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Seven Years Ago - Val

MY TIME OFfreedom is nearly up. I should have gone through my initiation to become a made man of the family at sixteen. That was two years ago. I was granted a reprieve from the blood play because I had graduated high school early and Don Bosco thought I’d better serve the family getting my college degree first.

I’ve always had a knack for computers. While other kids were playing in sandboxes, I was learning to code. With technology playing an ever more important role in the business we do, Don was only too happy to encourage my talents. My father, Ricco, is his Underboss, and my brother, Luca, is in training to someday take his place. Being blood, I am predestined to someday join them in the inner circle. Having someone in that highly selective group with the computer skills I have will be a huge advantage. At least that’s what Don Bosco told me.

Now, at eighteen, I have my college degree. I could ask for more time to get my master’s but, not to sound cocky, I don’t need it. Reading and writing code comes as easy as reading a book. I know I have more to learn. I just won’t be learning it in a classroom.

The date hasn’t been set. It’s coming soon. I’m ready for it. Or at least I will be after this weekend. I have one last loose end to tie up. My girl. I need to come clean to her about who I am. Who my family is.

Who THE family is.

So far, I’ve been able to shield her from the darker side of my life. We had agreed to keep our relationship on the down-low until graduation. For her, it was to allow her to keep her focus on her studies. For me, it was so I could keep her hidden from my family. Not that I don’t love my family. I do. It’s the secrets that I’m worried about. The enemies that will seek to hurt her for her association with me.

I wish I could keep her all to myself a little longer. Forever if possible.

It’s not. That’s not the life of a mafia man. If we are to have a future, I need to tell her about the family.

She wasn’t born into my world. Her parents were both doctors before they died in a car accident five years ago. My girl’s been alone ever since. Well, until I found her.

We met by chance a year ago when we bumped into each other at our mutual advisor’s office. We bonded over the fact we were both early high school graduates and the youngest kids on campus.

I was so impressed with her, not only did she graduate high school early and was taking college courses already, she was going through the courts to get herself emancipated and out of foster care. She was always an independent spirit, and her parent’s had a healthy inheritance left for her, so the transition was fairly smooth. Better than living in a crowded foster home where she didn’t even get her own bedroom. I knew then that I needed her in my life.

She is amazing. Brilliant. Smarter than me, and I have no problem admitting it. She’s sixteen, nearly seventeen, and just graduated along side me. Only where I went for computer science, she went pre-med. Now she’s on to Medical School. Following in her parent’s footsteps just like she promised at their funeral.

I’ve been given permission from the Don to tell her about me. About the family. I’ve hated having to hide so much of my life from her, and I know that in order for us to build a future together, I need her to know the real me. Know the family she will someday be a part of. After this weekend, she will have my protection too. The protection of the Caruso name.

Tonight I’m taking her to my family’s lake house. We’ll have the place to ourselves until Sunday when my family will join us for dinner. I know my girl is nervous. She thinks my parents are rich entrepreneurs with their hands in various investments throughout the city. I don’t like lying to her, so I told a partial truth. The Caruso family does have investments, and businesses all over the city.

“Tino, how formal is dinner going to be on Sunday?” She asks. I love that she calls me Tino. Everyone else calls me Val or Valentino. She wanted something special, something only she would call me.

I had been so wrapped up in my thoughts, I forgot I was supposed to be helping her pack for the weekend. I move from where I was leaned against the doorway, to join her at the closet.

“Only semi. Dad and Luca will be in suits but probably no tie. I’ll be in slacks and a button up.” I reply. Men in the family always wear suits. I hate them. I prefer jeans and sweatshirts. Grabbing her around the waist I pull her back to my front. Her whole body melts into me. She fits perfectly in my arms. Her gorgeous brown hair hangs long down her back in soft waves that tickle my cheek as I tuck my face into her neck. There isn’t a drop of make-up on her heart shaped face. Her skin is clear and dewy. Emerald eyes emphasized by long dark lashes. She’s the most beautiful woman in the world, and she’s mine.

She spins so she can wrap her arms around me. Her chin rests against my chest while her head is angled up so I can see her face. “And your mom?”

I give her a quick peck on the nose. I have to stop myself from doing more. Waiting has been torturous, but I respected her decision. This weekend will be our first time and I’m beyond fucking thrilled to finally get my girl into bed. I silently reprimand myself. Focus. Dress. Looking up over her head, I quickly scan through the items still hanging on the rack and not littered on the bed or floor.

Finding the one I want, I grab it and pull it out. It’s a knee length, navy blue tea dress. I’ve seen her wear it once before. Our first date. It hugs her curves just enough to show off her hourglass shape, which I love. The blue is a power color which dad and Luca will notice and respect. And the design is similar to the ones my mother favors. “Mom loves to dress up. Wear this and she’ll be dragging you out shopping every weekend with her.”

Having gone the last few years without a mother figure, I know my girl is missing out, and hoping my mother will take a liking to her. I want to instill confidence in my girl. Honestly though, my mother would drag her shopping with her no matter what she wears to dinner. Mom always wanted a little girl to spoil. Soon she will. Then both my favorite girls will have what they desire.

She takes the dress from my hands with a smile. Without question she tucks it into her suitcase. Returning to the closet, she grabs shoes to match. I watch her continue to grab things from various places around the room and bathroom. The smile never leaves my face. I love watching her move around. She doesn’t add any sway to her hips and yet my eyes never leave her. I should probably feel like a creep for staring. I don’t. She’s mine.

The buzzing of my phone forces me to drag my eyes away from her. It’s a text from Santo. He’s the Don’s Uncle and adviser. “It’s time.”

Fuck. No, no, no. Everyone knows I was spending the weekend with my girl. Shit. You don’t say no to an order. Especially not your initiation summons. I scrub my hand through my hair. We’re supposed to be leaving within the hour.

“Hey babe?” I try to keep my voice calm. Inside I’m raging. I don’t want to disappoint my girl.

She pokes her head into the room. “Yeah?” Her voice is light and cheery, same with the smile on her lips. Until she sees my face. A frown instantly forms. “What is it Tino? Everything okay?” She walks into the room and over to me. I’m sitting on the edge of her bed. Taking hold of her hips, I grab the belt loops on her jeans and pull her close. I duck my head and place it on her stomach. Her hands instantly begin massaging my scalp.

Taking a deep breathe, and holding it. I give myself a moment before I reply. “Something’s come up. Family stuff. I have to head out.” It’s a terrible excuse. I won’t lie to her, but I don’t have time to explain everything. I can feel her breath pause in her lungs. Standing, I take her face in my hands. Making sure to look directly in her eyes. “I’m not canceling. This weekend means too much to me. To us. I’ll be there. I promise. I’m just going to be a couples hours late.”

Exhaling the breath she was holding, she gives a nod. Or at least tries to. My hands holding her cheeks make it difficult. She’s dealt with my last minute excuses before. I hate it, but love that she’s understanding. It bodes well for our future together. There will undoubtedly be many more situations that I’ll need to be off in a rush without being able to tell her what I’m doing, only that it’s family business. “Should we just wait until morning to go?” She asks. It’s already four in the afternoon. Truth is, I don’t know how long I’ll be. I can only hope it doesn’t take all night.

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