Chapter Twenty-Three

Tino made a split-second decision to leave the boots. 

After leaving Nova behind, it wasn’t that hard. 

Turning the other way when his brother was having a bullet pulled out of his chest was the hardest thing Tino had ever done in his entire fucking life. 

He also knew Nova would never forgive him if he didn’t try to find Carlo before their zio did something stupid and life altering. Brianna would’ve likely tried to talk him out of it when she came back, and he didn’t have time to waste if Carlo had been gone that long. 

First, though, Tino had to get rid of the bodies in the trunk and dump Nova’s car. The don probably wouldn’t be too pleased with Tino for the rotting corpses in the garages if he didn’t. Tino had known the moment they decided to drive back to New York that he was going to be doing this tonight. 

Sammy the bodyguard, and his lackey Desi, ended up as residue in a vat of chemicals. 

Nova’s beloved Bentley found its final resting place torched to a shell of its former self and shoved off a Jersey bank into the Hudson. 

That shit took Tino all fucking night, but it had to be done. 

The adrenaline got him to the first streaks of sunrise casting their glow over the dark sky, but then Tino started wavering. His head was throbbing from being cold cocked by Nova in primal Siciliano mode. 

It really was a fucking miracle Tino wasn’t dead. 

The fear for both Nova and Carlo made Tino’s chest tight. By the time he got to the safe house in the Jersey Palisades he started to feel like he couldn’t breathe from the terror. It just grabbed him all of a sudden. He needed blow and its false sense of well-being—quickly—or he was going to shut down. 

He parked the Ducati in the garage and stumbled when he stepped inside. He blindly reached for the light switch and made his way into the partially furnished house. 

This one wasn’t his, it was Carlo’s, so Tino spent another forty-five minutes trying to find where Carlo stashed his blow. 

He gave up and spread out on the tile in the kitchen after searching in the vent under the fridge. He only planned on closing his eyes for minute, just enough to get the energy to start searching the bedrooms.

****

The sun was blaring when Tino woke up. A ray found him through the kitchen window, warm on his face, and he rolled over to hide from it. His hand hit the open grate from the bottom of the fridge and everything flooded him all at once. 

He sat up and pulled out his phone. 

3:45 PM 

He slept the entire fucking day away. 

And just to mock him, he spotted the glint of glass in the front corner beneath the fridge. He leaned over and picked it up, staring at the amber vial in his hand. 

Blow. 

Found ten hours too late. 

Tino snorted it anyway, and then texted Brianna while he waited for it to fully kick in. 

Tino: How’s Nova?

Brianna: Where are you???

Tino: Please tell me how my brother is!

Brianna: He’s okay. Moretti magic strikes again. Help here can’t believe it.

Tino let out a shuddering sigh of relief, knowing the help she was talking about were the doctors because Brianna knew how to text in code better than anyone. If Dr. Acciai told them Nova was going to be okay, Tino believed it. He said a quick, genuine prayer, thanking whoever it was in the universe watching out for his brother even if Nova was more pirate than lost boy these days. Then Tino said another one for his zio, hoping to God the Moretti magic didn’t choose now to run out. 

He was still praying when his phone went off again. 

Brianna: He’s very relaxed. We keep buying him beers, so he doesn’t freak the fuck out when he finds out his crew went partying without him! Where are you? 

Rather than answer her question, he decided to change the subject. 

Tino: Where’s Carmen?

Brianna: With Nova. He asks less questions when she’s around. Not going to last forever.

Tino: Keep him off my back as long as you can. Love ya, baby. I’ll check in again soon. 

He turned off his ringer and put his phone in his pocket before he could see her response. Ignoring Brianna was more than painful, but the blow kicked in and he’d lost a day he couldn’t afford. 

He shoved the blow in his pocket next to his phone rather than leave it and was out the door and on his Ducati in less than a minute. 

He didn’t realize until much later that he should’ve read Brianna’s next texts instead. 

 

****

 

Brianna: Have you been watching the news?

Brianna: Do you even know why we have to keep him drunk?

Brianna: Tino!!!

Brianna: Hello??

“Shit!” Brianna cursed and tossed her phone on the bed. “He’s gone.”

“Did you tell him to watch the news?” Carina’s voice sounded broken and distant, like a shell of who she was before Lola died. 

“Yeah.” Brianna looked back to the twenty-four-hour news channel casting shadows over the darkened room in the basement. “I’m worried he won’t check back now that he knows Nova’s okay.” 

Okay isn’t the word I’d pick.” Carina glanced away from the television to look past the partially open door since they could see Nova’s bed and hear the steady beeping from the machines connected to him. 

 Nova was sleeping bare-chested. IVs were connected to both arms and a large, white square of gauze was taped to his chest to hide the hole they stitched up after pulling the bullet out of him. Carmen sat next to Nova, reading a book quietly to herself. She wore a pair of the Don’s reading glasses, which he loaned her saying twenty-one was too young to be far sighted, but how could he say no? The poor woman hadn’t slept since she got there. It was obvious she was in shock and exhausted. Even Dr. Acciai offered her something, but she refused and didn’t once complain about sitting there as a distraction for Nova. 

Brianna knew Carina was right, so she started watching the weather report on the twenty-four-hour news station instead. They were repeating the same stories, and she wasn’t sure why the two of them kept staring at it—but they did. 

From the other room she heard a groggy, “Ciao,” from Nova. 

“Hi,” Carmen answered, and Brianna looked to see Carmen smile at Nova and close her book. “How are you?”

Sto bene.” Nova reached up, as though he wanted to scratch his bare chest, but Carmen caught his hand. He frowned, and lifted his head, staring at the white gauze tapped to his tanned skin, and then glanced around the room. “Where are my brothers?” A scowl etched its way over his forehead, like he was trying to put the pieces together. “Where’s Carlo?”

It was usually the first thing Nova asked when he noticed the injury. If it was the gunshot itself that reminded Nova of them, or if he just assumed his brothers and zio would be there if he was hurt, Brianna wasn’t sure—but he did it every time. 

Carmen kept ahold of his hand as she set her book aside. Then she leaned over to brush the dark, sweaty hair off his forehead. Nova’s gaze dropped to the low-cut V neck of the t-shirt Carmen borrowed, because like Carina, she was built to fill it out very well. 

“Bella,” he mumbled, and then glanced back up to her face. A deep frown creased his forehead. “Gli occhiali?

Brianna looked to Carina, who leaned in and whispered, “He’s asking about her glasses.”

It made sense, because the don had just handed them to her before he headed back upstairs. Nova hadn’t seen them yet.

Carmen let out a mirthless laugh and answered Nova in Italian, “Gli occhiali non mettono soldi nelle tasche della borgata.” 

Whatever she said must’ve angered him, because Nova seemed to growl his response, “Vorrei poterlo uccidere di nuovo.”

Carmen placed her fingers on Nova’s lips, silencing him before he could say more.

Brianna looked to Carina, but Carina was silent rather than answer her unspoken question. So, Brianna held up her hands expectantly, giving her a look. 

It must’ve communicated because Carina leaned in and whispered, “She said, ‘Glasses don’t put money in the borgata’s pockets.’”

Brianna felt her stomach knot. “And what’d he say?”

“He said, ‘I wish I could kill him again.’”

“More news on the deadly fire in Bensonhurst earlier today. The large estate, located at the end of a private road, is owned by Carmine Brambino. There are five confirmed fatalities, but the identities of the victims haven’t been released. It is believed that Mr. Brambino was home at the time of the fire, but it is unknown if there is a connection between the fire and Mr. Brambino’s ties to organized crime.”

It wasn’t a new report. It’d been looping for at least the past hour. They likely wouldn’t get more information until the evening news started. 

Carmine Brambino’s sprawling mansion was now twelve thousand square feet of smoldering rubble and it looked like their don was buried underneath those fine Italian marble pillars and stained-glass windows. 

They all assumed Carlo did it.

Brianna looked back to Carmen and Nova, who were still talking. Nova followed Carmen’s lead, and was speaking in softer, more secretively tones. Carmen kept her hand near his shoulder, as though ready to silence Nova if he confessed something else. 

Brianna turned back to Carina for more translation, since the two of them couldn’t be seen eavesdropping. They were still huddled in the largest basement bedroom, with the door cracked and the television playing. 

What else was there for them to do?

Not like Tino was texting back. 

“What’re they saying?”

“They’re speaking Spanish now.” Carina gave her a look. “Can’t you tell the difference?”

“I wasn’t paying attention.” Brianna’s shoulders slumped, and she leaned down, resting her arms against the bed. She laid her head on her hands, because she was still so very tired. “Do you think it was the Brambinos who shot him?”

Brianna barely whispered the words, and Carina still looked at Nova and Carmen through the crack in the door with concern.

“I don’t know.” Carina sighed. “Maybe we should watch the Florida news.”

“Bad idea,” Brianna said quickly. “I shouldn’t have been asking questions. We shouldn’t have even been listening. Forget you heard that part. Put it out of your memory. It never happened.”

“How often do you play that little game with yourself?” Carina asked darkly. “I know Tino tells you things.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Brianna lied, because she did hear some things, like cutting bullets out of dead bodies. “But, I do know it’s better that we don’t have details. Don’t watch the Florida news. It’ll be easier to play stupid that way.”

“I can’t do that.” Carina shook her head, looking furious as she opened her laptop on the bed, clearly intent on finding news from Florida. “I can’t be the dumb little woman at home pretending none of this is happening.”

“So, you’d rather be the reason your brothers go down when you accidentally say something to the feds in questioning? Find out all the details then. Good plan.”

Carina shut her laptop more forcefully than necessary, making a sound of disgust. 

“Breaking news on the Bensonhurst fire.

We have received word from officials, confirming Carmine Brambino is one of the five fatalities. The other two names have not been released. Authorities haven’t said if they suspect foul play, or if the fire was accidental, but we do know Mr. Brambino’s daughter, Lola Brambino, was tragically murdered—"

Carina kept the remote pointed at the television after she shut it off. The two of them looked at the door. Brianna said a silent prayer, hoping Carmen was still hovering over Nova and didn’t hear, but it was too late. 

Carmen leaned against the frame, staring at the darkened television. Her light eyes were glassy, but if it was from sadness or exhaustion, Brianna couldn’t tell. 

“I’m sorry,” Carina whispered. “That’s a terrible way to find out.”

“I didn’t love my father enough to cry for him.” Carmen’s voice sounded hallow, almost devoid of emotion as she reminded them, “He was an awful person, Carina.”

“I know.” Carina nodded and pointed to the television with the remote still in her hands. “And I’m sorry about the other.” She choked rather than say Lola’s name. “Brianna’s right, we should stop watching. It doesn’t fix anything. Knowing won’t change it.”

“It’s okay.” Carmen still sounded distant. “You can watch if that helps you.” 

“You need sleep.” Brianna could hear how absolutely exhausted the other woman was. They were all tired, but Carmen was suffering from something so much worse. “I’ll get you one of the nice feather blankets from upstairs. You’ll like it.”

“Always so helpful.” Carmen smiled, making her look both beautiful, and somehow even more tragic. She turned to walk away, and said, “If my father had known Tino possessed such a talent for training good girls, he would’ve made him a professional.”

Brianna gaped at Carmen’s back, and then looked to Carina defensively. Carina did a very good job of pretending to care about the old, peeling flowered wallpaper in the basement bedroom. 

“You don’t agree with that,” Brianna barked at her best friend. 

Carina looked back to her hesitantly and shrugged. “I dunno.”

“Bullshit, you know what you think about it,” Brianna barked. 

“Is there anything you don’t do for Tino?” Carina asked softly. “Where’s your line, Bri?”

“I have a line. I have a big fucking line, I promise,” Brianna assured her. “I will never be her.”

Brianna realized too late that she hadn’t slept either. 

She was exhausted too. 

And maybe she revealed more than she should, because Carina whispered, “I meant a line to protect yourself.”

Brianna got off the bed, grabbed her phone, and walked out of the bedroom. Fighting would just make everything worse, she knew it, but a part of her still protested not starting something over that. 

Carmen was sitting next to Nova again, speaking in those hushed tones. They were still on Spanish, because Nova clearly had the ability to just go along, even if he was stoned out his mind. 

“I’m going to get Dr. Acciai and a blanket.” 

Brianna snuck around to the stairs without letting Nova see her, because he wasn’t as friendly with the rest of them. 

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