Broken Promise by M. James
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Iwake up to fluorescent lights above me and the scent of disinfectant filling my nose. For a moment, I’m completely disoriented; my last memory is of spooning fruit onto a china plate in the banquet room of the hotel.
Then I open my eyes fully, and I realize where I am.
I’m in a hospital, lying in a hospital bed. I feel something tug at my arm, and when I look over, I can see there’s an IV in my arm, some other machine hooked up to me monitoring my heart rate with small, steady beeps that speed up as the memories start to flood back in. An explosion—glass shattering and smoke filling the room, chairs overturned, and guests screaming.
Luca’s body on top of mine, bleeding from his mouth and nose. And more blood on his side—
I gasp, pushing myself up as much as I can. My first, overwhelming fear is that he’s dead. I don’t even take the time to examine why or to wonder why I would care after everything that’s happened.
My husband might be dead. Inexplicably, the thought fills me with sadness, maybe not deep enough to be called grief, but something aching and hollow in my chest.
If I’m a widow, Don Rossi will kill me.
I’m glad that wasn’t my first thought, but it’s definitely my second. If Luca is dead, there’s no one left to protect me. It’s not the only reason I hope he’s alive, but it’s definitely one of them.
And I can’t help but wonder why he threw himself over me at all. If I’d died in the explosion, it would have solved two problems for him—he wouldn’t have had an unwanted wife any longer. He also wouldn’t have had to feel responsible for letting me be killed by Rossi. It would have just been an unfortunate casualty of—whatever the fuck happened at the hotel.
There’s a knock at the door, and an older blonde nurse walks in, a slight smile on her face. “Oh, Mrs. Romano. Good to see that you’re up!”
Mrs. Romano.It’s the first time I’ve heard someone refer to me like that, and for a brief second, I have the urge to say no, I’m Ms. Ferretti, you must have the wrong room. And then I remember that I am Mrs. Romano, Luca’s wife—in every single way.
The memory of our wedding night sends a flush through me that makes me feel uncomfortable. Everything about that night felt wrong and confusing—and then the betrayal of finding out that I didn’t have to at all and Luca cutting my thigh as a last resort instead of a first.
I can’t even feel the sting of the cut now, but reflexively I want to reach down and touch it. I don’t, though; instead, I look up at the nurse as she approaches my bedside.
“How are you feeling?” she asks pleasantly, checking the clipboard at the foot of my bed. “You’re lucky, Mrs. Romano. Your injuries were minor. Some bruising and a light concussion, but that will resolve itself fairly quickly. There’s no internal bleeding, and the damage to your inner ears seems to be minor as well. You have some scratches and cuts, but it’s all pretty superficial.” She smiles at me. “You were very lucky.”
The way she says it makes my stomach clench. Something in her voice implies that others weren’t as lucky. “What about my husband?” I ask, my voice a hoarse croak.
“Mr. Romano’s injuries were more severe—but he’s alive,” the nurse adds quickly at the end, seeing my face.
“What do you mean, more severe?”
“He had a deep laceration to his side, and we found some shards of glass in there. He also had a perforated eardrum, but it will heal within a couple of weeks, and he should be able to go home soon. He’s sedated right now, after the procedure to remove the glass and stitch up the laceration on his side.”
“Can I go see him?” The question even surprises me—I’m not sure why I want to see him. Maybe it’s because I feel guilty that the relief washing over me upon hearing that he’s alive is at least sixty percent because I now know that I’m safe—or at least as safe as I can be. My husband is still alive.
The other forty percent is because he had a split second to make a decision, and he chose to protect me.
I don’t know why, but I’d like to. And as angry as I still am over the events of our wedding night—I’d like to at least be able to thank him.
“I can walk you down to his room,” the nurse says after a moment’s thought. “But you can’t go in just yet. And not for long—you need to rest as well.”
“Alright,” I agree quickly. “Not long. I just want to see him.”
The nurse beams at me, no doubt thinking that I’m a new bride in love with and missing her husband. It doesn’t hurt to let her believe that, and I don’t bother saying anything to make her think otherwise as she helps me get out of the hospital bed, undoing the connections to the monitor and showing me how to wheel my IV stand along.
I hate all of this. Even the penthouse is preferable to being in here, with tubes coming out of my arm and a hospital gown on. I feel sick and weak, and it reminds me too much of the last time I was in a hospital with my mother, in the months before she died. I try hard not to think about that, not to remember the way she went from a beautiful, vibrant woman to a shell of herself, her glossy blonde hair gone, her perfect skin dry and cracked, her once healthy and strong body frail and skeletal. I didn’t even recognize her by the end, and a part of me was glad that my father wasn’t there to see her like that. That his last memory of her was the woman he’d married, that he’d often hinted he’d risked a great deal for, because he loved her so much.
At least part of that was simply because she was Russian; I know that. But there was always a hint of something else, some reason that he should never have married her but did anyway.
She was glad that he hadn’t been there to see it, either. She’d said as much to me, not long before she’d died. And then she’d given me her necklace and told me that she hoped she’d see him again soon.
But there had been something in her eyes that had told me she didn’t really believe that. That whatever she’d tried to believe all her life, growing up in the Orthodox churches of her home, had been leached away by the illness like everything else.
I don’t believe it either. Just like I don’t believe in fairytales anymore. If there’s a heaven or a hell, it’s the one we make here and nothing more.
I’m still not sure what my life with Luca will be like. Not heaven, I’m certain of that. But if he cared enough to throw himself on top of me during the explosion, maybe a tentative middle ground. A purgatory, if you will.
The nurse walks with me all the way to the window of Luca’s room. He’s in a bed, hooked up to the same sorts of tubes and wires, and asleep just like she’d said. He looks paler than usual, and I can see the bruises around his eye and the side of his face, cuts on his neck and hands.
“He was lucky, too,” the nurse says quietly as she follows my gaze. “If something as large as what embedded in his side hit his neck, he wouldn’t be here now.”
That sends a chill through me that I didn’t expect, and I’m not sure if it’s for him or me. Me, at least partially, because of how tied my life is to his. But also him—and I don’t want to admit that I care. That even if I don’t want to be married to him, even if I do hate him more than a little for all of this and blame a good deal of it on his willingness to go along instead of finding some other way out for me, I don’t want him to die.
He looks almost that peaceful, lying in the hospital bed with the sheet tucked up underneath his armpits. His face looks softer like this, younger, the harsh lines of his jaw and cheekbones more relaxed in sleep. He seems more like a man I might run into on the street or swipe right on Tinder, not a hardened criminal. Not the second-in-command of the most notorious, powerful organization in the world.
I’m his wife. A Mafia wife.It makes me feel cold all over. I don’t want any part of this, and yet I am a part of it and always have been. I’d tried to get out, but I’m getting sucked in deeper and deeper every day.
“What about the others?” I ask quietly. “The Rossi’s—Caterina and her mother, and—”
“Ms. Rossi and her fiancé Mr. Bianchi are well. I'm told Mr. Bianchi wasn’t even in the room, so he, of course, didn’t sustain any injuries. Ms. Rossi had some bruising and mild eardrum perforation as well, but she’ll heal quickly. As for Mr. Rossi—” The nurse takes a deep breath. “He’s in critical condition. I can’t give exact details as you’re not a member of his family, but we’re not sure—”
My heart is beating so hard that I can hear it. “Not sure?”
“His condition is very critical,” the nurse says again. “It’s really all I can say.”
“And his wife? Giulia?”
The nurse’s silence tells me the answer before she ever speaks. “Mrs. Rossi did not survive the explosion,” she says quietly. “I’m very sorry. I’m guessing they were friends of yours?”
“Of my husband’s.” I feel numb. I didn’t know Mrs. Rossi well, but nothing about her ever came across as particularly malicious or unpleasant to me. She was cool and formal around me, and I got the impression that she was happy to live the life she’d married into and enjoy the perks, turning a blind eye to her husband’s crimes and dalliances. She hadn’t looked overly pleased when they’d come in to see the bed the morning after the wedding, though, and I’d gotten a distinct impression that she’d thought it was an outdated and ridiculous ceremony. She’d been polite to me and loving towards her daughter.
She hadn’t deserved to die. Especially not with someone like her husband in the same room, a man who is truly evil, who would have me killed just for his own peace of mind, who threatened Luca, the man he’s supposed to trust more than anything, if he’d refused to rape his bride on her wedding night. I’d consented in the end—but still, I know Rossi hadn’t cared. He wouldn’t have cared if Luca had bound and gagged me, as long as it was done.
He should be dead, not Giulia. I can feel my throat tightening, my eyes burning with tears as the nurse helps me back to my room. Caterina. I wish more than anything that I could go to her, help her through this in any way that I can right now. And I will, as soon as we’re all released from the hospital, I promise myself. I know exactly how much it hurts to lose a parent. And Caterina has only ever tried to be kind to me since we’ve met.
“You need to rest,” the nurse says sternly. “You might not have been badly hurt, but you’ve been through a lot, Mrs. Romano. It’ll take some time for you to process the shock.”
“I’m going to give you a sedative,” she says. Before I can argue, she’s already injecting something into my IV line. “Get some rest, Mrs. Romano.”
I don’t feel like I can rest. My stomach is in knots, my throat and eyes burning with unshed tears, and I feel like everything has gotten so much worse. I can feel some of that shock setting in, the realization that if we were attacked—and we must have been, it can’t be a coincidence that there was a random explosion at the hotel where we happened to be staying after the wedding—it could happen again. It could happen here. At Luca’s penthouse. How will I ever really feel safe?
The wedding was supposed to push the Bratva back as well as satisfy Rossi. It seems to have done the latter, but not the former. And if I’m honest, I don’t know who terrifies me more.
* * *
When I wake up again,I feel groggy, probably from the aftereffects of the sedative. My mouth feels dry and cottony, and I desperately want a drink of water. I blink rapidly as I try to sit up a little, wincing at the stickiness of my eyes.
“Glad to see you’re awake.”
The sound of Luca’s deep voice jolts me fully into consciousness. I look over to see him sitting at my bedside, fully dressed in a pair of charcoal slacks and a burgundy shirt undone at the collar. Even like that, though, it’s the least polished I’ve ever seen him. The shirt is a bit wrinkled, and his hair is messy, once again making him look younger and more approachable.
The sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, and I can see a few bandaged patches on his arms, as well as the one on his neck. He half-smiles at me, and for once, it doesn’t seem calculated or guarded. He seems genuinely happy to see that I’m awake and alive.
“Can you get me some water?” I ask tentatively, nodding towards the side table that’s just out of reach, where a plastic pitcher and cups are sitting.
Luca nods, getting up without a word and pouring some water into a cup. Just the splashing sound makes my mouth ache and my throat contract—the IV might have been pumping fluids into me, but I still feel as parched as the Sahara—and I take the cup gratefully when he hands it to me, gulping it down.
“Easy,” Luca says, sitting back down. “Don’t choke.”
He says it casually, but there’s a hint of actual worry in his eyes. For just a second, I catch another glimpse of what it would be like if we were a normal couple—if Luca were just an ordinary husband getting some water for his ordinary wife, both of us recovering from the trauma that we’d just shared.
“How are you feeling?” I manage once I’ve finished with the water. “The nurse said—”
“I’m alright,” Luca says abruptly. “Some scratches and bruises, but mostly fine.”
“She said you had a pretty bad injury to your side. I saw it when—when you were on top of me.” I swallow hard, knowing exactly what that last sentence sounded like. It brings back the memory of the other time he was on top of me, when I learned what it felt like to have him inside of me.
“I’ve had worse,” Luca says grimly. “You don’t make it to your thirties in the mob without getting shot at least once.”
I stare at him. “You’ve been shot?”
“A couple times.” Luca shrugs. “It happens.”
And just like that, any illusion that we could ever be normal is shattered all over again. Not that I legitimately thought that was possible. But the moment had almost been nice.
Thinking about Luca being shot doesn’t quite elicit the same response I’d had when I thought he was dead. The other night, I’d kind of wanted to shoot him myself. Just not fatally.
“I am glad you’re alive,” Luca says quietly, leaning forward in his seat. “And uninjured. I’m grateful for that. The nurse says you’ll be able to go home now that you’re awake.”
Home. I don’t have a home anymore. But I know what he means—the penthouse, even if it will always be his home and not mine. Soon, hopefully, I’ll be able to at least have my own apartment, even if I’m not sure that will feel like home either.
“You saved me.” I blurt out the words that have been on the tip of my tongue since I woke up and saw him sitting there. “You threw yourself on top of me when the explosion happened. Why did you do that? You could have died.”
His features go carefully blank; I see it happen. “You’re my wife,” he says coolly.
“And you could have solved two problems in one go by letting me die,” I point out. “You’re free, without the guilt of letting Rossi kill me. I’m sure your widower’s grief could have gone a long way towards warming your bed, too.”
“I don’t need help warming my bed,” Luca says tightly. “If I want another woman, I’ll get one. If I want you, I’ll have you. As far as what I did, I went this far to protect you. Why stop there? Might as well see it through to the bitter end.”
The words ring hollow even as he says them. I know as well as I’m sure he does that it’s just a cover for the actual truth—that he doesn’t understand why he instinctively protected me. His answer just confirms that for me.
But I’m not letting the rest of what he said go so easily.
“You can’t have me whenever you want me,” I say quietly. “Just because of what happened on our wedding night—that’s not going to happen again, Luca. There’s no reason for it now. You proved to Rossi that you fucked me—” I grind the word out bitterly, “but I’m not going to be some toy for your pleasure. That one time was it.”
“Sure.” Luca shrugs. “It wasn’t exactly the best fuck of my life, Sofia.”
I flinch. The words shouldn’t sting—I shouldn’t even care—but they do. It’s just another confusing reaction to him in a long line of them, ever since I woke up in his bed after he rescued me. I should be glad if he didn’t enjoy himself, happy that he’ll be inclined not to try again—not to push me up against doors and kiss me wildly or bend me over couches and bring me so close to orgasm that I feel like I might die if—
Jesus, Sofia, get a grip.I swallow hard, and I can feel my face flushing. My skin feels hot just at the memory, and I try as hard as I can to push it out of my head, to forget about the mingled pleasure and denial and embarrassment of that night.
“Don’t take it so personally,” Luca says easily. “You were a virgin, and you didn’t even want it. I expected you to be a cold fish.”
His words feel like daggers, sharp and cutting, even if they’re not meant to be insulting. He says it so casually, and I’ve never felt less like a wife, let alone a cherished one. I feel like something he’s finished with and ready to discard now that he’s done his duty.
Which is exactly what I should want, I remind myself. The sooner I have my own place and can put some distance between him and me, the sooner I’ll stop feeling all these awful, conflicting, confusing things.
“The nurse told me about the others,” I say quickly, changing the subject. The moment I think about that—about Mrs. Rossi’s death, Caterina’s grief, I feel guilty for even caring about Luca’s insulting comments. Caterina has just lost her mother, and I’m in my feelings because my new husband insulted my—admittedly nonexistent—skills in the bedroom. “About Don Rossi, I mean, and Giulia. What does that mean for you—for us?”
Luca’s face goes very still. “Don Rossi is in very critical condition,” he says quietly. “The last I spoke with the doctor just before coming in here, he’s awake, but they’re keeping him for an indeterminate amount of time. There was—severe damage to his legs and possibly his spine, as well as head trauma. He’ll have to have extensive surgery if he’s going to walk again, and there was internal bleeding and damage. He’s far from out of the woods.”
It’s so unfair. There’s something slightly poetic about Don Rossi suffering in a hospital bed after all he put me through. Still, I can’t help but feel that it’s an awful injustice that he’s alive at all when his wife is dead. I try to imagine him grieving for her, and I can’t. I can’t imagine any real emotion from him at all.
“He’s not in any shape to continue at the head of the family as don,” Luca continues. “We’ll be going in to see him before I take you back home, and Caterina and Franco will be there as well. Franco will be stepping into his new role as underboss—the role I inhabited up until now.” He takes a deep breath, his green eyes meeting mine.
“And I’ll be the new don.”