As Made Men it was our task to keep those safe that we were sworn to protect: the weak, children, women. I, in particular, had devoted my life to this goal. Many tasks in my job involved hurting others, being brutal and cold, but keeping people safe always made me feel like there was more to me than the bad. Not that it mattered; if Luca asked me, I’d do every bad thing imaginable. It was easy to forget that despite our own ethics and morals and codes, we Made Men were what most people perceived as evil. I was reminded of our real nature, of my real nature when I heard Liliana’s scream. The screams of the Russians hadn’t moved me. I’d heard those, and worse, before. But that high-pitched, not-ending scream of a girl we were meant to protect was like a fucking stab in the gut.
Her expression and eyes were the worst; they showed me exactly what I was. Maybe a good man would have sworn to be better, but I was good at my job. Most days I enjoyed it. Even the terror-stricken face of Liliana didn’t make me want to be something other than a Made Man. Back then I hadn’t realized that this glimpse of brutality wasn’t even the worst way I would fuck up her life.
I woke to something warm and soft below my body. My mind was sluggish but the memories were clear and focused, more focused than my surroundings when I finally dared to open my eyes. Movement in the corner attracted my attention. Romero leaned against the wall across from me. I quickly did a check of the room I was in. It was a guest bedroom, and I was alone with Romero behind a closed door. Without the lingering effects of whatever Matteo had injected me earlier, I would have started screaming again. Instead I watched mutely as Romero walked toward me. I wasn’t sure why I’d ever thought of him as harmless, now his every move screamed danger. When he’d almost reached the bed, I cringed, pressing myself against the pillow. Romero paused, dark eyes softening, but their kindness couldn’t fool me anymore, not after what I’d seen. “It’s okay. You are safe.”
I’d never felt not safe in my life – until now. I wanted my blissful ignorance back. I didn’t say anything.
Romero took a glass of water from the nightstand and held it out to me. My eyes searched the skin of his hands for blood but he must have cleaned them thoroughly. There wasn’t the slightest hint of red, not even between his fingers or under his nails. He probably had a lot of practice cleaning up blood. Bile crept up my throat at the thought.
“You need to drink, kiddo.”
My eyes flew up to his face. “I’m not a kid.”
The ghost of a smile crossed Romero’s face. “Of course not, Liliana.”
I searched his eyes for mockery, for a hint of the darkness that had been there in the basement, but he looked like the good guy I wanted him to be. I sat up and took the glass from him. My hand shook but I managed not to spill water on myself. After two sips I handed the glass back to Romero.
“You can go to your sisters soon, but first Luca wants to have a word with you about what you saw today,” he said calmly.
Fear speared me like a cold blade. I slid out of the bed when someone knocked, and Luca entered a moment later. He closed the door. My eyes darted from him to Romero. I didn’t want to break down like I had before, but I could feel another panic attack pushing through the drugs in my bloodstream. I’d never been alone with them, and after today’s events, it was too much.
“Nobody will hurt you,” Luca said in his deep voice. I tried to believe him. Aria seemed to love him, so he couldn’t be bad, and he hadn’t been down in the basement torturing Russians. I risked another look at Romero, whose eyes rested on me.
I lowered my face. “I know,” I said eventually, which probably sounded as much a lie as it felt. I took a deep breath and leveled my gaze on Luca’s chin. “You wanted to talk to me?”
Luca nodded. He didn’t come closer, nor did Romero. Maybe my fear was plain as day to them. “You can’t tell Aria about what you saw today. She’ll be upset.”
“I won’t tell her,” I promised quickly. I’d never intended to talk to her. I didn’t want to remember the events, much less to tell anyone about them. If I could, I’d wipe my memory clean of them instantly.
Luca and Romero exchanged a look, then Luca opened the door. “You’re much more reasonable than your sister Gianna. You remind me of Aria.”
Somehow his words made me feel like a coward. Not because Aria was. She was brave and so was Gianna, both in their own ways. I felt like a coward because I agreed to keep my silence for selfish reasons, because I wanted to forget, and not because I wanted to protect Aria from the truth. I was pretty sure she could have handled it better than I did.