Home > By Virtue I Fall (Sins of the Fathers #3)(2)

By Virtue I Fall (Sins of the Fathers #3)(2)
Author: Cora Reilly

In the beginning Santino had still tried to mask his annoyance over having to watch me, but it became apparent very quickly. He didn’t like children, or people in general. He didn’t like when I talked to him. Or when I laughed too loudly. Or when I breathed too close to him. He barely tolerated my existence.

I was pretty sure only his sense of duty kept him from strangling Leonas or me.

 

 

I was angry. Really angry. I’d been raised to be well-behaved, polite, and think before I acted. Mom and Dad were both poised and controlled in public. They were what I aspired to be.

Santino sat at the table in the guardhouse with his dad and Mom’s second bodyguard Taft. I swallowed when I stepped into the room but tried to hide my nerves.

“Can I have a word with Santino?” I asked, my voice firm. I felt proud of how confident and adult I’d sounded. People always told me I was an old soul hiding in the body of a twelve-year-old. That didn’t stop them from treating me like a kid though.

Taft’s mouth twitched and he got up. “Of course.”

Santino’s dad gave Santino a look I didn’t understand before he rose as well. With a brief smile at me, both men left. Santino leaned back in his chair, one brow slanting upward in a way that was probably meant to insult me as well. I’d learned to read the twitches of his face as a way to express what he couldn’t say aloud.

I couldn’t take it anymore. “If you hate me so much, why did you agree to become my bodyguard?” Gone was the poise and confidence. I sounded hurt and childish, but I couldn’t help it.

Santino released a momentous sigh and I could practically hear his thoughts “here we go…”

“What makes you think I hate you?”

“Because you find everything I do and say annoying.”

He didn’t deny it, and that, too, stung. I wasn’t even sure why I wanted his approval. He was just my bodyguard.

Santino leaned forward, his forearms casually propped up on his thighs. “You don’t know what hatred is if you think I hate you. I don’t.”

“But you don’t like me.”

“I don’t have to like you to protect you.”

I pressed my lips together, feeling a treacherous burn in my eyes. “You shouldn’t protect someone you don’t like. You should have told my dad no if you hate the job so much.”

“You don’t say no if your Capo asks you to protect his offspring.”

People rarely told me the truth, unless it was pleasant or even flattering. Santino never spared my feelings. It was what I liked about him, but also detested because I wanted him to be nice to me because he liked me too.

I stalked away without another word. I didn’t want to burst into tears in front of Santino. It would probably only annoy him and embarrass me, and I’d done enough of that already.

Heavy steps prowled after me. “Anna, stop.”

I didn’t, nor did I slow as I followed the new underground tunnel connecting our house to the guardhouse. Santino caught up with me in our basement, his fingers clamping around my upper arm. I stopped and glared up at his tall form.

“In case you’re concerned I’ll do a bad job protecting you because I don’t worship the ground you walk on, you don’t have to worry. I take my job seriously. I’ll protect you with my life, even if you annoy me.”

“That’s a consolation,” I said, letting the snark I usually only showed Leonas come through. If Santino didn’t bother being polite, I wouldn’t either.

At first, his disinterest in me and his lack of conversation had bothered me but eventually I’d learned how to get a reaction out of him, any kind of reaction really. It became my favorite pastime to annoy Santino until he couldn’t ignore my existence anymore.

 

 

I sat on the grass and dragged the pencil over the paper. The late afternoon sun warmed my back.

It had taken me hours to convince Santino to take me out into nature so I could draw something else than the inside of our house or backyard. He’d eventually taken me to a park close to home and ever since acted as if I was air.

I slanted another look at him. He stood a few steps to my right with his arms crossed as he surveyed our surroundings. Anyone with half a mind would have known he was my bodyguard.

I scratched the pencil over the paper as I tried to get the sharp line of his jaw and the foreboding scowl right. Santino had been my favorite model for a while now, of course, he didn’t know. I could imagine what he’d say if he knew all our trips to different locations had been pointless because it was always him that I drew. Sometimes I took liberty with his clothes and changed them to attire from another century to get my creative juices flowing. Today I picked a cowboy hat and cowboy boots for his outfit.

His eyes cut to me and as usual, the harsh glint in them sent a pleasant shiver down my back. Nobody else made me feel this way, definitely not the childish boys at my age.

People wanted to please me. I didn’t have trouble winning people over to my side, but my social skills were completely useless against Santino’s stubbornness. He wanted to hate the job and thus dislike me, and wouldn’t allow himself to feel differently.

I wasn’t stupid. I knew my crush on Santino was completely ridiculous for various reasons, the main one him being ten years older than me. Still, I sometimes dreamed about how it would be once I was older.

I returned my focus back to my drawing, shading the cowboy breeches. Lost in my thoughts, I realized too late when a shadow fell over me. My head shot up to find Santino glaring down at me and my drawing of him.

“You shouldn’t draw me,” he growled, ripping the paper from my clipboard.

“You have a very prominent jaw. It’s an appealing object,” I said.

I could see Santino thought I was out of my mind. “And why the hell did you make me look like a cowboy?”

I shrugged. “It’s getting boring to draw you in jeans, shirt, and leather jacket all the time.”

Santino shook his head, muttering something under his breath, and tore my drawing apart.

“Hey!” I shouted as I jumped up and tried to rip the remains of my work from his hands. It was futile. Santino simply blocked me with his side and calmly crumpled the paper pieces into a tiny ball. “Don’t draw me, Anna. If I have to answer to your father because he finds drawings of me in your room, I’ll be pissed.”

“And how’s that different from your usual mood?” I asked haughtily. “You’re practically Grumpy Cat in mobster form.”

Santino only stared me down but I was used to his dark expression, and stubbornly stared back. “We’ll return home now and you’ll hand over all of your drawings of me, understood?”

“Understood.”

 

 

Back at home, Santino followed me into my room like a thunderous shadow and watched as I opened the upper drawer of my desk, where I kept most of my drawings of Santino. I handed him about two dozen drawings. He browsed them, shaking his head occasionally, and one time his brows rose very high. I assumed it was the drawing of him in the wardrobe of Louis XIV.

He leveled his eyes on me and narrowed them. “There are more.”

I made an innocent face.

Santino pointed at the drawing at the top of the pile. “This isn’t as good and detailed as the drawing I saw today. That means you’ve made progress since then and because you’re such a little overachiever, you’ll keep your best drawings separately to admire them.”

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