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Silent Vows: Chapter 25


The gunshot I’d half expected never came. I didn’t know who was more apt to shoot first but considering Conner’s anger and Dad’s volatility, I was surprised at the remarkable quiet downstairs. Eerily quiet.

I was reminded of the silence that drew me to peek from the car. Conner’s merciless intensity as he’d stood, gun still raised, had been chilling. It was no secret he was capable of murder, but seeing it play out in living color was another story, especially when he’d done it to save us. Watching him kill another man should have horrified me for several reasons. Yet all I could summon was a warm blanket of relief. I would have been dead if it weren’t for his ruthless pursuit of those men.

Silenced permanently.

My father never would have paid for what he’d done, and it would have been my fault for not speaking up. I realized as I sat in the quiet of my room that I was done wasting time. I had to tell Uncle Donati the truth about my mother’s death.

“What fucking lies have you been feeding them?” My father stormed into my room, teeth ground tight with anger. “I knew you were opening your goddamn mouth.”

I’d never seen him so manic.

I tried to scurry back onto the bed but was too late. His hand fisted my shirt and yanked me to him, our faces inches apart. So close, I could smell the insanity wafting off him. I forced myself not to struggle, though it felt like he’d reached deep inside my chest and squeezed the air from my lungs with his fists.

“Whatever you’ve done, you’ll fucking fix it. You hear me? If you think once you’re married, you’re free to do as you please, think again. We’re blood. You’re bound to me above all others, and if you forget that fact, it’ll be your brother who pays. You fuck this up, and I guarantee you’ll feel it.”

I’d never heard the promise of violence so clearly in his words before. The man was totally unhinged.

Not waiting for a response, he shoved me away. I fell back onto my bed, my head thudding against the edge of my nightstand. I winced, scrunching my eyes shut tight, and by the time I opened them, Dad was gone.

I rubbed my head gingerly, hoping I didn’t end up with a goose egg.

Why the hell was he so worried about what the Irish thought of him? Why was he so invested in this marriage and alliance?

I couldn’t even begin to guess what he thought because I clearly didn’t know the man at all. After twenty years under the same roof, my father was still a total stranger.

I rejected a wave of advancing remorse and clung tight to my determination. Scooting off the bed, I retrieved the disposable phone from under my mattress and shoved it in my pocket before sneaking from my room.

I needed to find a place where Dad was unlikely to be listening. Deciding the garage might be my best bet, I crept downstairs and to the back of the house, trying to look inconspicuous. I didn’t want to look suspicious if anyone was watching secret cameras.

Listen to you. How did your life get so insane?

I had no freaking clue. One minute, I was a normal teen graduating from high school, then my mom was dead, my absentee father had come unglued, and I was plotting ways to run away with my brother.

Maybe I could make enough money to escape by selling my story to Lifetime TV.

I shook my head, pulling out the phone in a dark corner of the garage. I dialed Pippa’s number, praying she answered despite the unknown number.

“Hello?” Her voice was tinged with uncertainty and a hint of annoyance.

“Pip! It’s me.” I couldn’t help but grin as I envisioned the shock on her face.

“Em? Is that you?”

“Yes! I got my voice back last night.”

“That’s amazing!” Her excited exclamation trailed off. “Wait. Why are you calling me from a strange number? And are you whispering?”

Okay, here goes nothing.

“There’s been a lot going on. I can’t go into it all, but here are the highlights. This is the phone Conner gave me so I don’t have to use my old phone.”

“Whyyy can’t you just use your old phone?” she asked, deeply confused.

“Dad’s been … different since Mom died.”

“Is that why you haven’t left the house this whole time?” she blurted.


“Em, that sounds a little crazy. He’s so overprotective now that you can’t even talk on your own phone? Is he monitoring your calls or something?”

“I know, it sounds a little wild.” Not wanting to go into it further, I redirected the conversation. “And if that wasn’t enough, Conner and I were attacked this morning on our way back from visiting his grandparents.”

Attacked? What the actual fuck? By who?”

“I’m not really sure, but they ran us off the road—shot out a damn tire—then tried to gun us down.”

“Jesus Christ, Em. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, Conner was pretty … impressive.” I bit down on my lip, but Pip must have sensed the admiration in my tone.

“Oh yeah?” she asked, full of innuendo. “Sounds like maybe things are going better?”

I paused, choosing my words carefully. “Let’s just say I think things are moving in the right direction.” If I didn’t think about the confusing feelings I was developing for my intended, things were looking up. “I’m so glad to have my voice back. That’s why I had to call. I need you to know how much you mean to me.”

“That’s incredibly sweet, but … you’re kind of freaking me out. You sure everything is okay?” she asked.

A ball of emotion clogged my throat. “Recent events have just shifted my perspective, that’s all. We never know how much time we have, and you’re too important for me to risk going another minute without telling you.”

Pip sniffled. “Shit, Em. Now you got me all choked up. I love you, too, sis.”

“Love you more,” I whispered.

“Listen,” she said, sounding more like her normal self. “I don’t know what all is going on over there, but you call if you need me. Okay?”

“Absolutely.” I grinned. “Talk to you later, Pip.”

“Count on it.”

The following week passed in a blur of white lace, summer floral arrangements, and countless calls with the wedding coordinator. I only saw Conner once, and that was at our rehearsal dinner. We were surrounded by family the entire evening, preventing us from having any substantive conversations.

I wondered incessantly what he’d been thinking during the week. He hadn’t texted or called. Not that he was supposed to. We weren’t in love, and I would have been wise to remember that, but I’d felt like things had begun to shift between us. Then nothing. Like a summer storm evaporating into sunny skies.

The uncertainty left my stomach in knots.

I had no idea what to expect from him upon our wedding. I had hoped to get a feel for where his thoughts had taken him while we were at the rehearsal, but he was perfectly stoic the entire evening. The dinner was held two days before the ceremony rather than the night before. Our unusually short timeline meant there had to be concessions to tradition. I didn’t care in the slightest. What I did care about was that I didn’t see Sante once all week. Not until the rehearsal, and Dad made sure we hardly had five minutes together. He was sending a message. One I received loud and clear, but rather than deter me, it only made me more determined. Fausto Mancini would pay for what he’d done.

On the thirty-first of July, the day before I was set to be married, I had Umberto take me to my mother’s grave. The skies were unusually dark for a summer day. One might even have said ominous if one were superstitiously inclined. I appreciated the somber atmosphere. Something about the stillness made me feel more connected to my mother than if it had been a breezy, sunny day.

I found her ornate granite headstone where I’d often visited her during those early days. The monument wasn’t my favorite. Dad had ordered the design, likely thinking a lavish tribute was a good way to prove how much he missed the woman he’d killed. I knew better. And I knew Mom was too down-to-earth and unpretentious to have wanted a flashy tombstone over her grave.

“Hey, Mama.” My voice was reed thin from pushing past the knot in my throat as I sat cross-legged on the grass. It was the first time I’d spoken aloud to her since she’d died, and something about voicing the words made my grief resurface. “I miss you so much, Mama.”

I took several slow, even breaths to calm myself.

“I’m getting married tomorrow. I know, I should have come and told you before now. It’s all been a blur, though. His name is Conner Reid, and he’s Irish. Who would have thought?” I plucked free a blade of grass and slowly split it down the middle. “He’s actually not so bad. I guess it’s a little messed up that I can say that about a man who kills other people, but it is what it is. Maybe none of us are as civilized as we’d like to think.” I paused, my voice softening when I continued. “I wish I’d known the truth about Dad earlier. I wish I knew if you’d been happy or if it was all a show for us.”

My chest constricted so tight that my shoulders slouched.

“I’m so sorry, Mama. I want you to know that I’ll do my best to help Sante. I know you’d want that. I won’t let you down.” Reaching out, I pressed my hand to the grass where I envisioned her chest would be. “Love you always.”

A single tear broke free and trickled down my cheek. Something about talking to her made me feel like I was finally saying goodbye and moving on without her. Moving on to what, I didn’t know, but in less than twenty-four hours, I was going to find out.


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