Burned Dreams: Chapter 19

Ravenna

I take a glass of mineral water the waiter hands me and sip, pretending to pay attention to what the woman next to me is saying. She’s a sister-in-law of one of the Cosa Nostra enforcers, but I don’t remember which one or her name. I’m not sure why I came to this brunch. It’s some anniversary celebration Mrs. Natello organized, and I could have easily skipped it. But I came, needing the distraction.

If he keeps to the deal he made with the guy at the hospital, Alessandro only has three days left to kill Rocco and leave town. Knowing that my husband will soon be dead should bother me. Yet, I don’t care one bit. If there was any trace of compassion for Rocco that he failed to beat out of me, it evaporated the moment Alessandro told me about his wife, and what my husband did to her. Still, all things aside, a man’s life is in question. So, does that make me a bad person for not giving a shit what happens to Rocco now?

My eyes wander across Mrs. Natello’s sunroom, taking in the vistas beyond the glass panel walls keeping us comfortably warm and away from the frozen landscape outside. I bet, in the summer, the rolling green grass looks cheery from this location. Now, the emptiness of the lawn just draws my eye to the iron fence that surrounds the property and the ribbon of road on the other side. The ground is covered in a thin layer of snow, and the sullen skies overhead match the mood in my heart.

Turning away, my gaze falls on a group of men gathered toward the back of the room. Alessandro and a few other bodyguards stand watch. As usual, his stance is rigid but his eyes are constantly shifting, assessing the situation like a hawk. The rest of the security men are talking among themselves, not paying much attention to what’s happening to the party guests.

Mrs. Natello is not very popular, so this gathering is a pretty low-level event as far as the Cosa Nostra hierarchy is concerned. There are no big shots present here. It’s mostly the enforcers and their wives, but I had noticed three men who work with Rocco occasionally. They don’t look like businessmen, more like hired muscle. When Rocco needs a problem to be solved on the side, without the whole of the New York Family—and especially the boss—knowing about it, he avoids using Don Ajello’s soldiers.

This may be an insignificant event, but Alessandro is acting as if he’s on a battlefield, waiting for the enemy to surface. He leaves nothing to chance. I love that about him. He stands by his principles, and nothing or no one will make him break them. All that intensity—what if it was directed at me? How would it feel to have him as mine? Not just in body, but his soul, as well. Maybe if we would have met in another life, I may have had a chance. In this one, we met too late. His heart was already taken.

I lift my hand, pinching the bridge of my nose. It started to tingle as if my psyche was trying to tell me something. Is today the day when he’ll leave? Dear God, I’m going to miss him so much.

Alessandro turns, and for a brief moment, our eyes meet across the room. I’ve been avoiding eye contact with him since he left my room this morning. The pain is just too great to bear. Like now, a throbbing ache that spreads through my chest as I wonder if this will be the last look we share.

Mrs. Natello approaches, asking how we liked the appetizers. She’s wearing one of the dresses I purchased last month and had my mom sell to her. The dress is worth four grand, but Mrs. Natello only paid my mom half of that.

“Ravenna, I’ve never seen you with your hair down, dear,” she says. “What a surprise.”

“I needed a change.” I shrug.

She gives me an insincere smile and leans closer to me. “You know, I saw an amazing little Chanel clutch in their newest collection. It would go beautifully with my new coat.”

I look at her, focusing on the small, superficial smile straining her lips. How many times has my mother sold her the clothes I’ve bought? She knows I’ve been buying those clothes, and she’s never once asked why a capo’s wife would resort to obtaining money in such a way. Sometimes, I think bystanders are worse than the tormentors.

“I’m sure it would.” I finish my water and place the glass on the side table behind me. “Christmas sales are coming up, make sure you don’t miss them.”

Offering her an equally faux smile, I head across the sunroom. The amount of money I needed to run from Rocco had been astronomical, but with him out of the picture, I have more than enough. I’m going to wait until everything settles down, then take my mom and Vitto and go someplace where Cosa Nostra doesn’t have influence. I won’t risk my brother falling into their hands.

I find a less crowded spot on the other side of the sunroom, beyond the tables with food and the seating areas where most of the guests have congregated, but Pietro spots me and starts in my direction. Coming to this brunch was a mistake. I’m not in the mood for socializing, but anything felt better than staying in my bedroom. Being there made me think about everything Alessandro told me. His words kept replaying in my mind, over and over. And amid the kaleidoscope of everything that happened between us, one thought kept nudging. He was with me when we made love.

 

Alessandro

 

It’s him again.

I fist my hands and force myself to stop watching Ravenna and Pietro talking on the far side of the buffet table. Not possible. It’s as if my eyes are drawn to them by magnetic energy and nothing can make me look away.

Their conversation seems friendly. Pietro is one of those guys who always does things by the book, so he would never flirt with a married woman. But I’ve seen the way he looks at Ravenna. The moment she’s free, he’ll make his move, and I won’t be there to stop him.

My nails dig into my palms as my fists tighten even more. By all accounts, I should be glad for her. That cultured, straightlaced motherfucker would be a good match for her. Ravenna would be happy with him. Pietro might be an uptight, sophisticated bastard, but he’s more than capable of keeping her safe. Yet . . . My hands ache and rage brews inside my chest. She’s mine! No one should be allowed to keep her safe but me!

I take a deep breath and start counting to ten. My decision has been made. I had to decide between my vow of revenge and her, and I chose the former. I need to let Ravenna go.

Pietro places his hand on the small of Ravenna’s back, and my self-control evaporates. I stride across the room, stopping right behind Ravenna. I’m so close that her ass brushes against my thighs.

“Move,” I bite out, looking down at Pietro.

He tilts his head up and raises an eyebrow. “Oh. Rocco’s watchdog. I was wondering where you were.”

I lean my head so I’m closer to his level. “I said, move.”

Small fingers grab my hand and lightly squeeze.

“It was nice seeing you, Pietro. Say hi to your sister for me.” Ravenna squeezes me again, and then quickly removes her hand from mine. “Alessandro, can you escort me to the ladies’ room?”

I follow Ravenna through the French doors that open to the inside of the main house. We enter a room where the walls are covered in portraits of dogs and old people wearing froufrou clothes. Ravenna passes a couple having a discussion near the grandfather clock and enters a wide hallway leading further inside the house. Halfway down, she stops and turns to face me.

“What the fuck was that?” she whisper-yells.

I grind my teeth. “I’m just doing my job.”

“I don’t think there is a need for you to keep doing it, Alessandro. And we both know very well why.”

Yes, I guess we do. I reach out and brush her cheek with the back of my hand. She is wearing minimal makeup today, just some eyeshadow. Her silk dress is the same emerald-green as her eyes. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to see that color and not be reminded of her.

Ravenna tilts her head to the side, leaning into my touch, and wraps her fingers around my wrist. “When are you leaving?”

“Tonight.”

She nods, and one tear slides down her cheek, dissolving as it connects with my thumb.

“Take care of yourself, Alessandro.” She steps around me, heading back down the hall.

I close my eyes, then turn around and wrap my arms around her from behind. Her scent enters my nose, and I bend, burying my face in her hair. The music and chatter out in the sunroom can be heard all the way back here, but I block out the noise and focus on the feeling of having her in my arms.

Ravenna’s hand slides between our bodies and presses to my painfully hard cock. I might condition my mind to resist her, but my body never will. Every time she’s near, my dick yearns to possess her. I pull her closer to me and inhale again.

“Is there an antidote for this?” I ask as I slide my palms down the front of her thighs and then up, pulling the silky fabric to her waist.

“For what?”

“You, Ravi.”

A small moan leaves her lips when I pull her lace thong to the side and cup her pussy in my palm. Drenched. I caress her folds, sliding my finger inside her warmth, then pull out my hand and bring it to my mouth and nose.

“Everything about you smells like fucking ambrosia.” I lick my fingers.

The instant I taste her on my lips, the last of my self-restraint vanishes. I need to have her one more time or I’m going to lose my mind.

“Tell me to leave.” I lower my hand again and, this time, I slide my finger into the depths of her pussy. “Just one word, Ravi, and I’ll remove my hand.”

Ravenna whimpers and widens her thighs while a shudder runs through her body. She grabs the handle on the door on our left, opening it. The room beyond the threshold looks like a study. Bookshelves, two recliners set before them, and by the far wall, a desk with some papers on top. Keeping my hand pressed to Ravenna’s pussy, I tighten the hold around her waist and carry her inside the room.

 

Ravenna

 

This damn dress has a zipper on the back.

I reach behind, trying to grasp the tab when Alessandro’s fingers wrap around my hand, pulling it away. A kiss lands on my bare shoulder, sending small shivers through my body. Without lifting his lips off my bare skin, he takes the zipper and slowly slides it down, all the way to my ass.

“Have I told you that you are the most beautiful woman gracing this earth?” he whispers as the silky fabric cascades down my legs.

“No,” I breathe out and close my eyes.

“You are.” He hooks his finger in the string of my thong, pulling it off, while his other hand strokes my ass cheek. “And I want to eat you alive.”

A small yelp leaves my lips when he collects me in his arms and carries me across the room. Papers rustle under my naked ass as he deposits me on the desk and crushes his mouth to mine, sucking on my tongue as if he truly intends to eat me. I reach for the zipper on his pants, but my hands are shaking, and it takes me a few tries to open it and release his cock.

“Legs around my waist,” Alessandro rasps while threading his fingers through my hair.

I lock my legs behind his back and move my ass forward, right to the edge of the desk.

“Now, take a deep breath,” he says as the tip of his cock presses on my entrance. “Slowly, Ravenna.”

It’s almost impossible to draw in the air slowly when I feel as if I’m going to explode, but I manage. As I slowly inhale, he slides his cock inside me, inch by inch. It feels like I’m breathing him into my body, and the sensation of it nearly brings me over the edge. Only when he’s fully inside do I exhale, and, for a moment, I just stare into his eyes.

I can’t believe we’re doing this here. There is no lock on the door, so anyone can come in and see us. Me—a married woman—being fucked by her bodyguard while her husband is in the hospital. Panic rises inside me. I grab Alessandro’s wrist and quickly move his hand to my throat. As his strong fingers wrap around my neck, the panic recedes.

“Don’t remove your hand,” I whisper.

Alessandro nods and slams his lips to my own. His tongue fucks my mouth, hard and fast, then slow yet still demanding, until he pulls away, breathless. “Anything you need, Ravi.”

He slides out slowly only to thrust into me again, his cock stretching my already pulsing pussy. It feels so good. Liberating. My eyes singe through his as he rocks into me, needing to burn his face into my memory. He stares at me with the same intensity while our breaths mix, and, suddenly, I’m overcome with the need to weep. This is a goodbye.

“Let’s run away,” I whisper, my voice shaking, “We’ll head straight to your car and be gone, leaving everything behind.”

Alessandro clenches his jaw, a pained expression crosses his face. I know what I’m asking of him. There’s such turmoil in his depths as he increases his thrusts, hammering me like a madman. Please, choose me, I plead in my head.

“I can’t.” His voice comes out broken as he says it.

Shutting out the world along with my sight, my fingers slip over his short hair. As the pressure builds inside my core, my frame starts to shudder. Pleasure and pain. Seems one can’t exist without the other.

“Ravenna.”

My body is rejoicing while my soul weeps as Alessandro fucks me senseless. I’m shaking so much that I can barely keep my legs hooked behind his back.

“Ravenna, look at me.”

I roll my head and try to grip his too-short hair. At best, my nails scrape over his scalp. “Harder. Please.”

He pulls out and, with his next thrust, sends me over the edge and joins me in free fall. I whimper as I ride the high, my breathing fast and heavy. Alessandro’s lips find mine, claiming them, just as he claimed me with his seed, filling me up to the brim. I don’t want the world to return, so I let myself smolder in the heat of his arms a while longer.

“Ravi?”

I bite the inside of my cheek and make myself meet his eyes. Every touch we share becomes a knife in my chest, prolonging this agony. I can’t do this anymore. It’s killing me on the inside.

I gather myself and plead, “Can I ask you to do something for me?”

He tilts his head to the side and strokes my cheek with his hand. “Anything. You know that.”

Yes. Anything, except to choose me.

“I need you to leave now, Alessandro.”

His fingers still on my face.

“I’ll get dressed and go back to the party,” I say, willing my voice not to tremble. “I’ll ask someone to drive me home in the next hour. Will that be enough time for you to get your things from the mansion?”

He drops his head, leaning his forehead to mine. “Yes.”

“Okay,” I choke out.

Alessandro doesn’t move, just resumes stroking my cheek with his thumb, silently staring at me. That hush is shuttered by laughter outside the room, probably a few guests heading to a restroom. There is a possibility that they may walk in here, but I can’t make myself care. I lift my hand and wrap my fingers around Alessandro’s wrist, pulling his hand off my neck.

“I love you, Alessandro,” I whisper. “Please, take care.”

He shuts his eyes for a second, then takes a step back. His hand falls away from my face. I watch him as he pulls up his zipper, then turns and heads out of the room. At the door, he comes to a halt, and my heart leaps as slight hope ignites within me.

“I’m sorry, Ravenna,” he says, squashing that ember to ash.

He walks out, not bothering to look back.

 

Alessandro

 

I stare at the sunroom through the windshield of my SUV, searching the small crowd of milling people for the green dress. I’ve started my car three times already, only to turn off the ignition moments later.

She told me she loves me. It almost killed me to leave her there after hearing those words. It doesn’t have to be like this. Felix can easily find a hitman who could handle Pisano, and no one would be able to tie his death to me. I can call him right now, then return to the party and take Ravenna away with me.

But the beast gnawing on my soul these past eight years sinks its teeth deeper in my flesh, demanding for me to carry out Rocco’s death sentence myself. It yearns for the blood I promised it so long ago, and it won’t tolerate a substitution.

I’ve accepted my fate, but I can’t make myself leave. Not yet. I need to see that Ravenna arrives home safely, and only then will I let the beast get its due.

A roar of an approaching vehicle reaches me, becoming louder as it nears. It’s not a car, the exhaust noise is harsh and too high-pitched. I look toward the other end of the driveway, where a big black bike comes to a stop.

Taking my gun out of the shoulder holster, I exit the car and hurry across the driveway while snow crunches under the soles of my feet.

“What are you doing here?” I bark as I stop in front of the biker.

Drago Popov pushes up the visor on his helmet and fixes me with his gaze. “Settling the accounts.”

“We had a deal.” I lift my gun and point it at his face. “Leave. Now.”

“Our deal, Zanetti, only applies to Rocco Pisano. Not to the others who were involved in killing my men. And my intel says that three of them are inside at the moment.”

Several more bikes approach at high speed from the rear. I turn around, my eyes snapping toward the sunroom where the guests are still having drinks. On the road beyond the iron fence surrounding the house, two bikes come to a halt. Foreboding rises inside me, then transforms into a heart-stopping panic. I’m already running across the driveway when the bikers pull out their guns and start shooting through the glass walls.

People scream, their wails mix with the sound of gunfire. In my mind, however, it all turns into a single shrilling buzz. It drills directly into my brain, to the point that it feels like my head will explode.

By the time I reach the shattered walls of the sunroom, the shooting has ceased and is replaced with the rumbling of the bikes speeding away. The air is filled with screams and yelling.

Pieces of glass are everywhere; tables and chairs lie overturned throughout the space. The bodies of two men are on the ground, twin blood pools surrounding them both. I recognize these guys right away as guns for hire I saw with Rocco on one occasion. Another goon is sprawled on the buffet table.

I frantically scan the guests huddled on the floor behind the overturned tables. There are at least thirty women here, but I can’t see her!

White dress. Pink. Black. Black again. Yellow. But no green. Where is she? I start running around, stepping over people’s hands, feet, legs. I don’t give a fuck. A man approaches me, pulling on my arm. I grab him by the front of his jacket, launch him onto one of the upright seats, and continue my maniacal search. Red. Black. Gold. I stop in the middle of the room trying to calm down. And failing.

“Ravenna!” I roar at the top of my lungs.

The noise in the background of hysterical wailing and shouting comes to an abrupt halt, and dozens of eyes turn to stare at me. On the other side of the room, a partially hidden head of tangled black hair peeks its face from behind a table resting on its side.

“I’m okay,” Ravenna says and stands up.

Jesus fucking Christ. She seems unharmed, but I need to assure myself. I rush toward her, not minding the people in my way. The instant I reach Ravenna, I grab her under her arms, lifting her over the table to set her in front of me. As her feet touch the ground, I run my palms down her arms and front, then turn her around, examining her back.

“Alessandro,” she mumbles.

“Did any of the glass hit you?” I ask as I’m scanning the back of her head. “Let me see your legs.”

“I’m fine.”

I turn her to face me and kneel, going over her shins with my hands. Only after I’ve checked her out completely will I be able to draw a fucking breath. I lift her left foot and remove her shiny black heel. Maybe a shard has gotten inside.

“There is nothing in my shoe, Alessandro.”

I shake my head and move to her other heel, taking it off as well, then glide my palm over her sole. When I’m done with my inspection, and the fact that she’s unharmed finally penetrates my brain, my hands start shaking. A strange sensation washes over me, a myriad of different emotions. It feels like someone has just emptied a full magazine of high-caliber bullets right into my chest. Fear and anger. Relief. Guilt.

The walls of my stone fortress quake like never before, the thundering rumble filling my mind. She could have died. The thunder rolls, the sound so powerful that I’m convinced I can feel its vibrations in my bones. I could have lost her.

I picture Ravenna, her blood-covered body lying atop shards of glass on the floor. If I wasn’t already on my knees, I’m certain I’d be now. The bloodthirsty beast yearning for retribution screams in anguish, retracting its claws as the eight-year-long hold slips. What’s left of my revenge fortress shudders, its once-mighty stones falling apart before finally exploding into a cloud of fine dust.

“Alessandro?” Ravenna’s hand lands on my shoulder, squeezing it lightly.

I wrap my arms around her legs and lean my forehead on her waist, pulling her to me. The next time I set my eyes on that son of a bitch Popov, I’m going to fucking annihilate him.

The sounds of crying and moaning around us finally register on me. Along with the suffering, I catch the low murmurs of Ravenna’s name along with mine. It hasn’t been more than five minutes since someone shot at them, and people have already started to gossip. They all can go to hell.

I feel a touch on my cheek as Ravenna takes my face between her palms and tilts my head up. “I thought you said you were leaving.”

Yes, I was. Until I heard those gunshots and imagined one hitting her. I’m taking her with me, and if ensuring she’s safe means I have to let someone else kill Rocco fucking Pisano, so be it.

“We are.” I rise and scoop her into my arms, pressing my mouth to hers.

Ravenna’s arms lock tightly around my neck as she returns my frantic kiss, sharing my air. I squeeze her even tighter to my chest.

Gasps and shouts ring out around us, but I tune them out, completely focused on Ravenna in my arms.

“I love you, Ravi,” I say into her lips. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to my senses. If you want me to kneel down in front of you here and ask for your forgiveness, I will. Just please, come with me.”

“Always.” She tightens her hold around my neck. “And anywhere.”

I kiss her again, turning toward the driveway. People with shocked expressions on their faces watch us as I navigate between the scattered furniture and glass, right through the shattered sunroom walls to my parked car on the driveway. They’re all shaking heads and murmuring among themselves, but I don’t give a fuck.

 

Ravenna

 

When we reach his car, Alessandro places me on the passenger seat and takes off his suit jacket, putting it around my shoulders.

“We should have taken your coat.” He adjusts the sides of the jacket so they cover my chest. It seems as if he’s obsessed with keeping me warm.

“I’m fine.” I reach out and lightly stroke his cheek.

Alessandro nods then walks around the hood, getting behind the wheel, but instead of starting the car, he leans forward and cups my face with his palm.

“Are you sure about this, Ravi?”

His eyes search mine as if he’s expecting me to refute my earlier conviction. I know he needs to kill Rocco, and I don’t care how many people will be after us when he does. I would go with him to the ends of the earth.

“Yes,” I breathe.

Alessandro’s intense attention doesn’t leave me as he reaches for his phone and dials someone.

“Felix,” he says when the call connects. “I need a hitman. The target is at a hospital in New York. He’s heavily guarded, so it needs to be taken care of with a sniper shot through a window. I’ll send you the coordinates and a sketch of the suitable spot location I found. It has a direct line of sight to the mark.”

“Are you fucking with me, Az?” a grumbly voice yells on the other side. “Last time I checked, you are a damn hitman with proficiency in long-range rifles, and you’re already there.”

Alessandro takes my chin between his fingers and leans forward, pressing his lips to mine.

“If I do it myself, someone I love will be in danger,” he says into my lips.

My heart stops beating. I lift my shaking hand and place it on Alessandro’s cheek.

“What happened to your plan?” I ask. “You’ve spent years plotting to exact your revenge. I’m sure you dreamed of doing it personally.”

“I did. But I have other dreams now.” He tosses the phone onto the dash. The man on the other end of the line is still speaking, but Alessandro continues, “And all of them revolve around you, Ravi. I won’t risk putting you in danger by having Ajello come after me. No retaliation is worth that.”

One tear escapes my eye, but this time it’s a tear of happiness, not of sorrow. I know what his revenge means to him, and now he’s letting it go.

“I would have come with you regardless,” I whisper.

“I would never have allowed that. What I feel for you is greater than anything I’ve ever felt before, Ravenna. It’s like a beautiful blaze that consumes me, shining light on a darkness that has festered in my soul for so long. And I want to stay in this light forever if you’ll let me.”

I swallow hard and nod.

“I’m driving you back to the mansion. You’ll pack your things. Just the essentials. And you’ll call your mom and ask her to do the same.”

“We’re taking my mom and Vitto with us?”

“Yes. We will all be leaving tonight. I need to get rid of some things before we can go, and it will take me a few hours.”

“Okay.”

Alessandro’s hand falls away from my face, and he starts the car. When he pulls out of the driveway, he looks down at my hands clasped on my lap, then places his palm on my thigh and hooks his pinkie with mine.

We’re halfway to the mansion when Alessandro takes a turn, heading north. I don’t comment on the change in direction but keep watching his profile while stroking his palm with the tip of my finger.

A little over half an hour later, he makes a left turn, heading down the street that leads to a cemetery. We drive through the gates, and he parks the SUV curbside to a section of plots and turns to face me.

“I need to make a quick stop.” He lifts my hand to his mouth and places a kiss on the middle of my palm. “Do you want to come with me?”

“Yes. But only if you want me to,” I say quietly.

“I do.” He nods.

We exit the car, and Alessandro takes my hand and leads me along the wide gravel path through the cemetery. I look down at our entwined fingers, feeling a bit nervous over what I’m certain we’re about to face. Neither of us says a word as we follow a few narrow paths until we reach the white marble tombstone. Next to it is a young birch tree, its thin bare branches heightening the sorrow in this place. I stare at its white trunk, not daring to look directly at Alessandro for fear of seeing the regret on his face. But I can still see him out of the corner of my eye as he reaches with his free hand and strokes the surface of the stone.

The hold on my hand loosens, and his fingers slip from mine. I close my eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. What will I see when I open them? Will he tell me he’s changed his mind?

I gather the courage and lift my lids to face the truth.

Alessandro is standing next to me, undoing the knot on the leather string around his left wrist. Once finished, he places the string with the teddy bear charm atop the tombstone and takes my hand again.

“Goodbye, Natalie,” he says in a rough voice, then bends and drops a kiss to the top of my head. “Let’s go, baby.”

 

* * *

 

The digits on the dresser clock flip to ten-thirty, reflecting off the glass keeping out the night

There’s a small backpack on the floor, barely half-full. I don’t want to take anything purchased with my husband’s money, so I’ve only packed one pair of leggings, a few tops, and some underwear. Rocco threw away everything else I brought with me to this house. Since I don’t have a jacket of my own, only the expensive coats of Rocco’s choosing, I put on Alessandro’s suit jacket.

When I hear the sound of footsteps in the hallway, I leap from the bed and grab my phone and backpack, then dash through the door. The hallway is dark, the only light comes from the chandelier above the stair landing at the end, its glow illuminates the figure a few paces in front of me.

The bag and phone slip out of my hand, dropping to the floor with a thud as panic explodes in my chest.

“Going somewhere, bellissima?”

I freeze, unable to move as if someone glued my feet to the floor. I can’t even speak.

“I got a call earlier.” Rocco takes a step forward. “It was about a brunch party where my wife was apparently kissing her bodyguard. That can’t be true, can it?”

I can’t force words out of my mouth, the only thing I can do is just stand there and stare at him while terror floods my body. Rocco swings his arm, striking my face with such force that I end up knocked into the wall.

“You fucking slut!” Rocco roars and wraps his left hand around my neck. “I’m going to fucking kill you! And then, I’m going to find that lying son of a bitch and skin him alive!”

“He’s gone. And he’s not coming back,” I choke out as I finally break out of my stupor and grab his wrist, trying to dislodge his hand but failing.

You can’t fight me with strength. Alessandro’s voice says in my head.

I shift and duck my head under Rocco’s arm, twisting my whole body in one quick movement. He loses his grip, his fingers slipping off my throat, and I run. My bedroom is close by, so I rush inside and throw my weight against the door, trying to shut it. But Rocco is right on my heels, and he kicks it open. I’m forcefully shoved back, nearly losing my balance in the process. With nowhere else left to go, I turn around to run toward the bathroom, but pain shoots through my head as I’m violently yanked from behind. I scream.

“I love it when you try to fight, bitch.” Rocco laughs as he pulls on my hair.

Raising my hands, I grab his fist on my hair. His grasp hurts so much that tears burst from my eyes, but I make myself bend and rotate my body the way Alessandro showed me. Rocco yells as his wrist gets twisted but keeps his hold on my hair. Even one-handed, his size and strength are crushing my attempts to escape.

You need to go against the weak points.

I glance at Rocco’s right hand, thankful that I at least don’t have to worry about a blow while he’s wrenching on my hair. His injured hand is still tightly wrapped in a thick layer of bandages, and he’s keeping it away from his body, protecting it. I hit it with my forearm, putting as much force into my strike as I can. Rocco howls, releasing my hair, and clutches his injured hand to his chest, nearly falling forward as he does so.

Run. I need to run. The bathroom—but it’s a dead end, and has no lock to keep him out. I turn around instead and step around the screaming Rocco, then dash out of my bedroom. In the hallway, I scoop up my phone and backpack and run toward the staircase.


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