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Silent Vows: Chapter 13

Noemi

Sante stood in the kitchen staring into an open cabinet when I came down the next morning. He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t hear me approach until I was within reach.

I placed a hand on his shoulder, peering up at him questioningly.

He’d been staring into the cupboard that contained our coffee cup collection. Mom had been an avid coffee fanatic, addicted to an elaborate cappuccino routine she followed each morning religiously. In the summers when I wasn’t in school, I spent every morning in the kitchen with her, sharing her routine. Once she was gone, I couldn’t bear to have coffee at home without her. That’s why I’d first started my ritual coffee outings. I needed the caffeine fix, but without the side of heartache.

“It’s strange. Sometimes I almost forget she’s gone. I started to get out a mug for her like I was going to start the cappuccino machine, then realized what I was doing. It was muscle memory. Like my body had somehow forgotten.” He closed the door and looked down at me, his sweet brown eyes unguarded and rife with pain.

I knew how he felt. And I knew that no words would fix it, so I wrapped my arms around his middle and held him close.

God, I loved him so much. I couldn’t bear to lose him, too.

“Thanks, little big,” he said softly.

When I pulled away, I grabbed my notepad. Want to come get coffee with me?

His lips thinned. “You know Dad doesn’t like us to go out together.” Every word was wrought with inner conflict. Maybe this was my chance to help him see reason.

You know that’s absurd, right?

“He explained it to me, so I kind of get it. After losing Mom, he doesn’t want to chance us being out together and something happening to both of us at the same time. He’d be totally alone.” And that was why I adored this poor sweet boy. No matter how desperately he wanted to be a part of the Lucciano crime family and impress our father, his heart was made of pure gold. It made him seem naïve, but that innocence was derived from a purity I never wanted to see tarnished.

I nodded, wishing I could steal him away without harming that kind heart of his.

Thirty minutes later, I was seated at my coffee shop sipping a steaming cappuccino but hardly tasting it. I was still no closer to figuring out how to save my brother, and when I’d parted from Conner the day before, he’d been livid. I didn’t know what to do about any of it. A part of me insisted I needed to be patient, while another part screamed that I was running out of time.

Two weeks, and I’d be married.

I’d be out from under my father’s control but have less access to Sante than I already had. And while Conner would likely give me more physical freedom, I feared he had the potential to steal my heart and leave me even more vulnerable. No matter how I looked at my situation, it felt hopeless.

I was wallowing in such a state of melancholy that I was caught off guard as I left the restroom and was yanked from behind out the back door and into the alley. A rough hand covered my mouth, my heart sinking deep into my stomach as my body broke out in a sticky coating of fear.

“Shhh, calm down. It’s me.”

Conner? What the hell was he doing?

I stopped fighting his hold, my ragged breaths quickly becoming the only sound in the stillness around us. When the familiar scent of his spiced aftershave filled my lungs, I relaxed further into his hold.

Once he sensed my panic subside, he lowered his hand and turned me to face him. His harshly angled brow cast his gaze in shades of midnight and ruthless determination.

My muscles returned to a heightened state of alert, coiled and ready.

“We need to talk. Alone. And since your father has that asshole breathing down your neck all the time, this was the best way.”

His explanation didn’t ease an ounce of my tension.

“I did some interesting reading last night. I felt like something was off, so I asked a friend to gather information on you and your family. Your school records. Family history. Medical records.”

Every muscle in my body hardened to reinforced steel, keeping my lungs from inhaling even an ounce of air.

“I found it fascinating that the doctors had no explanation for your silence. Strange things happen sometimes, and I’m willing to admit that. But did you know your attending physician made a note in your chart that his impressions pointed to a psychosomatic trauma response?” Conner walked me backward until my Ralph Lauren blouse was pressed against the dirty alley wall. “Now, sweet little Noemi, I’ve watched you long enough to form my own opinions, and something doesn’t sit right with me. You know what I think?” He paused, not continuing until I shook my head. “I think there’s nothing wrong with your voice.”

And there it was.

How was it this man who didn’t know me at all had seen through my ruse faster than anyone? The longer my silence had extended, the more I’d feared this moment—the day my secrets unraveled like the threads of a silk scarf in a stiff wind.

I wiggled to free my hands and extract my notepad only to have Conner yank the tattered pages from my fingers and toss them inside a nearby dumpster.

I shook my head in adamant denial. A refusal to talk. To admit anything.

“No more games, Noemi. Tell me the fucking truth,” he barked.

My entire body shook with panic, but adrenaline quickly triggered my fight-or-flight response.

Who does this man think he is? He has no right to do this. To demand anything of me.

My eyes narrowed as fury took hold. I shoved at his chest repeatedly, forcing him to retreat, and he let me, but only a little. I shouldn’t have lashed out, but it was the only thing I could do to keep the caustic words that burned my tongue from spewing past my lips.

A few inches at a time, we move from the wall as I took out all my frustrations on his Armani-clad chest until he had enough and seized my hands.

“You can throw a fit all you want, but I’m not leaving this alley without some answers. And if you can’t give me any, maybe we should ask your father.”

Every molecule in my body went cold, freezing me in place.

Conner took out his phone. The sight thawed me back into action, but now my movements were frenzied with desperation. I clasped both hands on his forearm, pleading wordlessly for him to stop.

“Words, Noemi,” he ground out between clenched teeth. “I need words.”

I tried to slap the phone from his hands. Tears burned the backs of my eyes, and a sob clawed at my throat. I gave everything I could, but Conner evaded me easily, clasping both of my hands in one of his.

Using his thumb, he pulled up my father’s contact information and displayed the screen where I could see it. “Does your father know about the doctor’s suspicions?”

Dad would have had to have cared in order to ask. The reason for my silence was irrelevant in his eyes. Him finding out my muteness was selective wasn’t the reason Conner’s threat terrified me. I feared his questions would pique my father’s suspicions about what I might or might not have said to my husband-to-be. I didn’t have to tell on my father to feel his wrath. All that mattered was what he believed I might have said—that I might have told Conner what happened the day of my mother’s crash.

I shuddered to think of what my father would do.

Defeat pillaged all my strength, leaving me weary and empty. My hands fell to my sides as my tear-filled eyes locked with Conner’s hardened stare. A distant siren drifted in the air along with the rancid stench of desperation.

If I did this, there would be no going back. But I saw no other choice. I had to break my silence and trust that giving him this shred of truth would be better than the alternative.

I took a shaky breath and parted my lips. “Please … don’t.” The words sounded as raw as they felt. Raw and vulnerable and desperate.

Conner’s eyes widened with bemused fascination, as though he hadn’t fully expected his threat to work. Then his hands clasped the back of my neck and pulled me close until his forehead rested against mine. His eyes bore so deep into my soul, I feared he’d cleave me in two.

“You’ll give me your voice from now on?” His own voice softened, but his words were still more command than question.

When I nodded in response, his hand tightened on my neck with warning.

“Yes, I promise.” Anything to keep him from asking more questions and demanding answers.

I was devastated that he could conquer me so easily but also surprisingly relieved to finally have the first of my secrets revealed, even if it was by force. For six months, I’d borne the weight of my knowledge without the slightest reprieve from the burden. My body swayed in the aftermath of such an emotional release, drawing me closer to Conner’s warmth, my eyes falling to his chest.

Maybe the emotions had scrambled my brain, or maybe it was just sheer stupidity, but a part of me wanted to believe Conner was the safety I’d been searching for. My fingers curled into his designer suit jacket as I lifted my gaze back to his. The sapphire shards in his eyes were almost entirely consumed by shadow.

“You shouldn’t look at me like that, Noemi. I’m not anywhere near honorable enough to resist.”

I had no idea what I was doing except that it felt so good to hand over control to this man. To not be responsible for once and simply allow fate to lead the way. I’d spent every minute of every day for six months overthinking each of my actions. For better or worse, Conner was stripping away my choices and enabling me to just … be.

How could I resist that sort of temptation?

“Maybe … maybe I don’t want you to.”

Conner’s hand fisted in my hair, gently tugging my head back.

He groaned at whatever it was he saw shining in my eyes, then nipped my bottom lip between his teeth, languid and leisurely.

I gasped, feeling the scrape of his teeth as though they’d been somewhere further south. Another part of my body aching for his kiss and swollen with need. I was desperate for more. Leaning in, I tried to press my lips to his, but he kept his mouth just out of reach.

“My name. Say it,” he ordered softly.

I didn’t understand what this was about, but for the briefest second, I would have given him anything if it meant keeping him close.

“Conner,” I breathed.

Fuck.” The violent curse tore from deep inside him before he claimed my lips with unrestrained savagery. I was rendered senseless, unable to comprehend anything beyond the taste of warm cinnamon and masculine hunger. Unable to breathe or think. Unwilling to resist.

He possessed me with unquenchable desire and lay siege to my heart in a way I never dreamed possible. Each seductive sweep of his tongue was another letter of his name etched into the surface of my soul. It would take no time at all for every thought and emotion to be centered around him.

He was too addicting. Too consuming.

A taste of his attention would never be enough. I’d crave it all, and he would become the center of my orbit. My entire purpose in life.

I pulled away from the kiss, my rational mind screaming with panic.

“I can’t do this,” I cried hoarsely, pulling from his grip.

“Tell me why.” The undercurrent of hurt in his harsh demand gutted me.

I shook my head. “It’s too much … I…”

“Then at least tell me why you were silent for so long.”

My lips clamped shut, and my body stiffened with steely resolve.

Conner must have seen the iron gate come crashing down behind my eyes because his hands relaxed and allowed me to tear myself free.

I shot him one last parting glare, demanding he let the subject go.

He answered with a stare equally as adamant.

Never.


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