Authors: L.G. Castillo
Tags: #hispanic, #coming of age, #latino, #friends to lovers, #new adult, #Contemporary Romance
BROKEN ANGEL SERIES
STRONG & WILDE SERIES
[Cassie & Cody’s Story]
SECRETS & SURRENDER SERIES
[Mandi & Nic’s Story]
hen I was four, I won first place in a sandcastle contest. To this day, I still can’t recall what I made. Okay, that’s a lie. While the other boys were pounding sand into cool shit like fire trucks or spaceships, I happily sculpted a flawless replica of My Little Pony.
Okay, so in reality it was a blob with squiggly lines that were supposed to be horsehair, but according to my mother, it was perfect.
There were many things that I remembered about that day: the horrible sunburn, the sand that somehow managed to find its way up my butt, my father’s scowl when he realized what I’d built, but most of all, I remembered the beaming smile on my mother’s face.
Standing in the foyer of my parents’ home, I held the ornate picture frame that contained a photo of Mother and me, capturing the memory of that day. It was taken just moments after the judges had announced that I’d won. She had dashed to my side, tossing off her heeled sandals when one of the straps broke, and swung me around. I still remember how she’d tossed her head back, laughing. Her blond hair had blown wildly in the wind, and she hadn’t cared. She hadn’t even noticed that I’d gotten sand all over her pretty summer dress. She had held me on her hip and told me how proud she was of me. When the photographer told us to say, “Cheese,” I had turned to him and done my duty.
It was my favorite picture of her because in that photo, when I was looking at the photographer with a big goofy grin, she was looking at me. It was proof that somewhere inside my mother’s now perfectly coiffed exterior was my real mom. She’d been there when I was four. She’d been “Mom.” She’d showered me with “I love yous” on a daily basis, and whenever I was hurt, she’d kiss every single inch of my face murmuring, “Owie, owie go away, little Nic wants to play.” She’d always managed to make me laugh when she did that.
Yeah, when I was four, she was the center of my world and sometime between elementary and junior high, Mom became Mother, and everything changed.
Now it was all about the Frank Marcelli Plan. My life’s path had been carefully laid out for me, and all I had to do was walk through the golden doors.
Even though I hadn’t told a soul about Mandi’s secret, I knew that Father had his hand in what had happened to Mrs. Ruiz. I didn’t think he could be so cruel. I was wrong. It was my fault for thinking that he’d leave Mandi and me alone. It was my fault for not warning Mandi of what Father was capable of. And now Mandi’s mother was gone because I dared to break the rules and fall in love with a woman who wasn’t a part of the Frank Marcelli Plan.
I placed the framed photo back onto the console, hoping that the mom I had once known would come back to me again. She was the only one in the world who could stand up to my father and help me get the Ruiz’s out of this mess.
“Nic? We weren’t expecting you.” Feather duster in hand, Maria jumped back with surprise when I stepped into the living room. “You look so handsome in your tuxedo. How was the wedding?”
“Gracias. It was nice. I thought you were going to be there.”
She frowned, her eyes drifting down to the floor. “Mr. Marcelli had work for us today. He has important guests coming later.”
My jaw clenched. The old man had known months ago that Maria and Roberto had been invited to the wedding. I had also made sure Mother had known the date of the wedding so that there wouldn’t be any scheduling conflicts.
“Where’s Mother? I have to see her.”
“She’s in the library.”
“He’s on campus with his guests. He should be here in,” she glanced down at her watch, “Ay, Dios mío! I need to put the roast in the oven.”
“Thanks, Maria,” I called out as she dashed toward the kitchen. Shaking my head, I walked down the hall to the library. Good thing Father was on campus. As much as I wanted to kick the old man’s ass, I needed to focus on getting Mandi’s mom back with her family.
A sharp voice echoed from the library. I stopped just outside the room, surprised to hear Mother raising her voice to anyone. Something had to be seriously wrong. From the crack in the door, I glanced in. Mother sat perched on the edge of Father’s leather swivel chair, nervously twisting the phone cord around her manicured fingers. She was meticulously dressed, wearing a designer cocktail dress and the ever-present pearls around her neck.
“Look, you don’t have to remind me of our agreement. My husband gave you his word that our connections will look into Seth and Dillon’s cases. He didn’t make any guarantees then and he won’t now. At most, they may get an early parole.”
I balked. She couldn’t be talking with Sheriff Baker, the same man whose sons had no understanding of the concept that “no” means no. I could see why Father would, given Sheriff Baker’s pull with the county judge, but not her. Why would she even bother to speak to that sleazebag?
“Where is she now?” Her voice clipped into the phone’s receiver.
A cold chill surged down my spine as she continued.
“I see. Well, see to it that she stays there until I can get things situated on my end...Yes, I know it’s a lot to ask of you, but we made a significant contribution to your re-election campaign.”
Thoughts of my mother also being involved with Mrs. Ruiz being taking into custody slammed against the recesses of my mind, threatening to come out.
I charged into the room. “Mother!”
The chair jerked around. Surprised green eyes locked with mine. Quickly, she schooled her face into an impassive mask and breathed into the phone, “I’ll call to check in on your progress later.”
Getting up from the chair, she gave me a warm smile. “Dominic, I was hoping you’d come by to visit after the Wilde wedding.”
“I’m sure you did,” I growled.
“Dominic!” A hand flew up to her chest. “Watch your tone, young man!”
“Was that Sheriff Baker on the phone?” I fumed.
“Why, yes.” She gripped her pearl necklace nervously. “I had some business to take care of with him on your father’s behalf.”
“How can you do business with the likes of him after what he did to Cassie and Cody?”
She let out a breath of air and her face relaxed. “The poor girl was confused. The sheriff said so himself. Merely a miscommunication, I’m sure. All they need is a good lawyer to fix that mess.”
“They were found guilty! I can’t believe you can stand there defending them. And you and Father are helping them? I expect that from Father, but not you. What’s wrong with you?”
“Dominic, you must stop this enmity between you and your father. All he wants is the best for you, as do I.” She made her way around the desk, heading for the door. “Now, there’s much to be done before your father arrives with his guests.”
Grabbing her arm, I glared into her green eyes, demanding the truth. “Tell me what’s going on between you and the sheriff.”
“Mind your manners, Dominic. How dare you suggest there’s something going on between me and—”
“Knock it off, Mother! You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
She looked at me, speechless. Her shallow breaths were loud in the silent room. Studying her, I searched for the kind-hearted woman who loved me, who’d given up everything to make me happy. Briefly, her eyes softened, and there she was. It’d been so long since I’d seen her, and I wanted her to stay with me. I wanted her to take away the cold that had settled into my chest the moment Mandi had ridden away from me on Julian’s motorcycle.
I blinked and Mom was gone. In her place was a woman with cold, glittering emerald eyes, watching me like a chess player. It was as if she was wondering what my next move was and how much she could share without giving away her own moves.
I gulped as I felt the blood drain from my face. One second. It only took one second for my brain to register how my own mother had betrayed the love of my life and me.
“How did you know?” I whispered, hoping against hope that I was wrong.
Her face paled. “I don’t know what—”
“Don’t lie to me!” She shrunk back at my roar. “You did this! You had Mandi’s mother taken away. How could you do that to her? To me? What kind of mother does that? It’s like I don’t even know who you are.”
“You know exactly who I am.” Scowling, she jerked her arm out of my grasp. “I’m a Marcelli. A Marcelli fights for her family when she sees it being threatened.”
“Mrs. Ruiz is not a threat!” I thundered. “She’s a mother of four children. Two of them are toddlers. You took their mother away from them. You took away the mother of the woman I love!”
“I did what was best for you, Dominic. You may think you’re in love with that...that girl. But what kind of life would you have if you married her?”
“A happy life. A wonderful life!”
“It would be a life of secrets,” she snapped. “It’s very fortunate we discovered it before it was too late. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if the media found out about this while your father was on the campaign trail?”
Unable to contain the growing rage, my voice echoed in the room with each word I spoke. “That’s it, isn’t it? It’s all about Father and the untainted Marcelli name. You had a family ruined for that?”
“They ruined themselves. Mrs. Ruiz is here illegally. That’s a choice she made, not me.”
The burning fury was intense. I couldn’t take it anymore. I spun around and slammed my fist into the wall.
Splintered paneling fell to the floor as I pulled my hand out of the newly made hole. My hand throbbed, bringing a momentary relief to the excruciating pain in my chest.
“Choice, Mother?” I stared as droplets of blood slid from my cracked knuckles onto the cuffs of my white shirt. Red stains circled diamond-studded cufflinks. “Like the choice you made to bring Kristie back into my life? The choice you made to put me in the position where I had to break her heart all over again? The choice you made to break Mandi’s heart and mine?”
“Please, Dominic.” Her hands reached out to mine. “You’re injured.”
“Don’t you touch me...ever! It’s because of you that Mandi thinks I betrayed her.
chose to break me. Is that the kind of choice you’re talking about? Well, let me tell you something about choices. I’m making a choice right here, right now. I choose Mandi.”
“We’ve gone through this before,” she said softly.
“I know! And I fucked it up! I should’ve never come back. Well, hear this, Mother. I was a boy then, but I’m a man now. And I’m not giving her up. I’ll crawl over glass to convince her to take me back. I’ll fight for her until there is nothing else left within me, and even then I won’t stop. I won’t surrender. Because the day I do, the day I give up, that’s the day I die. Do you hear me? Live with Mandi or die without her.
is my choice. And because you can’t accept us together, the moment I walk out that door is the last time you’ll see me walk through it again.”
“No, Dominic! Please come back!”
Her cries followed me as I stormed out of the room. No more pleas for forgiveness, no more wails of doing what’s best for me. I’d had enough.
Pausing in the foyer, I glanced at the photo one last time, knowing that I’d never see Mom again. She was gone.
And as I slammed the front door, my heart broke with the knowledge that a small part of me was gone too.
ome on, Selina, please eat.” Selina shook her head, sticking a thumb in her mouth as I tried to persuade her to eat some cereal.