Brunetti's Secret SonBy: Maya Blake
THE HIDEOUS MANSION was just as he’d recalled in his nightmares, the gaudy orange exterior clashing wildly with the massive blue shutters. The only thing that didn’t quite gel with the picture before him was the blaze of the sun glinting off the grotesquely opulent marble statues guarding the entry gates.
Romeo Brunetti’s last memory of this place had been in the chilling rain, his threadbare clothes sticking to his skin as he’d huddled in the bushes outside the gates. A part of him had prayed he wouldn’t be discovered, the other more than a tiny bit hopeful that discovery would mean the end to all the suffering, the hunger, the harrowing pain of rejection that ate his thirteen-year-old body alive from morning to night. Back then he would’ve welcomed the beating his reluctant rescuer had received for daring to return Romeo to this place. Because the beating would have ended in oblivion, and the bitterness coursing through his veins like acid would have been no more.
Unfortunately, the fates had decreed otherwise. He’d hidden in the bushes, cold and near catatonic, until the ever-present hunger had forced him to move.
Romeo stared up at the spears clutched in the hands of the statues, recalling his father’s loud-bellied boast of them being made of solid gold.
The man who’d called him a bastard and a waste of space to his face. Right before he’d instructed his minion to throw him out and make sure he never returned. That he didn’t care whether the spawn of the whore he’d rutted with in an alleyway in Palermo lived or died, as long as he, Agostino Fattore, the head of the ruling crime family, didn’t have to see the boy’s face again.
No...not his father.
The man didn’t deserve that title.
Romeo’s hands tightened on the steering wheel of his Ferrari and he wondered for the thousandth time why he’d bothered to come to this place. Why he’d let a letter he’d shredded in a fit of cold rage seconds after reading it compel him into going back on the oath he’d made to himself over two decades ago. He looked over to the right where the towering outer wall to the late Agostino Fattore’s estate rose into the sky, and sure enough, the bush was exactly as he remembered it, its leafy branches spread out, offering the same false sanctuary.
For a wild moment, Romeo fought the strong urge to lunge out of the car and rip the bush out of the earth with his bare hands, tear every leaf and branch to shreds. Tightening his jaw, he finally lowered his window and punched in the code his memory had cynically retained.
As the gates creaked open, he questioned again why he was doing this. So what if the letter had hinted at something else? What could the man whose rejection had been brutally cold and complete have to offer him in death that he’d failed so abjectly to offer in life?
Because he needed answers.
He needed to know that the blood running through his veins didn’t have an unknown stranglehold over him that would turn his life upside down when he least expected it.
That the two times in his life when he’d lost control to the point of not recognising himself would be the only times he would feel savagely unmoored.
No one but Romeo knew how much he regretted wasting the four years of his life after the bitter night he’d been here last, looking for acceptance anywhere and any way he could find it. More than hating the man whose blood ran through his veins, Romeo hated the years he’d spent trying to find a replacement for Agostino Fattore.
Giving himself permission to close his heart off at seventeen had been the best decision he’d ever made.
So why are you here? You’re nothing like him.
He needed to be sure. Agostino might no longer be alive, but he needed to look into the heart of Fattore’s legacy and reassure himself that the lost little boy who’d thought his world would end because of another’s rejection was obliterated completely.
Impatient with himself for prevaricating, Romeo smashed his foot on the accelerator and grunted in satisfaction as the tyres squealed on the asphalt road leading to the courtyard. Unfolding himself from the driver’s seat, he stalked up to the iron-studded double doors and slammed them open.
Striding into the chequer-tiled hallway, he glared at the giant antique chandelier above his head. If he had cared whether this house stood or fell, that monstrosity would have been the first thing in the incinerator. But he wasn’t here to ponder the ugly tastes of a dead man. He was here to finally slay ghosts.
Ghosts that had lingered at the back of his consciousness since he was a child but that had been resurrected one night five years ago, in the arms of a woman who’d made him lose control.