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The Sweetest Oblivion: Chapter 39

Elena

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

—Confucius


BIRDS CHIRPED. SUNLIGHT STREAMED IN pleasant rays through the window. And it felt like I’d been ridden hard and put up wet. A twinge of soreness ached between my legs, and my skin felt tender, as though Nico’s rough hands and scruff had rubbed me raw.

The reminder made me warm everywhere, though I knew it shouldn’t. My feelings toward him were flighty and annoying to even myself. I wanted a straight path to follow, with maturity and thoughtfulness, but I couldn’t seem to find that with him. He made me hot and then he made me cold. He was soft and then he was intense. He was rude and then he killed a man so he could have me.

I wasn’t using my brain when I thought of him, but another organ entirely.

One with a pulse.

I’d fallen asleep to still smelling him on my skin, in my hair, everywhere, and contentment had filled my chest. Though, there was a prickling sense of unease as well—at the crash that had come from his room shortly after I left, and the animosity seeping under the door. The violence was a normal staple in my life, but it was the cause of it that worried me.

Maybe Nico was finally realizing I came with baggage I wasn’t ready to give up. And I could only imagine he was regretting not getting a virgin wife. He didn’t like to share—that much was obvious.

Maybe I wasn’t what he thought he wanted.

Maybe he would return me now that he’d gotten me in his bed.

My papà would surely kill him if he tried that, but Nico never did seem afraid of breaking the rules. However, if my father wasn’t happy with the match, as I’d heard, maybe he would be glad Nico changed his mind?

My throat tightened. I’d believed that’s what I wanted—not to marry Nico—but, now that I thought about it . . . something wrapped around my lungs and squeezed. And it wasn’t because it would obliterate my already marred reputation.

With a little pang in my chest, I pulled myself out of bed and padded down the hall. I took a long, hot shower. My arms and legs were sore, and I hadn’t even done any of the work last night. I wondered if he still felt me somewhere. I wondered if he thought about me as much as I thought about him.

I hadn’t seen him after he left late the night before, and I wasn’t sure he’d even come home. If he had, he’d already gone to work. I didn’t believe he was here; it was too quiet and neither did it smell like bacon.

I slipped out of the shower, dried off, and wrapped a towel around myself. As I reached for the door handle, it opened, and a body that reeked of cherry blossom bumped into me. It was a collision, my skull hitting hers before I fell back a few steps.

“Ow.”

“What the hell?” a feminine voice muttered.

A woman’s narrowed gaze centered on me. I rubbed my forehead with a grimace, but then that fruity scent hit my nose again.

Cherry blossom.

My throat closed up.

The shampoo.

I’d known there would be another woman in the picture, but I hadn’t thought I’d have to stand face to face with her in a towel.

“Who the hell are you?” she snapped, rubbing her forehead as well.

My gaze swept downward and so did hers. Our eyes took in the other like we were at a public function and realized we wore the same dress. In this case, we happened to be screwing the same man.

She kind of looked like me. Her hair was medium-length and dark brown, but her features were soft and her body shape similar. Lovely. Nico had a type, and I’d been added to his group of hookups.

“Do you talk?” she bit out. “Or are you mute?” She put her hands on her hips and ran a condescending gaze down my body. “Would make the most sense for why Ace brought you home.”

I blinked.

I’d never had to respond to such a catty statement before. Had never even heard one come out of a woman’s mouth that wasn’t on TV. If any of my male relatives had heard, they would’ve lost it. Evil eyes and narrowed gazes? Of course, but only because men were oblivious to that sort of thing.

It was clear to me that Nico didn’t share the same values in regard to respecting the women in his life. If he had, he wouldn’t have even allowed her to be here. My chest tightened. And it began. He was going to parade girls in front of me like I was nothing. Maybe he thought that because I wasn’t a virgin I didn’t deserve his respect.

My palms grew clammy, my heartbeats icing over. However, something hot and bitter crept through me. Anger. He was upset enough about a fifty-cent ring that he threw something at the wall, and I had to share a bathroom with his whore?

My gaze found the other woman’s with indifference, and then I responded to the question regarding whether I spoke. “Sometimes.” Lifting a shoulder, I said, “Though I choose not to converse with spiteful shrews until after nine a.m.” I glanced at the clock on the wall that showed it was five minutes till.

Her mouth dropped open. “Well, you’re a real bitch, aren’t you?”

“And you’re in my way.”

Her eyes narrowed, but she stepped to the side so I could get through. “You know,” she said a little too saccharine, “I was curious why Luca is downstairs. Must be here to help you with your walk of shame.”

“I think I’ll stay for a while,” I responded as I passed her.

“You’ll stay?” she repeated, like I was a bit crazy.

“That’s what I said.” Frustration had infiltrated my heart, burning a hole in my chest as I walked down the hall. Before I knew what I was doing, I stopped in front of Nico’s room. “And by the way”—I turned to look at her before opening my fiancé’s door—“you’re almost out of shampoo. Do you think you can get some more?”

Red crept into her cheeks just before I shut the door behind me.


I stood in Nico’s room for a moment, leaning against the door and staring at the wall. My chest constricted. I didn’t think I’d ever felt this frustrated. Maybe resentful regarding how my papà chose to handle my past transgressions, but not pure anger. This feeling that seared with a bitter, cutting flame. My eyes burned, and I blinked to keep the tears at bay. Nicolas Russo was not going to make me cry.

I’d prepared for this my entire life. Had told myself lies and prayed that when the time came I would believe them—that I didn’t need love or fidelity.

I put up walls. And he’d somehow knocked them down in a laughable amount of time.

I wanted to turn back the clock and never step into Nico’s room last night. A few moments ago, the memory of his hands had been warm, pleasurable impressions. Now, they were stains I couldn’t wash away.

From the exaggerated banging and clatter of pans downstairs, it was safe to say Isabel and I hadn’t hit it off. I’d realized shortly after shutting the door that it was Monday and the cook was supposed to be here.

Isabel comes Mondays and Thursdays, Nico had said. And then something about her cleaning too, though that was either code for “She fucks me too,” or she was the worst maid I’d ever seen. My gaze coasted Nico’s messy bedroom, taking in the shattered lamp with detachment.

Ever since I’d met him I’d resorted to immature games that put me in awkward situations. Like now, as I stood in a towel in his room to spite his mistress. I banged my head on the door. He made me do stupid things and I hated it.

I crossed the hall and put on my nicest maxi dress. A pretty outfit always made me feel better, though it didn’t seem to help today. I did my makeup, all the while hearing Isabel clanging around until a “Jesus Christ, woman. Shut up,” came from a disgruntled Luca.

I made my way down the stairs, and relief hit me when I found the kitchen and living room to be empty. I didn’t want to be unkind anymore; it was exhausting.

The office door was cracked, and Luca and Isabel’s hushed voices came from within as I got the coffee started. I checked my phone that had been charging on the counter. I had a text from my mamma about some wedding details but nothing else. I wanted to speak with Adriana, but I knew she wouldn’t have gotten her phone back. I was about to call the landline when the talking in the other room stopped, and now sounded suspiciously like . . . kissing.

A grimace pulled on my lips.

It felt like I was trapped in a Gabriella situation, though this time I was on the opposite side of the scenario: the girlfriend instead of the relative. I didn’t like this new angle at all.

A little moan.

I shifted on my feet. Were they seriously going to mess around with the door open? They had to know I was out here; the coffee was brewing and the creak in the stairs had been loud enough to wake the dead.

“Shit,” Luca coughed.

Yep, messing around.

I could only assume Isabel was trying to make me as uncomfortable as she could, and Luca was just a man and couldn’t turn down sex.

My stomach twisted as I imagined it was Nico in there with Isabel instead. I would have to grow used the possibility, and so I forced myself to believe it was him. I let the ache in my chest unfurl until it would scar.

I pulled up Benito’s number and sent him a text.

Me: Please come pick me up.

Three dots appeared right away, showing he was typing.

Benito: You know I can’t do that.

I expected his response, but it felt like all the walls were closing in on me and squeezing my lungs. If I didn’t get out soon, I wouldn’t be able to breathe.

Me: Please. I just want to talk to Adriana.

Benito: Call the home phone.

Me: No, I need to see her.

Benito: Dammit, Elena.

Me: Ple.. . .

Benito: Fuck. The things I do for women.

Relief filled me, and I sucked in a breath.

Benito: Is Ace there?

Me: No. Just Luca.

Benito: Make sure you ask him.

Me: Yeah, I know, Benny.

Benito: Don’t Benny me. Be there soon.

I took a cup of coffee to my room and waited for him to arrive. When I got a text saying he was waiting out front, I hopped up and headed downstairs, only to find Luca and Isabel still preoccupied. It’d been a good twenty minutes, at least. I hesitated. I couldn’t stay here for another second, but the thought of confronting either of them made my stomach dip.

I found a piece of paper and wrote a quick note that Benito had picked me up and I was going home for a couple hours. My hand faltered on the word home. I didn’t believe I thought of my parents’ as home anymore, but today the last place home felt like was here.

I left through the front door since Benito waited on the street, but that wasn’t only it. I didn’t want to use the back door in case Luca would hear. An awareness itched in a corner of my mind that he might not let me leave, and that wasn’t an option. My heart beat with uncertainty as I let the screen door shut with a quiet click.

I climbed into the passenger seat.

Benito was sending a text, probably to some unlucky lady. He was a sight for sore eyes, and for some annoying reason tears began to well.

“I gotta tell you about this one, Elena,” he said, tossing his phone in the center console. “Blonde, tall . . . and these legs. Damn.” He made a circle with his thumb and forefinger in the “perfect” sign and looked over at me. His hand dropped, and his expression darkened. “What did that asshole do?”

“Nothing.” I shook my head, wiping my eyes. “I’m just being a stupid girl.”

His gaze narrowed. “Elena.”

I threw myself at him, wrapping my arms around his neck. He smelled like hundred-dollar hair gel and his signature cologne. “I don’t know how you get any women with how much cologne you wear. Could smell you from a mile away.”

He hugged me back. “Makes them come in droves.”

“Thanks for picking me up.”

His arms tightened around me. “If he hurts you, you’ll tell me.”

It wasn’t a question, though it felt like one. We both knew there was nothing he could do if it came down to that. Nobody meddled with a man’s wife or relationship in the Cosa Nostra. It wasn’t anyone’s business, regardless if he was abusive.

“I’ll tell you, but he hasn’t.” I pulled back and put my seatbelt on.

“So, what is this?” He wiped a tear off my cheek with a thumb. “Period shit? Aunt Flo in town?”

I laughed. “I missed you.”

“Missed you too, cuz. Let’s go home.”

Home.

It didn’t feel right when he said it either.


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