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Bottled Up (A Broken Lives Short Story Book 4) by Marita A. Hansen (1)


 

 

CLARA

“I’m scared,” I said, cradling Tyson to my chest, my baby breast feeding from me. He’d woken up just as Tiana had arrived at my place, ravenous for milk. “Ever since Dante’s ex disappeared with his daughter, he’s been acting out.” I grimaced, still shocked that my partner had a ten-year-old daughter to his first girlfriend. Though, not as shocked as Dante had been when he’d found out after his ex had tried to extort money out of him.

I continued talking to Tiana, “He’s been turning up to work late and going off without telling me where, and just last night, I swear I smelt alcohol on his breath. He denied it, getting mad at me for even suggesting he’d drank. He stormed out of the house, not returning for hours. I really don’t know what to do.”

Shifting nervously in her seat, Tiana pulled at the hem of her pretty wrap-around skirt, looking as distraught as I felt with a heavy dose of guilt thrown in, the fallout affecting her even worse. Not only had Dante blown up at her for keeping Lavinia’s secret about him having a daughter, his brother—Tiana’s ex—had also lost his temper with her. She was still trying to placate Ash, attempting to win him back, but it didn’t look good, especially with L hanging around, trying to make things up with Ash too. Both women wanted him, and both were fighting hard to win his affection. Though, it looked like he’d had enough of their attention, preferring to concentrate on recording a record with Jade. Ash had finally accepted a record deal, his new found popularity over his viral sex video propelling another Rata brother into worldwide fame—or more accurately, infamy. Women were throwing themselves at him, but as with Tiana and L, he was ignoring all of their advances, preferring to focus on his work and his baby daughter.

“I’m so sorry,” Tiana said.

“You don’t need to apologise to me,” I said. “You didn’t cause this trouble, Dante’s ex did. I don’t blame you at all, she backed you into a corner.”

Tiana grimaced. “But I knew about Dante’s phobia, knew he’d want the child with him.”

“He was thirteen when his daughter was conceived, fourteen when she was born. There was no way he could’ve helped raise her.”

She shook her head. “Knowing him, he would’ve found a way. He’s always been overly protective of children, he even punched a father in the face at a supermarket once when the guy smacked the back of his kid’s head, calling the child some horrible name. He was lucky the man didn’t press charges against him. Honestly, I shouldn’t have kept his daughter a secret, it’s just... Lavinia was my best friend, even now I still call her my best friend even though she’s been in Australia for years. I just chose her over Dante at the time, feeling closer to her. But over the years, I grew closer to Dante. He’s like a younger brother to me now. If the same situation happened again, I would’ve told him straight away.” She screwed up her face. “I honestly feel like I lost a brother. He won’t talk to me at all cos of this, and Ash...” She swiped at a tear as it fell onto her cheek, “he’s civil, but that’s all. I bend over backwards for him, letting him see Angelo whenever he wants, hoping it’ll make up for what I did, but he’s always so cold, treating me like a stranger. Don’t get me wrong, he’s polite, but there’s no warmth to the way he looks at me anymore. I don’t think I can repair what I did.” She covered her face, now full-out crying.

I detached Tyson from my breast and wiped his mouth, fixing my bra and top before placing him against my shoulder to burp him. I shuffled closer to Tiana on the couch, giving the side of her head a kiss, knowing how she was feeling. I’d lost Dante for nine years, the loss having devastated me. The Rata men knew how to rip women’s hearts out without even trying.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Here’s me complaining about Dante and you’re going through a hundred times worse. I should just be grateful I have him, because, God, Tiana, I know the hell you’re going through with Ash. When I lost Dante I’d resigned myself to being single for the rest of my life. Loving a Rata is for life. You can’t shake them even though they seem to be able to ignore us so damn well.”

She wiped her face, pain etched across it. “Thank you.”

I frowned. “For what?”

“For understanding me. When I speak to my mum, she just doesn’t get what I’m feeling. She lost my dad, was devastated by it when he asked for a divorce, but she eventually moved on. I don’t think I can move on from Ash. I tried when we split one other time, but I couldn’t do it. I may have been the one who left him that time, but I didn’t want to. I only did it to protect Angelo,” she said, referring to her and Ash’s son. “Ash’s drug dealing put him in danger. Did you know that Angelo got kidnapped once cos of it?”

My eyes widened. “No,” I gasped.

She nodded. “That’s why I left Ash that time. It tore me apart to do it, but I had to protect Angelo. I know it wasn’t Ash’s fault, that he was forced to deal drugs, but I had to protect my son no matter how much it hurt to be away from Ash. And when Ash managed to get out of the drug trade and we got back together, I was in heaven, all that pain of not being with him disappearing. Now it’s back and far worse, cos this time he left me, and it doesn’t look like he’s missing me at all. When I see him, I feel like I’m an inconvenience he doesn’t wanna deal with. If he could, I’m sure he’d avoid me completely, only seeing Angelo. I honestly think it’s over between us and I don’t know how to deal with it.”

I rested my head against hers, also feeling the same way, but not because I’d seen the way Ash acted around Tiana, but because of the way I’d seen him act around L. I’d gone to visit Dante at the studio a couple of days back, running into his brother in the hallway. While we were chatting, L had walked past. Ash’s eyes had followed her, the look in them telling me he was besotted with her. I’d spoken to L about it, but she’d disagreed with me, saying that he was keeping her at arm’s length, telling her that he wasn’t interested in a relationship with anyone, that all he wanted was to concentrate on his work and raising his daughter. I could see the hurt in L’s eyes when she’d told me, could see that she was just as in love with Ash as Tiana was, but I could also tell she was wrong. Ash wanted her just as much as L wanted him, and it was only a matter of time before he cracked, letting her in.

Tiana let out another sob, making me feel so bad for her, because I knew deep down that she had lost Ash. Her worst fears were going to come true: L would get Ash. The look on his face pretty much confirmed it would happen sooner rather than later, he was just fighting the inevitable. But I couldn’t tell Tiana that, and if anything, she probably already knew it. Knew that Ash wanted L more than he wanted her.

Tiana wiped her eyes again and sat up straighter. “I’m sorry,” she said, the both of us taking turns apologising for things we didn’t need to. “I shouldn’t be wasting all of your time.”

“You’re not wasting it,” I said, running a hand down the back of her wavy brown hair, doing my best to soothe her. She was a lovely woman, so sweet, without a bad bone in her body. Like L. They were both sweet in nature, just nothing alike when it came to looks. Although Tiana had a very pretty face, L was absolutely stunning. She was beautiful in an almost ethereal way, with picture-perfect, dainty features framed by the most exquisite orange and blonde hair. I could understand why Ash was entranced by her, which made me sad for Tiana. She was beautiful... pretty in her own right, just in a more down-to-earth fashion. She was an everyday woman in comparison to L being every man’s fantasy.

She sniffled and pushed to her feet. “I should go anyway. Plus, I need to get back to Hunter and Angelo.”

“Hunter?” I asked. “As in Dante’s cousin?”

She nodded.

“But isn’t he in the psych ward?”

She shook her head. “He got out a few days ago. Ash couldn’t put him up since he’s still bunking down at work.”

“But, if Ash is living at work and you’re staying with your mum, what’s happening to your place out in Howick? Is Kara looking after it?” I asked, Ash and Tiana having rented a room to Dante’s ex.

“No, Ash kicked her out after she leaked those sex tapes of him.” Tiana bunched her hands into fists, probably wishing she could punch Kara... and L, and I couldn’t blame her. Kara might have captured the video, but it was L who’d seduced Ash, the evidence now plastered all over the internet.

Tiana continued, “Ash is renting it out to some friends until it sells. He said we should never have bought it, that we overextended ourselves. He’s right, it was just one more thing that put a strain on our relationship.” She screwed up her face, clearly upset over the house being put on the market, solidifying their split. “I don’t blame him for wanting to be done with it, even more so with those horrid reporters and fans staking the place out. They wouldn’t give him a break, constantly harassing him.”

I nodded, knowing the feeling, people doing the same to Dante. We were also considering moving, the paparazzi and fans making us feel unsafe. Even one of our neighbours was bothering Dante. I couldn’t believe it when she’d come on to him while I was standing right next to him, all but offering herself up on a silver platter. In response, Dante had grabbed his own crotch, telling her she would never get any of his D, that it belonged to me, leaving the woman red-faced and racing back into her house. Dante was never one to hold back on his thoughts, politeness not in his vocabulary.

I rose to my feet with Tyson, who’d fallen asleep on my shoulder, burped, happy, and sated from his feeding. “So, how’s Hunter doing?” I asked.

Tiana fidgeted with her handbag. “Better than in the psych ward, though I do worry about him. He has a habit of talking to people that aren’t there. I heard him chatting away to himself in his room, saying the name of his dead girlfriend. Angelo noticed it too. My boy’s now convinced that Hunter can see ghosts, while my mum’s convinced that Hunter needs to be institutionalised again.”

“What do you think?”

“I think Hunter needs Ash to be around more. He lights up every time Ash comes over, loves him like a son, but with Ash working so much, he hardly sees him. I tried to tell Ash that we should all live together, but he accused me of using Hunter to get back with him. I want to get back with him more than anything in the world, but I would never use Hunter to do that.”

I patted her back. “I know you wouldn’t. How about I have a talk to Ash? Maybe I can get him to visit Hunter more.”

She shook her head. “No, he’ll think I’m trying to manipulate him through you. He’s so distrusting, so suspicious of everyone’s motives.” She let out a long exhale. “I really don’t know why I love him so much, he’s such a hard person to deal with, but I can’t help it.” She grimaced. “At times I wish I never met him. He may have given me the best years of my life, but he’s also given me the worst.”

I nodded, understanding her on a deep, personal level, Dante having done the same to me. I may be in a better position than Tiana was right now, but I’d gone through hell for Dante. I just hoped he wasn’t going to put me through more hell, his behaviour definitely concerning.

Tiana let out another exhale. “Anyway, I really should get going. Thanks for letting me chew your ear off.”

I gave her a soft smile. “You can chew my ear off whenever you need to. I’ll always be here for you, Tiana.”

She smiled back at me, leaning in to kiss me on the cheek. “Dante doesn’t deserve you.”

I snorted out a laugh. “Tell his father that, because Tane keeps telling me that I don’t deserve Dante. For all of a second, I thought he’d changed his mind about me, that he approved of me now, but he’s gone right back to being rude.”

She grunted. “Ignore Tane, he thinks the sun shines out of Dante’s arse. Personally, both Tane and Dante are full of shit.”

I snorted out another laugh, Tiana’s language usually more proper. “Well, apart from his looks, I really don’t understand what Jade sees in... that man,” I said, refraining from calling Dante’s father something unflattering. The language that came out of Tane’s mouth left a lot to be desired, while his actions were just as bad. He had no self-decorum whatsoever, doing whatever he pleased, regardless of whether it was offensive or not, like the way he walked around the house half-naked. Hell! Sometimes he even walked around completely naked, laughing when I got embarrassed. At least he wasn’t here at the moment, though not for a good reason. He was currently in hospital, getting chemotherapy. I’d heard from Jade that it was going well. The doctors were confident that Tane would beat the lung cancer, but still, it was just another worry for Dante on top of trying to find his daughter.

I followed Tiana to the front door. She went to open it, but it opened before she could get a hand to it. She took a sudden step back at the sight of Dante, almost banging into me and Tyson, my quick reaction only just avoiding it.

Dante’s beautiful face twisted in anger, making him look hard and unforgiving. “What the fuck are you doin’ ’ere?” he barked at her.

Dante,” I hissed back, not appreciating the way he was treating Tiana. “She has apologised enough, plus keep your voice down or you’ll wake Tyson.” I ran a hand down the back of our baby, who thankfully hadn’t woken from Dante’s loud bark.

“It’ll never be enough,” he said, thankfully lowering his voice. “Cos of her, I’ve lost a daughter.” He leaned his head towards Tiana, growling low, “So fuck off.”

Tiana sidestepped him and shot out of the house, running for her car, which was parked on the street. She raised a hand to shield her face from a paparazzo, who had stepped out from behind the large magnolia tree across the road. Dante swore and jumped down the front steps, looking like he was going to smash the photographer over, his right hand already clenching into a fist. The paparazzo took off, sprinting down the street towards his car. Dante stopped at the gate, swearing loudly at him. A neighbour across the road looked out of her window, capturing his attention: the one who’d come on to him. Dante swore at her too, yelling, “Fuckin’ mind your own biz!” among other things. She quickly retracted her head and pulled her curtains across.

As Tiana drove off, Dante stormed back up the footpath to our front door, looking like he could kill someone, his mood even worse than when he’d left for work. “I told you Tiana’s not welcome here anymore,” he growled as he stepped inside.

“She turned up without phoning,” I replied, not appreciating his tone. “Plus, she was in a right state. She’s devastated over her split with Ash.”

A nasty look crossed Dante’s dark eyes. “Good. And by the way, she will never get him back. My bro has it bad for L. He admitted it to me today, just doesn’t wanna deal with L’s issues. Says he has enough of his own to sort out. He just wants to concentrate on work and raising Lily, not dealing with L’s games.”

“L’s not playing games with Ash,” I said, a bit miffed Ash thought she was. “That poor woman is just too timid to put her heart on the line for him, and I don’t blame her. Ash can be cold-hearted at times.”

“Then maybe Ash should go back to Tiana,” he sneered. “Cos she’s a cold-hearted bitch.”

He walked past me, bounding up the staircase, not even giving Tyson a kiss on the head like he normally did. It sent my heart plummeting, something definitely up with Dante... Well, even more than usual.

I locked the front door, then followed him up the staircase and into our room, finding Dante undressing. He’d already removed his shirt, which he’d thrown on the floor, the man extremely messy. He started undoing his leather pants as I lay Tyson in his cot, our baby waking up. Thankfully, he reclosed his eyes, falling right back asleep, so full of milk he’d be out for a while.

Dante shunted his pants down, along with his underwear, not even caring that the curtains weren’t drawn. I rushed over to pull them across, noticing the same neighbour was at her window again, staring right into our bedroom. She quickly shot away from the window when she noticed me, making me stiffen, the woman definitely spying on Dante.

I jerked the curtains across and spun around to face him. “Next time shut the curtains,” I growled, capturing his attention. “Heather was watching you get undressed.”

He grimaced. “Not like it makes any difference. She pro’bly constantly frigs herself while watching the pornos of me,” he said, referring to the ones that had been illegally taken of him. His ex-girlfriend had planted cameras in his room without his knowledge, doing the same to his brother, the videos all over the internet, Kara having a lot to answer for.

“You still shouldn’t encourage her.”

His grimace grew. “I ain’t encouraging her, I already told her to mind her own fuckin’ biz. Bloody pervo.”

“Will you keep your voice down, you’ll wake Tyson.”

His eyes went to Tyson, looking like he only just noticed him. A prickle of worry ran up my back, the same worry that had appeared the night I’d accused him of drinking.

Dante walked over to the cot. Placing his hands on the bars, he leaned over, giving Tyson a gentle kiss on the head, so gentle that Tyson remained asleep. I softened a little, the sheer love on Dante’s face for his son beautiful to see, but that niggle remained, still worrying me.

Dante let go of the cot and turned for the bathroom, disappearing into it without a word. I followed him, stopping in front of the shower as he stepped inside it. He turned it on, flinching a little, but remained underneath the spray.

I opened the door and put my hand under the water. “Dante, it’s cold. Turn it up or you’ll get sick.”

He turned to me with a glare. “Stop treating me like a kid. If I want a bloody cold shower, I’ll have one.”

I stiffened, again not appreciating his tone or attitude. “Why are you even having a cold shower?” I asked, suspicious as hell. “You like it warm.”

“I like a lot of things to be different, doesn’t mean I get what I like.” He turned his back on me and started washing himself, leaving the temperature the same, clearly doing it to annoy me.

I reached past him and turned it off.

He spun around. “What the fuck is your problem?”

“Your attitude,” I replied, having had enough of it. “You come home in a foul mood, no hello, just snapping left, right and centre, then you jump into an ice-cold shower, rinsing your mouth out. Yeah, I saw that, it didn’t get past me.”

He sneered. “You gonna accuse me of drinking again?”

“I didn’t say a word about alcohol, but maybe I should since you didn’t kiss me like you normally do.”

He leaned down and breathed on my face. I stiffened, definitely smelling booze on his breath.

“You promised you wouldn’t drink,” I said, unable to hide my upset. “Promised both me and Tyson.”

“I didn’t promise Tyson, he’s just a baby, he can’t even speak.”

“You made a promise that you wouldn’t put your addictions before your family, a promise that you’re breaking every time you pick up a glass or a bottle.”

He grimaced. “Maybe if I had all of my whanau ’ere,” he said, using the Maori word for family, “I wouldn’t break my promises.”

I placed a hand on his arm. “Is this about your dad being in hospital? Jade said he’ll be all right.”

He frowned. “I know that.”

“Then why are you drinking?”

He pulled away from me. “I want my daughter ’ere.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid for not thinking this was about her. “Well, you won’t get custody if you’re a drunk.”

“I’m not a drunk, it wuz just one glass.”

“That’s what every alcoholic says. Just one glass, which becomes two, then three, then a whole bottle. You can’t even risk a sip, Dante. It’s dangerous.”

“For fuck’s sake, you’re overreacting.”

“No, I’m not. Have you forgotten that I was a rehab counsellor? I’ve heard all the excuses you could possibly imagine, every line in the alcoholic’s excuse book.”

He grimaced at me. “I’m not making excuses.”

“And I’m not making excuses for you either, so don’t you dare come home again with your breath smelling of booze.”

“Don’t I dare? What right—”

“I have every right!” I snapped, finally losing my temper. “I understand you’re upset you can’t find your daughter, but understand this, if you continue drinking you’ll lose your son, because I will not let him see you turn into what your father turned into with your mother.”

His eyes went big. “I wouldn’t get violent.”

“No, but you’ll be a drunken mess, and there’s no way I’ll let Tyson see that.”

“He’s a baby! He won’t remember shit if I get drunk once in a while, and I’m not even drunk now, just had half a glass of whiskey to take the edge off things.”

“Stop lying to me, you said you had a full glass before.”

“I said one glass, not whether it wuz full or not.”

One glass too much.”

He flung his hands out. “I needed sumpthin’! I’m fuckin’ stressed to the max.”

“Then, find something else to take the damn edge off.”

He sneered. “Yeah, you.” He grabbed his cock. “You can take the edge off by sucking me off.”

“Not with that attitude,” I growled back, his tone making me want to slap him.

Still palming his dick, he cocked his head to the side, his sneer set in stone. “You have a bloody bad habit of talkin’ to me like I’m a child. You needa quit that.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “I will once you stop acting like one.”

His eyebrows shot up. “I don’t act like a child.”

“Unfortunately, you do. A lot of the time you act like a spoilt brat who hasn’t gotten his way.”

He stepped out of the cubicle, the shower water making the colourful tattoos on his muscular arms glisten. Even the tribal one around his left eye looked brighter, the dark green more noticeable under the fluorescent light. “I lost a daughter, not a toy,” he snapped, “so don’t fuckin’ talk down to me.”

I remained where I was, refusing to let him intimidate me, plus I knew he wouldn’t hurt me. It didn’t matter whether he was over six-foot and I was five-three, he was all talk and no bite. Yes, he had one hell of a temper, but it didn’t mean I was going to let him get away with drinking.

“Then, don’t drink,” I growled, “or try to use sex to get your way.”

He snorted out a laugh. “I didn’t offer sex to get my way.”

“You have a short memory, you just told me to suck your cock. It’s always like this. If I say something you don’t like, you try to seduce me so I forget what I’m telling you off for.”

He leaned his head down to mine, his face a breath away. “I’m a grown arse man, I don’t appreciate bein’ told off.”

“And I’m a grown arse woman who doesn’t appreciate their partner falling into alcoholism again. Now, which is worse?”

He straightened, giving me a scowl as he did it. “Okay, I shouldn’t have fuckin’ drank, I admit it, so get offa my bloody case. I’m allowed to be pissed off ’bout my daughter.”

“As long as it doesn’t cause problems for myself or Tyson. I’m not having you wreck our little family over a daughter you’ve never met. I understand you need to find her, but don’t do your damn best to lose the son you already have in the process.”

“I wouldn’t do that, and he won’t remember any of my shitty moods.”

“Things snowball, Dante. One thing happens today, then another thing the next day. Look what happened to Ash and Tiana. From what I heard, they were a loved-up pair, until they allowed things to snowball. Small things at first, ones that grew into bigger problems, and now they have no chance of getting back together. Ash has moved on, leaving Tiana devastated. I won’t allow you to do that to me.”

He blinked at me. “I would never leave you. I love you. Both you and Tyson mean the world to me.”

“Then act like it, because right now you’re scaring me, Dante.” I breathed out, truly scared of his alcoholic tendencies. “I can’t lose you like Tiana lost Ash. It would destroy me.”

His face fell. He reached out, pulling me into a tight hug. I didn’t even care that he was getting me wet, all I cared was that he was holding me.

I hugged him back, kissing his chest, right over his heart. “I love you so much, Dante. Love you more than my own life.”

Fuck,” he said, pulling back, his dark eyes roaming over my face, true remorse there. “I’m sorry.” He cupped my face, kissing a single tear rolling down my cheek, my emotions and fears getting the better of me. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, moving his lips to mine, kissing them softly, then hard.

I lifted my hands to his head, twisting my fingers in his tangle of wet hair, kissing him back even harder, my heart pounding like crazy, Dante always having this effect on me. For those seconds, I tried my best to ignore the whiskey on his breath, on his tongue, but in the end I couldn’t, causing me to pull back, knowing full well he’d drunk more than a glass, the smell too strong.

I stepped away from him, forcing myself to say my next words. “If I taste whiskey on your breath one more time, I will move in with my father and take Tyson with me.”

His eyes went big. “No! Why the fuck would you say that?!”

“To give you a wakeup call, Dante. To make you choose me and Tyson over the booze.”

He shook his head. “Nah, nah, you wouldn’t leave me, you fuckin’ love me.”

“And that’s why I’d leave! Because I love you so fucking much,” I snapped, my swearing unusual. I rarely swore, but he needed to understand that I couldn’t let him continue drinking, because it wouldn’t just destroy me, it would destroy him.

He glared at me, looking furious. “You wouldn’t bloody love me if you left me, taking my child with you. That ain’t bloody love!”

“It is if it stops you from pouring more alcohol down your throat, Dante.” I shook my head at him. “Can’t you see that if you continue sneaking drinks it’ll eventually kill you?”

“One glass—”

“Stop saying that!” I yelled, knowing he was lying. “And the fact you’re not saying that you won’t drink again tells me a hell of a lot. I just told you I’d leave with Tyson if you don’t stop drinking, and you didn’t even bother to say it won’t happen again. What the hell, Dante? Are you planning on continuing drinking?”

His jaw tightened, pretty much telling me he was.

“Do you need to go back to rehab again?” I asked.

“No!”

“Well, I think you might since you’re failing out here. How much did you really drink before coming home? And don’t you dare tell me a sip or a glass, because it smells like a whole lot more.”

He grimaced.

“Dante, how much? And don’t lie to me.”

He dropped his gaze, mumbling something.

“I didn’t hear that.”

“Half a bottle of Jack.”

My eyes widened. “Where’s the car?”

“At work. I got a taxi back.”

I blew out an exhale, relieved that at least he didn’t drink and drive. “No wonder you stink of whiskey. You can’t keep doing this.”

“I won’t.”

“I’ve heard you say that before.”

He shoved a hand through his wet hair. “Look, I’m just stressed, I promise it won’t happen again. I’m not gonna lose you or Tyson.” He let go of his hair and stepped closer to me, looking like he was going to pull me to him again.

I stepped out of his reach. “Then, come with me to see a counsellor.”

He screwed up his nose. “Why the fuck for?”

“We need to get counselling to make sure we get through this.”

“That’s for married people, we’re just partners.”

“So, I’m not as important to you since I’m not your wife?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Then, we need to see a counsellor to talk our problems through, so we can stop them from getting on top of us. You also need to deal with your own individual problems, to voice them instead of taking off to get a drink.”

He grimaced. “Counsellors are useless, they don’t help.”

“I was a counsellor. So, am I useless too?”

“Stop making this personal, also stop riding my back.”

“Once you agree to see a counsellor with me.”

“Fine! I’ll see one. Fuck, you’re bossy as shit.”

“Because I love you and want to stay with you until I die.”

“Then, we might as well bloody get married, cos you’re already bitching like a wife.”

“Dante! Don’t be insulting.” A second later, what he’d said hit me. “Did you just ask me to marry you?”

He pressed his lips together, but still nodded.

My eyes widened. “You serious?”

He nodded again. “Though, I didn’t wanna propose like that, but fuck, woman, you piss me right off sometimes.”

I started shaking, not believing this was happening, not believing he’d just proposed, and especially after I’d told him off for drinking. “Why now?” I asked, worried that he had an ulterior motive. Was he just saying this to get me off his case about the whiskey, not intending on carrying through with it?

“I wanted to marry you for a bit now, but bloody Jade,” he said, referring to his manager, “said it wouldn’t be good for my career. He wants my fans to think I’m single so they have a chance with me. Not like they would, I only want you, but he made me promise not to ask. But fuck him, if you say yes, we can go to a registry office and do it asap.”

Completely stunned by his words, I blinked at him, wondering whether I was dreaming.

“Are ya gonna say anything?” he asked.

“You really want to marry me?”

He nodded. “That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

I raised my hand to my head, pushing my hair back, in total disbelief.

He frowned. “Don’t cha wanna marry me?”

I almost let out a laugh at the way he stuck his bottom lip out, sulking over me not saying yes straight away, but I didn’t, still too stunned over the proposal. I didn’t even care that he’d done it in the most unromantic way possible. He’d even insulted me while doing it. Yet, none of that mattered, only that he’d asked, not to mention that he’d been thinking about it, even wanting to propose earlier, would’ve if it weren’t for his controlling manager.

“Are ya gonna say anything?” he asked, his expression now turning vulnerable, worry in his eyes, worried that I would turn him down. It made my heart clench, made me want to turn to goo and melt into the floor, this imperfectly perfect man standing naked before me everything I could’ve asked for and so much more.

“Yes,” I croaked out.

“Yes, what?” he asked, looking unsure as to whether I was accepting his proposal or answering that I was going to reply.

“Yes, I want to marry you,” I answered. “I want to marry you more than anything in the world.”

His face lit up. Before I knew what was happening, he was sweeping me off my feet—both literally and figuratively, making me cry out with happiness. Then my back was against the wall, with Dante kissing the hell out of me, his naked body crushing me against the cold panels. But I didn’t care how cold the wall was, all I cared about was the man engulfing me, making me forget all about why I’d been so angry at him, my happiness of being engaged eclipsing everything. The thought that he wanted to be with me forever, that I could be with him forever, made me feel like I was on a high.

He started ripping at my dress, sending the buttons down the front flying everywhere. Before I could even react, he’d torn my knickers off and was lifting me up. I wrapped my legs around his waist as he pushed his cock inside of me, making me cry out into his mouth. He lowered me down onto his cock, turning my cry into pants. Carrying me to the sink, he rested my arse on the edge of the bench and started moving in and out of me, his eyes locked onto his cock as he speared my pussy. Then he raised his gaze to my face, a smile on those wicked lips of his. He pulled out and turned me around, lowering my feet to the floor as he pushed my stomach against the bench.

He twisted my hair around his hand and pulled my head back so I was looking at the mirror. “Watch me fuck you,” he said, staring at my reflection. “Watch me take my fiancée.”

He pushed back inside of me, making me cry out again, Dante never one to be gentle. Letting go of my hair, he shoved my bra up and grabbed onto my breasts, then started to fuck me, squeezing my nipple as he did it, causing me to shriek. Yet I didn’t tell him to stop, didn’t want him to either. Instead, I pushed my arse back at him, wanting to feel him so deep inside of me that his cock would leave me aching for hours after.

Then he was coming, shouting out his release. I watched the ecstasy play across his face, the man so beautiful I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was so sensual, so erotic, the tattoo around his left eye adding to it all.

Once he’d finished coming, he pulled out and spun me around to face him. His hand went to my pussy, working me, making me pant like a bitch in heat while he watched me so intensely. I knew I was going to come within seconds—and I did, shouting out my orgasm as I stared back at him.

He gave me that wicked grin of his again, telling me he was up to mischief, and he was. He lifted his hand to my mouth, his fingers wet with cum. I jerked my head to the side, Dante teasing, the dirty bugger no doubt wanting to stick his fingers into my mouth. He wasn’t a vanilla lover, sometimes getting me to do things I normally wouldn’t do, but I definitely wasn’t the type who wanted to taste myself on his fingers. I didn’t mind his cum, just not mixed in with anything that had come from me.

He laughed and lowered his hand, sticking two of his fingers inside of my pussy instead, rubbing my clit with his thumb. “You’re just like that Bon Jovi album,” he said over my surprised shriek. “Slippery when wet.”

Dante,” I panted out, “stop that, I’ve already come.”

“And you will again. Many times.” He brushed his lips over my ear. “Cos you’re mine until death do us part, baby. You said yes, we’re gettin’ married, I will soon own this pussy like you own my balls.”

He resumed rubbing my clit, the bastard turning me on even more, making me want to come a second time. He smiled lewdly, fully aware of the effect he was having on me. For a second, I worried he was doing all of this to distract me from the talk about his alcoholism. But that thought flew out of my head as his thumb and fingers worked their magic, pulling out another orgasm. I cried out so loud that I was relieved that Jade, and more importantly, Dante’s father wasn’t home, because Tane would never let me hear the end of it.

Dante leaned forward, kissing me as I came down from the orgasm. He pulled back a moment later, letting go of me completely. Winking at me, he leaned to one side, washing his hands in the sink, also giving his cock a quick clean. He dried himself off, then strutted out of the bathroom like a peacock in full bloom, leaving me still panting from the orgasm.

After I’d finally gotten my breath back, I pulled my bra off and dumped it in the wash basket, grabbing a quick shower before following him into our room. I startled as he opened the curtains, the both of us butt naked. “Dante!” I cried out, snatching up the dressing gown at the foot of the bed. Once I’d pulled it on, I rushed over to yank the curtains across, lucky that I didn’t damage them in my panic.

“What the hell did you do that for?” I snapped, not believing him.

He smirked at me. “Showing our pervo neighbour what she, and every chick out there, can’t have.” He held his arms out wide, displaying his gorgeous body. “I’m all yours, baby.”

I shook my head at him. “You’re impossible.”

His smirk grew. “But you still love me. So, get dressed in something nice. Make it white.” He winked at me, before heading past me.

“Why?”

He stopped in front of the wardrobe. “Cos we’re gettin’ married,” he said, opening the door.

“Ah... what do you mean? It’ll take months to plan a proper wedding.”

“A registry wedding is proper enough,” he said, sifting through his clothes.

“It’s too late for that, those places will be closing soon, and I want a full wedding, not a quick sign-here type.”

He stopped searching through the wardrobe, and looked over his shoulder at me. “You can have one. We can have a registry marriage, then do a big wedding later, hell, we can even do a third one in Vegas.” He grinned. “One with a fake Elvis.”

“But we’ll already be married, and I want it to be a special day.”

“It’ll be special no matter what, cos you’ll be my wife.” He walked over to me and took hold of my face, giving me a kiss. My lips melted against his, no longer caring about the whiskey, allowing myself to enjoy this moment in time. But the moment ended far too quick. He broke the kiss and patted my arse like I tended to do to him. He usually pinched mine.

“Hurry up,” he said, walking back to the wardrobe, clearly wanting to get married today.

“God, Dante, we honestly don’t have enough time. We’ll also need witnesses, as well as people to distract the paparazzi.”

“For once, I want the paparazzi there.” He laughed. “They can take care of the wedding photos.”

I shook my head at him, but still smiled. “There’s still not enough time. And if you really want to have a registry wedding, we can get one tomorrow. First thing in the morning. It’ll give us enough time to ask Ash and Georgie,” I said, mentioning my best friend, “if they can be witnesses. Okay?”

His smile grew bigger. “Yeah, and you can organise the white wedding for whatever day you want, just make sure you arrange a Vegas one as well. That’ll be so much fun. Three different types of weddings to make sure everyone knows we’re married.”

My smile grew to match his, never having guessed the day would’ve taken a turn like this. But that was another thing I loved about Dante. He was so unpredictable.

“Okay,” I said, more than happy to make the arrangements.

“Choice,” he replied, grabbing his phone out of his leathers. He started texting.

“Who are you texting?”

“Ash, then Sledge,” he said, mentioning his two brothers, the younger one an adopted sibling. “I want ’em at all of my weddings. Ash can be my best man, while Sledge can be the groomsman.” He looked up. “That’s what it’s called, right, a groomsman?”

I nodded.

He continued tapping away on his phone. “Text Georgie, ask her to be your bridesmaid.”

“Um... ” I frowned, remembering she was rostered on tomorrow. “I forgot, she’ll be working. Can we wait until next week? She has Monday off.”

“Nope, I wanna do it tomorrow,” he replied, finishing his text. “She can pull a sickie.” He walked around the bed and grabbed my phone off the bedside table. Without blinking, he keyed in my password, clearly about to text my friend.

I swiped my phone off him. “How do you know my password?”

“You use Tyson’s birthday for everything.”

I grunted. “Not for much longer, and I’ll phone Georgie,” I said, hitting the call button for her.

My best friend’s voice came over the line with a hello.

I barrelled forward, knowing I was going to hear one hell of a screech. “I’m getting married tomorrow morning. Do you want to witness it?” I asked, smiling as she split my eardrums.

“To Dante?” she screamed.

“Well, who else would it be?” I laughed at her silly question.

“Where and when? Tell me everything!”

And I did, smiling as Dante walked over to Tyson, cooing at our baby boy, who had woken up at all the noise. He picked Tyson up, making me smile so wide I wasn’t sure I would ever stop smiling. I knew Dante was hard work, knew he’d falter again, but I also knew he was worth it.

Noise came from downstairs, the front door closing. Dante walked over to the bedroom door, totally naked, not caring about his nudity.

Jade appeared in front of him, giving him a raised brow. “Don’t you think you should put some clothes on, Dante?”

“You’ve seen it all before.”

Jade shook his head, his gaze shifting to me. “Why are you two so happy?” he asked, looking suave in his smart charcoal-grey pants and white, open-neck shirt. His blacker than black hair was slicked back, Dante’s manager always impeccably groomed. I still couldn’t believe he was in his forties, because he honestly looked ten years younger. Though, at times I wondered whether he’d had work done, the man incredibly vain.

“We’re getting married tomorrow,” Dante answered.

Jade’s face dropped like a bomb over Moruroa Atoll. “No, Dante, you can’t!”

“You bet I can, and three times. At a registry tomorrow, then in Vegas with an Elvis impersonator, followed by a big white wedding for Clara, so all the whanau can come.”

Jade went to open his mouth.

Dante covered it. “You’re not talkin’ me outta it, it’s happening, and by the way, we’re moving out as soon as we find a place.”

Jade smacked Dante’s hand away. “Why?” he barked angrily.

“I’m sick of the neighbours either whinging or perving at me, and even more sick of the paparazzi and fans dogging me. I’m gonna get a big place with a gate and a guard to keep all the nutters out, and don’t tell me that I can’t afford it, any bank would gimme a loan now. I’m worth a shitload. And you already have my dad living ’ere, so you don’t need me as well. And if you really want another Rata in the household, ask Ash. You can perv at him instead, though you might get bashed in the face for it.” He laughed.

Jade scowled at him. “You know you’re a complete prick.”

“Yup,” he ran his hand over his own cock. “And you love it.” He walked past him, heading down the stairs with Tyson against his chest.

“The curtains are wide open in the lounge!” Jade yelled.

“I’m going to the kitchen!” Dante yelled back.

Jade shook his head and looked over at me. “Can you talk some sense into him? This won’t do his career any good.”

“Honestly, Jade,” I said, already having finished my call with Georgie, “I don’t think it’ll make a difference. Women will still want him whether he’s married or not. They’ll still fantasise over him no matter what, and unfortunately, will still hit on him, even in front of me, like our lousy neighbour did.”

He scowled. “You’re right, they will. Just be prepared, because they won’t just hit on him, they’ll throw themselves at him, and he’s not exactly the type to control himself.”

“He’s been faithful. The only thing I have to worry about is his alcoholism.”

Jade nodded. “That’s very true. He smelt of whiskey earlier. I told him to go home, ordered him a taxi.” He tutted like a disapproving grandmother. “We need to find his daughter as soon as possible, and if anything, you two getting married will at least distract him for a bit. Get married, take him to Vegas for a couple of days, I’ll get L or Juliet to look after Tyson for you, then come back refreshed. Hopefully, I’ll have a lead by then.”

I nodded. “Make it L, she’s best with little ones. Juliet is a bit clumsy with the way she holds Tyson.”

“I will.” He gave me a half-smile. “If I wasn’t so in love with Tane, you know I’d be fighting this marriage tooth and nail, don’t you?”

“I’m well aware of that,” I said, happy that he was finally getting over Dante. Though, he had a massive task in keeping Dante’s father, because Killer would never give up on trying to win the man back. And like Tiana, I was worried Jade was in for a world of heartbreak, because Tane loved Killer like Jade loved Tane.

Jade nodded at me. “Good luck, you’ll need it.”

“So will you with Tane.”

He scowled. “Yes, the Ratas aren’t easy men to love.”

“But they’re worth it.”

His expression softened. “They certainly are. Now, I’ve got to get changed and go see my man. Hopefully, he’ll be awake when I get to the hospital.” He turned and disappeared into his room, murmuring, “God, I love him.”

I smiled, feeling the same way about Dante. Now in a great mood, I closed the door and slipped my dressing gown off, grabbing a fresh pair of knickers out of my cabinet. I pulled them on, along with a clean bra, then went to the wardrobe, picking out another dress. Once I was decent, I opened the bedroom door, stopping as my phone went off. I snatched it up off the bed, hitting the answer button before realising it was Dante’s mobile, not mine. But before I could say a word, a voice came over the line, one I recognised.

“I have a trace on your daughter,” Killer said. “She’s in Taranaki.”

“She’s in New Zealand?” I asked, surprised, since the girl supposedly lived in Australia.

“Who’s this?” he growled.

“You know who it is, Killer,” I replied, not understanding how he didn’t recognise my voice.

“I’m not Killer.”

“Murderer, then,” I said, the guy having multiple personalities.

“No, it’s Jasper. Is this Mrs. Hatton?”

“My last name is Hughes now,” soon to be Rata, “and I thought you were in prison?”

“Which is where I’m callin’ from. Just tell Dante that I have some men on the outside working to get his daughter back.” He hung up without another word, leaving me a little stunned that I’d spoken to him, the man sounding so much like his uncle it was uncanny.

“What’s wrong?”

My gaze shot to the door. Dante was still holding Tyson against his chest as well as a bottle of water in his other hand.

“Jasper called, said he has some men working to find your daughter. He mentioned that they’ve tracked her to Taranaki.”

His eyes widened. “You serious?”

I nodded.

“Shit, didn’t expect to hear that. I didn’t even ask him to find her since he’s behind bars. I just hope he didn’t get Murderer involved, I don’t want that fucker scaring my girl.”

He tossed the bottle of water onto our bed and walked over to the cot, laying Tyson down. He tucked him in, then took his mobile off me, calling someone.

“This is Dante,” he spoke into the phone, “am I speaking to Murderer or Killer?” A look of relief crossed his face. “Killer, did Jasper employ you to find my daughter?” He frowned. “I don’t want you approaching her or her mother. Stay clear of ’em, I wanna get custody the legal way.” He nodded. “Good. Only keep tabs on her routine, just make sure that no one spots you.” He winced and removed the phone from his ear, a loud bark coming across the line. He placed the phone back to his ear. “Calm yo shit down, Killer, I didn’t insult your skills, I know you’re the best, it’s just... She’s my daughter, I’m allowed to be paranoid. If her mother gets spooked, that bitch will bolt with my girl. So...” He bit his lip, “does she really look like me?” He looked up at the ceiling and exhaled loudly. “That’s a total mind fuck. Looks like I needa get a lawyer onto this quick smart. And cheers, good job of finding her. Also, thank Jasper for arranging this. He’s a great mate.” Dante smiled, saying bye in Maori before hanging up.

“So, I’m guessing she looks like you,” I said.

He nodded. “Killer, and thank fuck it wuz Killer and not Murderer, said she looks like a mini-me, just a female version. Which means she is mine, cos Ash confirmed he didn’t sleep with her bitch of a mother.”

“Does that mean we need to push back the wedding so you can arrange things regarding custody?”

“Fuck no, it’s more of a reason to get married. If we’re in a stable relationship and Lavinia isn’t, that’ll count in my favour. Plus, with me being well-off now and her bein’ a blackmailing, broke-arse bitch, I think I have a good chance of gettin’ custody.”

I frowned, not so sure, his past peppered with unsavoury elements that could see him never getting custody, let alone shared-custody. All the porn of him on the web, regardless of whether it was illegal or not, would definitely count against him. Add that to the mothers campaigning against him, trying to get him banned from YouTube, and it would be a hard task to get any judge to agree to giving him custody.

He frowned right back at me. “You don’t want me gettin’ custody, do ya?”

I shook my head. “It’s not that, I’ll be happy if you did, that is, as long as the little girl is happy. I’m just concerned that your past may work against you, as well as that mothers’ group. Also, what about my past? I could hinder your chances even more, especially with my conviction.”

His frown dropped. “I have money to buy the best lawyers, who’ll be able to spin anything, while Lavinia has jack shit. If anything, I could pro’bly get her thrown into prison for tryna blackmail me, which means I’ll get custody regardless.”

“Before you do anything that drastic, think about the girl first, imagine how she’d react to her mother being ripped away from her. Do what’s best for her, not you.”

His frown returned. “I am. She’ll be safer with me.”

“God, Dante,” I said, slipping my arms around his waist. I knew why he was doing this, the abuse he’d received at the hands of his stepfather making him worry about what kind of man was in his daughter’s household. “Don’t relate what happened to you to your daughter, she may be perfectly happy.”

“And she might not be, which is why I won’t stop until she’s under my roof. I just wish that Jasper had gotten someone other than Killer to track her down, cos there’s always the risk of Murderer taking over.”

“Who is Killer tracking down?” Jade asked.

Dante pulled out of my grip and turned to find his manager standing in the doorway with a sour expression on his pretty face, the guy hating his rival with a passion.

“My daughter,” Dante answered. “Killer found her.”

Jade scowled. “You didn’t need to involve him, I’ve already paid a private detective to find her.”

“I didn’t, it wuz Jasper, though...” Dante’s expression turned perplexed, “how did Jasper even know I have a daughter? Only you, Ash, Tiana, Clara, and me know.”

“I have no idea, though my money would be on Ash because I can’t see Tiana speaking to Jasper.”

“Ash doesn’t speak to him either, he’s not his mate.” Dante scratched his balls. “So, how the fuck did he find out?”

Jade’s eyes flicked to what he was doing. “Maybe Ash told someone else, and that person told Jasper,” he replied, seemingly entranced.

“Oi!” Dante stopped scratching himself and indicated to his face. “Keep your eyes above board, pervo, and Ash isn’t one for giving out info... unless it’s to Juliet,” he said, mentioning his adopted sister. “She always blabs to her twin, who shouts everything to the world.” He grimaced. “Sledge has no filter.”

“Like you,” Jade shot back, his face now bright red with embarrassment. “And I told you to put some damn clothes on.”

“Not my fault you can’t keep your eyes offa my dick, and you can’t compare me to Sledge. Even I can keep my mouth shut when I needa. Him, he can’t at all. You tell him a secret and it won’t be one anymore. He just doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t say everything he thinks.”

“Isn’t the psychologist helping him with that?” I asked before Jade could reply. Sledge’s unfiltered tongue was due to brain damage caused by a bullet, the guy lucky to have survived it.

Dante nodded. “A li’l, but Sledge still blurts out things he shouldn’t. He’s like a li’l kid at times. Totally innocent, oblivious that what he thinks would offend anyone.”

Dante went to say more, but Jade raised a hand, cutting him off. “I have to go, off to see your dad.” He pulled a face at Dante. “And please, no more walking around naked.”

“My dad does the same thing and you don’t tell him to stop.”

“I’m allowed to look at him naked, not you. He’s all I need and want.” Jade disappeared around the corner, thumping down the staircase.

Dante shook his head. “Poor bastard.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“He’s wasting his time on my dad, my dad loves Killer. It won’t be long before those two are back together.”

“But Jade is better for him.”

“Yeah, I know, even my dad thinks so, but when I visited him yesterday he wuz asking ’bout Killer. He didn’t say as much but I could tell he wants him back. The poor bastard can’t help himself. He has a major hard-on for Killer with love hearts and bows attached to it, like Killer has for him. Just a pity Killer’s a psycho.”

“Or more like, it’s a pity that Killer and Jade can’t share him. I know I couldn’t share you with anyone, but in your dad’s case, I think both Killer and Jade give him the full package.”

“That would only end in death. Nope, they definitely wouldn’t be able to share.” He moved his arms around my neck. “And I couldn’t share you either. No one is allowed to touch my woman but me.”

I smiled. “That goes both ways.” I smacked his bare arse. “Because only I’m allowed to touch this fine derrière.”

He laughed and gave me a kiss.

The doorbell went off. I pulled away and smacked his arse again. “Get dressed while I answer that.”

I headed out of the room, getting to the bottom of the staircase quick smart. Hoping it wasn’t another reporter, or even the annoying neighbour from across the road, I opened the door, instead finding a cute-looking guy with long dreadlocks staring back at me.

“Is Dante home?” he asked with a heavy Maori accent.

“Who may I say is calling?” I replied, not willing to give out any information until I knew who he was. The number of people who came to our door, asking for Dante, was beyond aggravating.

“A mate of his brother’s,” he said, dropping his gaze to my chest.

“Which brother?” I asked, making sure he was legit.

“Ash,” he said, talking to my chest. “Dante’s big bro wuz my best mate back in high school.” He finally raised his gaze to my face. “So, can I talk with Dante or not?”

“Dante!” I called out, the guy sounding legit, his accent the same as Dante’s and Ash’s.

Dante appeared around the corner dressed only in leather pants. He scowled as his eyes landed on the guy. “What the fuck are ya doin’ here, Joel?!” he barked, glaring down the staircase at Ash’s friend.

“I need you to talk to Lavinia,” Joel answered, the name ringing bells.

I refocused on him, seeing the guy in a totally different light now. Dante had told me that Joel was his ex’s partner as well as her stepbrother.

Joel continued, “She’s done a runner. Won’t answer my calls.”

Dante bounded down the staircase, his fist in Joel’s face before I could stop him. Joel fell backwards, landing on his arse, swearing up a storm as he wiped the blood from his nose.

Dante jabbed a finger at him angrily. “Take your stoner arse outta ’ere before I smash you up some more! And if I hear you did anything to my daughter, you’re dead!”

Joel sneered up at him. “All I did wuz raise her, treating her like she wuz my daughter, cos you were too bloody stupid to cover your cock before putting it into my woman.”

I grabbed Dante’s wrist before he could go at Joel again. He jerked his arm free, but thankfully stayed put. “Lavinia wuz my woman at the time,” he growled, “so don’t gimme that bullshit, you sister fucker.”

Joel scowled at him. “Stepsister, and it’s not my fault I fell for her. You fell for her too.”

“Only cos I wuz thirteen at the time. I wouldn’t be that stupid now, and you’re still fucked in the head for screwing whanau.”

“Says the guy who fucked his teacher. I heard you were fifteen while she wuz in her twenties, so don’t jump onto that high horse so quick, you hypocat.”

Dante sneered at him. “It’s hypocrite, you dumb fuck, and Clara’s a million times better than that lying ho bag you set up shop with.”

Joel shoved to his feet, a mask of fury falling over his cute face. “Watch what you say ’bout Lavinia!”

Dante stepped through the doorway, puffing out his chest. “What’cha gonna do ’bout it if I don’t, stoner? Eh?” he taunted, using his height and impressive physique to his advantage.

Joel clenched his hands, probably knowing he couldn’t take Dante on and win, but still looking like he was considering trying. Thankfully, he held back, though he didn’t hold back on his opinion. Or the foul language.

“You don’t have a right to treat me like shit, you mo-fuckin’ cunt!” he barked. “I got played more than you did. I didn’t find out that Cleo wuzn’t mine for years. It tore my bloody heart out! And now you come along with all your money, threatening to rip Cleo away, endangering her and her mum. Lavinia wouldn’t have run if it wuzn’t for you!”

Dante’s eyes widened. “I didn’t endanger anyone, Lavinia caused all this shit. I should report her to the cops for what she did.”

Joel started shaking his head vigorously. “You can’t involve the pigs, you’ll fuck everything up.”

“No, Lavinia fucked it up when she tried to extort money outta me.”

Joel held out his hands. “C’mon, cuz, you can’t set the pigs on my woman. You can’t do that to whanau.

“Being whanau didn’t stop you from stealing my girlfriend, cuz,” Dante spat.

“You’re cousins?” I asked, though I was ignored, the guys too focused on each other.

Joel spoke over me, “In my defence, I didn’t even know she wuz with you at the time, and c’mon, you can hardly talk, you fucked your bro’s woman. That’s a shitload worse.”

Dante’s face dropped. “Don’t talk ’bout Beth, she’s dead.”

Joel wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, sorry, I did hear ’bout that, but you gotta understand that none of this is my fault or Cleo’s. If you report her mum, she’ll also suffer. You can’t do that to my li’l girl.”

My girl!”

“’Kay, I get it, she’s yours, but you’ve gotta acknowledge that I raised her, so I ain’t gonna disappear just cos you found out she’s yours. She thinks I’m her dad, while I consider her my daughter, regardless of blood. You also gotta understand that Lavinia did her best for Cleo. She only phoned you outta desperation. You know what it’s like to be dirt poor. You can’t tell me that you never did shit you normally wouldn’t have just to eat, to fuckin’ survive.”

Dante went quiet, Joel hitting on a nerve, my man having done a lot of things to get by when he was younger.

Joel continued, “Which is why we needa work together, to help bring Lavinia and Cleo back. Safely. I’m really worried cos Lavinia won’t answer my calls. You scared her chronic when you phoned her.”

She phoned me, and when I tried to call her back, she wouldn’t pick up, so don’t pin this on me.”

Joel frowned. “Well, some guy phoned her, saying he wuz gonna take Cleo. That’s all I managed to get outta Lavinia cos she wuz hysterical. She yelled over the phone that she needed to leave, that she’d call me as soon as she could, then hung up. I raced across town to the flat, but by the time I got there she wuz gone. The neighbour said Cleo mentioned they were visiting New Zealand, which is why I’m ’ere. But the thing is, none of her friends and whanau have heard ’bout her bein’ back. I’m stressed to the max, scared that sumpthin’s happened to ’em, especially since she hasn’t called me like she promised.”

“You don’t needa worry, I got a call telling me she’s in Taranaki. And the guy who pro’bly said that shit to her will be my mate’s uncle. He would’ve been tryna smoke her out, and it looks like it worked. You also don’t needa to worry ’bout Cleo no more, I’ll get custody of her the legit way, through the courts.”

“Then you’re a selfish cunt,” Joel spat. “Lavinia may be many things, but she’s still a good mother, one that Cleo adores.”

Dante sneered at him. “One who tried to blackmail me into giving her money. Doesn’t sound like a good mother to me.”

“I told ja she wuz desperate, what part of that don’t cha understand?”

“The part where she keeps tryna screw me over.”

“You gettin’ her pregnant screwed her over. She has loads of debts cos she tries to give Cleo everything, debts that I can’t keep helping her pay. I got my own. And Cleo is yours, she looks just like you. You should pay sumpthin’.”

“Ten years!” Dante snapped. “Ten years she kept me away from my daughter!”

“I’m sorry, man, I know what Lavinia did wuz lousy as fuck. What she did to me wuz shit too, but suck it up, the only thing that matters now is our daughter, and she is ours,” Joel indicated to both him and Dante, “cos I’d die for that girl. Cleo is what counts, and she can’t be whisked off from one place to another. Sort this shit out with Lavinia if it’s only to help Cleo. Get shared custody to see the girl, just don’t take her completely away from her mother or me. Do what’s best for Cleo, not for yourself.”

Dante frowned at him.

Joel wiped his nose again, a touch of blood leaking from it. “Now, tell me where your bro is living. I wanna see him. Heard he’s fuckin’ L. Bloody dumb arse. He shoulda stayed with Tiana, she’s got a pussy. Doesn’t matter whether L’s hotter, pussy always wins out, plus Tiana can make any dick rise to the occasion, even mine, and my dick prefers Lavinia.” He screwed up his nose. “Shit, don’t tell Ash that, I wouldn’t fuck his ex.”

“Nah, you only wanna fuck my ex,” Dante grunted. “By the way, you haven’t changed one bit, have ya?”

Joel shrugged, then looked at me, or more accurately, my breasts. “You’ve got a nice missus.” A big smile split his face as his eyes rose to my face. “Bet’cha gave Dante A’s for his D.” He wriggled his eyebrows at me.

“Hey!” Dante snapped. “Watch how you speak to Clara, she’s my fiancée.”

Joel shook his head. “Looks like you’re the dumb arse, cos if I wuz famous like you, I’d be fucking all the groupies. By the way, you got any jobs for a bassist? I’m real good.”

“Fuck off!”

“Just think ’bout it, cos you won’t find a better bassist than me.”

“I would never hire you, and if you’re so broke, how the fuck did’ja pay for a trip to New Zealand?”

“Like how I paid to get to Australia in the first place.”

“How’s that?”

“Stole the money.” Joel saluted Dante, then turned, strutting down the footpath with a swagger not that dissimilar to Dante’s, just a slowed down version, as though he had all the time in the world. He waved at the paparazzo, who’d unfortunately returned, calling out, “I’ll give ya a photo, I’m a bassist. Dante might be hiring me.”

“Dream on!” Dante hollered. “By the way, fuck-knuckle, I needa favour from you.”

Both Joel and the paparazzo turned their heads to him.

Dante snorted out a laugh. “Not you, Joel, the other fuck-knuckle, the one with the camera. Me and my fiancée,” he indicated to me, “are gettin’ married tomorrow at the registry office in town. I’ll let ya take our photos if you plaster them all over the papers and give me some nice ones to frame.” He saluted him with his finger, or maybe it was to Joel, then steered me back inside, closing the door behind us.

“Guess what?” he asked me.

“What?”

He smiled wide. “Tomorrow you’ll be my wife.”

To Be Continued in

Hysteria

(A Broken Lives Short Story #5)

Coming Soon...

 

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