Mafia War by L. Steele
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"You are bleeding."
Massimo’s voice cuts through the silence in my mind. I raise my hand to my brow and my fingers come away wet. "It’s nothing." I stare at the redness. The same blood that runs through her veins. The scarlet that had pooled around her body which had been thrown clear of the car in the blast.
Thank Santa Maria I had insisted on installing an ejector seat, as well as a protective shell around the driver's seat which would deploy in case of something just like this.
I had ordered the specially-made Maserati for myself, but had gifted it to her when she had asked for a car. Thank god I had. For when I had seen her trapped under the ejector seat, something inside of me had awakened. I’ve never been a believer in god, but at that instant, as I had jumped to my feet from where the blast had knocked me down and raced over to her, a part of me had reached out to that higher power. I had beseeched him, had pleaded with him, had asked him with every breath that I had drawn to spare her. To let her live. To allow her to survive this incident, one that I could have averted by being more vigilant. As long as I live, I’ll never forgive myself for what happened.
I had leaped across the distance, reached her, sunk to my knees, and released the seatbelt. I had caught her, then lowered her gently to the ground. I had touched her brow… Cold; she had been so cold. Dirt smeared her face, her hair was in a cloud about her shoulders, and she seemed uninjured, as if she were simply sleeping, except for a cut on her arm that was bleeding. I had held her close, turned toward the car to find the flames leaping from the vehicle. That was when Christian had driven up in his car, followed by Massimo and Seb.
Christian had jumped out of his car, taken one look at us, then at the burning car, then back at us.
"Xander," I’d croaked, "Xander."
Some of the sparks had rained down on my Maserati, and Massimo had jumped into the Maserati and driven it a safe distance away. Meanwhile, Christian and Sebastian had run to the burning car. They had dragged Xander out and stamped out the fire on his coat, but it had been too late. The blast had dislodged a piece of metal which had struck through his heart. My fratellino, my youngest brother with the face of an angel, the talent of a genius and the disposition of a man who was so good that no-one could come in contact with him without being affected by his charm, his humor, his good nature… And his smile… The sheer goodness of it would melt the most hardened of hearts, would make all of the women around him swoon and want to throw themselves at him willingly and ask him to bed them… That man will no longer tease me in that drawling voice of his, he’ll no longer be around to banter with his twin, and be the voice of reason that the rest of us most often need.
Xander, my brother, is gone and she… I had glanced down at her still form in my arms. She’d seemed to have gone paler in the last few minutes, her eyelashes a dark fan against her cheeks. The circles under her eyes had seemed so much more prominent. She’d seemed too fragile, so breakable. My heart had thundered in my chest and my stomach had been in knots as I had surveyed her features. She’d seemed still, too still...but she couldn't die. No way, was I going to let her leave me.
The wail of an ambulance had sounded in the distance. Seb had walked over to me. He'd told me that he'd called the ambulance. He'd stayed with me as I had held her, never taking my gaze off of her features, as first one ambulance, then another had pulled up the driveway.
I had watched as they'd checked Xander, declared him dead. They had placed a white sheet over the body and... My brain had frozen. My brother...was dead? My little brother was gone?
I had held onto her. I had refused to let go of her, until Seb had gripped my shoulder. He'd reminded me that they needed to get her to the hospital. I'd managed to loosen my grip on her enough for the paramedics to sweep into action. They'd placed an oxygen mask on her face, checked her vitals, run an IV into her vein, even as they had strapped her into a stretcher. They'd carried her into the ambulance and I had paused. Torn between wanting to follow her and to stay with Xander, I had paused. That's when Seb had told me that they needed to keep Xander here until the cops—who are on our payroll— had time to gather evidence. He'd reassured me that Christian and Adrian would stay with Xander while he and Massimo would follow us as I rode with her to hospital. Only then, had I gotten into the ambulance. I'd clasped her hand in mine for the entire journey.
Within seconds of reaching the hospital, she had been admitted and a team of doctors and nurses had swarmed over her. I had followed until a nurse had stopped me, told me they needed to operate on her.
I had raged and asked her if she'd recognized who I was. That I had half the hospital on my payroll. That I was not letting go of her. That's when Sebastian and Massimo had burst into the hospital with Antonio hot on their heels. They had stopped me, reasoned with me to let her go. I had watched in a haze as she had disappeared, with the doctors in tow, behind the double doors. Someone had pushed me into a chair in the waiting room across from them, and there I had sat and waited. Someone had pushed a cup of coffee into my hands. And I had drunk it. At some point, I had torn my gaze from the double doors long enough to ask them about Christian.
Christian, who had lost his twin, the soul who had been with him from the moment he’d been conceived. Sebastian reminded me that Adrian was with him. The two of them had accompanied Xander to the mortuary, where his body had been taken for a post-mortem.
"They need to release the body." I had risen to my feet, only for my legs to give way, and I had slumped back in my chair. "I need to go to Christian," I had murmured, and tried to stand up again, but Seb had stopped me.
"You need to stay here with her," he'd told me.
"She’ll want to see you when she regains consciousness," Massimo had added, and I’d known that they were right. I wanted to be here with her, but at the same time, I wanted to be able to comfort my brother, to mourn my youngest sibling Xander. I had balled my fingers into fists as I had stared at the double doors. I could not allow her to also leave me. I would not allow the same fate to befall her.
I continue to stare at the doors, willing them to open. I lean my head back against the wall. Every time my eyes close, I jerk myself awake. Antonio gets all of us coffee, which I sip before placing the half-filled cup aside. At some point, Sebastian brings me something to eat, and my stomach lurches. I refuse the food, lean forward in my seat as I keep my eyes glued to the door.
Suddenly, the sound of the doors opening has me snapping my eyes open. I spring to my feet and my head spins. I square my shoulders, dig my booted feet into the floor, and track the progress of the doctor who walks toward me. Around me, my brothers, too, stumble to their feet. Massimo and Seb flank me as the doctor halts in front of me. His scrubs are blood splattered, his hair awry and shadows encircle his eyes. His jaw is set and his features wear an expression of stoic patience? Of resignation?
I falter and Seb grips my shoulder. "Steady, fratellone," he murmurs, "stay strong."
"How is she?" I croak, then clear my throat. "Tell me," I demand, "how is my wife?"
"She’s still unconscious." He holds my gaze, "It’s difficult to say anything until she is awake."
The next thing I know, my fingers are wrapped around his collar and I have hauled the doctor up to his tiptoes. "She has to make it," I growl. "She cannot die."
"We are doing everything we can," he says in a calm voice.
Anger thuds at my temples. "Do better," I snap. "If anything happens to her, I will not let you live."
He doesn’t blink. Either the man’s a fool or he’s got the balls to face up to my anger. "Do you hear me?" I demand.
He holds my gaze, then nods.
I tighten my hold on his collar, and Massimo touches my shoulder. "Not going to help if you kill him, brother. He’s treating her; he’s on your side."
I glare at the doctor, then release him. He steps back, his features impassive.
"I’m sorry," he murmurs, "but we couldn’t save the child."
The child. My child. Our baby.A hot sensation stabs at my chest. The pressure behind my eyes builds. I swallow down the ball of emotion that clogs my throat. "I don’t need your sympathy," I growl. "If she dies, you die; remember that."
Seb shuffles his feet next to me.
"Do you understand, doctor?" My eyes bore into his before I turn away, stalk toward the door at the end of the corridor.
"Don’t you want to see her?" the doctor calls after me. "It would help her if you sat with her for a little while, maybe spoke to her."
I set my jaw. It's because of my negligence that she is in this situation. How can I stand in front of her, when I have failed her? I failed to protect my own wife. She deserves so much better than this. Since I first saw her, all I have done is screw up her life. She's better without me.
I slow my steps, then glare at him over my shoulder. "No," I snap, "I don't want to see her." I turn to Massimo, "You stay here with Antonio. Make sure you protect her."
"With my life, fratellone," Massimo replies.
I wince, then set my jaw, "Seb, with me."
I stalk out of the hospital, Seb on my heels. He doesn’t say anything as I head for my Maserati, which one of my clan must have parked in the hospital parking lot. As I approach it, Seb hands over the key fob. I beep the car to unlock it, open the door and slide inside. I glance around the car, a twin to the one that she had been in.
One in which her blood had been spilled. Xander is dead, my child is no more, she is injured and I... I am responsible for all of it. I tighten my fingers around the steering wheel, press the ignition button, shift into gear, and the car jumps forward. I slam on the brake and the car stops millimeters from crashing into the wall in front.
"You okay, brother?" Seb turns to me, "Maybe I should drive."
"No," I throw the car in reverse, peel out of the parking lot.
We drive in silence for a few minutes, then he glances sideways at me, "Why didn’t you want to see her, brother?"
"None of your business."
"You can’t blame yourself for what happened to her."
I step on the accelerator and the car leaps forward.
"It was because you had a protective plate installed around the driver's seat and it worked like an ejection seat, that she survived."
"I should have known that it was too risky to gift her the car. I shouldn’t have tempted fate by giving it to her. I should have, at least, test driven it first before allowing her to climb into it."
"Your actions saved her, Michael," he insists.
"It’s my actions that put her in danger, in the first place… If she had not survived…I…"
"But she did."
"Whoever rigged that car got past me," I growl. "I’ll never forgive myself for that."
"The bomb was rigged wrong. Only the ignition blew; she survived, Michael."
"We lost our brother, Seb," I take the next corner without decreasing speed and the tires screech in protest. "Xander’s no longer with us and it’s my fault." I slam my fist into the steering wheel and the car fishtails. The back of the vehicle rises off the road as the Maserati circles in a wide arc, once, twice, before I slam on the brakes and come to rest on the side of the road.
A truck blows it horn as it whizzes past, then silence descends.
I grip the steering wheel, staring ahead as my chest heaves.
Seb sits silently as more vehicles pass us at a more sedate speed.
"Not seeing her is only going to make it worse, Michael."
"You don’t understand," I growl.
"Oh?" He turns on me, "Make me. Tell me what you’re thinking, Mika. This once, confide in me so I know what’s going on in that screwed up mind of yours."
I shake my head, "You won’t get it."
"I love her," I snap. "Do you understand? I love her, and already, I have put her at risk. The only way to protect her is if I keep her away from me."