The day we learned about my father’s diagnosis was the first time in my life that I experienced genuine fear—the kind that not only grips your stomach and floods your system, it takes control of your entire existence. The kind that possesses your body and consumes your mind, wrapping around your past, your present, your future, and squeezes until it’s all distorted. Unrecognizable.
Today, right this very moment, is the second time that unbidden fear torrents through my veins like poison aimed at my lungs to steal my breath.
On one of the royal blue benches placed in the middle is Mira, sitting with her legs on either side of the rectangular velvet seat, her ankles tied to the oak eagle-clawed feet. Her green irises are amplified with fear, her rapid blinking a desperate attempt at blocking out the world around her. I can practically smell the panic, the terror. It’s thick and viscous, lining my throat as I swallow.
Her red lipstick is smeared far beyond the lines of her heart-shaped lips. Mascara streaks cling to her face below her eyes, every tear spreading the black lines farther down her cheeks. Her fear manifests in desperate whimpers muffled by the cloth stuffed in her mouth, and my first instinct is to run to her. To help her. But the man sitting behind her presses his knife harder against her throat, burying the blade deep enough to bite into her skin, a drop of crimson tainting the steel.
“That’s close enough.”
My attention snaps to the man, and I jerk my aim straight in front of me. “Let her go.”
The man snickers, his dark, uneven brows arching as he watches me with malevolent brown eyes, and I immediately recognize his face. “You’re the groundsman. You were at my father’s funeral.”
“Our father’s funeral.” There’s hostility in his voice, a hate that resonates in the way he glares at me, his unkempt beard moving as his jaw tics. “I’ve been waiting a really long time to be able to introduce myself,” he says, still keeping the blade against Mira’s throat. “My name is Micah Gallo, but—”
“I don’t care if you’re the real baby Jesus. Right now, all I want is for you to let her go and then we can talk about who’s who.”
“My name,” he enunciates his words, “is Micah Vincent Del Rossa.”
“I don’t give a fuck. Let her go, then we talk.”
There’s a surprise in his eyes as he frowns. My guess is it’s because I don’t react to the mention of my last name, and that’s because I don’t fucking care. All I care about is getting Mira safely away from him and cutting his eyes out before I shove a cross up his ass, followed by a bullet to the skull. Fucker.
“Let her go.”
“That’s not going to happen, brother.”
“I’m not your brother,” I spit out. “Now let her fucking go.”
His legs are on either side of the bench as well, and he’s pulling Mira back against him, using her as a shield. The stained mosaic window that stretches from floor to ceiling behind them scatters light against the granite crypts. The rain outside is no longer an angry downpour and now falls with a gentle patter against the ornate glass.
“No.” He tightens his grip on the knife, and Mira whimpers. “I think I’d like to keep her here for a while longer.” His voice is eerily calm as he leans his head to the side, studying her face while the knife glints in the light, a sharp and lethal contrast to the skin of Mira’s delicate throat. “It’s beauty like hers that leads so many sheep astray,” he says as if he’s in awe of her, his gaze melting over her features. “Even me.” He inches closer, his cheek against hers, his face painted in ecstasy. It’s fucking creepy, and I can already feel the bones of his skull crack under the pressure and sharp blade of his own damn knife as I drive it through his goddamn face.
“Let her go.” I take a step closer, but he notices and nicks Mira’s skin with the tip of the blade, another drop of red collecting on the sharp steel. Mira pinches her eyes closed, more tears running down her face.
“Take another step, and I’ll make sure it goes deeper this time.” His threat reaches the hairs in the back of my neck, panic gushing down my spine.
“Hurt her again, and I’ll kill you.”
“You think I’m afraid of dying?” He frowns. “When my life on this Earth ends, my eternal life in Heaven begins.”
“You really think your psychotic ass is going to Heaven? There are special places in hell for sick fuckers like you.”
“That’s always been your problem, hasn’t it? Even though I’m the one sitting here with the knife against her throat, one flick of my wrist away from ending her life, you think you control the narrative here.”
“The way I see it, there are two ways this can play out. You let her go, and I’ll decide whether to kill you or have you dumped in some psych jail where you’ll get your ass wrecked within the first three hours. Or you kill her, and I kill you. So, either way, you’re fucked, and that means I am the asshole in control here.”
“No,” he says calmly. “You’re not. You see, this confidence of yours stems from a lie you’ve been told your whole life. A lie you’ve been living.”
“And what lie is that?”
“That you’re the firstborn Del Rossa. The true heir to this empire, when the truth is…you’re not.” A menacing grin curves at the edges of his mouth. “I am.”
“You’re not a Del Rossa,” I snap. “A true Del Rossa doesn’t harm his own, and Mira is one of us.”
His lips curl down as he feigns confusion. “What about Jimmy, then?”
Blood rushes to my chest. “What the fuck do you know about Jimmy?”
“I know that you killed him.”
“You don’t know shit.”
He scoffs. “I know you put a bullet in his head and had Maximo get rid of his body like a slaughtered pig with rotten meat. I’ve also taken it upon myself to inform your uncle of your transgression.” He smiles with vindictive victory. “He should receive the letter any moment now.”
“You motherfucker,” I say between clenched teeth.
“See? I’ve had my eyes on you for a very long time, brother.”
“I’m not your fucking brother!”
“The blood in our veins says otherwise.”
I glance at Mira. Her bottom lip trembles, her chest rising and falling rapidly as her breath comes out in gasps around the dirty cloth. The vein in her slender neck throbs to the erratic beat of her heart, sweat clinging to her brows. She’s so fucking scared, her eyes pleading with me to help her as she tries to push back against Micah’s shoulder, desperate to get away from the edge of the knife.
“Listen, Micah,” I start, my finger settled on the gun’s trigger, “I’m sure you have a lot of shit you want to talk about, and I’d love to listen to your story about how life fingered you in the ass. But I’d prefer doing it over a bottle of bourbon than having to talk to you over a crying woman’s shoulder.”
“I don’t care what you prefer,” he snarls. “Mirabella isn’t here for me to use as collateral. She’s here because she needs to repent.”
“For being the reason men sin. For leading us astray.”
Fuck me. His voice just went from calm to creepy as fuck. “God says if thy right hand causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee.”
I raise a brow. “What the fuck does she have to do with your right hand?”
“It’s her fault!” he snaps, spit exploding from his lips, and my stomach coils when he presses the knife harder against her throat. “For years, all I wanted was to show you the error of your ways. To save your—”
“Is that why you killed Alicia? Tarina?” I scowl. “Melanie? To make us aware of our sins? I got news for you, asshole. We already know. Unlike you, we don’t go around pretending to be righteous when we know our paths to hell are already paved.”
He cranks his neck from side to side, his face that of rapture as if the reminder of his handiwork just gave him a motherfucking hardon. “The scripture says the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her seductive words are smoother than olive oil—”
“I’d rather not get a scripture lesson from you right now.”
“—but she is bitter as wormwood, a sharp two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, and her steps lead straight to the grave.” He smiles. “And that’s where I sent them. To their graves just like God told me to. But don’t worry.” The thumb of his other hand caresses Mira’s cheek. “I gave them their chance to confess their sins and to ask for forgiveness.”
I inch closer, my gaze cutting from him to Mira every few seconds. “Did you?”
“Did I what?”
“Did you ask for forgiveness? Because I’m pretty sure murdering people is against whatever the fuck it is your religion teaches you.”
He lets out a maniacal cackle. “It’s for the greater good.”
“Let’s pretend for one minute that I’m buying into this slaughtering women for the greater good bullshit. What the fuck did Mira do? She’s not one of them.”
The way he slides his hand to her jaw, his dirty fingernails dragging across her skin, it’s like a snake slithering up my spine. “She might not be a harlot, but she’s the hand that caused me to stumble,” he murmurs, dragging a finger over her bottom lip. “I still do every time I look at her. My mind becomes a snake pit of sin, and the serpent infects me with its evil.”
An image of him jerking off in our family graveyard while stalking Mira fills my mind, and I shudder at the thought. “You’re a sick man.”
“It’s because of her. She infects my soul with her beauty.”
Mira pinches her eyes closed, the sound of her muffled sobs urging me to hurry this shit up. But I don’t like how he looks at her, how his voice hums with lust every time he talks about her. It’s like she unhinges him, and that’s the last thing we need.
“Micah, brother,” I say with a moderate dash of sarcasm. “Tell me about this theory of yours that you and I are related.”
His attention snaps back to me, and there’s no missing the disdain in his eyes as he studies me. “Our father wasn’t a saint.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Before he married your mother, he got a woman pregnant.”
He nods. “But she wasn’t like him. She didn’t come from a wealthy family, so she didn’t stand a chance. Not even when she knocked on his door with a crying baby in her arms.” He hisses through his teeth. “Our father sent her away, and he bought her silence with a check every month for the last thirty-six years. He made no attempt to see me or be a part of my life. No birthday cards. Christmas cards. Nothing.”
“And now you choose to punish others for something he did?”
“At first, yes. I wanted him to suffer for denying me my birthright by destroying his life from the outside in. I could have lived here.” He waves his hand around before pointing the blade’s tip at me. “I could have been you. He robbed me of everything, and when I decided to infiltrate his life, getting this job here, I wanted to ruin his damn life.” A creepy-as-fuck smile settles on his face. “But then God intervened and gave me the justice I deserved, and our father paid for his sins.”
“His illness,” I mutter, unable to wrap my head around the level of fucked-up this asshole really is.
His smirk reaches his eyes. “A life for a life. He ruined mine and then paid for it with his. He freed me, and I want you all to experience that freedom, which is why I took the lives of those women, women whose bodies you use to build your evil empire on.” He grinds his jaw, glaring at the side of Mira’s face like he’s about to rip into it. “Men are weak when it comes to women. Even Adam fell because he was seduced.” Mira visibly shivers as he drags the tip of the knife up to her temple, his nostrils flaring. “Women like her have the power to ruin a man, to let him fall from grace and rob him of any chance at eternal life.”
He’s shaking, angry, and I know I’m running out of time. Mira’s whimpers grow louder, her shoulders trembling, tears pouring down her pale face.
I straighten my arms, my finger firmly placed on the trigger. But she’s too close. I can’t risk taking a shot and hurting her.
A shadow by the window catches my eye, but I try to keep Micah’s attention on me. “Let her go, and we can sit here all day and talk about whatever the fuck it is you want to talk about.”
He ignores me, staring at Mira as if she’s the holy grail he needs to ruin. “I’ve committed a sin against my flesh by desiring her.” The tip of his knife presses against her temple. “She’s constantly in my head. She’s always there, tempting me, seducing me. She has to repent. She has to pay for her sins.”
“Micah, hurt her, and I swear to God, I will kill you fucking slowly.”
“I don’t fear pain,” he murmurs like he’s in a trance, a dream, the knife glistening against her delicate throat with deadly intent. “I only fear eternal damnation, and I will not let her be my Eve. I will not fall from grace as Adam did. No woman is worth that price, no matter how beautiful.” His jaw tightens, and he bites into his lower lip, crimson seeping from Mira’s skin as he drags the blade down the side of her face, slowly cutting her flesh. Mira’s muffled screams fill the mausoleum, slamming against granite, and I’m teetering on the edge of fucking madness.
“No!” I yell, blood gushing from the grotesque gash of his blade, cutting her from her temple, down the side of her cheek, to her jaw. She’s sobbing, screaming, her whole body shivering, and I want to run to her and kill this motherfucker, but the fear of what he might do next keeps my feet planted on the ground.
I bite my lip, a growl tearing from my throat. “I’m going to kill you, you son of a bitch!”
Glass shatters. It’s an explosion of colored shards as Nicoli breaks through it with a leap, jumping through the window, covering his face and hitting the ground, rolling. I take my chance, rush forward, and grab Mira’s shoulder, forcing her down as I aim and pull the trigger without blinking.
The fucker jolts back on impact, falling on the bench and landing awkwardly on the floor. I have no idea how Nicoli got there so fast, but by the time I’m focusing on Mira, she’s already untied and cradled in his arms, blood dripping down her face.
I pull off my jacket and hand it to Nicoli to place against her wound. Her sobs are the saddest sound I’ve ever heard, and it’s slicing through my ribs as I watch a river of blood ooze from Micah’s skull, seeping into the grout. Adrenaline is swooshing wildly inside my veins, throbbing inside my head as my mind tries to process what the fuck just happened.
Maximo comes running in, and he’s at Mira’s side, hugging her, studying her, making sure she’s okay. I hear his curses as he examines the cut on her face. “Motherfucker! It was him?”
Maximo kicks at Micah’s dead body, then spits on his corpse. “Fucker! I can’t believe how close he got.”
“Alexius!” I turn to see Leandra rush toward me, but I grab and stop her from coming too close, not wanting her to see the bloody scene.
“Oh, my God.” She gasps. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.” Her arms are around my neck, and she’s squeezing me so hard I can feel her relief in my bones. “I was so worried about you.”
“I’m okay.” I grip her neck and kiss her head. “I’m good.”
“Mira?” Her hair whips around her face as she searches, a cry leaving her lips when she sees Mirabella crying into Nicoli’s chest. “My God. Are you…is she…did he hurt her?”
“She’s okay.” I breathe out and watch as she runs to Mira. “She’s okay. Everyone is…okay,” I mutter, relief flooding my system with a violent wave. My legs go weak, and I take a seat on the bloodied bench, dragging a hand down my face, everyone’s voices drifting farther and farther away as I sink into my mind, my thoughts dragging me into this dark abyss.
Time is frozen as I glance at Micah’s dead body. I don’t doubt that he told the truth. I believe him because now, in hindsight, the truth was there in my father’s sad expression the night he spoke of his regret. It was all there, the pain and torment of making the wrong decisions. Micah’s life story was in my father’s eyes, and the demons of his deception and desertion, of his lies, haunted him on his deathbed—stole his peace along with his last breath.
I rub my hands together, watching Micah’s blood stain the floor of our family mausoleum. It’s like my father’s ghost is whispering in my ear, warning me, telling me that there are few lies that escape judgment for their deception by getting buried. Truth uncovers most, exposes and forces them into the light. But every so often there’s a lie that rests in the grave only to be exhumed…like Micah. My father’s lie. His secret that has now become ours.
“Nicoli,” I call, and watch as he reluctantly leaves Mira’s side as Leandra tends to her.
“You okay?” he asks, studying me.
“Yeah. I’m good. But that cut on your face will need stitches.”
He touches the bleeding wound above his eyebrow. “I’m fine.”
“Yeah.” I can hear the anger still vibrate in his tone. “I’m glad you saved her, but I wish I was the one to plant the lead in his head.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s done.”
“You believe him?” Nicoli asks, glowering at Micah’s body. “You think Dad was his father, too?”
“I do.” I sigh heavily. “I do believe him.”
Nicoli arches his brows. “I can’t wrap my head around it. That Dad would—”
“Stop. We don’t have to wrap our heads around it. We don’t have to deal with this. It’s done. It’s over. I don’t know why Dad made the decisions he did, but it’s not up to us to question it now when he’s no longer here to defend himself.”
Nicoli narrows his eyes. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying,” I glance at Micah, “our father’s lie stays here.” I look back at Nicoli. “His secret will never set foot out of this grave. I believe that’s what Dad would want. Otherwise, he would have told us. So, this is our last gift to our father, ensuring his secret will stay buried with him. Always.”
“What about the others?”
We glance at Maximo, Leandra, and Mira, and I shrug. “I think we’re all in agreement.”
Everyone nods, and I hold out my hand to Nicoli. He glances at it, knowing it means a brother’s bond will seal it, a force that can never be broken.
His shoulders move as he breathes in deep then shakes my hand. “Always.”
“Take the women home. Get Mira checked out. If Mom asks, you two were in a minor car accident. That’s it.”
“Maximo and I will get this mess cleaned up,” I say, turning to look at Micah one more time. “He never existed until today. And now we’ll continue as if today never fucking happened.”
I find my wife’s gaze, and she gives me a warm smile that makes my heart swell. And as I watch her walk out with her arm around Mira’s waist, I remind myself how I felt during the time I thought Micah had taken her. The fear, the panic, the darkness that consumed me like a black hole that kept on growing, eating away at my insides. During those moments, I caught a glimpse of what my life would be without her, and I now know that I would cross the Devil if it meant keeping that from happening.
My lie? My deception? I pray that it will be buried with me when my time comes. I don’t care if it haunts me in the afterlife, as long as it doesn’t take her from me in this one.