. He’s mine forever. ”

  Carmine froze when Corrado spoke those words, a sickness brewing in the pit of his stomach. He had witnessed a lot of ridiculous conversations in his life but having them argue over him was surreal.

  Celia pushed her chair back and stood. “I’m going to the ladies room. ”

  Corrado shook his head when she stormed away and the underboss, sitting to his left, clapped him on the shoulder. “Ah, chi non ha moglie non ha padrone. ”

  Carmine smirked at his words and Corrado smiled, but it was forced. He was furious that Celia had challenged him in front of his men. He reached for his glass on the table in front of him, taking a drink as Haven leaned toward Carmine.

  “What did that guy say?” she whispered, trying to be quiet, but Corrado overheard her.

  He set his glass back down and answered before Carmine had a chance. “He said a man without a wife is a man without a master. ”

  She tensed. “Oh. ”

  “I forgot you don’t speak Italian,” he said. “Have you ever thought to learn?”

  The color drained from her face at being put on the spot, the eyes of everyone nearby going straight to her. Most people within the organization knew by now she was a Principessa by birth, even though few of them ever had any actual contact with her. They were intrigued, naturally. Carmine understood their curiosity, but that didn’t mean it annoyed him any less.

  “Uh, yes,” she said. “I’ve learned a little bit. ”

  “From Carmine?”

  She glanced at Carmine and he immediately felt bad, seeing the panic in her eyes. She was trying her best to stay cool on the surface, but he could tell she was a mess inside. “He’s taught me some, yes. ”

  “So I assume you know the bad words, then,” Corrado said.

  She nodded. “I know other things, too, though. ”

  “Like?”

  She looked at Carmine again, like she expected him to rescue her, but he couldn’t. Even if he tried, Corrado would stop him.

  She realized after a second that he wasn’t going to say anything. She turned back to Corrado, picking at her fingernails under the table. “Like ti amo and sempre. ”

  “And?”

  “And ciao. Buongiorno. Grazie. Prego. ” Her pronunciation was spot on. It was simple, but it was better than nothing. “And uh, Vaffanculo?”

  They all just stared at her, the silence managing to grow even more awkward.

  After what felt like an hour, Corrado’s expression softened and a smile tugged at his lips. He let out a laugh—a genuine fucking laugh. “That was a curse. ”

  “Oh. ” She turned bright red. “Carmine uses it a lot. ”

  “Doesn’t surprise me a bit. ”

  There was quiet chatter as everyone relaxed, the Boss’s demeanor influencing the others. The tension receded from the room and Haven loosened up, her posture no longer stiff. Celia returned, she and Corrado both relaxing as they whispered to each other. Carmine watched them, their natural chemistry obvious. Despite everything, the fighting and violence and outright bullshit their lives could sometimes be, they were happy together. They loved each other and it was the love that got them through everything else. As long as they had that, nothing would tear them apart.

  Carmine glanced at Haven, reaching under the table and taking her hand. He squeezed it and she smiled softly, gazing back at him. He saw that same type of love in her eyes, the kind of love that was damn near unbreakable.

  There was food and drinks, conversation and laughter. Time passed swiftly and Carmine found he actually enjoyed himself. A smile continuously graced Haven’s lips as she talked to people, not seeming at all nervous to be around his kind.

  His kind. He hated saying it, but it was true. La Cosa Nostra was his family. And like a real dysfunctional family, he fucking hated them most of the time.

  He looked around the restaurant, seeing all types of people having dinner. There were couples and families, friends and business associates. All seemed content and relaxed, completely oblivious to the danger in the room with them. It was strange to Carmine how people didn’t even flinch from their presence, like they were desensitized to violence and pain. They seemed ignorant to the fact that lifelong criminals surrounded them, their children and wives breathing the same air as cold, calculating murderers.

  Well, most seemed oblivious. His gaze fell upon a man in the corner by himself, his attention focused on the tables surrounding them. His eyes locked with Carmine’s after a moment, and even across the room he could see the coldness. The man certainly wasn’t what he would call a friendly face.

  Carmine stared him down for a while before the man stood, tossing some money on the table and walking out.

  The night continued on, as did the food and drinks. The crowd thinned, thoughts of that man going right out along with the others.

  “Can I get you guys anything else?” a waitress asked eventually, stepping over to their table. It was nearing ten in the evening. Corrado and Celia were a few feet away, talking to the soon-to-be bride and groom.

  Haven shook her head, stabbing at the tiramisu on her plate with a fork. “No, thank you. ”

  The waitress glanced at Carmine and he nodded, picking up his glass and holding it out to her. She walked away without a word, returning with another vodka and Coke. He thanked her, taking a drink as she moved on to the next table.

  Haven set her fork down and looked at Carmine, her eyes wandering past him. “Do you know how they met?” she asked, motioning toward the couple.

  “It was arranged,” he replied.

  “An arranged marriage? They do that?”

  He shrugged and nodded at the same time, a half-assed answer since he wasn’t sure how to explain it. “They’ve known each other since they were kids. They were just . . . put together, I guess. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s how most of them do it. They just pair off with other people in the life. It’s easier that way. ”

  She looked downright perplexed for a moment before understanding crept into her features. “Like Michael and Katrina. ”

  He nodded. “And their parents before them. Pretty much everyone in here did it. They don’t like outsiders coming in, so they stay in the inner circle. My father broke protocol. ”

  “So did you,” she said.

  “I don’t know, tesoro. You’re one of us. ”

  “But you didn’t know that, and I definitely wasn’t in your inner circle. ”

  “True. ”

  “Would you have, though?” she asked. “Would you have come back here and eventually found someone like everyone else?”

  “No. ”

  “How do you know?”

  “Because there’s no one else for me,” he replied. “These people care about bloodlines and rank and power and shit, but none of that matters to me. I’d never pursue a woman because of who her father is. Chances are I’d just hate her. In case you haven’t noticed, most of the women in the life are spoiled, uptight bitches who feel like people owe them. And I refuse to accept the fact that I owe anyone a thing . . . except you, maybe. So, no thanks. ”

  Haven shook her head. “So you’d just be alone?”
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  “If I’m gonna be miserable either way, I’d rather be miserable alone,” he said. “Why are you asking, anyway?”

  “I just wondered about it all,” she said, still watching the couple. “Do you think those two love each other, at least?”

  “It’s possible,” he replied. “Sometimes what they feel is real. I know Celia wouldn’t stay with Corrado if she didn’t love him, so it’s possible those two will get married and be happy, too. ”

  “And you don’t think you would have ever tried?”

  Her questions made his head spin. “I don’t know. ”

  “But don’t you think it’s important to have someone around who understands?”

  Before he had a chance to even think about how to respond to that, Corrado and Celia started back in their direction. Celia took her seat while Corrado paused beside Carmine, eyeing him warily. “How many drinks have you had?”

  He hesitated, looking at his half-empty glass. “Uh . . . ”

  “The fact that you have to think about it is answer enough,” he said, holding out his hand. “Give me your keys. ”

  Carmine’s heart pounded hard as he took in his uncle’s stern expression. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys to the Mazda. Corrado snatched them from him.

  “Here,” he said, tossing the keys to Haven. “Make sure he gets home safe. ”

  “Yes, sir,” she said quietly.

  “There you go throwing your weight around again,” Celia commented.

  Corrado let out a slightly bitter laugh. “Well, he doesn’t have a wife yet, so I’m the only master he’s got for the time being. ”

  Carmine fought the urge to roll his eyes as he picked up his glass when Corrado was called away from the table again. He turned to Haven after downing the rest of his drink. “You ready to go, tesoro? I’ve had my fill of family for the time being. ” He peeked at his aunt Celia. “No offense, of course. ”

  “None taken,” Celia said. “Go, have fun. ”

  Haven stood and smiled as they walked away. They almost slipped out undetected, but Corrado spotted them as they neared the door and called Carmine’s name. “Be available in case I need you, and next time wear cleaner shoes. How hard is it to shine them? It takes all of five minutes. ”

  “Uh, yeah,” he muttered. “I wasn’t thinking. ”

  Haven looked smug about it, but her expression shifted quickly when Corrado spoke once more. “Haven?”

  She went rigid. “Yes, sir?”

  “You did well tonight,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure. ”

  Her eyes lit up. “Thank you, sir. I’m glad you invited me. ”

  Carmine grabbed Haven’s hand and tugged on it, wanting to get out the door before Corrado decided he had something else to say.

  “Were you telling the truth?” Carmine asked as they strolled through the packed parking lot. “Are you glad he invited you?”

  “Yeah,” she replied. “They were all actually really . . . nice. ”

 
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