PART THREE: NOW
Pain taught Alessio Sorrento a lot of things.
A motivator, punishment, or a reward. In true pain, someone would find their boundaries, and the ability to go beyond their limits, too. Nothing reminded someone they were weak more than pain, and it was one of the few things that proved humans had the capability to be godlike at the same time.
Alessio hated pain.
He much preferred numbness because it was a far more dangerous thing. Sure, pain made people do inexplicable, unexplainable things, but numbness? That was the flip side of the same damn coin.
In numbness, one found nothing. And one didn’t have limits or boundaries, one didn’t need a motivator or a reward when nothing was the goal. It was a vicious place to be, so numb that even happiness couldn’t find its way through to one’s heart.
And still …
Alessio would take numbness over pain any day. One allowed him not to care, and the other forced him to care too fucking much. He also felt like his entire life had been one huge mountain of pain, time and time again.
People said pain was growth.
Well, fuck that trash. He’d taken enough pain to last him several lifetimes over, and now, he didn’t want to feel at all.
The unfortunate thing about loving someone else was that love didn’t afford the gift of numbness. Which was every reason, instead of sleeping like he should be at two in the morning, he sat on a wicker chair in the warm August air with darkness all around. A humid dampness clung to the air, reminding him where he was instead of where he might have been if this situation had been different.
The back property of the Guzzi mansion expanded a far ways into a line of forest under the moonlight. Manicured pathways veered off to a large fountain with dancing stone doves at the top, and then into the flower garden that would make anyone with a green thumb jealous. Mostly, the silence called to him late at night. He stared at the stars—had to be alone.
Things hurt less here.
There was a time when coming to this place—Corrado’s childhood home—seemed awkward for a variety of reasons, and none he cared to list. Not that any one person here gave him that impression, but he wasn’t used to … this.
They all loved.
If someone needed something, then a few hands would be able help. The Guzzi family—just Corrado’s immediate relatives—were enough to seem like a small army, and that was something else Alessio got used to. A part of him had been so used to taking care of himself for so long a family unit seemed like a foreign thing to him.
Sure, he had a family unit of his own, in a way. The situation Dare and Cree gave him wasn’t the same as the Guzzis. Parenting hadn’t existed for him, and his most important lessons from Cree and Dare had been learning how to take care of himself.
And still when he came here, Alessio found a sense of home. He forgot the rest of the world for a time and focused on what he needed to do the most. No one here would judge him with their no questions asked policy when he walked through the front door, unless he wanted to talk. He’d never told Corrado those things because he shouldn’t need to, but it was true. Here, he found comfort that didn’t exist elsewhere.
That was why, when he had a hundred other places to hide away and stay under the radar, he came here.
The voice coming out of the speaker of his phone dragged him from his thoughts at the same time he heard footsteps approaching him from behind. He didn’t bother to end the conversation because he wasn’t ready to.
“And I suppose I owe you something, don’t I?”
“What’s that?” Alessio asked.
“A happy birthday,” Dare said.
Alessio almost smiled, but pain was a fucking bitch. Twenty-three years old today, and he’d forgotten. Someone else had to remind him. Appropriate for it to be Dare. At the darkest points in his life, Dare always remembered his birthday for whatever reason.
“Is it, though?” he asked.
“A happy day.”
Dare made a noise under his breath as Gian Guzzi came to sit next to Alessio in the wicker chair beside his. Corrado’s father said nothing, dressed in his night clothes with a black robe tightened at his middle, he stared over the back property, and rested his hand along his jaw as he waited for Alessio to finish his conversation. It was late for the man to still be awake.
“Ignore me,” he muttered. “Thinking out loud.”
But also not a lie.
This wasn’t a happy day.
And tomorrow didn’t look good, either.
Welcome to his life, lately.
“Why don’t you take a break, come back here for a bit, and reset—”
In the call's background, Dare confirmed what Cree asked. A shuffle of the phone sounded before more movement echoed through the speakers. Alessio heard the slam of a door before Cree came onto the phone.
“Where are you?” Cree demanded.
Alessio arched a brow over at Gian. The man didn’t even glance his way. “Away.”
Cree let out a harsh sound. “You don’t call people?”
“I’m a grown man, I can—”
“Tell the people who give a fuck that you’re safe, Les.”
His throat jumped as he swallowed back a biting retort that would have only saved his pride but hurt someone else. “I’m safe.”
A second passed. Cree sighed. “Good.” Then, after a brief pause, he added, “Corrado called two days ago looking for you. You should at least tell him where you are, Les. You don’t have to go back—I understand things are going on that hurt you, but he’s worried.”
Good for him.
Because he hadn’t given a shit about Alessio before.
As fast as the seed of doubt drifted through his mind, the pain following behind just as fast, Alessio tipped his head down, and shook it away. It wasn’t true, and a huge part of why this happened was because Corrado hadn’t wanted to hurt him.
Yet, here they stood.
The same result.
Alessio didn’t do well with pain, and especially not if someone he loved caused it. He had a handle on this shit—this thing between them. He assumed they were comfortable, but this had taught him he had been lying to himself.
It took nothing to be ruined.
Nothing but a woman.
“I’m not calling him,” Alessio said, “there’s nothing for me to say.”
Hadn’t he said enough when he showed up to the penthouse over a week ago? He believed so. His words had cut with each one said—landing like knives against the man he loved to the ends of the earth and back. Alessio didn’t need Corrado to tell him how much he hurt him with the things he said. He was aware.
But that was good, too.
Why should Alessio be the only one to hurt?
He wouldn’t be alone.
He needed to get his shit figured out before he went back for a second round. He didn’t want to keep cutting into Corrado. As much as he hurt, it wasn’t fair he continued hurting Corrado, too.
Because he loved.
He gave a shit.
He would have never done this to Corrado.
“You tell him you’re safe,” Cree said, “so he doesn’t do something fucking stupid, and make a scene.”
“He knows, and he won’t do anything. Relax.”
“He knows—shit he doesn’t understand is what bothers him. That’s Corrado, and it sounds like something he should deal with because I can’t fix it.”
A lot about this thing between him and Corrado couldn’t be fixed by him. Too much shit had been left unsaid for years, and other things they shoved under a rug, ignoring while they pretended to be fine with the things between them.
White lies didn’t stay white when they became dirty with time.
Typically, he had more patience, especially with Cree or Dare, and yet he only wanted to hang up the phone. So, he did, not even bothering to say goodbye before he reached over and hit the End Call button on the lit up screen, ending the conversation whether Cree wanted that or not. He would pay for the decision later, but … worth it.
With the phone call finished, and the conversation over, Gian turned in his chair to give Alessio his attention. Respectful, always. Never imposing or intruding unless they gave him no other choice.
“How much longer do you want to stay here?” Gian asked.
Alessio shrugged. “Not sure.”
The answer didn’t seem to bother Gian when he only nodded. “All right, you’re more than welcome.”
“Thanks. Shouldn’t you be sleeping? Doesn’t your wife get prickly when you walk the halls at night.”
Gian grinned. “I have things on my mind.”
“Probably similar things.”
Alessio scoffed and looked away from the man. “Doubtful.”
“Don’t. I have always worried about the two of you. I wouldn’t be a good father otherwise.”
“You’re not my father.”
Gian cleared his throat, but Alessio refused to take his gaze off the line of trees in the distance. “And yet, that never made a difference, Les.”
Yeah, he knew.
“Mmhmm,” Gian murmured.
“I really want to just do something.”
Something horrible and bad.
Something that would make Corrado get it.
“Strike out, act out … hurt.”
Alessio grunted under his breath. “But I can’t … so, I’m here instead.”
Gian let out a sigh, and the wicker creaked before the man came to stand in front of Alessio. He stared up at Corrado’s father, but Gian looked off into the distance where the moon shone high and bright against the black backdrop of the sky.
“You are always welcome here, even if what you’re here for is to hide, Alessio. But if he calls and asks me where you are—”
“You’ll tell him the truth.”
But that was the thing.
Corrado wouldn’t call here.
He’d never think this was a haven for Les because he never told him. There was a lot of that between them. Secrets, and things left unsaid. And usually, when they were saying things, it was the wrong shit.
“Take the time you need,” Gian said, “and go back better, Les.”
“This doesn’t get better from here.”
“But it might. Go back better, and ready.”
Ready for what?
And how should he do that when he only wanted to hurt Corrado? He could think of a million different ways to do it—ones to make the man feel the same cold ache in his chest that Alessio now had. Pain was always better when shared, right?
Did that make him a monster?
Alessio wasn’t sure he cared.
And right there … that’s why he hadn’t gone back yet.
He wasn’t better.
The phone buzzed on the table between the wicker chairs as Gian turned to walk away. Alessio let him go, and leaned over to check the phone, thinking it would be Cree or Dare trying to get him back on the phone.
A text from Corrado lit up the screen, reading, Happy birthday, Les.
Apparently, he wasn’t the only one up way too late. He might have appreciated the text, and that Corrado remembered.
He still didn’t.
Not when right above it rested a text, one the man had sent only two days earlier. One Alessio had been waiting for—I slept with her, Corrado had said.
This had never been about the sex.
The physical shit meant nothing to Les. Sex was sex to him—another urge or need to fulfill, like eating or sleeping or whatever else he needed to live. The idea of men sleeping with Corrado fucked with Alessio’s head, and they drew the line. Women, though? He didn’t care, he got off on it, really.
Rarely did he attach emotions to having sex with females, and neither did Corrado. Together was different, of course. Emotions had always been attached to their fucking when it was just them in bed together.
So, no, he didn’t have a single fuck to give about Corrado sleeping with Ginevra.
It was everything else.
Everything Corrado didn’t say.
All the things he hadn’t done.
That was the problem.