Goal = accomplished.
She looked fucking edible in a dress the same shade of green as her eyes, sandals with cork-looking straps and heels on them, her little toes painted the color of black cherries.
We were at an oceanside restaurant with a reggae band and dancing. She’d pigged out (as did I) and then she was bouncing on her chair, eye-pleading with me.
I knew what she wanted. She wanted me to ask her to dance.
“Love this song,” she’d said and I’d bit off an annoyed response about it being too loud, and she’d tried to be cute with, “If you think it’s too loud, you’re just too old.”
I’d glared at that, but she was sitting there, still bouncing.
“Tia, fuck sakes,” I grumbled and looked away.
I sipped my drink and looked back at her.
Now she was sulking.
And now I was feeling shitty. Guilt was still an emotion that was foreign to me and it only ever applied to her. This trip was meant to be an escape, but I felt that unwanted emotion churning in my gut way too much these days.
But, fuck, how would I just forget all the shit happening at home? My father is rotting in the ground. My brother is trying to deal with shit. He’s capable. Dare’s more than capable. But, is it safe?
Other than Tia, he’s the only person I 100% trust. But what if it’s too much for him to manage by himself? What if he misses some cue of danger that he’d otherwise catch if he didn’t have to manage the giant load all by his fucking self because I’ve abandoned ship?
Why did I let him talk me into this? I was losing my shit, worrying something would happen to Tia, and he told me to get outta town; take a minute. Why the fuck did I listen to him? Because I’d shown him a moment of weakness. He was only trying to help, but I was regretting leaving home.
I worried that my father’s associates and worse, his enemies, might be looking for opportunities to take advantage. Anyone who asked would be told I was taking a break with my fiancée. They also knew that was a typical excuse for someone in our world that didn’t want anyone to know what was going on with them.
Taking a break could mean many things, including dealing with enemies. Maybe some thought I was out seeking to avenge Pop. Maybe certain people worried there might be a target on their backs. Men in my world feeling like they were marked would do things to protect themselves.
There were some that also had to know that Dare and I were thinking of exiting a lot of the business areas Pop had been in. What would they think of it all and how it seemed to tie to the death of Tom Ferrano?
His sons were always his dutiful soldiers. His right and left hands. And I’d been groomed to take over. But now with him dead and us jumping ship? What did others think about that?
I’d be suspicious of us. At the very least, I’d have my eye on the situation. And I didn’t fuckin’ like the idea of anyone havin’ eyes on us.
As much as I had help and assistance from the Fuentes cartel, I’d pissed some other people off when I took out Juan Carlos Castillo. Added insult to injury, likely, when we took out his nephew, Jesse. Rumor was that Jesse was seen as a waste of space by his brother who was still a powerful man in Mexico, but waste of space or not, blood was blood. And appearances were important. He might feel like he appears weak by not making a statement. Despite Zack Jacobs assuring me that it wouldn’t happen, stating his connections and relationships made him 100% sure that Alessandro Romero had no plans to avenge Jesse, that it’d also been seen as Even-Steven for Jesse taking out James and putting non-lethal bullets in Pop. But what if I was putting too much stock in Zack’s opinion? What if I was ignoring potential for a plan that could already be in motion?
If I wasn’t there at the helm looking powerful and in control, would I be seen as weak or be under suspicion? Why was Tom Ferrano’s second-born there doing everything instead of his eldest in order to sell?
People in our world respected Dare. It wasn’t as if they’d think the business wasn’t in capable hands, but Pop gone, me off the grid, and if word got around that Dare was getting ready to sell off more than a few subsidiaries? There could be talk. And when there’s talk, there’s always the chance of opportunistic fucking pricks deciding to play games.
As I’d left my father and his men in a bloody mess for our contact JC to clean up, getting Tia out of there and heading back to the farm, it wasn’t the end. And even though I agreed with Dare what his role would be and how we’d attempt to move forward, I was having trouble relaxing. Because I didn’t know what the fuck was next. I didn’t like the lack of control I had here.
How could I sit back and do nothing, enjoy the sun and sand with the girl I was about to marry when my father was rotting, one of my sisters was grieving her dead husband, both sisters grieving our Pop, the business on the cusp of being dismantled, and who knew what else? My father always had so many irons in the fire at all times, and as we’d come to learn in the weeks before his death --- no one knew about all the irons. He played with his hand close to his vest. What was about to start smokin’ that we didn’t yet know about?
Was my love for Tia, which made me feel desperate to get her far away from the bullshit at home, putting us all in danger?
“Just take a minute,” Dare had said. “We get it all cleaned up, look at all the books, and potential options soon. Just take time for you and Tia. If I were you, that’s what I’d do. Step off the grid and really have time to think. I’ll be here, overseeing getting all our ducks in a row and then we sit down and figure out what’s next. Keep you posted every step of the way, bro. Keep my eyes open. We have things ready so that the first clue I get it might be goin’ south, we bug out.”
At least I could trust my brother. I had that, at least. I only hoped I wasn’t fucking up and putting us all at risk right now.
Sleep was a luxury I wasn’t getting on
my luxury holiday in Aruba. Most nights since Pop first got shot by Jesse Romero’s crew and then even more after he died, I’d lay awake for hours, often tuned into the rhythmic sound of her breathing.