“Can I request ‘My Old Man’ by Zac Brown Band?”
“We’ll definitely play it,” Luca addressed him, “but it’s always our last song. A tribute to our old man.”
“You lost your father and your brother?” Jacob asked.
Santino got another type of chill as the air crackled and the group silently waited for the answer.
The boys looked at Valentina before Sabastian answered, “Yes, they were both killed in the Las Vegas massacre.”
Jacob shook his head. “No way! I lost the girl of my dreams at the massacre too.”
Chloe shot her head up to look at him, and she paled as she began to tremble. This was the first time she had heard he had lost someone in the Las Vegas massacre, or that he had been in love before.
“Nicole was the sweetest girl to ever grace this earth. I grew up with her and planned to marry her one day. It seems the asshole who murdered the ones we loved got off too easy. I bet you wish you could kill everyone related to him. That kind of evil just breeds evil.”
“Amen to that,” Valentina said. “I understand how you feel, but luckily, you’ve moved on and you’re marrying Chloe now.”
Jacob curled his fingers into tight fists. “Moving on? That’s what you think this is?” With more disdain than anyone could believe, he went on, “I wouldn’t marry that crippled bitch if she was the last woman on Earth. And do you know why, Valentina? Let me tell you.”
Chloe’s deepest, darkest secret paralyzed her with fear. How did Jacob know about her father?
Would she ever escape the man who had made her life a living hell?
Each of the brothers exchanged confused looks, though they knew this was what they had been waiting for. One by one, they put their guitars down and stood.
Jacob pointed at Chloe. “This little whore you’re so fond of is the devil’s spawn. Chloe is the daughter of the man who murdered your husband, son, and my Nicole. She looks innocent, but she’s really a wolf in sheep’s clothing, bred by the devil himself.”
Everyone’s eyes and bodies swung from Jacob to Chloe.
“Is it true?” Valentina screamed. “Are you the devil’s child?”
Quinn tried to grab her as she leapt from her seat and started attacking Chloe.
“Why in God’s mercy did you come here? Why do you want to hurt me?” Screaming louder, she shook the frightened, crying girl’s shoulders, causing the flowers in her hair to fall from her jarred head.
Chloe chanted through her tears, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I swear, I didn’t know.”
Alessandro got to Mamma first, right behind him was Quinn. “Mamma, stop. You’re hurting her.”
Valentina halted, stretching her head around and responding with venom, “I’m hurting her? What about how she’s hurting me? All of us? She has the same vile blood in her veins as the man who murdered my famiglia!”
“Mamma!” Sabastian yelled, coming up to her other side and yanking her elbow.
Valentina dug her nails into Chloe’s arms, leaving marks as she let go.
Sabastian released his mamma, thinking she was backing off. Before anyone could stop her, though, she raised her hand and slapped the young woman across the face with enough force to knock her off the log bench.
Alessandro locked his arms around Valentina’s waist, pulling her back, but not before she screamed, “Puttana!” spitting in the sobbing girl’s face.
As Alessandro twisted her away from Chloe, Quinn got right into her frantic face, calmly but firmly reprimanding her. “Valentina, that’s enough. You need to get control of yourself. Chloe didn’t shoot Shawn or Marcello.”
Valentina fell into his arms, sobbing, and Quinn waited to straighten her up until he felt her strength come back. “I’m taking you inside to talk.” Tucking her under his arm, he looked at Luca. “We all need to talk. I want all of you to come to her apartment after you sort this out.” He then guided the weeping woman away.
Santino stood stock-still, trying to absorb the scene in front of him. How many times had he wished he could seek revenge on the shooter’s famiglia? But this was Chloe, not the monster he had envisioned.
“You bastard! You set us up. Do you see what you did? Why would you want our mamma to suffer more?” It hadn’t taken him long to figure out this was why Jacob had brought her here.
“Valentina had the right to know,” he answered cockily. “All of you should know that this little bitch is living her life as if nothing happened, while our loved ones are rotting in their graves. The rest of you only had to deal with her one weekend. I’ve been the one suffering for months to get her here.
“I had to get her to trust me and convince her I wanted to marry her. It sickened me to touch her, so I punished her during sex, my hand burning from the spankings I gave her. She thought I liked rough sex, while the joke was on her because every time I wrapped my hands around her neck, I had to stop myself from snuffing her out like her father did to Nicole.”
Santino charged him, jumping over the dying fire and attacking like a madman. His fists flew as fast as the words coming out of Jacob’s mouth.
Luca and Sabastian jumped in, pulling them apart and holding their berserk brother back with his arms behind his back.
The cruel nightmare unfolding in front of everyone was destroying Chloe by the second. Each word and action were like knives plunging into her heart. Then the realization hit that her fiancé had never loved her. Everything he had done, all the time they had been together, had been nothing more than his sick way to seek revenge.
No one would ever love her because she was the Devil’s spawn.
Jacob looked down at the woman he hated as much, if not more than, her father as Alessandro helped him up from his knees. “Stand up, bitch, and stop acting like a victim.” Spittle flew from his mouth. “You should have warned somebody—the police, doctors, anyone—that your father was psychotic. But did you? No! You safely hid and didn’t say a word, like the useless whore you are.”
Santino was struggling to get away from his brothers when their eyes met. Chloe had to look away from the hatred in his eyes. There was no doubt he believed that she bore some responsibility. What could she have done to change the outcome, though?
She had to tell him the truth.
Chloe wiped the saliva from her face, shifting to her knees and pushing herself up to her feet. Shaking like a leaf, she breathed out in front of everyone, “I didn’t know. I swear, I hadn’t seen him in years. I had no idea.”
“Liar! You’d say anything to absolve your accountability, but their blood is on you.” He pulled back a bucket that nobody had seen one of the bridesmaids hand him, tossing the goat’s blood all over her. It was just like the scene out of Stephen King’s movie Carrie.
Chloe stood wide-eyed, covered in blood from head to toe. Her heaving breaths caused her to taste the metallic flavor, inhaling the blood through her nose, where it traveled down the back of her throat.
Huffing in and out, petrified, she saw the hatred in each person’s eyes staring at her. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t seen her father in years; they blamed her and always would.
“Why should she get to live when Nicole and your family died?” Jacob continued.
“Please, stop.” Sobbing, shocked by the tragic events unraveling, Brooklyn came to her friend’s defense. “It’s not her fault. You should be ashamed.” On one hand, she felt sick for her husband and his family, having their pain ripped open again, but she was also appalled for Chloe.
“Brooklyn!” Luca yelled, afraid she would get caught in the crossfire. “Stay back. Don’t get involved.”
Stunned, she stopped dead in her tracks and shouted, “You can’t possibly blame Chloe!”
While everyone was distracted, Chloe took off, running toward the dark forest, terrified that Jacob or someone else would kill her before the night was over.