I pull up to my house, noticing the door is wide open. This is unusual, considering I live in a mini-mansion that for the most part has security around the clock. I squeeze my locket that always hangs loosely around my neck as nerves swarm my belly.
The first couple of steps I take I notice small drops of blood. Goosebumps cover my skin and a shiver runs down my spine. I’m about to backtrack and call Mom, when I see a shadow emerge in the doorway. Then the figure comes into view.
“Luca? What are you doing here?” You can hear the trepidation in my tone.
His eyes widen and then move up and down my body. He then grabs me by my shoulder, pulling me into the house. I gasp out loud, not fully understanding why my father’s business associate’s son is in my home alone. That’s when I see my father lying on the floor. Dead and still, blood is surrounding his body, and his cold, dead eyes are wide open.
“What the hell have you done?” I scream, running over to my father, kneeling by his side, completely shocked he’s dead.
“He fucked up and had to pay,” Luca says, showing no emotion. My throat feels like its closing in as air tries to break through my lungs. I start to cry and cry so much I can’t see him anymore in front of me. My vision is blurred.
“Now that he’s out of the picture, you and I will wed sooner. No fucking excuses and no running or I will find you, Erica, and I will kill you.” Luca is now bent down, whispering in my ear as I cry for my father who lies lifeless on the floor.
AFresh start—One year later
My mom and I drive down the road where you can smell the fresh ocean air as we make our way to the Ocean State. Rhode Island, here we come. It’s a long way away from California. The wind blows my long dark hair in my face, and I feel a calmness wash over me.
My mom and I have been through a lot this past year. After my father was killed, I was basically a slave to the Vasquez family. My mother fought as hard as she could to keep the peace, but they owned us. My father was in the Italian Mafia. We were the family who had it all until we didn’t. I was the mafia princess in California, soon to be wed to Luca Vasquez. Or should I say forced to be wed. I didn’t love him. I’m too young, and he’s a cocky asshole who will sleep with any woman who gives him the least bit of attention. I played my part for as long as I could until my mother and I could make our escape. The night we left the Vasquez home was the night we were free. Free of the evil fucking people who thought they could control us. I know what Antonio made my mother do, and I know she knows what I was forced to do, but we did it to stay alive and that’s why we are still alive.
I touch the locket on my neck. The gold oval shape is smooth on my thumb. The locket is engraved inside. It says ‘beating as one.’ My mother is a true romantic and she always tells me that I will find my real prince one day and our hearts will beat as one. I hold on to the locket and her words because I do want to find a man someday who will make my heart soar. Someone who will make me feel safe and truly loved, not afraid, used, and vulnerable.
My dad was the underboss for the Italian mafia. The people he worked for are lethal and extremely dangerous. We lived in a house that you can only describe as a mini castle. Now, we are left with hardly anything, barely scraping by as it is. I was once known as the mafia princess and now I’m a nobody. To be honest, I never liked the attention it brought. I had an arranged marriage that I thankfully escaped, but the damage that Luca caused is already done.
Luca Vasquez was not only the son of Antonio Vasquez, but he was pernicious in a way that scared the shit out of me. He’s the tall, dark, and handsome type, but with the devil lurking behind his piercing gray eyes. I shiver just thinking about him. He took me when I didn’t want to be taken. He used me and made me feel like I was an object. I am done with that life and I’m done with him.
“Sweetie, can you check how much longer we have on your phone?” My mom interrupts my thoughts.
“It says fifteen minutes,” I reply, my tone staying neutral. I am trying my best to be brave for Mom, but I’m scared that Luca will find me or, worse, will kill me. We had to sell everything just to get out of the debt my dad put us in. That is just financially, never mind what would happen to us if Luca and Antonio found us. As much as I’m going to miss the money and privileges that came with my life, I’m happy to be free. Luca was adamant aboutmarrying me and only me. That’s why we have to do our best to stay hidden.
“We have to stay low-key. Try not to get too close to people, Erica. People in the mafia don’t care; they will kill without hesitation,” she says. I nod, fully aware of what she’s saying.
A couple of lone tears fall when I think about what they did and how much I miss my dad. Even though he was the one who put us in this situation, he was still my dad.
“It will be okay, sweetie,” my mom consoles.
“How do you know that?” I snap. “You weren’t there when he forced himself on me. When he threatened my life if I left. We are dead if he finds us,” I finally say with a whisper.
She visibly swallows while listening to me go off; I know saying it out loud is killing her, but I’m the one dying inside.
“Erica, I will never let that happen again. Not while I’m still breathing, do you hear me?”
“Yeah, I hear you.” I sigh and sink lower into my seat, hoping we made the right decision in coming here.
As our old-ass Honda putters its way through our new town. I dread the moment we pull up to our home. This house looks more like a cottage with its tiny, rickety front porch, chipped vinyl siding, and distasteful front door. The house is white with black shutters, and falling apart. The lawn is brown, and it’s the end of August. School is starting soon, which is the last thing I want to be doing.
Mom has gotten me into a college not too far from our home. I was lucky enough to get a full ride at the university because ofmy grades. If it wasn’t for my tutors and rigid education plan my parents laid out for me, I would be screwed.
I called about a job at a local diner, and I go in tomorrow afternoon for an interview. I hope I get the job. I have never really had a job before, but I’m a fast learner and I know I can do this.
My parents made sure I always had a good education, the best schools, top of the line in everything. This is going to be life-changing.
“This isn’t awful,” Mom says, and I cringe.
“Let’s just get our things and get this over with,” I mumble. The landlord was kind to let us move in on such short notice. We were lucky to have found this place.
As we make our way into the house the porch creaks and the door looks so old. Ugh, this place is frightening. But as long as we are safe that’s all that matters. I can’t picture the Vasquez’s finding us here.