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Silent Vows: Chapter 34

Noemi

Something was horribly wrong.

What could Mia have told him that would have upset him so much? Something about his Italian family? Could it involve my family? Why else would he not have told me? Conner was the one insisting this relationship was real and suggesting matching tattoos. He wanted me to open up and share, so what could have upset him so much that he couldn’t do the same? That he could hardly even look at me?

Had he learned something that made him regret marrying me?

The uncertainty was maddening. But most of all, I was desperately worried for my brother. If Conner’s anger had anything to do with my family, I had to ensure Sante was safe. I had to talk to him.

Hurrying to my new phone, I dialed Pippa.

“Hello?” she answered harshly, not recognizing yet another new number for me.

“Pip, it’s me.”

“Hey!” My cousin’s voice calmed me instantly. “How are you? How’s married life? This a real phone or another burner?”

“This is my new number for good. And all things considered, I’d say it’s going okay. Conner had some work stuff come up, and I wondered if you could pop by. You could see our place and visit for a bit.” Explaining what I needed from her would be much easier in person.

“I’d love that! I won’t be able to stay long—you know how my dad gets about me being out late—but I can definitely swing by.”

I gave her my new address, then went to my closet and found the gold cuff bracelet I’d used to hide my bruise, this time using it to cover my new tattoo. I had to remove the bandaging, but I preferred for the sensitive skin to be exposed rather than for Pip to see what I’d done. If she happened to tell her mother and word got around to my father, I couldn’t be sure how he’d react.

For the next thirty minutes, I paced the wall of windows in the living room until the front desk rang to announce her arrival. I informed them she was expected, and the doorman helped her with the elevators, which required either a security code or a key card. Once she arrived upstairs, I showed her around my new home. She oohed and aahed over the place as I knew she would.

“It’s gorgeous, Em. I’ve been so worried about you, so it’s such a relief to see that you aren’t miserable here on your own.”

“Not at all. We’re still just getting to know one another, but it could definitely be worse.” I gnawed on my cheek for a second before continuing. “I have a favor to ask while you’re here.”

She turned away from the gorgeous view of the river, her attention now squarely on me. “Oh yeah?”

“Do you think you can pop by my house and give this to Sante?” I held up the prepaid phone. “You’d have to make sure my dad didn’t know the reason you were there.”

Her sharp eyes pinned me to the spot. “And why exactly would we be doing this?” Her eyes shot wide before she leaned in and whispered, “Is this about Conner? Is he hurting you?”

“No, not at all!” I assured her. “It’s actually my dad who’s the problem, but it’s nothing.”

She seemed to settle but still studied me intently. “Nothing? You ask me to slip your brother a burner phone, and you think it’s nothing? I know you said your dad had gotten overprotective, but this feels off.”

I sighed, deflating. “It’s a long story, and something I can’t really talk about yet. I’ll tell you when I can, but until then, I could really use your help.”

Pip’s shoulders sagged. “Of course, I’ll help, Em.” She pulled me close, hugging me tight. “But you have me pretty worried.”

“I know, and I’m really sorry about that. I’m sorry to drag you into any of this.”

She took the phone from my hand and dropped it in her purse. “Please. I was made for this shit. Remember when I snuck into the boys’ locker room one night to put itching powder into Brandon Swanson’s jock strap?”

I smirked. “That was pretty epic.” Seeing a bully finally get what he dished out had been awesome.

“He deserved every miserable minute of it.”

“Hell, yeah, he did.” I sobered, squeezing her arm with my hand. “Thanks, sis.”

“Always.” She winked, then turned for the door. “Love you, babe.”

“Love you more,” I called back at her.


A half hour later, I hadn’t heard from Conner and was a tangled ball of nerves when my phone pinged with a reply message from the burner. I’d already sent an initial text before I’d even given the phone to Pippa, just to make sure it worked.

Sante: Em? You ok?

Me: Hey! Yes, but I wanted to talk to you.

Sante: Call?

Me: No, in person. Think you can get away from the house without Dad knowing?

Sante: ?? Why can’t he know?

Me: Please, it’s important.

I waited anxiously as the conversation dots appeared and disappeared three times before his reply appeared.

Sante: Where? Now?

Me: Yes, now. I was thinking of that diner Mom used to take us to. Romeo’s.

Sante: See you in fifteen.

Me: ?

Conner had told me not to go out, but this was too important. I finally had a chance to talk to my brother and couldn’t waste the opportunity. Plus, I was worried whatever Conner was doing involved my father. I had to find out what was going on.

The diner was halfway between the new apartment and my old house. While waiting for Pip to arrive, I’d decided it would be a perfect place to meet up, should I get the chance. Mom used to take Sante and me there to get milkshakes when we were little. We’d all three share, alternating turns to pick a flavor. I was hoping the good memories might make the difficult conversation easier.

When Sante spotted me in one of the glittery green vinyl booths, his answering smile didn’t reach his eyes. “What’s this all about, Em?” he asked as he slid in across from me.

“I needed to talk to you without Dad listening in. You know how paranoid he’s gotten since Mom died. He’s actually the reason I wanted to talk.”

“Yeah, but for good reason. He worries about us.” He glanced around the half-empty diner. “This feels deceptive, and I’m not crazy about going behind his back.”

“We’re adults, Sante. We should be able to have a private conversation.” Frustration washed over me. How could I ever convince him of the truth if I couldn’t even get him to talk to me freely?

He caught my eyes, the corner of his mouth snagging upward. “So now you’re willing to admit that I’m an adult?”

I coughed out a laugh, relieved to ease the tension between us. It was the tiniest of first steps—not anywhere near enough to unload the bomb I was carrying. He would freak out and cling to denial, then I’d never reach him.

“Yeah, I’d say we’ve both grown up a lot in the past year.” I smiled, and when the server came to take our order, I told her a milkshake and let him choose the flavor. “For old times’ sake.”

“So what’s worrying you about Dad?” Sante asked without his earlier defensive tone.

“Some stuff has gone on recently that you don’t know about, and it’s made things tense between Dad and Conner.” I decided to tiptoe into safer territory rather than cannonball straight into Mom’s death.

My brother peeled the wrapper off from around his silverware, his eyes suddenly engrossed in his task. “I wondered what exactly he had against the guy. I guess that’s why I was worried Conner had hurt you.”

“Not at all.” I placed my hand over his, stilling his movements. “Sante, has Dad talked about Conner?”

His eyes flitted to mine before dropping again. “Some, but it’s just talk. You know he has a temper.”

“But you’d tell me if he was planning something, right? Please tell me you’d warn us.”

Sante pulled back, slipping his hands from mine. “I don’t know, all right? I don’t know what it is he’s got going on.”

“But … there is something?” I pushed, needing to get answers and sensing my brother was holding out.

“He’s working on something big, but … that could have nothing to do with you guys. I just know he’s been really stressed, okay?”

I leaned back and forced a soft smile. “I believe you. He’s not really the type to tell anyone his plans, anyway. I just hope that if you find out something you think I should know that you’ll tell me.” It wasn’t exactly what I’d come to say, but I’d pushed my brother as far as he would go. I’d opened the line of communication and at least had a lifeline to him. That was enough for now.

Arriving at the perfect time, the server set down our vanilla shake and helped guide us back to shallower waters. We reminisced about past days at the diner and other fond memories from our childhood until I realized it was nearly eleven thirty at night.

“I better get going. Thanks for coming tonight.” I slid from the booth and gave my brother a big hug.

“Anytime, little big. You need a ride home?”

“I hate to keep you out any later than necessary. I don’t want you getting in trouble.”

Sante grinned. “Nah, no one knows I’m gone. It’ll be fine. Come on.”

I followed him to his car, preferring not to mess with getting a cab at that hour. He dropped me at my new building, promising to come by soon for a guided tour of my new place. The lobby was empty except for the security guard stationed at the front desk. I used the key card Conner had given me to get to the thirtieth floor and punched in the access code to the apartment.

Once inside, my veins filled with ice at the sight of Conner sitting in the living room waiting for me, a murderous glint in his eyes and blood splattered across his chest.


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