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Silent Vows: Chapter 32

Noemi

“Is there something you need to say?” Conner asked once we were in the car. He’d detected the downturn in my mood, but I wasn’t ready to admit the source of my irritation.

“No, just hungry.” I kept my eyes cast out the side window.

A short time later, we pulled up to a restaurant by the name of Neary’s. It looked small on the outside but opened up deep into the back of the building on the inside. If I’d had to guess, I’d have said the place had been open as long as the building had been in existence—possibly the thirties or forties—but in a good way. The Irish-style pub had loads of charm. Red vinyl booths lined the walls, along with Irish memorabilia and ancient-looking sconces that cast a warm glow throughout the cozy space.

“It’s family-owned,” Conner said, leading me to a vacant table in the middle of the long room. “This okay, Tally?” He lifted his chin to a cute curly-haired server nearby.

“Of course, Mr. Reid.” She walked over and pulled out a chair for him, flashing a seductive smile. “Can I grab you your usual?”

Un-fucking-believable.

Was this what it would be like? Always feeling like a third wheel in my own damn marriage?

“That would be great, thanks. Noemi, what would you like to drink?”

I huffed and plopped into my seat, refusing to look in Conner’s direction. “The house red works.”

Once Tally left us, Conner scooted his chair closer to me, one corner of the small table between us. “You jealous?” he asked curiously, a hand rubbing at his stubbled chin.

“I just think it’s disrespectful. All these women fucking you with their eyes like I’m not even here.”

Something dark and primal crossed behind his eyes. “You’re jealous.” He said the words this time with predatory amusement, like a cat watching a mouse squirm in a trap.

“That what you’d call it if Bishop and every other man we encountered was blatantly picturing me naked?” I had his attention now, so I continued in earnest. “If this relationship was real, then a few ogling eyes wouldn’t bother me. But it’s not real, and that just makes everything so much more confusing.”

Conner’s face turned volatile—his features more stark, his anger more acute. “What do you mean if this was real?” Every clipped word dripped with venom.

“Well, we’re married, but it’s mostly a show, right? An arrangement for our families.” I was digging myself deeper with every word but wasn’t sure how.

My husband leaned forward in his seat, his body seething with temper. “A show? Do I strike you as some kind of actor? Because I’m pretty sure you coming on my tongue and fingers was as real as it fucking gets. I told you this was more than some goddamn arrangement.”

Heat seared my cheeks as I peered around the restaurant, praying no one heard him. “Yeah, but what does that mean?”

“It means you’re mine, and I’m yours.”

“You say that,” I offered quietly, gaze lowered to my hands. “But I don’t know anything about you.” When I peered back at him, I allowed him to see through to my uncertainty and fear. It had the desired effect.

Conner’s shoulders visibly relaxed as he leaned back in his chair. “What do you want to know?”

“Can you tell me about the Genoveses? I didn’t realize you were adopted.”

He nodded, giving the server a moment to deliver our drinks. “Several months ago, my birth mother reached out and initiated contact. I wasn’t interested, but when my uncles discovered I was the son of Mia Genovese, they pushed me to meet with her.”

“I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like.”

“It’s not so bad. I’ve had a good life, and I don’t begrudge her choices. Mia was only sixteen when she got pregnant with me. Once I was born, she dropped me off along with a set of rosary beads at the Catholic church my adoptive parents attended. Mom knew at a young age she wouldn’t be able to have kids, so when the opportunity struck, she jumped at the chance to adopt me. It worked out for the best.”

“I guess all of this is making a bit more sense now—the Irish and Italians coming together.”

“Did your father not tell you any of this?” He shook his head with a roll of his eyes. “Never mind. Of course, he didn’t.”

I shrugged. “It was unusual for the two groups to unite, but I was taught that it wasn’t my place to ask questions.”

“Well, you can scrub that bullshit from your mind,” he grumbled. “You’re my wife, not an employee. I expect you to ask me if you have a question.”

I paused, deciding if I wanted to test his assertion. “What does it mean for you to be part of both the Irish and Italian families?”

He sighed heavily. “I’m not exactly sure. It doesn’t change much as far as the organizations go. Even our marriage doesn’t give me any special privileges with the Five Families. I’m fine with that. It’s the personal stuff that’s more of a complication. Mia keeps wanting to get together, and I’m not interested. I don’t know what the hell to do about her.”

My heart both constricted and soared at his explanation. I hated that he was in such a tricky situation, but I was also thrilled he’d confided in me about something so personal. He was showing me a degree of trust I’d never expected.

“I don’t think there’s any reason you can’t take things slowly. It sounds like you’ve been very accommodating so far,” I offered gently.

He studied me, blue eyes boring into mine until the server joined us and broke the spell holding us captive. We took a minute to look at the menu, then ordered. I chose a traditional Irish dish he recommended, interested in knowing more about the culture he grew up in.

“I’d like to hear more about your mom,” Conner said once we were alone again. “But not if it upsets you.”

“I’m happy to tell you about her. She was an amazing mother—always showering us with love and attention. We made gingerbread houses at Christmas and dyed our own eggs at Easter. She was the type who encouraged us to read and loved to try new craft ideas she picked up on the internet. She took us to farmers’ markets and movies and Broadway plays, and was happy to do it. I never felt like a burden to her. With a Mom as involved and loving as she was, I hardly noticed my father’s absence; although I think as a boy, Sante felt it more.”

The sapphire light in Conner’s eyes warmed as I spoke. “I think our mothers would have gotten along well. And while my father isn’t the asshole yours is, he was definitely the authority figure in the house.”

“He struck me as a little scary, I’ll admit.”

He smiled softly. “Nah, not scary. He was the only brother-in-law in a very tight-knit family. I think he’s always felt he had to prove himself.” Conner’s eyes dropped to the table where his fingers slowly spun his whiskey-filled low ball glass on the white tablecloth. He seemed to withdraw into his own thoughts. While I wondered what those were, I didn’t want to push and derail the easy flow of our conversation.

“And what about Bishop. Tell me more about your history with him.”

A devilish glint lit his eyes before Conner launched into a number of tales that made me feel for his poor mother. I loved hearing about his life and appreciated the thoughtful questions he asked about mine. The hour we spent passed so quickly I was reluctant to leave, but Conner seemed to have somewhere to be. He initiated our departure as soon as we were done eating and ushered me to the car.

“Did you have to go back to work tonight?” I asked once he pulled away from the curb.

A simple no was all he gave me. When he parked again but not at the apartment building, I caved and pushed for more information.

“Where are we going?”

He motioned with his head across the street. I confusedly looked at the row of ramshackle businesses but followed him from the car. When he led me to the door of a small tattoo parlor, I froze.

“What are we doing here?”

“What do you think?” He took my hand and pulled me inside as I stumbled to mentally catch up.

“If it isn’t Mr. Reid,” called out a bald man covered in tattoos at a computer behind the counter. “What’s up, man?”

The two did a manly handshake hug combination.

“Wanted to stop in and introduce my new wife. See if you had a minute for a couple of small ones.”

Wait, a couple? A couple of tattoos?

I was suddenly on high alert.

“Shit, man. Congratulations.” The guy looked at me and grinned. “Name’s Paco.”

I smiled warily in return. “Noemi.”

“It’s a pleasure, Noemi.” He turned back to Conner. “I’ve definitely got time. You going first?”

“Wait. What’s happening here?” I blurted, no longer able to contain my panic.

“Yeah,” Conner answered him, glossing over my obvious distress. “That’ll give her a minute to decide where she wants hers.”

If my eyes went any wider, I risked one popping right out of the socket.

“Excuse me? I can’t just roll up and get a tattoo.”

“Why not?” Conner asked, both men staring at me like I’d grown a third arm.

“Because … Because …”

Well, shit.

Why couldn’t I get a tattoo? Did I want a tattoo? That depended on what it was.

“What are you getting?” I asked, growing more dismayed by the second.

“I’m putting your name on the inside of my wrist.” He leaned in, his eyes anchoring me to the spot. “And we aren’t leaving here until my name is somewhere on you. That way, you know this is real. Nothing more real than blood and ink.”

I was speechless. About the tattoo. About everything.

Conner was trying to tell me he was committed to this marriage.

I watched in awe as he sat down and placed his right wrist on the table, surprising me yet again. That was the arm without a drop of ink. My name would be the one and only adornment.

I pulled up a chair next to him and watched as Paco cleaned the area, then used transfer paper to adhere a painted template to his skin. It was fascinating to watch. I’d never seen a tattoo being created, let alone my name etched into someone’s body. I knew in theory it could be removed, but it was still incredibly moving. This was a statement—one I wanted to reciprocate despite an army of nerves battling in my belly.

Once the tattoo was complete, gel was slathered over the elegant script, and his wrist was bandaged.

Then it was my turn.

“I’ll do my wrist as well.” My voice was breathy, my lungs working overtime to keep pace with my racing heart.

“Right wrist?” the man asked.

“No, my left.” I placed my arm on the table.

Conner looked at the wrist, then back at me, understanding in his eyes. It was the wrist my father had mottled with bruises. Now, it would forever bear Conner’s name instead.

My heart thundered in my ears. “How bad will it hurt?”

Paco grimaced. “Not gonna lie, there’s definitely discomfort, but the wrist isn’t nearly as bad as other places.”

It was a good thing I had no plans to ever get another tattoo because shit, that hurt. If it was worse in other areas? Hell, no.

When Conner’s name was complete, he took my arm in his hands and examined the artistry, stroking the angry red skin with a gentle caress. “Now it doesn’t matter what name’s on your bracelet; it’s my name you’ll always carry with you.”

I had to blink back the moisture that pooled in my eyes. How strange to think this man, who was so stoic and even abrasive at times, could also be so gentle and sweet.

We left the shop with our new ink and the formation of a fragile bond between us.

I was willing to entertain his notion of a real marriage, though I wasn’t sure what exactly that meant to him. Was he talking about our commitment to one another or something more? Could he possibly mean love? And even if he did develop a love for me, could our relationship ever come first when pitted against his duty and ambitions?

There was only one way to find out.

I had to take the leap and try to trust in him and open up my heart.

On the entire way home, I debated whether I could take that risk. When we reached the building lobby, I was still lost in my thoughts when the sight of Mia Genovese brought Conner to a stop.

“Em, I need you to head upstairs,” he said in a low, wary tone.

“Is everything okay?” I asked, worry gnawing at my gut. I wasn’t sure why she’d show up at his home, but something felt off.

“I’m sure she just wants to talk. I’ll be up in a few.” He pulled his frustrated gaze from her and gave me a pointed stare, urging me to comply.

Nodding, I left them alone, not remotely reassured.


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