Redemption (Blood & Honor Book 3)

By: Dana Delamar

PROLOGUE





Eleven years ago

Rome, Italy



On a day like this, the sun shouldn’t be shining. Not when his parents were dead, his older brother dead. The sky should be weeping, like Antonio’s little sister, Violetta, who clutched his hand in the hospital waiting room. “Hush,” he whispered to her, stroking her hair, making his voice gentle, steady, even though he shivered inside. She was only six, not ten and a half like he was. She was still a baby.

“I want Mamma,” Violetta said.

So do I. But he couldn’t say that aloud. “Zio Gino is coming for us.”

Her wailing increased, and the nurse behind the counter looked over at them. Antonio pulled his sister onto his lap, letting her wrap her skinny arms around his chest, her damp face burrowing into his shirt, despite the blood covering it. Blood from their parents, blood from their brother Aldo. He hadn’t been able to do anything for them. All he’d been able to do was pull Violetta from the car wreck. Somehow, the two of them had escaped with only bruises and scrapes.

“Violetta.” Their uncle crouched down in front of them and placed a hand on her knee. Relief swept through Antonio, and the shaking in his belly moved up into his chest, the sob that had been building for hours trying to escape. He wanted to let it out, but something in his uncle’s face stopped him. He was looking anywhere but at Antonio.

“Zio!” Violetta launched herself from Antonio’s grasp and into Uncle Gino’s arms. “What’s happened to Mamma and Papà and Aldo?”

“They’re gone, cara. To heaven. With Nonna Clara and Nonno Ugo.”

A fresh wail burst from Violetta’s lips. “No!”

Frozen, Antonio watched his uncle comfort her. “Shh, bambina, it’ll be all right.” He was staring at Antonio as he said this, but his eyes flicked away again. What was wrong?

Antonio finally forced himself to speak. “Zio?”

A slight shake of his uncle’s head, his frown stern, his gaze fixed on the floor. “We can afford only one child.”

Antonio’s stomach clenched into a ball. Only one of them? But there was no decision to make. “Take Violetta.”

His uncle nodded. “That is what I thought to do.”

“Will Nonna Agnese and Nonno Vitale take me?” Antonio asked.

Again, another slight shake. “They are too old, Tonio. They have to live with us now.”

Tears blurred Antonio’s vision, but he blinked them back. “Where will I go then?”

“The government will take care of you. They will find a home for you. Another family.”

But I don’t want another family. I don’t want anyone else but you. He kept the words stuffed inside, lodged in his throat. At least Violetta would be taken care of. That much he could be thankful for.

He wanted to cry, to beg his uncle to take him too. But he had to be a man, not a boy. He had to be strong for his sister. Violetta leaned toward him, grabbing his hand, her big brown eyes wet with tears. “Tonio, I don’t want you to go.”

“It’s just for a while.” Focusing on his uncle, he asked, “You’ll visit, yes?”

“Yes.” But again he didn’t meet Antonio’s gaze.

Oh. Antonio swallowed hard, understanding in an instant. This was goodbye. Forever. They wouldn’t come, wouldn’t keep track of him. Maybe Violetta would try, but she was only six. In time she’d forget him. He would be just a dim memory to her, little more than a ghost, like his parents and Aldo.

“Be good and brave,” Antonio said to her, giving her a quick hug.

“I will.” She clutched his shirt and burst into tears again. “I’ll miss you, Tonio,” she choked out, her breath catching and hitching.

“I’ll miss you too, Vee.” His voice was so thick he wasn’t sure she could understand him. “Take good care of her,” he said to his uncle.

Zio Gino gently detached Violetta’s hand from Antonio’s shirt. “We’d best leave now.”

Antonio nodded, unable to make a sound. When the social worker came for him a short time later, he still couldn’t speak. He pretended to listen when she spoke, her words washing over him, none of them what he wanted to hear. Something about an orphanage in Rome. Something about how someday he’d have a new family.

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