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The Sweetest Oblivion: Chapter 7

Elena

“We don’t break our captains. We kill them.”

—Vincent Gigante


“MERCY.” MAMMA GRIMACED, AS I’D just explained the plot of her book club novel. “I don’t even feel bad for not reading that one.”

She hadn’t read a single one of them—had.

“Okay, I have to go,” she said, putting a heel on with one hand and an earring in with the other. “Your papà and Benito are out, but Dominic is in the basement. Oh, and help your sister pick out her cake flavor. Tua zia Liza needs to know today. Please, Elena!”

I sighed and climbed off my parents’ bed.

“Leaving!” Mamma’s voice drifted out of the room.

I heard a faint “Finally” from my nonna as she passed the doorway with her servant Gabriella in tow. She’d gone on her afternoon walk, or, more likely, sat on the patio for five minutes of fresh air while gossiping.

A couple of moments later, I pushed the kitchen door open. Adriana sat cross-legged on the counter with two plates of cake before her. Her elbows rested on her knees and her fists were under her chin, while only wearing her yellow polka-dot bikini.

“What are the flavors?” I asked, coming to stand before the island. The sun was the only light in the room, casting the windowpane reflection across the counter.

“Pink Champagne and Luscious Lemon.” She said it like the options were really Tasty Garbage and Rotten Apricot. She was going to drag this out for as long as she could. Asking my sister to make a decision was like requesting her to write out the equation for time travel.

I tried both by scooping some up with my fingers. “Definitely the lemon,” I said, opening the cupboard for a glass.

I didn’t normally have dance practice on Tuesdays, but with the recital coming up we’d had it every day. My thighs burned as I stood on my tiptoes to get a cup from the top shelf. Benito and my other male cousins were all taller, yet they always took the glasses from the bottom shelf just to annoy the girls in the family.

“I was leaning toward Pink Champagne,” Adriana groaned.

“Then Pink Champagne it is,” I said as I filled my glass from the fridge water dispenser.

She shook her head. “No, now it doesn’t seem right.”

“The lemon, then.”

“That one doesn’t seem right either.”

I sighed. My sister could drive a saint to curse. I leaned against the fridge and eyed her over my glass. “Why are you in your swimsuit?”

“Was on my way to the pool, but Mamma stopped me and said I can’t leave the kitchen until I decide.”

After a moment of thought, a smile pulled on my lips. “Mamma left.”

Adriana’s gaze, warm and hopeful, popped up from the plates.

An hour later, with the cake flavor still undecided, Don’t Stop Believin’ played on the pool radio. The sun was hot, sparkling off the blue water as my head emerged from beneath. The cool liquid ran down my shoulders as I waded to my sister, who wore sunglasses and lay still on a floaty. She was a diva in the pool. In other words: boring. I tipped her.

She came up sputtering, pulling her sunglasses off and pushing the dark hair from her face. “I don’t know why you can’t just let me . . .” she trailed off.

The pool sat at the side of the house, allowing a view to the front gates. My gaze followed hers to see a lawn care truck coming down the drive. Oh no. Before I could say a word, she pulled herself out of the pool.

“Adriana, don’t,” I warned. My stomach twisted. I wasn’t sure how she’d seen Ryan this long without Papà finding out. She’d falsified her class schedule, putting an extra time slot down that she could spend with him, but seeing him at the house was too risky.

She turned to me, her gaze soft and pleading. “I just want to talk to him.”

“And say what? That you’re still getting married in three weeks?”

“And whose fault is that?” she snapped.

Ouch.

She was never abrupt with me like this. We might not have talked much lately—because what would we talk about? Her wedding?—but she’d never been hostile with me.

“I haven’t done anything you haven’t done,” I told her.

“I know. I just need to talk to him. You would want to talk to—” she glanced toward the ring on my finger under the water, “—him if you could, wouldn’t you?”

Would I? I didn’t know. Maybe that was the reason guilt felt like a heavy weight I carried around daily. It’d all been meaningless. It wasn’t even for love. And I was the only one who’d gotten out alive.

“The cameras,” I warned her. There was a security system downstairs that Dominic only had to glance at to see what was going on outside the home. I took a deep breath and tried to ignore the unease that swam in my veins. “The living room. Talk to him in there so you can see if anyone comes down the drive.”

The gardener came on Tuesdays and Fridays for lawn care and to clean the pool, so the truck wouldn’t raise Dominic’s suspicion. Let’s just hope my cousin was immersed in Skyrim like he usually was and wouldn’t show his face upstairs. Thankfully, Benito wasn’t here; he had a sharper eye.

My gaze found Ryan, who stood next to his truck, looking in our direction. He wasn’t even wearing his lawn care t-shirt, but a button-up and jeans. I groaned. What the hell is he thinking?

Adriana beamed. “Thank you, Elena!”

Then she was running toward him.

As I lay on my back, arms out, the sun warmed my front while the cool water licked at my sides. My eyes closed. I wondered what it would be like living here without my sister. How long I would coast through the halls until I got the same fate as her. I wondered if my papà would let me take classes this upcoming semester, though I was sure I’d blown that for myself.

I’d been pulled from all writing and political classes six months ago. I was free from a job, all responsibilities if I wanted, but even as the water held me up, slowly turned me in a circle, I might as well be drowning. Drowning in a past mistake I could never fix, but one I could try to make amends for. One I would amend, in the only way I could.

The quiet purr of an engine broke through my thoughts.

My eyes flew open.

Swimming toward the side, I grasped the edge of the pool and watched a shiny black car park next to Ryan’s truck. I didn’t know who it belonged to, but soon enough the door opened and the worst person who could show up stepped out.

A cold sweat drifted through me. Disaster loomed in the distance. More blood. Young, lifeless eyes. No. It wasn’t going to happen again.

I pulled myself out of the pool and headed toward the front of the house, ignoring the itch to go in the opposite direction. Nicolas held a manila envelope in one hand and shut the car door with his other. My skin buzzed with a cool sensation, and my bare feet paused at the end of the walkway.

I stood there in a white bikini, soaking wet, while my heart beat a mile a minute.

When his gaze finally came up to me, he stopped in his tracks. We stared at each other. He was only wearing black dress pants and a white short-sleeve shirt. I swallowed. It felt like he was more underdressed than me. Black ink covered one arm, while the other was smooth tanned muscle. Warmth rushed to the pit of my stomach and spread through me like fire.

My breathing shallowed as his gaze trailed the drips of water running down my body. Each drop that hit the concrete was another match lit in the short space between us. His attention settled on my face, his gaze narrowing.

“Is this how you welcome all your guests?”

I blinked at his rude tone. I couldn’t exactly say I’d ever stood half-naked in front of an unrelated man and had him angry with me for it.

“Some.” I tried for nonchalance, but it sounded more breathless than anything.

He gave his head a shake, letting out a small breath of amusement. He wasn’t amused at all, though, that much was clear by the way a muscle in his jaw ticked. It wasn’t often I was an irritation, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not.

When he headed for the front door, ice crept through me. I took a step forward. “Nicolas, wait.”

He stopped, glancing at me sideways.

“Papà isn’t here,” I rushed out.

“Aware,” was all he said while heading for the door again.

My stomach dipped.

Without thinking about it—because I would’ve chickened out—I hurried and stepped in front of him. He stopped short and glared at me.

My heartbeat wavered like a plucked string. Without my heels on, his presence was larger, more intimidating. “You can’t go in. It’s not . . . proper without my papà home.” There wasn’t a chance my father had invited this man over while he was away. How did he even get past the community gates? But I already knew Nicolas did what he wanted regardless of rules, and my papà must have realized that before the marriage contract was signed.

His gaze sparked. “You have a second to move before I do it for you.”

“Be my guest. You’ll get all wet.”

Somehow, I thought that was a great comeback, but it only made us both aware I was half-naked and soaked. The breeze grew hotter, the air denser.

His jaw tightened as he took a step forward. I didn’t move. His white shirt almost brushed my white bikini top. My breasts tingled in anticipation and drops of water tickled as they dripped down my midsection. His body heat was a living thing, sinking into my skin and urging me to step closer, to press my body against his.

I couldn’t breathe when he leaned in, his voice low against my ear. “You’re lucky I have shit to do today.” The rough sound ran the length of my neck, goose bumps following. I couldn’t help but think: What would he have done if he didn’t?

His fingers brushed mine as he slipped the manila envelope into my hand. “Put it on your papà’s desk.” He took a step back, and my entire body burned in the aftermath. “And don’t fucking go through it.” I wished I could say his tone doused me with cold water, but it didn’t.

My gaze narrowed as I looked up at him. The sunlight made his amber eyes even more golden. “Your business with my papà is the last thing on earth I would concern myself with.”

His voice darkened. “Good.”

We stared at each other for another moment. He jingled the keys in his hand and took a slow step back, before turning around and heading to his car. I stood there and watched him, because his back was as nice as his front.

Nicolas opened his car door, calling out, “By the way, it’s Nico. Nobody fucking calls me Nicolas.”

As he backed out of the drive, I reminded myself to keep calling him Nicolas. I headed into the house, dropped the folder on my papà’s desk, but, before I could leave, my gaze was pulled to the small safe in the corner of the room. With a tight throat, I walked toward it and tried the handle even though I already knew the outcome. Locked.

Guilt made me grasp onto the tiniest shards of hope.

I checked each drawer of his large mahogany desk, though, once again, knew I wouldn’t find what I searched for. My papà had all of his private bank information in this house locked down, but one of these days he had to trip up.

One of these days this family would pay restitution for the innocent life they’d taken.

I walked out of his office to watch Adriana shuffle Ryan out the front door.

I crossed my arms when I saw her swimsuit top tied awkwardly to the side, her bottoms on inside out. While I was saving her ass, she was having sex? What a little . . . ugh.

When he was gone, she leaned against the door, looking pale and relieved.

I pursed my lips in disappointment, turned around and chimed, “Lemon,” as I headed up the staircase.


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