Seven years ago
Luiz Barone’s heart was racing. At seventeen years old he’d seen so much crap that even though he was young, he didn’t feel like it. He felt old, and right now, his very future was on the line. Rushing into his secret girlfriend’s home, he saw the bodies of her parents across the dining room.
“No, let me go!” Lora’s scream drew him to the back of the house, and he had his gun raised and ready.
Fuck. Lora was a civilian. She was under his protection, and nothing should have happened to her. He should have known his father would try to screw him over. No Barone was going to have a bastard out of wedlock, and that was exactly what Luiz had done. Christie, his little girl, was the best thing that had ever happened to him, and he couldn’t let anything happen to her, or to his love, Lora.
Rushing toward the kitchen, he watched as the man slammed her face against the tiled counter and pushed her away. Luiz drew his gun, pointed, and shot. The man, whom Luiz didn’t even recognize, looked completely shocked.
“Luiz,” Lora said, gasping.
Firing the gun again and again into the man that had tried to take his new family away from him, Luiz didn’t stop until his bullets ran out. Dropping the gun, he rushed to Lora’s side and saw the blood pooling out of her stomach.
“No, no, no, no.” Covering the wound, he tried to put pressure on it, but it just seemed to be constantly leaking.
“We … were … not meant to be.”
“Shut up, Lora.”
“You have … to go.”
“Did those bastards get to her?”
“She’s with Raine.”
Luiz closed his eyes. Raine was Lora’s younger sister. She was fifteen but too damn mature for her age.
“You’re going to have to. I’m … dying.”
“Face it, Luiz. We were not meant to be.” She released a cough, gasping. “Love her … for me. Let her know I’ll always love her.”
In his arms, Luiz experienced his first taste of unimaginable grief. Lora was his girl. She had driven away the darkness. The moment he was in her arms, he’d finally felt that he could live a normal life. A life away from danger, away from the threat of death.
Lora faded away, and he couldn’t grieve. Not a single one of his friends knew the truth. He had kept it from them in the hope of protecting Lora and Christie for the rest of their lives. That wasn’t going to happen now.
“I’ll always love you.”
Getting to his feet, he ignored the blood and the death that surrounded him. Going upstairs, he passed Lora’s bedroom, and went straight for Raine. When he didn’t see her in the bedroom, he opened the bathroom door, and saw her outline in the shower curtain.
“You can come out now, Raine.”
He saw the curtain shake a little as she opened it, drawing it back to reveal her. Her brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her glasses perched on the bridge of her nose as she looked back at him. In her arms, she protected his baby girl.
“I wouldn’t let them hurt her.”
“I … er … I need you to come with me.”
“Lora’s out there. We need to get her.”
“She’s gone, Raine.”
“She’s dead.” He hated how damn hard it was for him to get those words out, but he did it. “I need to get you and Christie to a safe place.”
“I’m only fifteen.”
“I’ll deal with that. I’ve got a friend who can keep an eye on you. You’ll be safe with him, I promise.”
Raine had always been a little afraid of his sister’s boyfriend. Luiz might have been seventeen, but if you stared him in the eyes long enough, she was sure you’d see the devil. She loved her sister, and her sister loved Luiz, so Raine helped. When Lora came home pregnant, Raine was happy for her. She’d finally be an aunt, and she would spoil her niece terribly. She’d loved Christie even before she first saw her.
Of course, her parents weren’t too happy, but with Luiz paying them for the inconvenience, no one said anything.
“Xander will take care of you,” Luiz said. “He’s got the details. You can go to the local high school, and here are all your new IDs.”
She took the card he held out to her. It was still so surreal that three days ago she’d woken up to gunfire. Lora had given her Christie and told her to be quiet.
“What do I do?” she asked.
“Go to school. Have a life. You don’t have to worry about money. All I ask is that you take care of Christie.”
“Of course I will. You don’t need to question that.”
She saw the pain in his eyes. For once he no longer looked like the devil but broken, rough around the edges.
“I’m going to be around a lot, or as much as I can.”
“Will anyone else be coming to visit?” she asked.
“No. I’ve made it look like everyone in that house died.”
“You can’t go back, Raine. Not ever. If it ever got out, they will hurt you. I promised Lora I’d protect you.”
“I’m a big girl. I don’t need protecting.”
He shoved his hands into his pockets, and she watched as he made his way toward the crib that Xander had set up for her when they first got there. Christie had a chew toy in her hands and was shaking it around. “Hey, baby girl, it’s Dadda.”
She smiled, and slowly moved away from the room, giving him his moment.
Entering the kitchen, she looked over at Xander, who was pouring himself a coffee. “Am I going to have issues with you?” he asked.
“Girl shit. Boys, and that kind of crap?”
“You going to be joy riding? Taking drugs?”
“Can it, Xander. She’s not that kind of girl. You give her shit, and I’ll make you pay, understand?” Luiz asked, coming up behind her.
“I told you. I don’t like trouble, and girls tend to find it without even looking.” Xander stared at her.
“It’s fine. I’m not going to be any trouble. I promise.”