Copyright 2024 Victoria Paige
This scene is Elias’s third birthday and happens between the renewal of vows and the second visit to Paris
“It’s time to blow out the candles and cut the cake,” Mamma said. “Where’s Luca?”
Good question. I hadn’t seen a peep out of him in the past half hour. I watched Rocco and Tony carry the humongous cake to the back patio where our crime family and associates gathered to celebrate Elias’s third birthday. My son was having a blast showing off his trucks to the other kids, while Nessa and a new nanny looked on. I spied Dario and Ange talking to Papà and by the looks of it, they were talking about golf. Luca had been so good about spending quality time with me and Elias, I was sure he’d blocked out any mafia business for the occasion.
“He might be in the study. I don’t see him out here.” I loathed to text him and ask him where he was in our own house. However, I checked the study and it was empty. When I turned around, I ran into Martha.
“Have you seen Luca?”
The housekeeper’s expression raised anxiety in the pit of my stomach. It was sad, and a gleam of tears welled in her eyes as she compressed her lips.
“Martha? Is he okay?”
“I think he’s in the attic.” Her voice caught on the last word.
“Elias’s birthdays have never been easy on him.”
“Surely…” I fell silent. We’d never fully discussed those lost years. First it was me, and then, I suspected, it was also painful for him to talk about them. I shot Martha a brief smile. “I’ll go get him.”
I squeezed Martha’s arm and hurried past her. My chest tightened at the idea of what Luca must be going through. He’d been tense these past few days, so I sort of expected it. The pain of the lost years wouldn’t suddenly go away. There would be milestones such as this that would be a reminder of them. But it would also be a reminder of the incredible second chance we’d been given. We should focus on that. At the bottom of the stairs leading to the attic, I looked up. Sure enough, the door was slightly open.
I ascended the steps silently and peeked into the room.
Luca was sitting in the middle of the couch, hunched over, staring at the wide screen TV and the bookcases.
“Caro?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”
He glanced at me and gave me a sad smile. Wait, not really sad. But I knew that smile. His bittersweet, melancholic smile. As we reconnected, I’d seen it on his face when a painful memory hit him. He checked his watch and stood. “Shit, I didn’t know I was here this long. It’s time for the cake?”
“Sit. Down,” I said sternly.
This time, he hiked a brow, and a half smile curved his mouth as he sank back on the couch. “Yes, ma’am.”
I sat beside him. “You’re remembering the day you missed Elias’s birth?”
His mouth tightened. “No. Elias’s first birthday.” A muscle ticked in his jaw and I witnessed his eyes growing distant as if he’d been thrown back to that day. As if sensing me analyzing his expression, he dropped his gaze to his hands that were hanging between his spread legs. “It had been difficult.” He inhaled deeply before following it with a heavy exhalation. “I didn’t want to do it. You’d been gone only ten months. It had become a choice between denying Elias his first birthday, which is a blasphemy for our family, or wallow in my self-pity.”
I picked up his hand and interlaced our fingers. “But you went through with it, right?”
“Of course. Elias deserves nothing less. He was already growing up without you,” his voice trailed off, and then he cleared his throat. “Thank God for Carlotta and Sera. They organized the party. Made sure I didn’t go on a bender that day. The search for you and what happened that night was going nowhere. And I was feeling like a failure to our son. It was a miracle I got through it.”
Luca wrapped his arms around me and drew me to his chest. I splayed my hand where I could feel the beating of his heart. “But you did, Luca. Your love for our son made you do the right thing.”
“After the guests left, I came up here with our boy,” he said. “This attic was still a wreck from the day I destroyed the television and tore through your bookshelves. I had told Martha no one was allowed to come up here.” He shifted slightly on the couch. “I never apologized for desecrating your space.”
I laughed lightly. “Looks like you built it up better, so I can’t complain.”
“The wine smeared a few of your books and some were dented,” he confessed. “I ordered replacements. But the ones that were special edition, I found someone who restored them to pristine condition.”
I pushed away and stared up at him. “Oh, Luca, I didn’t know you went through that much trouble.” Especially since he didn’t know whether I was alive or dead. “That’s crazy.”
“Dario and the rest of the household staff thought so too.” He grinned wryly. “I was a man obsessed. The house was already getting updated with top-of-the-line computer and network equipment, but I had my engineers duplicate what you had done. I had a new bookcase built. A new TV. I wanted this to be my place with Elias…” He broke off as if embarrassed by what he said.
“You told me this was a place where you felt close to me.”
“Yes. That’s when they started to call it my shrine to you, and maybe it was. Maybe if I showed how I understood you and valued what you loved, God or the universe would forgive me and send you back to me.”
“And I came back, or rather…you found me.” I straightened and turned to him, cupping his jaw between my palms. “I’m here, Luca, and I’m not going anywhere. I don’t want this day to be difficult for you, caro. Let Elias’s birthday be another milestone for us to celebrate our love going forward. I mean, it’s incredible, isn’t it?” I planted a quick kiss on his mouth. “Our second chance.”
When I tried to push away so I could see his whole expression, his arms went around me again in a firm embrace.
“I want that,” he said fiercely. “I want all the pain of those two years to become a distant memory.”
This time he kissed me. This time his mouth was more devouring, as if he was sharing his pain and I was dissolving it for him. Our tongues tangled and our bodies grew heated. I climbed on top of his lap. He was hard as I ground on top of him.
“You should have worn a skirt,” he groaned against my mouth.
A message beeped on my phone.
I laughed and dropped my forehead to his. “We don’t have time.”
“Later,” he murmured. “You’re mine.”
He helped me get off him and gently brushed a strand from my face before slipping his hand in mine. “Come on, tesoro, let’s go give our son a good memory.”
“Give us a good memory,” I reminded him.
He gave me one last kiss on the mouth before we left the attic to celebrate Elias’s third birthday.