I saunter into the Dark Sovereign room and feel an intense sense of relief when I see Nicoli sitting in his seat next to mine. After almost losing him the same night I blew Roberto’s face off, there’s always this soul-soothing relief that floods me whenever I see him. Even if we just pass each other in the hallway, I feel it. Some days I find myself trapped in that moment when I thought I had lost him. I can still see the image of him closing his eyes, the fear in my bones telling me he’s gone. For weeks, while he was recovering, I walked around completely on edge, as if the adrenaline surge I experienced that day didn’t want to dissipate. It took me a long time to shake it, and a lot of sleepless nights trying to regain control over my own thoughts. I think almost losing my brother was one of those divine moments that changes you. It gave me renewed appreciation for all my brothers.
Rome left that night and took his uncle Ricardo with him. We haven’t heard from him since, and I doubt we will any time soon. He was never meant for our world, and for years I thought him a coward. But now I know he’s not. He’s just not like us, and something tells me his dead father scarred him far worse than we can imagine.
I take my seat, and Isaia sits across from me. He’s officially claimed his seat at the Dark Sovereign table, and there’s been a visible change in him. He’s no longer this broody, miserable guy haunting the halls of this house with his doom and gloom expression. Leandra was right. All Isaia needed was to be a part of the family legacy, to share something as significant as this with his older brothers. It all worked out, and I finally feel a peace that’s settled in my soul. A peace I never knew I yearned for.
“Are we all in agreement?” I glance from Nicoli to Caelian to Isaia, and they all nod. It’s a unanimous decision, and I knew it would be. We all feel the same, and I am one hundred percent convinced if my father were here, he would have agreed, too. This is how it was always meant to be, and today we’re setting it in stone.
Maximo appears at the door, his black T and jeans more in line with Isaia’s choice in attire than the suits Nicoli, Caelian, and I choose to wear. “You wanted to see me?”
“Yeah, come on in.”
He saunters in and stills a few feet away, his hands behind his back.
I clear my throat. “The day we ended the civil war with Roberto, I told you that your loyalty has not gone unnoticed.”
“I also told you that you were like a brother to me. To all of us. And that you and Mirabella are as much a part of this family as the rest of us.”
Maximo’s eyes flash with a humility that makes one aware that beneath all those layers of hard-ass, there’s a heart beating inside there somewhere.
“We’ve come to a unanimous decision that we want you to officially be one of us.”
His brow knits together with confusion. “What do you mean?”
I stand and walk to the one empty chair at the table, placing my hands on the back edge. “We want you to be one of us, Maximo. We’re offering you a place at the Dark Sovereign table because God knows you’ve earned it.”
He’s stunned into silence, his eyes wide with surprise. “I… um… I can’t accept this,” he says, his voice strained. “I’m not a Del Rossa.”
“Yes, you are. Our brotherhood goes far deeper than blood and in name. It’s soul deep, and you are as much a Del Rossa as the rest of us.” I turn to face him and place my hands on his shoulders. “There is no one in this entire goddamn world I want around this table with us more than you, Maximo. This is your family, too, and your loyalty has proven invaluable to us. Your children, Mirabella’s children, your grandchildren will all be part of this legacy. I swear it. Please, brother,” I say, my affection for him laced around every word, “do us the honor of joining the Dark Sovereign.”
There’s a long, silent pause as Maximo considers my offer. It’s been on my mind for weeks to include him, but I took my time to make the final decision and thought about it long and hard. But in the end, he’s our brother, he’s family, and there was really no choice to be made.
Maximo licks his lips and smiles subtly. “Thank you, Alexius. I’d be honored.”
I pull him in for a hug, slapping my palms on his back. “It’s good to have you on board, brother.”
Nicoli steps up and hands Maximo a drink. “We wouldn’t want any other fucker filling that open chair.”
Maximo nods, and both Caelian and Isaia shake his hand. I’m about to make some big fucking welcoming speech when Mira comes rushing in and hugs her brother so tight his cheeks turn red. “Oh, my God, this is the best news!”
Nicoli, Isaia, Caelian, and I stare at her, dumbfounded. “Seriously, Mira?” I say. “You were eavesdropping?”
She leans into her brother, her arm wound around his waist. “It’s not eavesdropping when you leave the door open.”
“It’s like high school all over again,” Isaia groans.
“Do you know how many times she blackmailed me?” Caelian asks. “About the same amount of times I had sex in high school.”
“So, that’s what?” Nicoli feigns a look of thought. “Three times? Maybe four?”
We’re all laughing when Leandra walks in with Aria and Alessio in the twin pram. With two giant strides, I’m at her side. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. I’m just trying to get these two down for a nap, so I decided to go for a walk with them outside. Alessio is down for the count, but as always, Aria is being stubborn.” She smiles and glances at everyone in the room. “Seems like I arrived just in time. What’s going on?”
“Your husband just made my brother here a member of the Dark Sovereign.”
“Oh, wow, that’s so great. Congratulations, Maximo,” she says, her eyes filled with sincerity. “I can’t think of anyone better suited.”
“Thank you.” Maximo smiles, and it’s a rare fucking occurrence. Maximo isn’t known for mustering up a lot of fucking smiles. He’s more into the brooding, dark-soul look that intimidates the shit out of people who don’t know him.
“I think this is a cause for some champagne out on the back porch,” Mira says excitedly. “I’ll ask the chef to whip up some snacks.”
“Someone grab the whiskey bottle,” Caelian calls out. “Champagne makes me want to fuck something. And since the only two women in this house are off-limits, I’d rather not walk around with a raging hard-on, because I choose life.”
Everyone bursts out laughing as they walk out, leaving Leandra and me behind. Their loud, excited voices and laughter disappear as they make their way down the hall.
“That’s a good thing you did,” Leandra says, staring at me with so much affection I’m sure my heart’s about to explode.
“As you said, no one is better suited.”
Aria waves her arm around, and of course, I can’t resist picking her up and cuddling her against my chest.
Leandra slants a brow. “She’s supposed to nap. You’re spoiling her.”
“She doesn’t look like she’s napping to me…are you, little princess?” I place a gentle kiss on her forehead. “And a father spoiling his daughter is the natural way of life.” Aria smiles up at me, and it’s one of the few things in this world that can disarm me. “Our daughter looks like you. She has your eyes, your nose, your lips.”
“And she has your stubbornness.”
“Um, excuse me. If anyone is stubborn here, it’s you.”
“Let’s agree to disagree.” She pouts her lips, and I lean in, kissing her on the cheek.
I look down at Alessio sleeping in the pram. My son. All my life I wanted nothing more than to live up to my father’s expectations, be the son he wanted me to be. Now, everything’s changed. Now, all I want is to be the kind of father my son will look up to. Build our family’s legacy and watch my son grow into the role he’s been born to fill. Heir of the Dark Sovereign.
Aria isn’t sleeping, but she’s peaceful in my arms. I’ve already made peace with the fact that my gun will be flaunted freely whenever boys come knocking. This little princess is never leaving her father’s side to cling to some boy who will never, ever be enough for her.
And Leandra, she’s just…perfect, as she’s always been. She’s my lifeline. My conscience. She’s the rhythm my heart beats in, and without her I’d be lifeless.
That day in my father’s office, when he pulled the rug right from under my feet by demanding that I marry, I thought my life would turn out a miserable puddle of bitterness. I never thought a few years down the line, I’d be here with a loving wife and two perfect children. Not once did it cross my mind that my father’s request would end up bringing out the best of me.
Being a husband and a father changed me for the better. For a long time, I thought I needed power, wealth, and influence to be a successful and respected man. But I was wrong. So fucking wrong.
I needed her. My wife. My stray. My filthy little slut.
And most importantly, the love of my life.
I catch her lips with mine, slipping my tongue through the crease of her mouth. It’s a tender kiss—unrushed and gentle. She tastes of sunshine and perfection, and if I could bottle it, I’d sleep with it on my bedside table.
“Thank you,” I murmur.
Clutching Aria tight, I place my other palm on Leandra’s cheek. “For unraveling with me.”