The bullet left the gun. The breath left my body. My temple throbs, a remnant from Tony’s violent temper. The air around me seemed to vanish, bleeding out in a rush. My muscles lock up, freezing me in my tracks.
It feels like I am being crushed and crumpled as I stood there, staring at the two men. The whole world is stained red as I waited for one of the men to die.
One is my kidnapper turned lover. One is my brother turned enslaver. They wrestle on the ground before me, fighting over me. Their eyes are filled with hatred for one another, their grappling violent.
Whichever one I shot, I have to live with not just his death, but the life laid out for me by the survivor. I have no real options in this scenario.
They’ve left me none.
It’s an impossible choice, yet… somehow, I blink, and I’ve already pulled the trigger.
My aim is true, though I tremble as I take the shot. The loud report of the gun startles me. Monster and Tony don’t even have time to react to the sound before the bullet takes the back of Tony’s skull off.
There’s blood everywhere, although with my red-stained vision it looks black to me. Blood sprays in all directions, especially outward from the wall where the bit of skull landed. It keeps bubbling up from where the back of his skull is missing, Tony’s exposed brain pulsing and pumping out blood.
A tide of nausea overwhelms me, rising up in my throat. Tony slumps down against Monster’s chest. Monster seems frozen as if he’s unsure what has happened to Tony.
Suddenly, I am unlocked. I can move again.
The nausea threatens again, gagging me. I drop the gun carelessly, turning away from the scene I just caused. I try to cover my mouth to hold the vomit in my throat, but it bubbles up just like the blood from Tony’s corpse.
I fall to my knees and retch violently, the vomit falling onto the pristine wood floor. I hear Monster move behind me, hear him wrestling with Tony’s body.
“Shit,” he mutters quietly. Then, “Are you alright?”
Retching again, I close my eyes against the whole entire world. For just a moment, I need to not be the girl that murdered her brother. The girl who is shivering and vomiting while the entire world spins around me.
Someone else tries to enter the room, but Monster gets rid of them. “Go back to your rooms. Don’t come out until you’re told to.”
He’s clearing the area of witnesses. Witnesses that could tell everyone what I’ve done. I’m at once humbled and ashamed.
Though it wasn’t a choice I wanted to make, a tiny voice inside says that I obviously made the right one. Monster is already proving that.
I feel his hand on my back, a gentle caress. Monster rubs my upper back for a second as I double over miserably. I just killed my only brother that stuck around. The only family member that I still had any interest in talking to.
No, I didn’t kill him. I murdered him.
It feels surreal like I imagined the whole thing. I stare at my trembling hands dumbly. Why aren’t they covered in blood, then? It feels like they should be. Did I really kill him?
But a glance behind me at Tony’s crumpled body tells me that I didn’t make it up. I wipe the vomit from my mouth and wince as Monster draws a blanket over Tony’s body.
Monster looks at me, his expression brooding. “Come on. We need to get you out of here.”
He helps me off the floor, putting his arm around my shoulders and guiding my shaky steps to the door. I grip his arm, nails digging into his flesh through his button-up shirt. I’m still crying, the only sound in the house is that of my hysterical sobs.
“Stay here for a second, Fiore,” Monster orders, parking me by the front door. He tries to pry my hands from his forearm, but I burrow my face against his chest, making a low keening sound.
I need Monster. Need him with me. I won’t let go if it means he won’t leave my sight. In this uncertain world, this world I just helped to create when I fired that shot, he’s the only person I can rely on.
He seems surprised by my clinginess, his free arm coming back down to pat my shoulder. “It’s okay, Fiore. It will be okay, I promise.”
I squeeze my eyes closed and release a sob as he disentangles himself. He steps away through the doorway to the living room, keeping one eye on me while he pulls out his phone. His phone calls are hushed, but in the silence echoing throughout the house right now, they sound loud.
“I need you to come here, to the house,” he orders. “There is a body. I need it taken care of.” He pauses, listening intently. “No, I think we’ll be gone. Yes. Alright.”
He hangs up, casting one last glance around the living room. Monster runs his hand over the bottom half of his face. I watch the gears in his head churn for a moment.
Then he turns toward me. We make eye contact as he walks over to the front door.
“We’re going to go now,” he says, his Greek accent thicker than normal. “You and I will find a hotel to stay in for a bit. How does that sound?”
I nod, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. He opens the front door, escorting me out to the curb. We only wait a moment before a sleek white SUV pulls up. Monster hustles me into the back seat, sliding in beside me.
I can feel the judgment coming off the driver as he surveys me. I must look like a complete wreck and smell like vomit.
“Take us to the Belvedere Hotel,” Monster says, in that no-nonsense tone of his. He slips his arm around my shoulders and I unabashedly burrow against his chest, hiding my face from the world.
As the SUV pulls out, I’m overwhelmed by my own thoughts.
I murdered a man.
Worse, I murdered my own brother.
Tony could very well have been the last I’ll ever see of the Carolla family. According to Tony, my father and brothers are dead and gone.
Supposedly, killed by the only man I have left, the man I cling to right now.
I keep picturing Tony, in the moments before I shot him. He wrestled on the floor with Monster, his face bright red with rage. There was murder in his eyes.
If I hadn’t shot him, he would have killed Monster without question. And then he might have killed me too, while he was at it. There was really no telling with Tony.
The logical part of my brain says that what I did was right. But the louder, more emotional part of my brain is still devastated. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
Or maybe I do know, and that’s the problem. Maybe the issue is that I don’t know who loves and who is just using me, who plays with my heart and who laughs when I hurt. How can I have any idea, when Monster and Tony are the only men in my life?
Monster shifts, clearing his throat. The words come almost out of nowhere, soft and quiet. “Thank you, Fiore. I know he was your brother, but… thank you.”
The tone of his voice is the closest thing to remorse I’ve ever heard from him. All I can do is nod, rather than letting the kaleidoscope of thoughts leave my mouth. I swallow, burrowing against him.
When we get to the hotel, Monster pulls me from the car, sweeping me off of my feet and cradling me close. I let my eyes close, shutting out the rest of the world.
Monster carries me upstairs, his arms strong and true. He carries me into a bedroom, setting me on the bed. Without a word, he starts undressing me. Shoes on the floor, dress over my head, bra and panties cast aside.
I realize I’m still crying, soundless tears falling down my cheeks. The weight of my eyelashes is so heavy right now, so I let my eyes drift to a close a final time.
He tucks me into the big bed, lying on my side facing him. He turns off the lights and then comes back to me, sitting with me. His warm fingers run through my hair as he lulls me to sleep.
My last thought is that I am very glad that he is here.