"This is not happening; it is not happening." Raven paced around the large room, correction... suite, worriedly. She could not remember a thing!
"Will you relax?" her younger sister, April chided.
Raven stopped dead in her tracks and turned to face her sister slowly. April was always like this. She never took anything seriously. Nothing. Not school, not life, and certainly not waking up trapped in an unfamiliar room without a single memory of the night before.
"April," she said in a calm voice. She had learnt in the past that her sister did not respond well to being shouted at. "Don't you think it's a teensy bit weird that neither of us remembers anything about last night? Don't you find it the least bit disturbing that we woke up trapped in this strange room?"
April turned her attention from a glossy fashion magazine to her sister. "Well whoever has us locked up in here sure has it made. I mean look at this place. It's beautiful. Maybe instead of complaining you should enjoy it. You're always complaining about what a slave driver your boss is. Look at this as the holiday retreat you always wanted, but could never afford! The one he'd never give you."
Raven had to hand it to her, she was right. The suite was amazing! The bedroom alone was easily twice the size of her apartment. When they woke up a few hours earlier they explored the beautiful haven on earth. How they had gotten there was the last question on their minds. Someone had left two trays of warm breakfast on the living room table. Reality hit after they had eaten. April had suggested looking around the entire house, but the door to the suite's entrance was locked from the outside. So was the one leading to the balcony. They were trapped.
That wasn't the point, however. She tried to reason with her sister, though she knew it was a waste of time. April had always been the free-spirited, fun loving, reckless and care-free sister. She, on the other hand was the hard working, trustworthy one. April had also described her as tight-laced. Maybe she was, but she found it better to be safe than sorry in any given situation.
She shook her head, bringing her mind back to the matter at hand. "Even if the place is posh, it's still freaky that neither of us can remember anything. Maybe we were drugged!" she gasped.
"Raven, I have a splitting headache. That tells me one thing. I got wasted last night! So obviously I had a good time. Don't blow this out of proportion, okay?"
"Why is it that every time something crazy happens you're always right there beside me?" Raven asked as she mussed her sister's hair affectionately. "I don't know what's happening here, but whatever it is, I know it won't be good."
"Where could they be? They've been gone for two days!" Mariah asked her husband.
John stared at his wife. She looked terrible. She hadn't slept in forty eight hours, the bags under her eyes showed that. It was not like April to stay away for two whole days without telling either of her parents. He had a nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach that Benedetto Lombardi had something to do with the disappearance of his daughters.
Bang, bang, bang!
He rushed to the door as fast as his legs would carry him. He wasn't shocked when he saw a tall man dressed in black from head to toe. He even had black sunglasses shielding his eyes from the non-existent sunshine. Mariah joined him at the door. When she saw the man standing there she almost fainted. How did they find them?
They had worked so hard to cover their tracks. They had even changed their names to avoid them. The man invited himself in, pushing past them. He studied his surroundings quietly and then pulled out simple note. He held it out to John in his black leather gloved hand.
John impatiently tore it open and read it. It stated:
We have your children. When you're ready to talk let us know.
He looked up only to see the retreating figure of the strange man. "How is my dear old friend Benedetto?" he asked.
The man stiffened, but he did not turn. "Have you not heard? Benedetto passed away over half a year ago."
John's face did not show any emotion. Mariah, however noticed the darkening of his eyes. Even after all these years he still loved the man like his own flesh and blood.
"Then why do you have my daughters?" he demanded, blood boiling.
The man shrugged. "There's a new Don, Cesare. Demetrio took over when his father passed away." The man did not wait for anymore questions.
John grimaced. It made sense! He was the only father figure in the boy's life. When he had left he must have felt abandoned. It was obvious he held a grudge towards him. He looked at his wife who abruptly broke into tears. He pulled her to him and hugged her tightly.
"It'll be okay, Mariah," he shushed.
"No! No it won't be okay! They have my babies!"
"And we'll get them back," he vowed.
Demetrio unlocked the wooden double doors as quietly as he could. The girls had been there for three days, but they had no idea where they were or how they got there. He decided to put them out of their misery.
"Who are you?"
He had expected them both to be asleep. Turning in the direction of the voice, he saw them. One was fast asleep with her head in her sister's lap, while said sister was staring at him curiously. He couldn't tell them apart in the dim lighting of the room.
"Demetrio Lombardi at your service," he said as he mockingly bowed.
She tilted her head to the side as though trying to figure him out. "Well, I'm guessing you know who I am."
"Not quite. Which sister are you?" he asked as he leaned against the door frame, folding his arms.
"The younger one, and I suggest you leave before Raven wakes up. I know for a fact that she won't be as calm as I am once she sees you."
He ignored her and let his eyes drop to take in the sight of Raven now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness. She looked almost exactly like her mother. He wondered if they knew who their father really was. He doubted it, though. From what he read from the private investigator's reports on Raven she had put both herself and her sister through college. They weren't living the lavish lifestyle he had expected them to. Cesare knew just how to hide, but his past was bound to catch up with him. And now it had.
Raven's eyes flickered open. They rose to make contact with his and he sucked in a sharp breath of air. A jot of electricity shot up his spine, and by the way her eyes widened, he could have sworn she felt the connection as deeply as he had.
"Who the hell are you?" Raven demanded in her sleep husked voice, ignoring the erratic beating of her heart.
The man standing across from them shook his head, as though clearing fog from his brain. He was the most devastatingly handsome creature she had ever set her eyes on, and judging from her sister's expression, she felt the same. He raised a sardonic eyebrow.
"Looks like you have a bit of a temper," he commented wryly.
No she didn't. As a matter of fact, she was the most even tempered person she knew. For some reason, however that comment infuriated her. "Why don't we see how calm you'll be when you're locked in a crummy room for three days," she muttered darkly.
"Crummy?" he echoed. "I gave you one of the best suites in the whole place."
Raven rolled her eyes. The arrogant swine obviously wouldn't be of any help. She shuddered when his piercing black eyes finally lifted from hers. She bit her lip to stop herself from asking him what was going on. She had a lot of experience with people like him, stubborn mule that he was.
"Are you a model?" April asked in the flirty tone her sister knew so well. "But you're gorgeous!" she exclaimed when he shook his head in the negative.
The man smirked, as if hearing compliments about his looks was an everyday sort of thing. It probably was. "Thank you, April. It's nice to know you approve. Now, if only Raven could feel the same," he purred in that deep baritone of his.
"Don't hold your breath, buddy," Raven spat.
He grinned humourlessly, showing off a set of perfect pearly whites, their brightness emphasised by the dark tan of his skin. "I am Demetrio Lombardi."
April's eyes widened. She snatched one of the magazines she had been flipping through in the past three days. She shoved the open article in her sister's face. Raven scanned the page; there wasn't much of a story, just his name captioned at the bottom of a picture. He had an arm around a leggy brunette.
"You're an actor?" Raven asked disbelievingly. What kind of actor went around kidnapping women?
"Not quite. Let's just say I'm a friend of your father's."
April laughed. "Yeah, right. Try again, hotshot."
"I don't think he's joking," Raven whispered to her sister when she noticed the stony expression on the man's face... Demetrio.
"Look, man, I don't know what's going on here, but I need to go outside, okay? I feel like I'm going to suffocate if I stay in here one more day!" April complained.
Demetrio let out a cold laugh. "In case you haven't noticed, sweetheart, you're a hostage. You don't get to make requests. The only time you will ever leave this room will be at my behest, not yours."
A knock came at the door. A couple of women in maid uniforms came in with two dresses on hangers and shoe boxes, the same maids that completely ignored Raven's pleas for help when they delivered meals or cleaned the suite. They set the items down on the bed and with a curtsey in Demetrio's direction, left.
"Be prepared in an hour. These dresses, as well as the shoes, should fit you perfectly. I'll see you then."
"Hold up," Raven called when she saw him heading out the door. She spared a glance at the dresses. "You aren't planning on pimping us out or something, are you?"
His stiff lips quirked in what must have been meant to be a smile. "No. It's a simple dinner party in your honour. Think of it as a welcome to the family."
And then he left.
"Maybe he was a drug dealer," April mused as she applied a ruby-red colour to her lips.
"That's ridiculous! Maybe he just borrowed some money from them, and couldn't pay them back," Raven reasoned, although she personally doubted the words herself. Her father was a proud man, and even though they struggled while growing up, he had never begged or borrowed from anyone. "The one thing we both agree on though, is that that man is a drug lord."
The sisters both nodded solemnly. Raven looked at her reflection in the mirror. She didn't look half bad in a black floor length, one-shouldered and backless gown. She looked over at her sister donned in a pink knee length bandage dress... with lots of cleavage on show. The perfect dresses for each of them. To overlook that fact would be stupid. How did they know what dresses they'd each love? Had they been spied on? Raven had always had a sixth sense, and in the past couple of months it had gone haywire. She always thought she was being watched. April called her paranoid, and she had been inclined to believe her. Now she wasn't so sure. What did this guy want from them?
April plopped down beside her on the bed. "Let me do your make-up," she offered.
"Don't go all drag-queen on me," Raven warned.
Shortly after, a rapid knock came on the door. "Let's go, girls," Demetrio said from the other side.
"Remember last week, when all we had to worry about was what to wear the next day?" April asked with a quirk of her lips. "Now we have to worry about whether or not we're going to be killed in a cult ritual."
Raven scoffed. "And you call me paranoid!"
The knock came again, louder this time. Somebody was impatient.
They stepped out of the room carefully. "You both look beautiful," Demetrio greeted with a rakish smirk. Without further word, he waved them out the door and strode away, obviously expecting them to follow. Raven nudged her sister lightly and gestured to Demetrio's broad back with her thumb. "Check out the ego on this guy," she stage whispered in an obnoxious New Yorkan accent, prompting April to giggle inanely.
"I heard that." She could practically hear the scowl in his voice; the grouch.
"You were supposed to, Lurch," Raven laughed.
"What did you call me?"
"Lurch! You know... the huge butler from 'The Addams Family'. I'm sure you've heard of it. It's even older than you are," said April.
"And why on earth-"
"You're big, dumb, and strike me as someone without a sense of humour," Raven answered before he could finish asking the question.
"Well I don't like it. Don't call me that anymore." This time his scowl turned into a full-on snarl.
"Take us home," she countered.
"Then ditto, Lurch." Both sisters laughed, seeming to take great pleasure in his discomfort.
"So since you're a celebrity, will there be any famous people at this thing? 'Cause April needs her bills paid pronto," April said, linking arms with him as if they were long lost friends.
Demetrio shot Raven a confused glance. "April likes to refer to herself in the third person. She also believes in living life to the fullest, which is why she isn't freaking out to this situation like a normal person would," she explained on April's behalf. The last part of the statement was delivered with a loud holler in her younger sister's ear.
"I have a feeling I bit off more than I could chew with you two," Demetrio complained. "I should separate you."
"Go ahead, if you want to lose a testicle," April said. "Now about those celebrity hook-ups you have for me..."
They came up to a couple of double hardwood doors and he brought his hands up to both their elbows, halting them. "Now listen to me, both of you. Once we go inside I'm sure you're going to try to get someone to help you get out of here, but believe me, no one will. And yes, they all know you're here against your will so just save your breath. Do not try to escape."
He let go of them and moved forward to open the doors and let them in. The moment the bare skin of his hand left hers, Raven missed the warmth the long, calloused digits brought to her chilled bare arm. She shook herself mentally trying to get a hold of herself. How could she have such warm thoughts about a man she knew completely nothing about? A kidnapper, nonetheless! Once this ordeal was over, she'd need therapy.
Raven looked up and saw multiple sets of eyes looking directly at her and her sister. Needless to say, the attention unnerved her while having the completely opposite effect on her sister, whose grin could probably compete against the sun itself. It was a large room that was dimly lit, probably to add to the illusion of intimacy... privacy. Was this a cult? The occupants were fabulously dressed to say the least. Tuxes and dresses that probably cost more than she made in a year. Not to mention the jewellery! Judging by his friends, the celebrity theory checked out. And yet she didn't recognise anyone. If she was in a room full of celebrities wouldn't she recognise at least one of them? Definitely not; maybe they were just socialites... socialites who got a kick out of kidnapping people.
Nope. Definitely a cult.
She froze in midstride when she heard conversation flowing from several of the room's occupants. But she couldn't understand any of it. It wasn't English. What was that? Spanish? No, she took it as a foreign language in secondary school, and even though she sucked in it, she could probably recognise a few words or phrases.
Demetrio led them across the semi-crowded room nodding his head and smiling occasionally. She noticed there was another set of doors that led out to a patio and a pool area. Whoa. Someone was loaded. She noticed there was also quite a number of people outside that way. "Your attention please ladies and gentlemen!" he said with two loud claps of his hands. A hush fell across the room almost instantly, even the people outside managed to gravitate towards them. Raven wasn't surprised, the moment she set her eyes on him she thought about the commanding presence he had about him.
He shot a dazzling smile before he begun. "I'm sure we all know why we're here tonight." April shared an ironic glance with Raven. She could just imagine her younger sister biting her tongue to stop herself from saying ‘not all of us’! They both winked at each other. Sometimes Raven felt like they were twins. She'd probably be a bundle of nerves if her little sister wasn't here.
"I introduce you to Raven and April. Daughters of Cesare Bacciarelli."
"What did he just say?" April whispered in her ear. Raven went still with shock. Cesare Bacciarelli was as far as possible from John Parnell. He must have mistaken them for some other people. Yes! Perfect explanation. Before she could question herself and find any flaws in it, she pushed it out of her mind.
"Cesare himself will join us in the next few hours, but I urge you to open your arms in welcome of the newest members of our... family." Raven did not like the way he said family. "Enjoy the rest of the evening."
When the hubbub of conversation continued Raven grabbed his arm in a harsh grip and whispered to him frantically. "There's been some kind of a mix up! My father's name is John-"
"Your father is Cesare Bacciarelli. Believe me when I say, of the two of us, I know your father much better. Ah here he is."
She whirled around, and sure enough her father was striding purposefully towards her. She threw herself into his arms and squeezed him tightly. He returned the hug with the same fervour and cupped her cheeks asking worriedly, "Where's your sister?"
They both looked around and shared an amused glance when they saw her flirting with a handsome man, who looked about her age. He was probably the youngest person in the room, and just as good looking as Demetrio. And the world record for the fastest flirt goes to...
Her father turned his attention to Demetrio. "Hello Demy," he greeted in a low voice.
A flash of something... affection? Tenderness... came across his face, but was gone before she could pinpoint what it was. "Cesare. It's good to see you again."
"You look just like your father," John said in awe. "A splitting image."
Lurch faked a wince. "And here I was thinking we were going to be nice to each other."
"Why did he just call you Cesare?" Raven asked before her dad could form a reply.
"Didn't your father tell you, Raven? He's a retired member of the mafia. Well, not so much retired as escaped..."
"My name," he said coldly. "is Demetrio. And you, Cesare, are officially back on duty."
"Why now?" John pleaded. "Why did you have to involve my family? Let my children go and we can talk rationally about this."
Demetrio splayed his hands in mock concern, showing that there was nothing he could do. "Believe me; I didn't want to do this. A few months ago, before my father passed away, one of our men spotted you while he was on an assignment. We all thought you were dead after we found no trace of you. Smart idea living in the gutters, by the way. Splurging of any kind would have raised eyebrows. He wanted to see you before he died, but you weren't easy to trace, so we went after your daughters. It took longer than we thought it would since he died without getting his last wish. Aside from that, we both know what would have happened if my men knew you were alive."
A reluctant smile graced John's lips. "An uprising."
"Exactly. So it was either get you back, or kill you. I chose the lesser of two evils."
"In whose opinion? You shouldn't have gotten my daughters involved!" he replied vehemently.
"Maybe not, but I couldn't kill you. And if I went after you we both know you would've chosen death over the family. I couldn't do that either."
And he knew why, even if he would never voice it. How could a boy kill a man he thought of as his father? Albeit one who had abandoned him.
"Fine, let them go and we have a deal."
"You know it doesn't work that way. They've already been introduced. They are in." Demetrio moved aside when a woman approached him from his right. He slipped his arm around her waist, pulling her closer. Raven found her gaze drawn to that arm in form of a glare. "Ah, I'd like you both to meet Celia Andolinna, a very close friend of mine." Judging by the intimate glances Celia shot his way, Raven guessed that they were more than friends. "Celia, meet Cesare and Raven Bacciarelli."
She smiled at both father and daughter. "Of course, I met your younger daughter just a few minutes ago. She was with Cosmo. It's nice to meet you both."
Raven managed to spit out a positive reply despite the information overload her brain was suffering through. Her father smiled broadly. "I remember you! You're the little girl Demy was always with when you were kids." He ignored the sharp glance Demetrio shot his way. ‘Get used to it; he still calls me his Raybear in public!’ Raven thought glumly.
The chatter went on for a while. Raven really didn't know how long she was supposed to pretend that her whole world wasn't crumbling down around her. Her father was a gangster for God's sake! And she couldn't get the image of Demetrio in the arms of a woman that wasn't her. "Excuse me," she whispered. Anything to get away for a moment's piece.
Demetrio stopped her before she got too far. "Don't try anything funny," he warned in a low voice. "There are armed guards everywhere."
Raven didn't point out the fact that she couldn't see any. She knew that made them all the more dangerous. "Please, sir," she said in a falsely humble tone. "May I speak to my sister without you trying to scare the s**t out of me?"
He moved away when she jerked her arm away from his grip. He gave a jerky nod and she made sure to curtsey sarcastically before she walked away. She didn't get very far before bumping into someone's back. "New girl!" she heard purred in her ear.
"The name's Raven," she spat and took in the man standing before her. He was as tall as Demetrio at 6'3" with a slightly bulkier build. Any more muscle on this fella and he'd be a wrestler!
"I'm Cristiano." He offered his hand with a ready smile and she returned both gratefully. The first person in this place that she didn't want to actively hate.
"Demetrio's brother," she guessed.
"How did you know?"
"You're the better looking version," she confided jokingly.
"I think I'm in love. You and I are going to be great friends," he predicted, right before pecking her at the corner of her lips lightly. "Be warned: I have repeatedly been called too flirtatious for my own good." He winked before walking off completely.
She spotted April rushing towards her. "God, Vee! You'll never guess where we are," she said in an excitedly rushed tone.
After the drama she witnessed with her father and Demetrio, she'd have to be a fool not to know. She exhaled heavily. "I know April. We're in Italy."