Authors: Vanessa Waltz
Tags: #mafia romance, #Contemporary Fiction, #vanessa waltz, #alpha male romance, #Contemporary Romance
“You know he can’t hear you.”
Nathan’s arrogant voice digs into my brain and I raise my head to glare at him, hating him. He never cared about Dad. He hasn’t shown an iota of remorse that our dad is dying this entire week. What’s wrong with him?
He looks away from my stare. “Sorry.”
How many times have I heard that from him?
Slipping my hand from Dad’s, I stand up and decide to make a brief trip to the cafeteria. I haven’t eaten in—I don’t know how long. The phone in my purse vibrates in a constant murmur—Dad’s associates wondering what the hell happened to their CEO. Nathan’s rings silently, too. They have questions I have no interest in answering. I’m just trying to be there for my dad. He’s all I care about right now.
I sweep past my brother without a word, but he shifts and I hear him following me out the door.
He grabs my arm and makes me halt in my tracks. The tight grip on my wrist forces me to look into Nathan’s icy eyes.
“He’s my dad, too. I don’t understand why you treat me like I’m some kind of viper.”
Because you are.
The countless lies he sang into my parents’ ears, and how in family photographs he used to pinch my sides so roughly that tears would stream down my face, and the countless times he blamed me for something he did run through my head. Jessica and I learned to fear our brother at an early age. He was prone to violence, but he was smart—he never left a mark. I just wanted us to get along. We were a family, after all. It’s important to get along with your family, no matter how awful they can be.
He mellowed out in his twenties and became one of the most successful men I know. When I think about my brother, I can’t help but feel a mixture of gut-wrenching fear and awe.
Sure, he was a bastard when he was younger, but he isn’t anymore. I don’t know why I can’t let it go. It just still stings, even after all these years.
I get the company, I’ll make sure you and Jess get a fair share.”
Jessica isn’t here. She decided that her time was better off spent getting a mani-pedi, and she’d booked it
At least Nathan’s with me.
If only I could look at him and see the handsome, polite, capable man everyone says he is and not the cruel boy who taped my pet frog to a stick and beat it to death against a tree because I used one of his favorite CDs. He used to slap Jessica’s face when she was a toddler. All of that rage—it didn’t go anywhere. It’s just hidden inside him. Everybody hides their demons. Buried feelings wrestle inside me.
That was a long time ago. He apologized. All of these feelings are just getting in the way of mending things with him.
Dad hated it when we argued. He said it made us look like a dysfunctional family. Sometimes I blamed myself for not letting go, because a lot of the fights were my fault. Because I was still angry. Even though I said I forgave him, I never really did. More than anything, I’d like to never have to deal with him again, but then an angry voice creeps in my head. It’s not good to fight with family. You have to put up with them, because they’re blood.
I have to stick it out because Dad needs me.
My hand slides out of his grasp. “You think that’s what’s bothering me? Our father is
His finely shaped eyebrows pinch together. “Marisa, I’m not a monster. Dad owns a huge company. He’s been away for a week and there are probably thousands of things that require his attention right now. You and I will have to pick up the slack.”
Nathan and I, running Dad’s company?
“I don’t even want to think about it.”
My voice shakes and he slides an arm around my shoulders, and I curl into his chest. He wraps his arms around me and I cry, finally succumbing to tears. Nathan changed when he got older. He’s different. He became the protective, slightly possessive older brother who I looked up to. He helped me learn the ins and outs of the casino business, and introduced me to Dad’s associates.
“We’ll be fine, Marisa.”
His soothing voice burrows in my chest, giving me comfort, even if it’s not the kind of comfort I seek.
What about Dad?
Dad won’t be fine ever again.
* * *
After bolting down a dry muffin and searing hot coffee that burned my throat on the way down, I head back towards Dad’s room. The white walls burn as I pass by, the equally bright, polished tiles underneath my feet bouncing all the light from the ceiling into my eyes.
I step inside an elevator and smash the fourth floor button. The stainless steel reflects my haggard reflection.
Code blue. Fourth floor. Code blue.
The cold, female voice barely registers in my head when the doors ping open to the fourth floor. My coffee still burns my hand. I’m hoping that the strong smell might rouse my father. He always had to have his coffee in the morning or he would complain of migraine headaches. I step out of the elevator to a small commotion. Doctors in white coats and nurses in scrubs hurtle down the hallway inside a room. The same room Dad’s in.
A cold feeling grips my heart like an icy hand reaching in between my ribs. I toss the coffee inside a garbage can as panic slowly rises in my throat like vomit. Sprinting down the hallway, I hear raised voices coming from the hospital room and Nathan stands outside. He gives me a wide, anxious look.
Something’s wrong. I look inside the room, and the doctors seem strangely still. It’s like they’ve given up.
“Time of death—”
“NO!” I elbow my way inside, heart hammering when I look at the tubes shoved down Dad’s throat. How dare they give up on him so easily? Don’t they understand? Don’t they realize how important this man is? “Try again!”
“Ma’am, you need to leave the room.”
A doctor wearing a surgical mask addresses me sternly. I scan the group of indifferent nurses and doctors and feel a surge of loathing. “Don’t you dare give up on him! He’s donated tens of thousands of dollars to this hospital. You
him.” Tears silently fill my eyes. “Please!”
I can’t look at my dad. I can’t see the way his cheeks have already sunken in and feel how cold his hand has gotten. It’s like dry ice.
“Ma’am, please. We tried everything we could—”
“No, you didn’t!” I scream so loudly that the walls seem to tremble. “He just needs a little bit more time, for God’s sake. Can’t you just—Nathan, help me!”
My brother squeezes through, his eyes narrowing at me. He grips my shoulders and pulls me away from the bed, away from Dad. “Marisa, it’s over.”
I fight him, shoving his chest away from me. “Shut up. No, it’s not. You’re just—”
“Marisa!” he bellows in my face. “He’s gone.
Blue eyes cut into mine, the razor sharp clarity slicing inside me. My heart beats heavily, as though it throbs with a knife stuck inside.
Dad’s bare feet have a bluish tinge and his face is sunken in like parchment paper draped over a skull.
Oh, Jesus. My Dad—my rock. He’s gone.
How could this happen? People recover from strokes all the time, and Dad had the best doctors looking after him. I made sure of that. I called in every favor I had and pulled strings to get the best. Even the best wasn’t enough.
“Time of death, 6:32 am.”
Nathan holds me tightly. He’s the only man left in the world—the closest thing to my father.
! I want to scream.
t go! Don
t leave me!
I can’t do this without him.
* * *
How the hell did I get here?
I’m in a large, empty room that smells dusty. Faded purple carpet covers the floor and bland walls don’t really make me think of death so much as a nursing home stuck in the 80’s. Men in suits mingle in the room, clutching their styrofoam cups of coffee as my brother and I stand sentry near Dad’s casket.
Funeral homes never really made sense to me. Why am I paying for a giant, empty room with shabby decor reminiscent of a few decades ago? What’s with that, anyway? Why do they always look so dated? There’s nothing to do except talk, and if you get hungry, too bad. There’s only complimentary coffee, and the crappy kind that stays in those metal tubes for hours. And that’s not even in the room, probably because there’s some kind of ridiculous law forbidding the distribution of food in the same area as a dead person.
I can’t even bear to look at the solid form resting inside the white pillows. His face looks nothing like him, but at least there are photographs everywhere. Giant wreaths of flowers above his casket make my nose itch. Somehow, that makes me want to laugh.
What’s wrong with me?
Days ago, we were all working at the same job together. Dad was talking about making some renovations at the casino, which Nathan and I opposed because we were in the slow season. Jessica was doing whatever the hell she does all day at her apartment. I argued with my dad about something small, something stupid—how exactly to cook a perfect medium rare steak. Dad cooked them on the pan, when I liked to finish them in the oven. We had a big argument about it. Both of us are so goddamn stubborn. I know I got it from him. I’ve no idea what I got from Mom; she’s basically a stranger to me.
All of this runs through my mind, and I search frantically through it to grasp something that will make me say, “A-ha! This can’t be real!”
I’m not sad.
I’m in denial.
A man I have never seen before extends his arm to me as I stand beside my father’s open casket.
“So sorry for your loss,” he says.
I’ve heard at least a dozen different versions of this in the past few hours. The corners of my lips pull upwards painfully.
“Thank you for coming.”
Beside me, I hear Nathan uttering the same words as we greet business associate after business associate. Heat rises to my chest like tiny, hot needles pricking my sensitive skin.
I didn’t fucking want them here. Nathan and I argued about it.
“Some of them are shareholders in the company—members of the board! Are you fucking crazy? Do you know how insulting it would be if you told them they couldn’t come to the funeral?”
“I don’t care!” I screamed back. “I don’t want to turn Dad’s funeral into a schmooze fest. For fuck’s sake, it’s a private affair. They don’t need to come.”
We screamed at each other until we were hoarse. Finally, we came to a compromise. The burial would be private, with only family members and a select few others. Everyone else would be allowed to attend the wake and ceremony.
So it’s two days of this.
Two days of standing up for hours in uncomfortable clothing and heels and pretending to care that the people who worked with Dad are at his wake, while they pretend to care about his death. They’re people whose names I forget almost the instant I shake their hands.
Dad wouldn’t want me to be like this. The casino was everything to him.
I swallow hard as a venerable man in slacks approaches. I recognize him as one of the board members of Worlds Casino. Mr. Blackwell’s lined face glances inside the coffin briefly and he pats the coffin.
“Poor Dominic,” he shakes his head sadly. “None of us saw this coming. I’m so sorry.”
I heave a long sigh. “It was very fast.”
His coarse hand doesn’t quite let go of mine. “This may have happened fast, but a few of us know who he wanted in control of the company. I just wanted to let you know that you’ll have full support of the board. Take your time and grieve, and it’ll be waiting for you.”
A slight shock runs through me as I look into his knowing eyes. What the hell does that mean? Nathan’s getting the company, isn’t he? I can only regard him in stunned silence as he smiles and nods, and then his hands slip from my fingers as he approaches Nathan.
I turn slightly, listening hard as he wrings Nathan’s hand, but he makes no other mention of my father’s business.
A stab of unease wrestles with the numbness inside me as I stare out into the crowd of murmuring people. I never actually seriously considered the possibility that
might inherit the majority of my father’s shares, and not Nathan. I always assumed it would be him. He was the oldest and the most capable of all three of us. Mr. Blackwell made it sound like I would be—
I won’t think about that. Not now. My stomach turns as I glance towards my left, to the body resting beside me.
s not even buried yet. Shame on you.
It presses down on my chest and head, and I look around anxiously for a disapproving face as if someone nearby heard my thoughts.
A dark-haired man interrupts my train of thought. He wears a perfectly fitted inky-black suit, which compliments the olive tone of his skin. Suddenly I feel warm all over. I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s his high cheekbones and dark, melancholic eyes. He’s like a stereotype for tall, dark, and handsome. He hasn’t noticed me staring at him yet; he looks inside the coffin with both hands grasping the edge, his fingers white. The man finally turns towards me, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he looks at me with little emotion. No, there’s a lot buried underneath that cool slate he tries to hide under. He keeps his limbs unnaturally still to keep them from shaking and his face stays blank, but anyone can see the deep sadness lurking in his eyes. The dark eyes swirl with it.
Jesus. He’s intense.
I hold out my hand first, genuinely curious about him already.
“Thank you for coming.”
His hand is pleasantly cool, but mine feels hot. It slips in his hand.
Crap. That’s embarrassing.
He blows a sigh through his nose. “I didn’t know your dad very well, but from what I heard, he was a real decent guy. I’m really sorry that you have to go through this.”
The intensity of his gaze makes me feel vulnerable. I can tell that he means it, that he knows what loss feels like. I’m slowly starting to feel it: the stomach dropping, red-eyed, gulping for breath sadness that eats you from the inside out. I feel smacked awake. The small amount of warmth he gives me eclipses everyone else’s shitty condolences and apologies, and my hand trembles inside his.