Potent Desire #5 by Teresa Wolf

1

Maddox

It’s human nature to know one thing, but to believe another.

I know Isabella isn’t in the church anymore. Her voicemail is confirmation of this. Even as I hold the phone to my ear, while I’m running into the women’s bathroom – expecting to see her weeping – I know she isn’t there.

She’s long gone. Vanished. And I’m the fool who let her go.

You are a good man, a great man, and this life is swallowing you whole.

“Isabella?” I scream her name to the heavens above, hoping that, in this holy place, God will give me an answer.

Get out while you can.

Is getting out even a possibility for me? Am I so brainwashed by the horrors of this criminal world that it has become ingrained in the very fiber of my being?

“Isabella? Are you here?” my desperate calls echo in the bathroom, but are met with silence.

I don’t know if I love you, Maddox. And I don’t know if I ever could.

I never wanted her to love me. I never wanted this burden to begin with. My heart overflows with love for Isabella, but I don’t expect it to be reciprocated. I’m a worker bee and she’s the queen. Everything I do is for her.

Now it feels as if my heart is being torn apart, one piece at a time, while nervous uneasiness fills my guts with bile.

But it pains me to leave your side. Even now. That’s why…

Before Isabella can finish her sentence, I hear the horrific sound of smashing metal. Isabella screams. Skidding tires screech before I hear a heavy thud. A car accident. Going on her own was dangerous enough with what happened to her father. Getting behind the wheel of a sports car in her state, more so.

I start running to my Bentley. The priest is outside the church and I nearly knock him down as I sprint through the door.

“Mister Braddock? Where are you going?” he shouts, but I ignore him. “We need to proceed, damn it. We need to get on with it.”

I need to find Isabella. What if she’s hurt? Or worse…

I can’t think about that, lest I want to suffer the same fate. My car slides and spins onto the main road as I pull out of the church’s driveway. Right takes me home, which means left is the direction Isabella would’ve taken. As far away from Hannibal city limits as possible.

I keep the phone against my ear, even while I’m driving like a maniac. There’s silence for a while. I just want to hear her voice again. If anything happened to her, how could I live with myself?

“Jesus Christ, did you kill her?” a male voice comes through the phone.

“Looks like she’s still breathing,” another voice replies.

Isabella’s alive. That’s all I need to hear. Whoever her assailants are, they will be met with the full ferocity of the new mafia king...

“Hurry then, get her out of the car. We need to get her back to—”

The line cuts out there. “To replay the message, press 1. To delete the message, press 2.”

I throw my phone aside while the automated voice reads further instructions. The way I’m driving, clocking over a hundred miles an hour, I need to focus on the road. I have to get to Isabella.

I must save her.

It doesn’t take long to catch up with the accident. Isabella’s Ferrari is lying on its roof, shattered glass leading from the wreck to the road. Tire tracks in the dirt lead to and from the scene, but it’s deserted now. An empty wasteland, with nothing but green grass, trees, and harrowing silence.

I can’t fight my nausea any longer, and I am forced to my hands and knees, expelling the contents of my belly beside the car. When I regain some small semblance of composure, I roar out to the Heavens, feeling forsaken by God in his house of worship. I’d have cussed and sworn, blasphemed, and more if I hadn’t known better.

But I did know better. This act of chaos and entropy wasn’t the work of an unjust God.

It was a serving of my own medicine, in big ladles. One bitter bite at a time. A sullen reminder of the life I live.

Nothing is sacred, and, eventually, everything beautiful gets taken away.

* * *

A day passes with no word or progress on Isabella’s assailants. My first thought, as it has been since my wedding day, is that Quincy Harrison is up to something. In my irrational state, these thoughts and feelings are only amplified.

After finding no sign of what might’ve happened, at the Ferrari’s wreck, I returned to the church and began barking orders at everyone. Mostly to see if anyone would crack under the pressure, but more importantly giving them a day to come back with something.

Anything.

I’m desperate, and the only chance I have is to rely on people I can’t trust. Cars roll up into the Palace’s grand driveway, one at a time. Some guy, whose name I can’t remember, greets Quincy, Larry Slater, and their men, before leading them through the front door.

For the first time in my life, I understand my father’s urge for punctuality. His tardiness only amplifies my horrible mood.

The doorman, who lets Quincy and Larry in, enters The King’s office. He’s only little, standing a foot shorter than me and with a feminine physique. Fuck, for all I know, he’s the mastermind behind this whole thing.

“Mister Slater and Mister Harrison are here, Mister Braddock. Can I let them in?” he asks.

“Yes, there’s no point in delaying.” I wave him off.

He doesn’t speak, just leaves the room.

A few minutes later the family heads enter. They look stressed, and they should be.

“What have you got for me?” I ask, not bothering with formalities, hellos, or getting out of my seat.

“Nothing,” Quincy shrugs his shoulders. “I’ve had my men on the lookout all night. Unless it’s some rogue division, I’d know something by now.”

“Same,” Larry replies. They both take seats opposite me.

I look deep into Larry’s eyes. He’d have reason to pull a stunt like this, after how I took his land for my father, all those months ago. A father never forgets the atrocities committed on his daughter.

Quincy wipes a few beads of sweat from his brow. He runs his fat fingers through his hair. “Shouldn’t we wait for Oswald to get here…”

“I’ll deal with Father when the time comes. He’s not here, and we need to get ahead of this issue,” I state. It is deeply concerning that Father isn’t here. Out of the lot of them, I’d have thought he was the most willing to oblige, considering my new position as King of Hannibal.

“I don’t know what more we can say, Mister Braddock.” Quincy lets out a sigh. His face is red. I can’t tell if it’s because he’s nervous, or because of his rotund stature and having to climb multiple sets of stairs. “I’ve got my best men out there, scouring the streets. But these things take time, you of all people should know that.”

“I do, but I don’t have the luxury of time on this one.” I have to stop myself from slamming a fist into the desk. “I was given a single task, to protect Isabella, and I’ve failed. Less than twenty-four hours after Bruno Romani found his final resting place. I’m sure you can understand my need for haste.”

“Of course,” Larry cut in. “But we’re here to help. Whatever happened between us all in the past, stays there. I can’t speak for Quincy, but there’s no bad blood between us. You’re The King. Your word is law.”

“Precisely,” Quincy jumps in. “We’re not looking to start a war. We’re happy where we are.”

Are they trying to sweet-talk me into believing this story? It’s not impossible. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until I hear back from Father.

“Then keep your ears to the ground. If there’s so much as a suspicious breath taken in your house, you speak up about it. I pity the man who gets between me and Isabella.” I wave my hand and the two of them know to leave.

Once they’re out, I call Father. His phone rings a surprisingly long time before I get an answer.

“Hello?” It’s Aaron’s voice.

“Where’s Father?” I say.

“Not in at the moment, Maddy. What’s up?”

“You have any word on Isabella? Do you know if Father’s done anything to find her?” I ask. I don’t suppose Aaron would have the balls to lie to me. But the matters of family and Family are two very different things.

My family, the Braddocks, are loathsome, horrible people. While my Family, the Romanis, Braddocks, Slaters, and Harrisons, have very different motivations. Fear of death, being at the forefront.

“Not sure what Father’s got cooking with that, sorry pal.”

“Is he on his way here?” should’ve been my first question, after Aaron said Father wasn’t in.

“Don’t know where he is. He just ducked out this morning and hasn’t been home since,” Aaron replies.

A tremendous roar of white-hot rage escapes my lips before I can stop it, and I fling the phone across the room. It smashes against the wall, pieces scattering around the office. If I was a wise man or a strong man, maybe I could control my emotions – but I’m neither of those things. I’m just human. Desperate and scared.

Deep down, a painful niggle hidden somewhere in my heart tells me my father has something to do with Isabella’s disappearance. And I’ve always known to trust my gut instincts. No matter how absurd they may seem.