Sempre redemption, p.75
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.75

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 75

 

  “Haven,” he said. “If I could have anything, I know what I’d ask for now. ”

  She pulled back from their hug to look at him with genuine curiosity. “What?”

  Carmine took a step back, reaching around his neck to pull off the gold chain. He unfastened it, removing the small ring, and eyed it in his palm momentarily before dropping to his knee. “If I could have anything in the world, it would be for you to marry me. ”

  And just like that, all of the air was sucked from the room. She stared at Carmine with shock and his heart pounded furiously as he waited for her to say something . . . any-fucking-thing.

  After a moment, tears formed in the corners of her eyes and one slid down her cheek. He brushed it away quickly as she smiled, the sight putting Carmine at ease. That smile was the only answer he needed.

  “You wouldn’t ask for your freedom back instead?” she asked quietly.

  He shook his head. “It wouldn’t be shit without you. ”

  46

  This is completely unnecessary,” Haven grumbled, gazing out the darkly tinted side window. Buildings whipped by at a steady pace as they drove through the streets of Chicago, the scenery a blur in the darkness.

  “Mr. DeMarco disagrees, ma’am,” a voice said politely from the front seat.

  “Calling me ma’am is unnecessary, too,” she said, glancing at the driver. She noticed he was watching her in the rearview mirror, nervousness written on his face. It was obvious he was new, not wanting to mess up his first chance to prove himself.

  “Sorry, ma’am,” he responded, his voice low as he averted his gaze.

  She smiled softly as she looked back out of the window, the irony of the situation not at all lost on her. It astonished her how much had changed, their lives altered in ways they never would have imagined at the beginning. Haven often thought about everything that happened to lead them where they were, curious how things might have turned out had the circumstances been different. She knew it was senseless, because it was impossible to change anything, but she couldn’t help but wonder.

  No matter how many times she thought it through, it always went back to a single event that had been the start of it all—the murder of her grandparents.

  Grandparents—she doubted she would ever get used to saying it. She never considered a family outside of her mother. Carmine offered to explain what he knew, promising he would be more open with her in the future, but it was actually Corrado who told Haven the whole truth. He relayed stories he had heard about the type of people they had been, a strong family full of pride. Corrado said they had been overjoyed to have a daughter. It was startling to hear about her mother’s beginnings and to learn how much she had been wanted . . . how much she had been loved.

  “Ma’am?” Haven glanced back over at the driver and saw he was watching her again. “There was an accident on Highway 41 that blocked northbound traffic. I had to take a detour, but it’ll only be a few minutes longer. ”

  She glanced at her watch, faintly making out the time in the darkness—a quarter past ten in the evening. “Okay. ”

  “I apologize for any inconvenience. ”

  “It’s fine,” she said. “And please, call me Haven. ”

  She gazed back out the window for the rest of the trip. He didn’t speak again until he pulled up in front of the large white house, parking the limo along the curb. He got out and glanced around cautiously before opening her door. She climbed out of the car. “Thank you. ”

  “You’re welcome, ma’am. ”

  She shook her head, knowing it was pointless to correct him again, and pulled out some cash. He tried to refuse her tip, saying it was an honor to drive her, and she rolled her eyes as she stuffed the money in his coat pocket.

  The house was dark and silent, nobody home. Haven kicked her shoes off right inside the door before heading into the kitchen, grabbing a glass from the cabinet and pouring some water into it from the faucet. Leaning against the counter, she took a sip as her eyes scanned the kitchen. There were used paper towels on the table with some cups sitting out, and the dishes definitely hadn’t been done during the day. Part of the counter was covered in crumbs and an empty jar of peanut butter sat beside the sink, the lid halfway on with a dirty knife laying beside it. Something sticky had also been spilled, the floor in desperate need of mopping.

  She sighed as she looked away from the mess, her eyes drifting toward the calendar on the wall. It was chaotic, writing scribbled all over it and days crossed out, but nothing stood out more than one date at the bottom.

  June 29

  The square was circled with a red marker and Haven smiled as she read the words neatly written in the box: wedding. It had been a year since they had found their way back together, and in a mere five days they planned to make it official.

  Marriage. It was still hard to believe they had come that far. It hadn’t been easy because they couldn’t wrap themselves in a bubble like they had done in Durante. They had to be a part of that world, had to integrate themselves into it and discover where they fit. It was occasionally a source of conflict as they sought to find balance between them as a couple and them as individuals, but it wasn’t so bad that they couldn’t work through it together. They disagreed on details, like how to be safe, and while she sometimes found it overwhelming, she tolerated a lot of what Carmine wanted. She would never get used to the bodyguards or car services, but she knew it was a small price to pay for Carmine’s peace of mind.

  Because peace of mind was something Carmine rarely got.

  Haven took another sip of water before setting the glass down on the counter. She started to walk away but hesitated, turning back around and grabbing the glass again. She put it in the dishwasher and quickly gathered the other dishes that had been left laying around. The sticky floor would have to wait but the rest she couldn’t walk away from, because despite everything that was different, some core things still remained the same.

  Like Corrado had said: Cambiano i suonatori ma la musica è sempre quella. The melody’s changed, but the song remains the same.

  * * *

  Carmine took a deep breath to steady himself, inhaling the scent of greasy cheese and spicy pepperoni. His stomach rumbled, churning ruthlessly. He couldn’t tell if it was actual hunger or purely his frazzled nerves.

  He stepped into the busy pizzeria and spotted Corrado sitting alone at a table along the side. Carmine’s gaze remained focused on the shiny, checkered linoleum as he approached his uncle, ignoring the intense look he received from the register.

  “Corrado,” Carmine greeted him. “I mean, uh, sir. ”

  Corrado didn’t bother looking up. He simply kicked the chair out across from him as he pulled a piece of pizza from the small box on the table. It smelled strongly like onions and peppers and sausage.

  Carmine’s stomach churned harder. Definitely nerves.

  He took a seat, trying to avoid smelling the food by breathing through his mouth. Neither spoke as Corrado ate, casually slouched in the chair as if he had not a care in the world. After he finished, he closed the empty box and sat back, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m listening. ”

  “I . . . well, I mean, we . . . ”

  “We?”

  “Haven and I,” he clarified. “We wanted to know if—”

  “Why isn’t she here?” Corrado asked, cutting him off. “If she has a problem, she’s more than capable of coming to me herself. ”

  “She had a school thing tonight. ” Carmine sighed. “It’s not a problem anyway. It’s more like a favor. ”

  “You call me up and say it’s important—so important I take time out of my dinner for you—and it’s because you want something?”

  “Yes. ”

  “This better be good. ”

  Carmine took a deep breath, cringing as he inhaled the scent of the food, and forced the words from his lips before he lost the nerve. “You know we’re getting marri
ed tomorrow . . . ”

  “Of course I know,” he replied. “I received my invitation and made plans to come. I am still invited, correct?”

  “Correct. ”

  “Okay, then. There’s no problem. I already made sure to clear your schedule for the weekend, so you shouldn’t have any problems consummating the marriage. ”

  Carmine cringed at his wording. “It’s not that. ”

  “Then what is it? I’m getting impatient. ”

  “We want to know if you’ll give Haven away. ”

  Corrado stared across the table at him, unmoving, barely blinking, as if he hadn’t heard Carmine speak at all. He had, though, and after a minute or so he slowly shook his head, as if trying to process the words. “Give her away. ”

  “Yeah, you know, walk her down the aisle when we get married. ”

  “I know what you mean, Carmine. ”

  “Her dad, well . . . you know. And I’d ask my dad, but well . . . you know. ”

  Corrado had killed them. Carmine didn’t say it out loud, but they both thought it.

  “Fine,” he said. “I’ll do it. ”

  Carmine’s eyes widened. He had expected a staunch denial. “No shit?”

  “Language. ”

  He blanched. “I mean, uh . . . so you’ll do it?”

  “Yes. ”

  Carmine smiled, relief settling in, but it wasn’t near enough to calm his frazzled nerves. Just being within a block of that building put him on edge.

  “You’re fidgeting,” Corrado pointed out. “Were you that nervous to ask me?”

  “No,” he replied. “I was, but that’s not my problem. ”

  “Then what is?”

  Carmine stared at his uncle, baffled how he could seem so comfortable. “It doesn’t bother you to be here?”

  “Why would it?” Corrado eyed him with confusion. “I eat here all the time. ”

  “Yeah, but . . . ” He leaned over the table, whispering. “. . . his kids. ”

  Corrado had killed them, too. Both of them.

  Corrado’s eyes drifted past him toward the front register. Turning, Carmine eyed the owner, John Tarullo, curiously. He only vaguely recognized the man from when he was a kid, remembering eating here a few times with his parents. He knew it had been John, though, that saved him that October day. He owed him a lot—his life, to be precise—but Carmine could hardly stand to look at the aging man.

  He was a walking, talking, unhappy fucking reminder of everything Carmine had been through.

  Sensing the attention—or maybe it was purely coincidence—John chose that moment to look at the two of them. His expression remained stoic, strictly business, but Carmine could sense the deep sadness in his dark eyes.

  “I did what I had to do,” Corrado said. “Had I let them live, had I let them continue as they were, my family would’ve been jeopardized. So no, it doesn’t bother me, but losing one of you? That might. ”

  Corrado stood, heading for the door, and nodded politely to John Tarullo before disappearing outside.

  * * *

  After taking a shower and putting on some comfortable clothes, Haven made her way downstairs and saw the light on in the kitchen. Carmine stood in front of the refrigerator with the door wide open, glaring inside of it, home from wherever he had been while she was at school. She didn’t ask, and he didn’t tell.

 
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