“Run, my dear, from anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.”
I was Bree, once upon a time. Then a monster kidnapped me, and I was reinvented as Bianca Carlotti-Agosti, a mob boss’s wife.
Today I answer to the name Aria, and I live a life as far removed from Boston high society as possible.
Though I know in my heart Bianca still lives. Buried deep, but she’s there. Holding a candle to my past in the darkness inside my sick and ravaged soul.
“Mrs. Lowe? Hello? Aria Lowe?”
The impatience in the receptionist’s tone indicates she must have been calling my name for some time.
I jump to my feet and immediately sway as dizziness hits. Whoa. I reach out blindly and feel the comforting hands of someone on my arm, my back. Steadying me.
“Careful, love. Blood pressure is all over the place during pregnancy.”
I blink and focus on the woman next to me. Another patient by the look of her belly, which is even more swollen than mine. I’m more than six months along now. She must be almost ready to give birth. She grins at me and releases my arm when I smile back.
“I should know,” she adds in a wry tone. “This is my fourth.”
“Wow. Congratulations. And thank you.” My manner remains reserved, though I’m grateful for her assistance. I’m not used to socializing with people these days. Even this short exchange fills me with anxiety.
Don’t be stupid. It’s a pro-bono-style obstetrics clinic in downtown Cleveland, held once a fortnight for those who can’t afford a more standard level of health care. Or those who can’t afford for their personal details to be added to the proper health care system.
Those like me.
On the run from my mob boss husband and the Feds who want to convict him.
It’s not Canada, the place to which I intended to run. Not by a long shot. But Cleveland was where the bus was headed the day I arrived in Augusta. I jumped off one bus and looked for the first one out of there. And somehow, when I arrived here, I finally felt safe.
For the first time in months, I felt like no one was watching me. I could breathe at last.
This city is not the place I am likely to run into anyone from my old way of life. Nor is this clinic.
Don’t be anxious, I tell myself. It’s not good for the baby.
“I’m Nita,” the woman says, indicating the receptionist, who is now scowling my way. “I’ve seen you here before. Better go before you lose your spot in the queue.”
“Oh, yes. She doesn’t look happy.” I start toward the desk, but then impulse stays me.
I turn back to Nita. She’s older than my twenty-five years, perhaps by ten years or so, but her eyes are kind, and she seems almost motherly in her manner.
How nice it would be to have a kind presence in my life. How nice to have any presence in my life. The loneliness of my current existence is almost crippling.
I open my mouth to suggest we go for a coffee after our appointments are done—though in truth, it would be tea rather than coffee as I can’t face the taste of coffee at present—but in the end, I don’t say anything. I simply shoot her another quick smile and head off to my appointment.
The last time I had friends, my husband’s goons shot them.
I can’t afford to get close to anyone anymore, no matter how lonely I feel. I couldn’t bear it if I was the cause of anyone else getting hurt.
And I can’t afford to let slip anything about who I was or where I’m from. Because being dragged back to face Rio Agosti would likely kill me, body and soul.
I’ve betrayed the man I love. My husband. A monster.
But he’s coming for me; I feel it in my bones.
And even if I somehow survive the deadly punishment that I know he will mete out for my betrayal, I will not allow my child to be brought up in that way of life.
I will die before I hand over my baby to my husband.
My furnished one-bed apartment in Clark-Fulton is small and about as basic as it gets, but at least the space is clean, and the building occupants are quiet most of the time. The rent is cheap, and the landlord was willing to take advance payment for three months ahead. So, I know I have stability for a little while.
Stability, and a safe place where Rio has little chance of finding me.
Though my husband’s connections are extensive, I can’t imagine there’d be anything in this neighborhood that would warrant his attention and, if I keep my head down and don’t engage with other people, I should be safe enough. I hope.
The Feds are another matter. They’re probably looking for me too, not to arrest me but to use me to bring down Rio. I refuse to help them do that.
I may have run from him. I may be terrified of the consequences if he finds me. But he stole my heart, and I will never give him up in that way.
I used the fake ID that Carlos Rossi arranged for me to find this apartment and register at the nearby ob-gyn clinic only a couple of bus stops away. But everything else is on a cash-only basis, and I never leave home without my wig and contact lenses in place.
About a week ago, I saw someone hanging around as I came out of the apartment building, and he set my senses on alert. The guy didn’t look like one of my husband’s goons. He wasn’t suited up, and he didn’t have that hard, emotionless expression that I got used to back in Boston.
But there was something about him… The way he was simply loitering on the opposite side of the street with no purpose that I could discern. The speed with which he turned and began to walk away after I briefly met his gaze. But he didn’t look back, and once he disappeared around the corner, my spidey senses began to calm.
Just a random dude. Nothing to worry about. I haven’t seen him since, and I am beginning to feel slightly more settled, despite the aching loneliness.
I suppose I should feel guilty that I took the money and ID documents Carlos Rossi gave me to set up in Augusta. He said he had an apartment ready and a crew on the ground who were going to assist in establishing my new life there. Surprisingly, I don’t feel too much guilt.
Rossi may not have been the one pulling the trigger that day in Rio’s club when all those people died, but Anders, the man who led the attack, was Rossi’s right hand—his consigliere they call it in that world.
Just like Danelli is Rio’s second. And as much as Rossi protested that he knew nothing about the attack on Rio, part of me doesn’t believe him. Danelli would never be able to do anything without Rio knowing about it.
So, Rossi is either a liar, or his hold on his family is loosening. And my understanding from the brief time I lived in that world is that either or both of those options are intensely dangerous.
Whether liar or weakling, Rossi’s hands are tainted with blood as much as any of them.
I want none of it. And one day, when my new life is fully established and I find a job, I intend to pay Rossi back. Anonymously, of course. But I do not want to be beholden to Rossi, any more than I do to Rio.
I’m doing this for my baby. A new life. A new start. Away from the long shadow of Mafia life—and death.
And even though I cry myself to sleep every night, craving Rio’s touch, his strength, his energy, no one else ever needs to know about that.
The next time I attend the obstetrics clinic, Nita is there in the waiting area. This time, she grins and pats the seat next to her as I enter. “Come sit with me, Aria. Let’s chat.”
My heart leaps. Other than a couple of neighbors who wave but don’t stop to speak, and the kid at the local grocery store where I get my food, I haven’t spoken with anyone since the last time I was here two weeks ago. The thought of chatting, as Nita calls it, is both energizing and nerve-racking.
Don’t trust anyone. Don’t share anything that may get back to Rio.
Tentatively, I take the seat beside her. “Thanks, Nita. How are you feeling?”
I rub my expanding belly. I’m only just heading into my final trimester. Nita looks like she’s nearing the end of her pregnancy and shifts in her chair as if trying and failing to find a comfortable position.
I expect that will be me in another month or two.
“A bit more sleep would be good, but that’s never gonna happen with three other kids in the house. All under five, too.”
I raise my brows. “Seriously? How do you manage? I hope your husband…” I trail off awkwardly, aware that I’m making assumptions about her life. “Sorry. Don’t mean to pry.”
I don’t want to encourage questions about my life. My secrets. I imagine how that may go. My husband? Oh, he’s a mob boss who’s probably going to kill me when he finds me. That’s if the Feds don’t find me first.
That likely wouldn’t go down too well as an opening move toward friendship. I study Nita’s expression, tired but still sporting a friendly smile and a sparkle in her eyes. Do I want to be friends with her? Is it possible to make connections here, without endangering myself or my baby? Or her?
“I don’t have a husband,” she says easily. She doesn’t seem upset that I’ve asked, simply gives a philosophical shrug. “He ran off as soon as I told him about this one.” She pats her stomach, and her smile dips. “Thank God. I hope he never comes back.”
“Oh. Well,” I mumble, not sure how to respond.
How bad must it have been for her to be happy that she’s about to have her fourth child without the support of a partner?
She laughs, a light tinkling sound that causes my lips to lift into an involuntary smile. “Don’t look so sad. I’m not! Wanna have a drink after our appointments?”
“Oh, you know, not a drink drink. Like, a coffee or something, is what I meant. When I’m not heavily pregnant, I usually work in a diner not far from here. I still get a staff discount.”
Her hopeful gaze pins me, and suddenly I’m tired of being alone. Adrift among a sea of complete strangers with no one to talk to. Being disengaged really fucking sucks.
Rio will never know. He can’t hurt her like he did Dave and Shelley. It’ll be okay. “Sure. I’d love that, Nita. Thanks.”
The receptionist calls her name at that point, and she hauls up awkwardly to her feet.
“Great. I’ll hang out here after and wait for you. See you then.”
As Nita wobbles off for her appointment, I pray I haven’t just made the biggest mistake of my life. For me. Or for her.
Copyright 2023 Jen Katemi