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All Warfare Is Based On Deception

Chapter Text

Rose wrinkled her nose as she walked into the penthouse suite. The smell of stale alcohol and vomit assaulted her senses immediately. She pulled off her leather gloves and motioned for the concierge to leave her packages near the door. She retrieved a crisp $50 bill from her purse and looked at the young man in front of her. “Please, tell the kitchen to send up a breakfast spread along with a fresh pot of coffee in exactly 35 minutes. Send a discreet maid up in an hour.”

He nodded in the affirmative and took the tip from Rose. He was Mr. Salvatore’s personal concierge whenever he stayed at their hotel. There was no manner of debauchery that the young man had not witnessed in his three short years working there.  “Yes, Ma’am.”

She turned on the lights in the living room when she heard the doors snick as they closed. The penthouse looked as if Guns N Roses had stayed the weekend. Unfortunately, Rose’s employer and his mistress caused this carnage. To be fair, she was certain that they weren’t the only ones responsible for the mess in front of her. Katherine did so love to invite people over to the penthouse. She loved to show off the wealth that didn’t belong to her—and never would. However, Rose supposed that she could understood wanting to flaunt the success of one’s paramour. Damon was only 31 years old but he was the CEO of Velocita, the world's leading Italian sports car manufacturer.

Rose unbuttoned her leather jacket and hung it on the coat rack near the door. She crossed the room to the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of water from the refrigerator. Then she marched into the bedroom without bothering to knock. She had long since grown immune to see her employer’s naked body.

Rose placed the bottle of water and a pill organizer on the nightstand. Then she picked up the remote and opened the automated shades. The room was instantly bathed with early morning sunlight. She smiled as she heard grumbles of complaints behind her. Rose turned around in her 5 inch pumps and exclaimed, “Rise and shine, Mr. Salvatore!”

Damon growled and said, “I should fire you for this bullshit!”

Rose rolled her eyes and pulled the blanket from over his head. “Yes, you would fire me if you were capable of surviving without me. Unfortunately, we both know that you would die in a pool of your own vomit without my intervention. Now get up! Your two-week vacation is over and now it is time for you to be an adult once more. You have a business to run and a family that needs you.”

Katherine sat up as naked as the day she was born. If looks could kill then Rose would be dead a thousand times over. To say that the two women didn’t get along would be an understatement. They hated each other and rarely managed to remain civil behind closed doors. “You should finally fire her, Damon. She’s disrespectful and doesn’t know her place. I could be your personal assistant.”

Rose laughed heartily. “I am sure you could if sucking his cock and snorting cocaine were the only job requirements. Alas, I’m afraid your special skill set wouldn’t prove to be helpful.”

Katherine’s face looked as if she had sucked a lemon. “You uppity bitch!”

“Yes, I might be an uppity bitch, but this bitch doesn’t have to earn her living on her back. Every day you are getting closer to 35. What are you going to do when you’re too old to be someone’s whore? I certainly hope that you’ve been investing wisely.”

The brunette woman lunged at Rose but was caught around the waist by Damon. She glared at him. “Are you going to let her talk to me like that?”

Damon chuckled and sat up in the bed. “You started the shit with her, Katherine. You don’t get to bitch when she checks you. As much as I would like to see the two of you fighting over me, I have a headache. So kindly shut the fuck up.”

Katherine huffed while flipping Rose the bird. She climbed out of the bed and sauntered into the bathroom.

Rose opened the bottle of water and handed it to Damon with his pill organizer. “Take every single one of those vitamins. I know you haven’t been eating properly while you were on this bender.”

He dutifully did as instructed because Rose was right as usual. He drank most of his meals for the last two weeks. “Why are you here this morning? I’m not due in the office for two more days.”

She sat down on the nightstand and leveled a serious gaze at him. “I am here because last night I received a call from Sophie. She informed me that Mrs. Salvatore and young Sarah have not been home in two weeks. In fact, they left the house in the middle of the night. She didn’t tell a soul and you know that’s not like Bonnie. I called to ensure that she was safe.”

A knot formed in the pit of Damon’s stomach. He hadn’t spoken to his wife since he left for his vacation. He facetimed with Sarah every couple of days but he couldn’t really focus while she rambled about her days. His daughter had the ability to talk a million miles an hour. “Are they okay? I talked to Sarah a few days ago. Everything seemed fine.”

Rose gave him a dubious look because Sarah couldn’t hold water. She certainly would have told her father that she was on vacation with her mother. “I spoke to Bonnie last night. She’s staying at her family’s home in Shadow Hills.”

Damon frowned at his wife’s choice of getaway. Shadow Hills was where Bonnie’s great-great-grandparents started settled nearly 100 years ago. The town had about 50,000 year round residents and the Bennett family practically owned it. Shadow Hills was probably the one place in the world where Bonnie could disappear from the public eye completely. It would be where Bonnie would go if she wanted to feel safe. He licked his lips. “What day did she leave?”

“It seems that Bonnie left the same night that she had dinner with your father…alone,” Rose said. Her voice showed her apprehension about such a thing happening.

Damon was out of the bed in a flash. “What do you mean she had dinner alone with Giuseppe? Stefan and Caroline were supposed to be there. It’s the only reason I felt comfortable leaving before Giuseppe left the country.”

Rose stood and said, “Well, you know that Zach took his family skiing. Stefan took Caroline, Tony, and the twins to Paris to visit your mother. They didn’t return until two days ago. I’m assuming that he didn’t say anything because he knew that you would disapprove.”

His younger brother had assumed right. He hated both of their parents and couldn’t understand how Stefan gave Lilly a pass for their screwed up childhoods. Giuseppe was an abusive asshole but she left him when Stefan was six years old. Unfortunately, she also left her two sons alone with the violent drunk. Damon had bore the brunt of the abuse to protect his baby brother. Things got better once Zach graduated from college. Zach had no problem getting into fistfights with his older brother to protect his nephews. Unfortunately, Damon was 18 at that point and didn’t really need protection anymore. He gritted out, “I am going to need more than two days with my family. I don’t care what’s going on at work…make it happen, Rose.”

She smiled smugly. “I’ve already handled it. The board knows that you have contracted viral pneumonia and will be unavailable for the next week. However, you will teleconference if there’s an emergency. I have breakfast on its way up in another 20 minutes and I brought a clean suit for you to wear.”

Damon said, “I am not staying for breakfast. I need to get to Shadow Hills now.”

“I understand the urgency but the jet won’t be ready to leave for an hour. You need to be at your best when you see Bonnie. You don’t know what sort of state she will be in, Damon. You’re going to have to do your best to make her feel that you give a damn.”

He snapped. “Of course I give a damn! She’s my wife, Rose.”

Rose frowned because she understood his panic but it was of no use to them now. “There are three possible scenarios here. The best that we can hope for is that your toxic dump of a father verbally abused your wife to the point that she decided to vacate your home to get away from him. The less appealing option is that he got drunk and physically assaulted your wife while you were off playing hide the salsiccia with your whore. And the worst…”

“Stop,” he growled. “I know that you don’t approve of my relationship with Katherine.”

She sighed. “This has nothing to do with Katherine. I don’t care who you’re screwing. However, I care when you leave your 21-year-old wife to be accosted by your father. You can blame this on Stefan for making plans without your knowledge but it isn’t his responsibility to protect your wife. To top it off, you have so little concern for her that it didn’t occur to you to speak to her in two weeks time, Damon.”

Damon sat back down and scrubbed at his shaggy hair. “Are you done?”

Rose stared at him until she heard the shower turn off in the bathroom. “I’ll leave you to it. I will make sure to hang your suit up in the closet. I also brought shoes. I am going to go call Lucy to see if she’s heard from her cousin. I’d like to know what sort of shit show we’re walking into when we make it to Shadow Hills. You had better hope that options two and three didn’t happen. Because the prenuptial agreement you signed is very punitive. She’ll walk away with half of your company and three bloody seats on your board. Not to mention that your five year old daughter will lose the only mother she’s ever known. If she doesn’t make a case for joint custody.”

Damon watched as his assistant and friend stormed out of the room. She was right that this was his fault. It wasn’t just that Damon was away when Bonnie needed him, it was the fact that she hadn’t reached out to him since. Maybe his wife felt that she couldn’t or worse believed that he wouldn’t care.

Rose returned with a garment bag and a shoebox. She placed both in the closet and left again.

Giuseppe and Sheila had arranged the marriage between Damon and Bonnie. They played up the love story aspect in interviews and at public functions. However, anyone with a lick of common sense would question why a 27-year-old man would marry a 17-year-old girl. The truthful answer was that Bonnie’s grandmother, Sheila Bennett, learned that she had stage four liver cancer before the girl’s 17 th birthday. The doctors gave the Bennett matriarch 6 months to live. At that point, it became a race against time to safeguard her family’s legacy and her granddaughter’s inheritance.

Bonnie’s mother was a free spirit that abandoned her when she was 4 years old. Sheila would have never entrusted the company to Abby. Her grandparents had built the company up from nothing at a time when it was difficult for a person of color to succeed in America. Knowing Abby, she would trade the company for a handful of colorful magic beans.

Sheila never liked Bonnie’s father. Rudy Hopkins saw his daughter sparingly after relinquishing custody to his mother-in-law...for a price. He all but ransomed Bonnie to Sheila after Abby took off for Europe without so much as a goodbye. The $2.5 million settlement was steep but Sheila would have paid twice that to protect Bonnie.

Her desire to protect her heir was the reason she arranged the marriage between Damon and Bonnie. The Salvatore and Bennett families had a long history. They had been business associates since the 50’s. There were even rumors of Giuseppe and Sheila having a relationship before he married Lilly. The Bennett family, much like the Salvatores, was a curious mix of legitimate business and organized crime. The Salvatore patriarch jumped at the chance to merge their interests. However, Damon was more reluctant. He didn’t want to get married and certainly not to a girl that was just graduating from high school. He only agreed after Giuseppe promised to let him run the newly merged corporation without interference. Velocita’s shares tripled in value when the company absorbed Bennett Technologies. BT boasted patents on some of the most efficient and fastest engines and propulsion systems on the market.

Katherine emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her body. She walked into the closet and looked through her clothes. She lived in the penthouse whenever she was in the city. However, she traveled a great deal on Damon’s dime. He was very generous with his money as long as Katherine made herself available to him.

Damon went into the bathroom without speaking to her. He didn’t want to deal with her ridiculous jealousy. Katherine could be incredibly thin skinned when it came to his marriage. In fairness, his relationship with her predated his marriage to Bonnie.

He stepped into the glass shower enclosure and turned on the shower. Damon didn’t know how he would make this up to Bonnie. He wasn’t just concerned about the fallout from a divorce. He loved his wife even if he wasn’t in love with her. Damon would never want to be the cause of any pain for her. Bonnie had been amazing from the moment they announced the engagement. She was mature beyond her years. Bonnie understood how the game was played and acted accordingly at all times. However, she won his heart with how she doted on Sarah. His daughter was barely a year old when he married Bonnie. She immediately bonded with Sarah…perhaps more so than he had in her short life.

Katherine walked into the bathroom. She stood in front of the mirror and put on her makeup. She asked, “When will I see you again?”

Damon shampooed his hair. “I don’t know, Katherine. Why?”

“I was thinking that I might spend a few weeks in The Canary Islands. I didn’t want to leave if there was a chance that you might want to see me.”

He considered it for a moment and then stepped under the spray to rinse his hair. “It’s fine. You’ll have to fly commercial. I am taking the jet.”

Katherine stopped putting on mascara and turned to look at him. “Where are you going?”

Damon ignored her question. “You’ll be in first class. It won’t be so bad.”

She stormed out of the bathroom and slammed the door in her wake.

Damon frowned and finished with his shower. Afterwards he dried off and brushed his teeth before going into the bedroom. He went to the dresser and retrieved a clean pair of boxers. He had plenty of clothes here since this was his home away from home. However, today he needed something special. He hoped that the suit Rose brought for him said ‘Sorry I left you alone with my homicidal father. Please, don’t divorce me’.

Breakfast had arrived by the time that Damon finished getting dressed. He had a seat across from Rose at the table and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Katherine wants to go to The Canary Islands.”

“I know. I am working on the arrangements now,” Rose replied without looking up from her tablet.

“Where is she now?”

She said, “I don’t know. I only heard her mumbling something about making you pay as she left the penthouse.”

Damon chuckled, “Uh, she’s probably going shopping with my credit again.”

Rose finished booking Katherine’s flight and then stood up. She walked over to the couch and picked up three shopping bags. She placed them in the chair beside Damon. “I have gift selections for Bonnie and Sarah. Look through them and pick one.”

He took a bite of his omelet and then picked up a bag. He looked at the jewelry options meant for Bonnie. Damon sighed and said, “Depending on what happened it might be a good idea to give her everything.”

Rose nodded in agreement.

“Did you manage to speak with Lucy?” He returned everything to the bags.

“The good news is that she hasn’t heard from Bonnie.”

“What’s the bad news?” he asked. Damon was relieved that the fallout was contained. It would be easier to smooth things over with his wife if her family wasn’t involved. Her extended family would come out of the woodwork at the prospect of the 21-year-old gaining half of a fortune 500 company.

Rose said, “Well, that is also the bad news. I can’t think of a reason why Bonnie wouldn’t reach out to her closest relative. Something has to be very wrong. Unfortunately, my call to Lucy tipped her off that something happened. She’s in Sydney now but she will try to make it back to the States next week. You will need to have shored things up with Bonnie by then. We can’t have outside voices telling her to divorce you.”

He snorted. “I thought you would want Bonnie to leave me.”

“Why would you think a thing like that?”

Damon gave her a knowing look. They had been friends since college and Rose never held her tongue for long. She was one of the few people in the world that didn't fear him. 

“I think that you can be a better husband than you have been to her. That being said, Bonnie’s grandmother didn’t trust a single person in her family to protect that girl’s best interest. She trusted you, Damon. Ms. Sheila believed that you had a good heart where it truly mattered. While Giuseppe was talking about her legacy, it was you that understood that Bonnie was her legacy.”

Damon’s eyes closed in frustration. He snapped, “I don’t know what you expect from me, Rose. I treat Bonnie well. I give her everything she could possibly want. I agreed to her taking those classes at the university. I even told her she could go to school full-time on campus. She’s the one that turned me down and opted to take online classes at USC. I am giving her everything that I can.”

Rose stared at him in disbelief. “You really don’t know?”

“Don’t know what?”

She rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t know that your wife is in love with you. You might have spent half your life sleeping with women but you certainly can’t read them to save your life. Bonnie tries her best to impress you and to make you happy, Damon.”

The raven-haired playboy sat there stunned by Rose’s revelation. He wondered if it could be true. Had his wife fallen in love with him while he wasn’t looking?

Chapter Text

Damon looked at his watch as the chauffeured town car passed through the wrought iron gates of the Benedetto-Vicario Winery. Bonnie’s great-great-grandparents founded the winery and a spirits company by the same name shortly after the end of Prohibition. The wealth generated from those business ventures ultimately funded Bennett Technologies and launched Bonnie’s family into international acclaim. Bennett Technologies was responsible for the lion’s share of the Bennett Family’s wealth. However, the family had never forgotten their roots. Sheila was the CEO of the wine and spirits company until she was diagnosed with liver cancer. Afterwards she named her niece, Tessa, the CEO until Bonnie graduated from college.

Shadow Hills would always be a safe haven for Bonnie. It was where Sheila raised her. Moreover, the Bennett family owned a winery, a spirits company, a cherry orchard, and an apple orchard in the small town. A Bennett Technologies manufacturing facility was also located there despite the merger with Velocita four years ago. Many of Shadow Hill’s approximately 50,000 year-round residents worked for one of the family’s businesses. The family had also donated millions of dollars over the years to the hospital, schools, and public works department. The Bennetts were essentially the first family of Shadow Hills. Therefore, the residents went to great lengths to ensure their privacy.

The car came to a stop in front of the sprawling two-story Greek revival mansion. Damon suddenly felt incredibly nervous as he waited for the chauffeur to open his door. He had no idea what he would encounter once he walked into the house. He had seen his father’s handiwork up close in the past. He knew how easily Giuseppe could ignore the fact that he was handling the fairer sex. Damon had witnessed it with his own mother and later with Giuseppe’s mistresses. Alcohol was usually the catalyst for his violent behavior. Yet Damon never excused his father’s actions. Giuseppe made the choice to get so drunk as to lose all inhibition. The booze didn’t turn him into a monster, it only freed him to show his true nature.

Rose placed a hand on Damon’s knee as the chauffeur opened his door. “Go check on Bonnie. I’ll sort out the driver and our luggage.”

Damon gave Rose a grateful nod and then climbed out of the car. Few things could scare a man like him. However, he was terrified of what he might find as he unlocked the front door of his wife’s childhood home. The massive mansion was silent as he walked into the two-story foyer. He stopped by the living room but found it empty save for toys sprawled across the floor. Damon’s lips twitched into a small smile. Bonnie must have bought toys for Sarah after arriving. She was always ensuring that his daughter could be a child in a way that he had never been afforded.

He walked around the first floor checking out the common rooms before deciding that his wife and daughter must be upstairs. Damon slowly climbed the stairs and sought out the master bedroom. Bonnie had taken over the room once Sheila died. It made her feel closer to her grandmother. However, it had also symbolized her ascension as the head of the Bennett family. She was only 17 years old at the time. Nevertheless, everyone understood that she would grow into the matriarch of the family.

Damon stepped into the bedroom and found his wife and daughter fast asleep in the four-poster bed. A fire crackled across the room to keep them warm on the chilly autumn afternoon. Sarah was burrowed under the thick duvet cover but she was clutching Bonnie for dear life in her sleep. Damon walked over to the bed and reached out to caress Sarah’s curly raven tinted hair. However, he stopped short when Bonnie’s face came into view. Damon felt bile rising in his throat as he stared at the angry splash of purple, black, and green that marred her beautiful caramel skin. His wife’s lip was busted and both of her eyes were black. His eyes moved down to survey the rest of her body but an oversized paisley kaftan hid her skin from view.

Damon turned around and walked out of the room without disturbing the sleeping pair. He marched downstairs just as Rose was saying goodbye to the chauffeur.

Rose froze when she turned around and saw the expression on Damon’s face. She swallowed nervously and asked, “How bad is it?”

“It looks like Bonnie went ten rounds with a prize fighter, Rose. And that’s only what I can see of her face while she’s sleeping. This is my fault. I should have made sure that someone was going to be there. I knew canceling at the last minute would piss off Giuseppe but I didn’t think that he would take it out on Bonnie. She’s just a kid for God’s sake.”

However, Damon should have known better. Giuseppe had never cared about raising his hand to his own children or his wife. Why would his daughter-in-law be any different?

“What can I do?” she asked. Her heart ached for her boss and for the girl she had come to view as a little sister.

Damon walked over to the bar and poured himself a drink. He finished the glass off in three gulps. “Find a doctor in town. I want one on standby for when Bonnie wakes up. I don’t know if she’s seen one yet…”

“Say no more,” she replied. “I’m on it. Bonnie will have the best of care and I will put the fear of God into the doctor to ensure discretion.”

He refilled his glass and then sat down on the cream tufted sofa. Damon stared at the toys on the floor and shook his head. He had screwed up but he would find a way to make it up to his wife. Damon took out his phone and called his uncle. He needed his levelheaded advice because he was close to losing it. Damon could only imagine slitting Giuseppe’s throat in retribution. He deserved to die for touching what belonged to Damon.

Zach answered on the second ring. He said, “Hi, Damon. What inspired this unexpected call? I thought that you were still on vacation.”

Damon just held the phone for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. He took a harsh gulp of bourbon.

“Damon?” the older man asked cautiously. His nephew was always quick with a joke or a jab. It had been their relationship since Damon was a boy. They were more brothers than uncle and nephew.

“He beat my wife, Zio,” Damon said. His voice was raw from the strain and the bourbon.

“Hold on,” he said. Zach rose from his desk and locked the door so that he wouldn’t be interrupted. He was in his office at Velocita’s corporate headquarters. Zach was the company’s chief operating officer. “What the hell happened, Damon?”

“I fucked up,” he replied.

He hated hearing the brokenness in Damon’s voice. He had heard it too often when he was away at college. Damon would call him in the middle of the night to tell him what new hell Giuseppe had put him through that day. Zach understood the helplessness all too well. Giuseppe had raised him from the time he was five years old. He had known violence from his brother’s hand for as long as he could remember.  “What happened?”

“I don’t know exactly. Giuseppe wanted to have a family dinner before he left for Milazzo. It was the start of my vacation so I cancelled at the last minute. I had Sophie tell him that I wouldn’t make it. I did it to push his buttons. I just wanted him to know that he couldn’t order me around anymore. You know how I like getting under his skin.”

Zach said, “I do. I went through the same phase after college. I wanted…needed to show him that I wasn’t the little boy that feared him any longer.”

Damon gave a hollow laugh at the sickness that was their family. “I thought that Stefan and Caroline were going to be home that night. Only Stefan decided that my vacation was the perfect time to sneak off to Paris. Apparently, he’s been visiting Lilly behind my back.”

The elder Salvatore wasn’t surprised that Stefan was in contact with Lilly. He had a bigger capacity to forgive than Damon did. “Stefan left Bonnie there alone? He knew that I had taken Meredith and the kids to Sweden!”

“That’s what I thought but no. He left earlier in the day and I didn’t cancel until right before dinnertime. He had no way of knowing that I wouldn’t be there to protect my wife. I didn’t find out about any of this until Rose came to the penthouse this morning. Sophie called her to say that Bonnie had taken Sarah and disappeared in the middle of the night two weeks ago. Rose found out that Bonnie was staying here in Shadow Hills. I feared the worst so I flew out here to see her in person. My God, her face, Zio. I am scared to find out what else he did. She’s asleep right now and I didn’t have the heart to wake her.”

He sucked in a breath and asked, “Do you want me fly up there? I could bring Meredith with me. She can conduct an examination and we can keep the extent of Bonnie’s injuries within the family until we figure out what to do. It’s obvious that she hasn’t been to the hospital or this would have hit the tabloids already.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know the right thing to do in this situation. I don’t want to overwhelm Bonnie. She’s been through enough, but I could use your support right about now,” Damon replied.

Zach knew how hard it was for Damon to admit that he needed anyone. Giuseppe had beaten that out of him long ago. He said, “I’ll be there before dinnertime, Damon. Just take it easy with the drinking. Okay? After what Bonnie went through with Gio the last thing she needs is to wake up to her drunken husband.”

Damon dropped the glass onto the coffee table as if it had burned him. He hadn’t even considered how it would be perceived by Bonnie. “Thank you.”

“You’re my nephew and I love you, Damon. I’ll speak with Stefan and Alaric to let them know what’s happening. You just focus on your family. I’ll call you when we make it to Shadow Hills.”

“Okay. Bye.” Damon ended the call and then sat in silence. His head was spinning and he didn’t know what to do next.

Damon’s family tree was complicated because of his grandfather’s frequent infidelity. Domenico’s first wife was Rosemary and she was Giuseppe’s mother. Alaric’s mother had been Domenico’s mistress until his first wife died. Then Domenico married Alaric’s mother, Amalie. Later he took another mistress, Cecilia. Cecilia was Zach’s mother.

Domenico and Cecilia died in a plane crash while returning from vacation. Amalie refused to acknowledge Zach and was prepared to see him in the care of the state. However, Giuseppe took the boy into his home. He raised Zach as his son and afforded him all the benefits of the Salvatore name despite his illegitimate birth.

Domenico had split his fortune between his three sons. However, he left everything in Giuseppe’s care until the other two boys were of age. Alaric and Zach were ten and five years old respectively when Domenico died. Amalie reluctantly let Alaric spend time with Zach because Giuseppe was holding the purse strings. Ric spent every summer and all the major holidays with his brothers and nephews for years. When he was fifteen Giuseppe demanded that he live at the Salvatore Manor full-time and Amalie agreed.

Rose walked into the room. “I managed to get in touch with the Bennett family’s long-time physician. I didn’t explain the situation. I only asked that he make himself available for the next few days. He’s on-call for the next 72 hours and we will have full access to his office after hours. I didn’t know if Bonnie might need X-rays or perhaps an MRI.”

He nodded. “Thank you, Rose. I spoke to Zach. He’s going to fly up here with Meredith. We may not need the doctor after all but it was smart to secure the use of his facilities. I hadn’t considered the equipment we might need.”

“Is there anything else that I can do?”

Damon stared at his half-finished glass of bourbon. He said, “Find me some mints and put away the liquor, please. All of it.”

Rose smiled in approval and dug a tin of mints from her purse. She handed them to Damon and then picked up his glass from the table. Rose finished his drink and shrugged. “There’s no sense in wasting good bourbon.”

He snorted and tossed a couple mints into his mouth. He said, “Touché.”

“I’ll be back in a moment. I am going to find a box or a crate so that I can move the bottles.”

Damon raked a hand through his hair as he stood up. Hiding downstairs wasn’t going to change what was waiting for him upstairs. He picked up the gift bags for Bonnie and Sarah before climbing the stairs once more. He quietly entered the master bedroom and found that his family was still sleeping peacefully.

He sat down in one of the chairs situated beside the fireplace. Then Damon took out his phone and put it on silent so that it wouldn’t disturb Bonnie and Sarah. He was sure to receive calls and text messages soon from Stefan and Ric.

He watched Bonnie sleep with an overwhelming sense of guilt. He wondered what she told Sarah about the bruises on her face. His daughter was smart and inquisitive for a 5 year old. Damon felt sick wondering if Sarah knew the truth. He would never forgive himself if Sarah had been exposed to Giuseppe’s violence. Damon cursed his selfishness for putting his wife and daughter in the line of fire. He could have bought a home to share with Bonnie when they married. However, his ambition led him to do Giuseppe’s bidding despite hating the man with every fiber of his being.

Damon still lived in his childhood home—Stefan and Zach did as well. However, he thought he was out of the woods when Giuseppe decided to spend more time in the Old Country. He was shoring up their connections for the time when he would step down and name Damon as his successor. He had been trained to be the head of the family since he was a child. Giuseppe raised Zach and had a lot of input on Ric’s upbringing.

However, they weren’t his children. Giuseppe raised Zach to be Damon’s consigliere. Meanwhile, Ric had been working for years as Giuseppe’s underboss. He had learned at the feet of their uncle Bruno. Ric would continue in the position under Damon. Stefan didn’t get his hands dirty with the family business. However, he had gone to college and graduated with a degree in accounting. One day he would be expected to handle the family’s books. He would help maintain the firewall between the Salvatore’s legal and illegal businesses. It was a delicate operation that took skill and an encyclopedic knowledge of all the family’s business dealings and shell companies.

The playboy looked out of the window and stared at the rows of grape vines in the distance. He could understand the appeal of spending time here in Shadow Hills. It was more peaceful than the Salvatore Manor was. There were always people bustling around the Manor, whether it was staff or members of the family. Ric, his wife, and daughters were the only ones that didn’t live at the Manor full-time. However, they were always there during the summer and holidays per Giuseppe’s demands. He kept his family under this thumb as much as possible.

When Damon looked back to the bed, he was met with verdant eyes staring back at him. He slowly stood up and made his way to the bed. “Hi, bunny.”

She smiled a little at his use of her childhood nickname. Bonnie held her arm in an awkward position as she slowly sat up in the bed. She stared at her husband for a few seconds. She was happy to see him but also self-conscious about her appearance. Bonnie whispered, “Hi.”

He zeroed in on Bonnie’s arm. He swallowed thickly and asked, “Is it broken?”

“I don’t think so. I can move it and I’ve been able to pick up Sarah. It just hurts when I move it too much,” she replied.

Damon was relieved because she was mostly like right about her arm not being broken. “But you haven’t seen a doctor?”

Bonnie shook her head. “I couldn’t…I didn’t want anyone to find out.”

Damon held back a growl when he saw the shame on his wife’s face. She wasn’t the one that should be feeling ashamed. “We need to talk about what happened.”

“Can it wait until after Sarah is awake? She gets upset when she wakes up without me. She’s been having nightmares,” Bonnie said. She looked down at the slumbering girl.

Damon smiled when he saw the genuine affection Bonnie had for his daughter. However, he was concerned about the nightmares. It didn’t take a genius to figure out their source. “We don’t have to leave the room. We can just sit over by the fireplace. We’ll both be right here if Sarah wakes up.”

Bonnie considered his suggestion and then nodded in agreement. Stalling the inevitable wasn’t a wise decision. She gingerly climbed off the bed and walked over to the fireplace. Her steps were overly cautious as if she was anticipating pain.

He stepped forward and took Bonnie’s uninjured arm because it looked as if she might teeter over. Sometimes he forgot how tiny his young bride was. Damon helped her into a chair.

“Thank you,” Bonnie said.

“I’m sorry,” he said without preamble. “I am sorry that I wasn’t there that night. I am sorry that I purposely angered my father and accidentally left you to bear his wrath. I thought Stefan would be home but it is no excuse. It is my job to protect you.”

Bonnie could see the genuine remorse etched on her husband’s face. She said, “You aren’t responsible for what happened, Damon. Giuseppe is nearly 63 years old. Certainly, he is capable of restraining himself. Anyway, it wasn’t anything that you did that made him lash out at me.”

Damon wanted to believe her but the guilt threatened to swallow him whole. He knew how petty and vindictive that Giuseppe could be. He didn’t believe that the attack on Bonnie was anything other than a way of punishing him. Damon’s feelings for his wife might have been complicated but she was his. The idea of anyone else even looking at her drove him into madness. “What happened?”

“Giuseppe was a nightmare during dinner. He drank more than he ate and started to talk badly about you. I tried to calm and placate him but he would have none of it. He just got louder and more vulgar. However, his mood took a turn when I objected to him talking that way with Sarah in the room. She is only a child and shouldn’t have to pay for your feud. He called Sarah’s birth mother a whore to her face. He told her that her mother never wanted her and didn’t love her. Sarah thought he was talking about me. She started crying. He started yelling at her to shut up. I took her from the table and tried to reassure her. Then I put Sarah to sleep and prayed that Giuseppe had stumbled to bed.”

Damon’s fists clenched at his side. Giuseppe had never directed his rage at Sarah before. The coward had only done so that night because there was no one there to stop him. Bonnie was but a waif of a girl. She could hardly pose any sort of physical threat to him. Unfortunately, physical violence was the only sort of chastisement the elder Salvatore understood.

Bonnie licked her lips and felt her tongue graze the laceration caused by the back of her father-in-law’s hand. “I decided to call it a night. I hoped that Giuseppe would be on a plane for Milazzo by morning. But he was sitting in the dark when I walked into the room. He hit me across the face several times and shoved me to the ground when I tried to run from him. Then he dragged me by my hair to the bed and threw me onto it. I hit my head on the headboard hard enough to open a gash on my forehead.”

He stood up and leaned against the wall because he couldn’t bear to look his wife in the eyes as she recounted what happened next. Damon couldn’t believe that Giuseppe had taken it that far.

“He was cursing me the whole time and he started to choke me,” Bonnie said. Her hand touched the healing ligature marks on her neck. “He was sloppy drunk and had trouble getting my skirt up with one hand. I screamed but I knew no one would come for me. The staff is terrified of Giuseppe. Sarah walked into the room. She was so scared, Damon. I just wanted to get to Sarah and get out of there but he was so strong. Then it came to me…I told him that I was pregnant and that he would hurt the baby. He just stared at me for what seemed like forever before he finally got off me. He left the room after apologizing. I kept Sarah in the room with me for a few hours. Then I packed our bags and left once I was sure that he was already gone.”

Damon’s head was swimming as his hatred for Giuseppe grew to new heights. His father had terrorized Bonnie and Sarah in his absence. If it wasn’t for Bonnie’s quick thinking there was no doubt that Giuseppe would have raped her. He blinked back the tears threatening to fall as he watched his wife cry in silence. He wanted to comfort her but felt that he had no right after leaving her to that fate. “You were smart to lie about being pregnant. Giuseppe is obsessed with his legacy. He would never harm his heir even in a drunken rage.”

She sniffled softly. “I wasn’t lying.”

For a moment, it felt as if the world stopped turning. Damon slowly began to comprehend the soft words his wife had just uttered. He felt himself moving toward Bonnie without conscious thought. He dropped down onto one knee in front of her and stared at her stomach for a few long minutes. The crackle of the roaring fire was the only noise that filled the quiet room. In a rough voice he asked, “You’re pregnant?”

Bonnie nodded cautiously. “I found out a couple days before that night. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you sooner but I wanted to see Father Finn first. I wanted to get a blessing for our babies.”

He stared at his wife with a dumbfounded expression and then looked down at her stomach again as if it would offer him some answer. Damon swallowed thickly as he cupped Bonnie’s face in his hands. “Babies?”

She gave a watery smile and nodded. “I had an ultrasound done. Dr. Huerta gave me a full work up because I realized that I was over a month late. He wanted the ultrasound to pinpoint an accurate timeline. I was ten weeks at the time. He expressed some concerns about my size and I got scared.”

Damon wanted to know everything but knew he couldn’t interrogate his wife about her health right now. He whispered, “You need to see a doctor. I want to make sure that the three of you are healthy. Zach and Meredith are flying up. You don’t need to worry about your privacy being violated.”

“Okay.”

Damon felt sick to his stomach as he slowly got to is feet. He so wanted to hold Bonnie but he didn’t have that right—not now. He slowly sat down in his chair. “I’ll call Joshua later so that he can start the paperwork.”

Bonnie looked puzzled. She didn’t understand why Damon would need to speak with the family’s lawyer. “Why are you calling Joshua?”

“I will give you a divorce, Bonnie. I won’t contest it or the prenuptial agreement. You deserve every provision that Sheila built into the agreement. I won’t ask you to go back home with me. Giuseppe is still in Milazzo but after what happened…”

Her heart swelled as she listened to her normally eloquent husband stumble over his words. Bonnie knew that he cared for her even if Giuseppe’s cruel words haunted her. “No.”

Damon stared at the girl in front of him in disbelief. For just a moment, he wondered if he misunderstood her. How could she not want a divorce after being brutalized by his father? He was ashamed and he couldn’t imagine looking into those verdant eyes every day and reliving his failure.  “You want more than the terms in the prenuptial agreement?”

Bonnie slowly stood up and then gingerly placed herself in his lap. A sense of calm rushed over her as she placed her head on his shoulder. Her marriage to Damon was complicated for a number of reasons. Their age difference had always been a stumbling block. In the beginning, he had a hard time seeing Bonnie as a woman because she was only 17 years old when they became engaged. However, Damon always went out of his way to make her feel comfortable. It wasn’t the romantic type of love that people saw on television and movies but she had known better than to expect that. Damon had been groomed to be the boss of the family. Bonnie had been groomed to be the boss’s wife. “I don’t want a divorce.”

Damon slid his arms around Bonnie’s tiny frame. It still boggled his mind that she was pregnant. His mind raced as he tried to understand why she would want to stay married to him. Beyond his failure to protect her, he was an unrepentant philanderer. He wasn’t foolish enough to think Bonnie so naïve that she didn’t know that he had a mistress. He tried to be discreet out of respect but she knew. He looked down at her left hand and noticed that she was still wearing her wedding ring. “I don’t understand.”

“You are my husband, Damon. I love you and Sarah. I have adopted Sarah. She’s my daughter now. I would never abandon her the way that my mother abandoned me…the way that Lilly abandoned you. I am not going to abandon you either. You are the not problem in this family…Giuseppe is,” she replied.

He stroked Bonnie’s wavy chocolate brown hair and tried to ignore the way his heart soared at her commitment to him. He didn’t deserve her loyalty but he craved it. No one had ever been loyal to him—not even Stefan. His younger brother appreciated the sacrifices that Damon made for him. However, he shied away from the darkness that developed in Damon because of the abuse. The elder brother had to turn off his emotions to survive Giuseppe’s abuse. He lost part of himself because of that. Damon licked his lips. “What are you saying?”

“I’m scared of Giuseppe but not just for myself. I worry about Sarah. I am petrified of what will happen when he doesn’t see her as a little girl anymore. He raised boys and abused all of you physically, but you know his appetites.”

Damon’s mouth went dry as he considered Bonnie’s point. “He wouldn’t do that. She’s his granddaughter.”

Bonnie said, “He’s my godfather. Giuseppe held me in his arms as a baby, Damon. He was at my christening and my confirmation. When I married you, he told me to call him dad. None of those things stopped him from trying to rape me.”

He recoiled at the word that neither of them had spoken until now. Somehow hearing Bonnie say the word made it cut deeper.

“I am not the only one that fears his intentions. Caroline worries for Bella but she is still a child. This summer Jo asked Caroline, Meredith, and me to keep an eye on Josie and Lizzie. They’re 14 years old and she never wanted them alone with Giuseppe. She is lucky that they only stay at the Manor during the summer and the holidays. Caroline and I don’t have that luxury. We live in the house with this man.”

Damon thought back to the summer and realized that Bonnie was telling the truth. There wasn’t a time that he saw one of Ric’s daughters without one of the wives nearby. He couldn’t believe that he and the rest of the men in the family had been so blind to their concerns. He felt worse that they hadn’t felt safe to share those concerns. “We’ll move out of the house. I’ll find a new place for us to live. I will protect you, Sarah, and the babies. I won’t let him hurt you again.”

Bonnie studied his earnest blue eyes and caressed his chiseled jaw. “If you disobey Giuseppe, he will take the one thing you have always wanted. You have earned your place as head of the family. I won’t be the reason he takes it away from you.”

“What I have now is enough,” he replied. It was a lie and Damon could tell that Bonnie knew as much by the way she tensed in his arms.

Bonnie asked, “What if there was another way?”

“What?” He looked down at his wife curiously.

“What if there was a way to make him retire early? Then you could take your rightful place as head of the family and make him go away,” Bonnie answered with a hopeful expression.

Damon shook his head. He hated to shoot down her idea but he couldn’t let Bonnie get her hopes up. Giuseppe had a stranglehold on the business. Short of killing him, there wasn’t a way to make him leave. However, he didn’t know if he could get everyone on board with whacking the boss. “I don’t have the leverage to make that happen.”

“What if I do?” Bonnie asked.

He stared at his wife. He hoped that she wasn’t talking about the attack on her. It was unseemly and reprehensible but not enough to convince Giuseppe to step down. The man rarely felt shame for anything. “What do you have?”

“My grams always knew what type of man Giuseppe was and she feared this day would come. She wanted a way to protect me even if she couldn’t be here to do it. You know the rumor about Grams and Giuseppe was true. They had an affair for over forty years. He trusted her more than he trusted anyone else. That was probably a mistake because my grandmother was a viper. I want to show you something.”

Bonnie slowly rose from his lap and walked into the closet.

Damon was blown away by her disclosure. He knew that his father had various relationships over the years. However, he always assumed that the one with Sheila ended in their youth and remained business until her death. However, the closeness of their families made so much sense now.

Bonnie returned a few moments later with a tablet and returned to her place on his lap. She pulled up a file and pressed play.

Sheila: Come to be bed, Gio. You aren’t going to figure out anything else tonight.

Giuseppe: I am tired of him dangling what is rightfully mine over my head! Hasn’t he cost me enough? My mother died from his neglect. He forced me to give up the only woman I have ever loved. You lost our child because of him, Sheila. He made me marry Lilly, a simple-minded woman without a single interesting thing to say. Now he wants to send me to Milazzo for the next five years. He’s only doing it to keep us apart.

Sheila: He is set in his ways, Gio. But he’s right. Too many would lose respect for you if I ever became more than your mistress. This world is still too intolerant for you to marry a Black woman. And you can’t prove that he arranged for the mugging that caused my miscarriage.

Giuseppe: You see a harmless old man with antiquated views but he is a monster. I don’t need proof of his crimes. I need him dead.

Sheila: Bite your tongue. To kill your father is to condemn yourself to hell.

Giuseppe: My sweet innocent, Uccellino. Always trying to save my soul. Don’t you know I am already condemned? I have more blood on my hands than you can imagine.

Sheila: You can be forgiven if you repent for the others. But there can be no forgiveness for killing the one that gave you life. Don’t do this, Gio. If you kill your father, it will make you as dark hearted as he is. Don’t let him stain your soul. Do you not want to reunite with our baby one day?

Giuseppe: Will you still love me even if I have already been condemned?

Sheila: What have you done, Giuseppe?

Giuseppe:  I only did what needed to be done. The wheels have already been set in motion. A bomb has been planted on board his plane. It will explode over the Atlantic. I hope that the coast guard never finds his body. May the stronzo burn in hell. Do you still love me, Uccellino?

Sheila: Always, Gio. I will always love you. And I will pray for your soul.

Giuseppe: Do not pray for me. It is Domenico that requires your prayers because he is about to meet his maker.

Sheila: Then I will pray for you both.

Bonnie stopped the recording and looked at her husband’s awestruck face. She stayed as quiet as mouse as she watched him process the information. Everyone had believed that a rival family had killed Domenico and Cecilia. Giuseppe’s rash actions kicked off a two-year mob war where the Mikaelson family was his only ally. The war resulted in 72 deaths and dozens of prison sentences. When the war was over, Giuseppe stood victorious. He absorbed his decimated rival’s territory and became the biggest crime boss on the West Coast. The war also strengthened his alliance with the Mikaelson family.

Damon’s mind was working a mile a minute. This recording changed everything. His sweet wife thought she was giving him the means to force out Giuseppe. However, the girl had just given him the power to kill his father. There were good men…good soldiers still in prison because of the mob war Giuseppe started. He had even murdered poor Cecilia, Zach’s mother. His uncles would want Giuseppe’s blood for this. Domenico might have been an adulterer but he wasn’t abusive. He had been a good father to his young sons. “Who else knows about this?”

“Only you, Damon. Grams gave this recording and more to me before she died. She told me to use it if I ever began to fear for my life. I have the original recording on cassette in my safe,” she answered softly.

He kissed her. “We should keep this between the two of us for now, Bunny. I promise I will handle this. You won’t need to fear Giuseppe for much longer.”

Bonnie said, “Okay. I trust you, Damon. I always have…”

“I need a moment to myself. I think I am going to go take a walk.”

She moved to the other chair and nodded. “I understand.”

Damon stood and dropped a kiss on the crown of her head. “Don’t worry. You did the right thing. Those bags are for your and Sarah. I bought a few things for you.”

He walked out of the room and quietly closed the door behind him.

Bonnie looked into the roaring fire as a malevolent smirk transformed her once angelic features. Giuseppe had raised his hand against the wrong woman. Bonnie had wanted him gone for months but just couldn’t figure out a way to convince Damon to kill him. She was supposed to be his innocent wife ignorant to the realities of his bloody business. Giuseppe’s attack on her was both unfortunate and fortuitous at the same time. She survived knowing that a far worse fate awaited him. Bonnie had no doubt that Giuseppe would beg for something as sweet as death once Damon was done with him.

Chapter Text

Bonnie walked over to the cherry wood vanity and had a seat on the tufted leather stool. Giuseppe had commissioned all of the furniture in this room for her grams’ 35th birthday. Bonnie couldn’t count the number of times that she had watched her grandmother sit in that very spot. As a little girl, she thought that Sheila looked like a regal queen. Her grandmother exuded grace and confidence no matter the situation. No one could work a room quite like Sheila Renee Bennett. However, a rare few really knew the woman that raised Bonnie. Sheila was as vicious and ruthless as Giuseppe could be. The only difference was that she never directed her fury at her family.

Bonnie picked up the sterling silver brush that once belonged to her grandmother and pulled it through her curly chocolate brown hair. The curly locks hung just below her shoulder blades because Sheila had never allowed Bonnie to cut her hair. She considered doing so once her grandmother died but learned that Damon liked her hair long. It was just one example of the many ways she tried to keep her husband’s attention—unsuccessfully. She believed that Damon only slept with her out of necessity. While Sarah was a wonderful child, she was a girl. One day Sarah would be married off to one of Elijah Mikaelson’s sons to ensure the alliance for years to come. However, Damon still needed a legitimate male heir to succeed him in the future.

After they were married she so wanted him to fall in love with her. She had been in love with Damon for nearly a decade. However, Bonnie did not become disillusioned when that didn’t happen. Her grandmother had warned her about men like Damon. He was a broken soul that hadn’t known love a day in his life. He filled his hours with drinking, drugs, and reckless sex with inferior women. Sheila warned her granddaughter that the answer wasn’t to despair over his behavior or to nag him about it incessantly. She taught Bonnie to exude the traits that would make Damon love her as a wife and mother to his children.

Sheila also believed the key to a healthy marriage was manipulating your husband into doing your bidding. Bonnie had known for some time that Giuseppe had outlived his usefulness. She too had relatives in Milazzo and knew that he was doing very little to ensure a smooth transition for his son. Giuseppe intended to hold onto to the family until Damon pried it from his cold dead hands. Now Bonnie could have told her husband the truth but he might not have believed her. After all, she was but a young woman, barely old enough to drink the wine that bore her family’s name. What did she know about the inner workings of organized crime? If Damon had ever taken the chance to get to know Bonnie, he would know that she knew a great deal about it. Her grandmother had helmed one of the largest arms smuggling rings in North America for more than twenty years. She would have to be a moron not to learn something.

Bonnie knew that killing Giuseppe was the only way that Damon could rise to power. He would only undermine his son even if Damon somehow managed to wrest control of the organization from him. Unfortunately, Damon’s feelings about Giuseppe were complicated. His father had been an abusive asshole but he stayed. Lilly abandoned him and Giuseppe stayed. Sometimes you craved the love from the hands that beat you black and blue one day and hugged you the next.

She knew that the recorded conversation about Domenico’s death wouldn’t be enough. However, she could have never imagined that Giuseppe would attack her. He had been like a father to her. It had been brutal and unexpected but she buried her pain deep. Giuseppe had given her a window of opportunity and she intended to use it wisely. She avoided talking to Damon for nearly two weeks because she needed him at peak guilt. This wasn’t just about getting rid of Giuseppe but it was also about excising Katherine from their lives. However, she had to make her loving husband believe that it was his idea. Bonnie was certain that her family’s matriarchs were smiling at her from the great beyond.

The women in her family tended to behave as puppet masters with their husbands while remaining in the shadows. Her great-great-grandmother Hannah was an extremely fair-skinned Black woman that chose to pass as an olive skinned Italian woman for obvious reasons. She had married an Italian immigrant named Vincenzo that worked at the bustling port in Vancouver. They made a nice enough living smuggling wine Italian wine and Canadian whisky into the United States. However, the couple saw diminished profits because they were simply the suppliers selling the contraband at wholesale prices. Hannah decided to move her family to the United States to handle distribution and cut out the need for an intermediary.

Despite the rampant misogyny of that time, Vincenzo recognized that his wife had a better head for business than he did. He was the face of the smuggling operation since their clients preferred dealing with other men. However, it was Hannah pouring the words into his ear like Cyrano. Soon after the move to the United States, they began watering down their booze to double and at times triple their profits. Hannah used that money to purchase acres of untouched land to build their homestead in Shadow Hills. In a few years time, they had a successful farm that generated legitimate income. However, it was all Hannah’s foresight. She knew that Prohibition wouldn’t last forever. When Prohibition ended, their farm went from planting vegetables to wine grapes. They became one of the first wineries in the Pacific Northwest.

After Prohibition ended, Hannah and Vincenzo managed the winery and started the cherry and apple orchards as well. However, they were still running a lucrative smuggling operation while raising their children, Emily and Daniel. Prostitution might have been the world’s oldest profession but providing illicit contraband had to be a close second. When their son, Daniel, was of age, they sent him to Vincenzo’s family in Milazzo. He learned the smuggling business from the point of origin and took it over by the time he was in his 30’s. Controlling both ends of the smuggling operation helped them grow the business further. However, their profits and position in the criminal underworld changed forever when Daniel assumed control in Milazzo. He shifted the family’s focus to smuggling weapons as the American Italian Mafia began to grow in power. The Salvatore family had been one of their first loyal customers since they both hailed from Milazzo.

A few decades later, Sheila’s relationship with Giuseppe had been born out of a need for more power. However, Domenico had stepped on any chance of them marrying because her father had been a dark skinned Black man. She couldn’t pass for White the way her mother and grandmother had. Sheila still found a way to make Giuseppe useful. She convinced him to help stamp out the competition to her arms smuggling operation. Sheila was able to expand her operation to the East Coast with his assistance. Unfortunately, dealing with Giuseppe came at a price. He flew into a fit of rage and murdered her husband not long after Abby was born. Sheila didn’t particularly love the man but it brought a lot of unwanted attention to her doorstep. However, in true Giuseppe fashion he made it go away by pinning the crime on one of his rivals. The pair never married but they might as well have been. Sheila and Abby spent their summers and holidays with Giuseppe and his family. It was a practice that continued throughout Bonnie’s childhood as well. The two pretended as if they were just old friends and business associates. However, Bonnie had known the truth for many years.

Bonnie knew many truths and they were going to ensure that she got everything she wanted out of life. Her ambitions weren’t just romantic in nature. Bonnie desired her husband but she wanted more. She wanted her husband as the head of the Salvatore organization because one day she intended to take over their company. She wanted him to remember who made it all possible for him. Merging Velocita with Bennett Technologies had been the smartest thing Sheila ever did for her granddaughter. However, it was up to Bonnie to make sure that she became CEO in the future. She was slowly getting all of her ducks in a row to that affect but first Giuseppe had to go. She finished brushing her hair and smiled at her reflection. She didn’t see the bruises marring her beautiful face. All she saw was Giuseppe’s undoing.

She unlocked one of the vanity’s many drawers and opened a jewelry box. She opened a hidden compartment and retrieved a cheap mobile phone. Bonnie turned on the phone and then typed out a quick message.

Bonnie: He’s here. Tell the boys that the wheels are in motion.

She returned the phone to its hiding place and locked the drawer once more. Bonnie looked across the room when she heard Sarah began to stir. She was supposed to wake up the girl an hour ago. Bonnie liked to keep Sarah on a firm schedule since so much of their life was unpredictable. However, Damon’s sudden arrival that afternoon threw off everything. She had assumed that her husband wouldn’t even notice her absence for another two days. Bonnie could only assume that Rose was responsible for the early ending of his business trip—at least that was the lie he told her. Bonnie slowly rose from the chair and went to sit on the bed. She lightly brushed Sarah’s raven curls away from her face. “It’s time to wake up, bambolina.”

Sarah’s bright blue eyes fluttered open at the sound of her mother’s voice. The little girl bore an uncanny resemblance to her father despite her darker skin tone. She yawned and stretched as she sat up in the bed. “I’m hungry, Mama.”

She couldn’t help but laugh softly at the first words to fall from her daughter’s mouth. Sarah had an appetite that could put children twice her age to shame. Bonnie didn’t know where she put all of the food. Sarah was thin as a rail. “I’ll make a snack for you in a moment. First, I have a surprise for you.”

The girl perked up at the mention of a surprise. Bonnie had already bought a truckload of toys for her when they first arrived in Shadow Hills. She asked, “What is it?”

“You’ll just have to come see,” she replied with a mirthful expression. She stood up and extended her hand to Sarah. “Come on.”

Sarah hopped down from the tall bed and grasped her mother’s hand. Her eyes went wide when she saw the gift bags sitting near the fireplace. She released Bonnie’s hand and raced across the room to inspect her gifts.

Bonnie sat down in the chair and watched as Sarah opened a box containing an American Girl’s doll. “Isn’t she pretty? Her name is Josefina.”

The girl nodded in excitement and squeezed her new doll. “Thank you, Mama.”

“Well, I didn’t buy these for you. Someone else did. Do you want to guess who did?”

“Santa?” she asked in a hopeful voice. She opened another box and found a remote controlled car.

She smiled because Sarah had been talking about Santa Claus for the last three months. She was finally at an age where she understood all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the holiday. “Not yet, bambolina. We have a little over a month before Santa Claus comes to visit us.”

“Oh,” Sarah said with a frown.

Bonnie chuckled softly and said, “These gifts are from Papa. Guess what? He’s downstairs right now.”

The girl’s face lit up at the mention of her father. Sarah was on her feet and out the room in seconds. She had her new doll tucked beneath her arm as she ran. “Papa!”

Damon walked into the foyer when he heard Sarah calling out to him. He stood at the bottom of the staircase and caught her in a bear hug. Few things brought true joy into his life. However, his daughter had become his heartbeat from the moment he held her for the first time. 

She grinned up at her father. “Hi, Papa!”

“Hi, bambolina. Do you like your new doll?”

She nodded in excitement. “I love her.” She buried her face against his chest and said, “I missed you, Papa.”

“I missed you, too,” he swore in a thick voice. He tried to ignore the wave of guilt that made his throat tighten. He couldn’t believe that he had left his wife and daughter in the path of his unhinged father. For the last hour, he had been replaying Bonnie’s words in his head. His daughter…their daughter had witnessed a side of life that he never wanted her to know. He did everything in his power to shield her from the violence and danger that he grew up knowing. He didn’t even allow Sarah to attend school. Giuseppe hired tutors to instruct his grandchildren at the Salvatore Manor. He and Bonnie had been raised similarly.

Bonnie walked down the stairs and came to stand beside her husband. She rubbed Sarah’s back and asked, “What do you want to eat?”

“Tots,” she replied after a moment of thought.

“Tater tots sound yummy. I will go put some in the oven for us while you spend time with Papa,” Bonnie said. “Are you hungry, Damon?”

Damon shook his head and said, “No, I’m not hungry. You should be resting, Bonnie. I can put the tater tots in the oven.”

She shook her head. Then she gave a pointed look to the way Sarah was clinging to him. “It doesn’t take much effort to spread some frozen tater tots on a baking sheet. Besides, I have cooked every day since we have been here. I haven’t fainted yet.”

The raven-haired playboy frowned in disapproval. However, he knew that Bonnie had a point. There was no need for him to swoop in to play the hero now. She had survived nearly two weeks with her injuries without his assistance. He nodded. “We’ll just be in the living room.”

Bonnie was surprised to find Rose sitting in the kitchen. She should have realized that the woman would accompany Damon. Rose was his best friend. Bonnie didn’t even mind that they were exes. The pair behaved more like brother and sister with the way they bickered. She had come to like Rose in the last few years. She said, “I didn’t know that you were with Damon.”

The older woman held back a gasp when she saw Bonnie’s face. Damon’s description didn’t do it justice. She said, “I couldn’t let him come alone. He was so worried about you, Bonnie. I was worried, too.”

“He is lucky to have you, Rose. We both are.” She turned on the oven so that it would begin to preheat.

“I know this seems paltry but if there is anything that I can do…”

Bonnie smiled as she washed her hands at the kitchen sink. “Your concern isn’t paltry, Rose. I know that your offer is genuine. Besides, you chose such lovely gifts for me. I liked the tickets to Peter Pan the most. I have been looking forward to taking Sarah to the ballet for some time. She’s been interested in ballet since she saw a video of me dancing in Swan Lake.”

Giuseppe and Damon had both agreed that Bonnie needed to stop dancing after they we were married. Rose always thought it was a tragedy. The girl was a talented classically trained dancer just like her mother was. Rose had attended Bonnie’s last show with Damon right before Sheila succumbed to the cancer. She replied, “The gifts are from Damon.”

She laughed quietly while putting the baking sheet into the oven. “We both know Damon hasn’t bought a gift for anyone in years. Even if he did, I doubt he would do more than buy insanely expensive jewelry that I could afford to buy myself. Thank you for being so thoughtful with your choices, Rose.”

Rose shook her head with a small smile. “Well, I did buy a few insanely expensive pieces of jewelry. I like to cover all my bases.”

“Yes, I did enjoy the sapphire and diamond tennis bracelet. I might get some use out of that. It will go perfectly with the earrings and necklace you bought for me last Christmas. I can’t wait to see what you buy for me this year.” It was hard to ignore the tinge of bitterness in her voice. Sometimes it stung that Damon didn’t even try.

“He does love you, Bonnie. Damon is just…complicated,” Rose explained.

Bonnie smiled sadly. “I’ve known Damon my whole life. Trust me, I know all about his complications.”

Bonnie knew more about Damon’s worst impulses than Rose ever would. She had seen him at his worse over the years but loved him anyway. Bonnie could remember when his cocaine addiction wasn’t merely recreational. She had seen his violent impulses play out against unlucky foes. He tried to change for Sarah and Bonnie and she was grateful for those changes. However, it seemed that suppressing his baser instincts pushed Damon further into Katherine’s arms.

Rose didn’t doubt that for a moment. She always thought there was something mildly incestuous about Damon marrying the girl. The Salvatore and Bennett families were inextricably linked. Over the years, she had seen tons of pictures of Bonnie and the Salvatore brothers as children. Perhaps her favorite picture was of four-year-old Bonnie sitting on Damon’s lap as he tried to teach her to play the piano. In the picture, Stefan was sitting beside them with an adoring smile on his face. It had to be a shock to Damon’s system to go from being her older brother to her husband. However, the cognitive dissonance of the situation didn’t excuse his treatment of Bonnie.

She pleaded, “Just don’t give up on him, Bonnie. No matter what you think, you make him better.”

Bonnie shook her head. “You don’t need to worry about that. Damon is my family, Rose.  I can’t imagine a scenario where I would ever leave him. I’m not even sure who I am without him.”

Rose thanked the stars that Bonnie was too inexperienced to know that she could do much better than Damon ‘I Can’t Keep My Cock In My Pants’ Salvatore. Sometimes the moral quandaries of the job made her a little queasy. It was difficult to look at this girl’s battered face while simultaneously encouraging her to stay married to the man that let it happen. Perhaps his only redeeming feature was that Rose knew that Damon would never raise a hand to a woman.

The caramel skinned girl prepared to make a fruit salad to go with their snack. However, she stopped in mid-chop when Damon walked into the kitchen with Sarah in his arms.

He placed Sarah in the chair beside Rose and moved closer to Bonnie. He touched her arm and said, “I need to talk to you…in private, bunny.”

Bonnie kept her look neutral but she could tell that he wanted something from her. He so rarely called her bunny these days. She figured that it could only be a couple of things. She nodded and looked to Rose. “Could you finish cutting up the fruit and keep an eye on the tater tots?”

Rose eyed her friend/employer but nodded. “Sure. Sarah can keep me company while I finish up in here.”

Bonnie dried off her hands and said, “Thank you.”

Damon rested a hand on the small of Bonnie’s back and ushered her out of the kitchen. He moved them into Sheila’s old office where there wasn’t a chance of anyone overhearing their conversation.

The girl bit back a smug smile as she sat down on the couch. She now knew exactly where his thoughts had landed. Honestly, she was surprised it wasn’t the first question from his mouth. Bonnie wondered if she should feel honored that his concern for her outweighed his concern for the business. Or perhaps she should be offended that he so quickly reverted to covering his own ass. “Is there something wrong?”

Damon took both of Bonnie’s hands and kissed both of them. “You said that I am the only person that has heard the recording of Sheila and Giuseppe’s conversation.”

She nodded. “Yes. Do you think that I am lying to you?”

“No, bunny. I know that you wouldn’t lie to me,” he swore. “I only wondered if you have told anyone else about what Giuseppe did to you.”

Bonnie’s mind raced quickly to discern the best way to handle this. “I told Lucy the truth when I talked to her this morning. She was worried after Rose called her. You know how Lucy can be. She’s like a dog with a bone sometimes.”

Damon tensed at the mention of Bonnie’s older cousin. He and Lucy were only a few years apart in age. They had known each other since childhood and she was a loose cannon. Moreover, she spent more time in Milazzo with the Sicilian side of the family than Bonnie did. “Do you think that she will tell anyone?”

Of course, Damon was worried that Lucy would spill the beans to Uncle Johnny or as everyone else called him, Big John Benedetto. He was Sheila’s first cousin and the head of the Benedetto family in Milazzo. He would flay Giuseppe alive if he knew what the man did to Bonnie. Moreover, he would likely push her to divorce Damon for his neglect. Big John had fought with Sheila for weeks after he learned of Bonnie and Damon’s engagement. He thought it would be better to marry the girl off to her third cousin, Cristian.

She shook her head. Bonnie didn’t want outside meddling anymore than he did. Her family getting involved would derail her plans. “No, I asked Lucy not to say anything. I don’t want other people to know. It’s bad enough having you and Rose see me this way. I would have tried to cover up the worst of the damage if I knew that you were coming.”

Damon relaxed considerable after Bonnie’s reply. He cupped her bruised cheek. “You don’t need to hide from me, Bon.”

She averted her gaze because looking into Damon’s eyes was dangerous. Bonnie’s heart was a traitor to her plans because it began to beat faster from a mere touch of his hand. Too often lately, her heart was at odds with her mind. Her mind warned her to protect her heart from Damon because he would only hurt her. However, after four years she just wasn’t willing to give up on him yet. This was her last best chance. There would never be a better opportunity to get everything she wanted.

Chapter Text

Zach and Meredith didn’t come to Shadow Hills alone. Alaric and Jo accompanied the couple. Bonnie wasn’t surprised when Damon and his uncles began to circle the wagons. Giuseppe’s actions had put the nearly 70-year relationship between their families in jeopardy. Her family would only be satisfied with blood as retribution for the attack. She knew from experience that the debt need not be settled solely with the guilty party. The life of anyone in the organization could be forfeit if the Benedetto Family didn’t feel satisfied. Damon wanted to keep everything quiet until he had a handle on the situation.

The item at the top of the agenda had been to get medical attention for Bonnie. Jo and Meredith were concerned about the variety of visible injuries. However, they were even more concerned about the state of the girl’s pregnancy. Bonnie hadn’t reported any symptoms that would suggest a miscarriage but nothing could be ruled out in the face of such a violent attack. Jo had gone as far as to harangue Dr. Huerta for Bonnie’s medical records before their arrival. The doctor had refused to violate doctor-patient confidentiality until Bonnie gave permission over the phone. She trusted her aunts-in-law with the information. Jo and Meredith had always been good to her.

The two Salvatore women commandeered the local doctor’s office and gave Bonnie a full work up. Jo tried to keep Damon out of the room because she wanted to have a frank conversation with the young woman. However, he insisted on being with there for the examination. Fortunately, the attack hadn’t harmed the babies. She was just entering her second trimester and everything was progressing normally. Moreover, all of Bonnie’s injuries were on the mend. She was fitted with a sling to immobilize her arm and elbow. Meredith diagnosed a serious elbow sprain that would take a week or more to heal. The good news was that Bonnie didn’t have any torn ligaments so surgery wasn’t necessary.

When they returned to the mansion, everyone sat down to eat dinner as a family. The adults were mostly quiet. The topics on their minds weren’t appropriate for the dinner table or mixed company. However, Sarah’s cheerful chattering helped breathe life into the room. No one could resist her contagious happiness. Sarah insisted on detailing all the fun she had since arriving in Shadow Hills. She told them all about her shopping spree with Bonnie at the local toy store. The little girl proved just how resilient children could be in the face of adversity. Bonnie was thrilled that the fear stemming for what she witnessed was starting to ebb away.

After dinner, Bonnie and Sarah baked cookies with Jo’s assistance. While the cookies cooled, Sarah went outside with Ric to play with the remote control car that Damon had given her.

Jo stayed behind to help Bonnie clean up the kitchen. “I’ve been hoping to talk to you alone, Bonnie.”

Bonnie stopped loading the dishwasher and looked at the older woman. “What’s on your mind?”

Jo dried her hands and said, “Let’s sit down for this.”

Bonnie closed the dishwasher and said, “I feel as if I am being called into the principal’s office. What’s wrong?”

Jo sat down at the island with Bonnie and said, “I am not going to beat around the bush about this, Bonnie. I am concerned about your weight.”

“We talked about that earlier at the doctor’s office. Dr. Huerta was concerned, but I am taking the prenatal vitamins every day. I also started eating healthy snacks between meals as he recommended,” she replied.

“I am more concerned about why you were so underweight in the beginning. I looked at your medical records and you have been underweight for well over a year. I didn’t bring this up in front of Damon because I didn’t want to embarrass you,” Jo explained.

Bonnie tensed and said, “I’ve always been petite…you know that.”

Jo nodded. “You have always had the lean build of a dancer. However, there is a difference between being lean and being unhealthy. Meredith mentioned that you have a fairly intense daily exercise regimen.”

The younger woman was beginning to get defensive. “Just because I don’t dance anymore doesn’t mean I intend to let myself go.”

“You know very well that isn’t what I meant. I think that you have been exercising too much and eating too little in order to lose weight. I don’t want to make assumptions but please tell me this isn’t in some bid to please Damon.”

Bonnie felt her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. She stood up. “I am not having this conversation with you. I am eating properly now.”

“I am not trying to offend you or hurt your feelings, Bonnie. I am worried about you. What you were doing prior to finding out that you are pregnant was unhealthy. You’re a smart girl and you are beautiful. Damon isn’t going to be any more interested in you if you wear a smaller size.”

She huffed in annoyance. “You don’t know anything about my marriage to Damon. You have no right making assumptions about him or me.”

Jo held up a placating hand. “Listen, I have been where you are. Ric loves me but he has a wandering eye. When I was younger, I thought that his infidelity was because of me. I thought that I was doing something wrong. For God’s sake, I got breast implants to entice him. It didn’t work and they gave me back problems. I’m older now and I know that it’s just his personality. The Salvatore men are incapable of fidelity. I care for you and I don’t want to see you make the same mistakes that I did.”

Bonnie knew that Jo wasn’t trying to embarrass her. This conversation was coming from a place of genuine concern. “Why are you still with him?”

Jo stood up and smiled sadly. “I stay with Ric because I love him. I had to learn to accept him as he was. Expecting more would only set me up for failure and heartbreak. The best thing I ever did was get those stupid implants removed. He can take me as I am or he can leave. In 17 years, he hasn’t gone anywhere and he never will. Just consider it a little food for thought, Bonnie.”

She watched the older woman walk out of the room and considered her warning. Bonnie knew more about her husband’s extramarital activities than she let on. While Katherine was Damon’s main mistress, he frequently had dalliances with other women. He was currently seeing a local news anchor in his free time but Katherine was the only long-term relationship. Bonnie didn’t know if she could live with Damon cheating on her for the rest of their married lives. It hurt her too much. However, Jo was right about not altering herself for Damon’s benefit. Everything she had done to capture his attention had fallen flat. He hadn’t even noticed the weight loss. He was no more and no less interested in her than he had always been. It was just as well since she was pregnant now. She planned to do everything in her power to reach the weight goals set by Dr. Huerta.

Ric walked into the kitchen carrying Sarah on his shoulders. His grin faded when he saw the tight expression on Bonnie’s face. “Is everything okay?”

Bonnie nodded and said, “Uh, everything is fine. The two of you are just in time to have some cookies. They are finally cool enough to eat.”

Ric didn’t believe Bonnie but he could understand why she wouldn’t want to confide in him.

Sarah cheered. “Cookies! I want to share some with Papa.”

She smiled at her daughter and walked over to the counter. She grabbed a freezer bag and loaded it with a generous number of cookies. She figured that Ric would indulge in the chocolaty treats as well. Bonnie handed the bag over to Sarah and kissed her cheek. “I bet he’ll love that, bambolina.”

“Thank you, Mama.” She petted the top of Ric’s head. “Let’s go find Papa.”

Ric chuckled and carried Sarah down the hall to the office. Damon had disappeared into the room shortly after they finished eating dinner. Ric walked into the office with Sarah still on his shoulders. The girl adored her great-uncle and it showed. “Someone has been looking everywhere for you, Damon.”

Sarah was holding the bag of cookies while grasping a handful of Ric’s hair to keep her balance. “I didn’t know where you went,” she added with an adorable pout.

Damon offered his daughter a guilty smile because he hadn’t spent very much time with her. He had spent most of the afternoon trying to get a handle on the current situation. More importantly, he had to pinpoint his father’s location. Not knowing Giuseppe’s current position was dangerous. He stood up and met them in the middle of the room. Damon took his daughter from Ric’s shoulders and hugged her. “Is that right? Have you been looking for me?”

She nodded her head and handed him the freezer bag with double chocolate pecan cookies in it. “Me and Mama baked cookies for you.”

Damon took the bag and chuckled. “Are these just for me?”

Sarah looked up at him with big blue eyes. “And for me, too.”

He was surprised that Bonnie was letting Sarah have cookies so late. Normally, Damon was the parent that let their little princess get away with murder. Bonnie was the one that set and enforced the rules. However, everything was out of whack because she was usually in bed at this time. “Well, cookies are no good without dipping them into a cold glass of milk. What do you say we go get some milk from the kitchen?”

Her face lit up as she nodded excitedly. “Can we have choco milk?”

Damon smiled. “You can have whatever you want.”

Ric shook his head with a smirk. He liked seeing his nephew interact with his daughter. Damon rarely looked happier than he did with Sarah in his arms. However, his smile faltered when smelled the bourbon coming off him. Now he knew why Damon had locked himself in the office.

Sarah looked over her shoulder at Ric. “Are you coming with us, Zio?”

He said, “As long as you don’t tell Aunt Jo that I had cookies. She has me on a diet.”

Sarah looked very solemn as she nodded. She promised, “I won’t tell.”

Damon chuckled as they walked into the empty kitchen. “Well, Sarah might not tell but I will.”

Ric grabbed a carton of milk and the chocolate syrup from the refrigerator.

The five year old pointed at her father. “Being a tattle tale isn’t nice, Papa.”

Ric grinned and said, “Yeah, Damon, being a tattle tale isn’t nice.”

Damon rolled his eyes at Ric as he sat down at the island with Sarah. He said, “It isn’t tattling if it is to protect someone. Auntie Jo wants Zio to be healthy so that he lives a long time.”

Sarah’s eyes went big. She held the bag of cookies against her chest protectively. “I’m sorry, Zio. You can’t have any cookies. I want you to live forever! You can have milk. Mama says it is good for you.”

Ric had to hold back a laugh at her sincerity. He made the three of them glasses of chocolate milk. He sat beside his great-niece at the island. “You’re right. Milk is very good for you.”

Damon opened the freezer bag and took out some of the cookies. He placed two in front of Sarah.

She beamed up at him as she took a huge bite. “Thank you, Papa.”

Damon broke one of his cookies in half and dunked it into his glass of chocolate milk.

Sarah watched him and tried to mimic the actions. She stuck half her hand into the glass but pulled the soggy cookie out with a huge smile on her face. Sarah stuffed the cookie into her mouth with a happy little grin.

Ric asked, “Have you had fun here with Mama, Principessa?”

She nodded while dunking the other half of her cookie into the chocolate milk. “We went shopping. Mama let me pick out all the toys I wanted. I even got a new bike. It’s so pretty, Zio.”

“Wow. Have you ridden your new bike?” Damon asked.

Sarah stopped nibbling on her cookie and shook her head. “I don’t know how and Mama was sick so she couldn’t teach me.”

Ric winced when he heard the way her voice went quiet at the last part. “Mama was sick?”

Damon gave Ric a warning look. He didn’t want to pressure Sarah about what happened at home. His daughter had been through enough.

Sarah nodded. She fidgeted with a cookie and refused to look at her father or uncle. “Can we stay here, Papa? I don’t want to go home.”

He had the urge to throw his glass against the wall but managed to restrain his temper. Damon picked up Sarah and sat her on his knee. “We can stay here for as long as you want to, bambolina.”

“Good. I like it here,” she replied. She picked up another cookie and dunked it into the glass.

Damon frowned because that was the first crack he’d seen in his daughter’s cheerful attitude. As a child, he used to pretend that everything was okay, too. He knew that no one was coming to save him. He didn’t want Sarah to grow up that way. He didn’t want her to turn out the way that he did. Most people would think that he had everything together in his life. However, all he wanted do right now was crawl into the bottom of the nearest bottle. The one thing he had going for him was his ability to be a functioning alcoholic.

Damon’s alcoholism was a secret to no one, least of all him. He couldn’t pinpoint the moment when he began to need a drink when he woke up each morning. However, he could clearly remember the moment when he learned that he couldn’t go a day without a drink. He was all of 20 years old at the time full of swagger and cockiness. One night he decided to drag race in a car right off of Velocita’s assembly line. He won the race but ended up wrapping the car around a tree. He wouldn’t have survived if Zach hadn’t been there to pull his broken body from the burning wreckage.

Damon had to spend three weeks in the hospital because his injuries were so severe. Damon started going through withdrawals after his third day in the hospital. It got so bad that Ric had to smuggle in a flask filled with bourbon. As he fought off the beginnings of the DTs he had to accept that he had become an alcoholic. It had surpassed the point of merely a drinking problem or a youthful indiscretion. However, in hindsight no one should have been surprised by the revelation.

He started drinking at the ripe old age of thirteen. Giuseppe never bothered to put his liquor under lock and key. The man barely even batted an eyelash a year later when he saw his son drinking a glass of his scotch at the dinner table. Then again, Ric and Zach had started drinking as teenagers, too. Perhaps the only difference was that Damon’s uncles had better impulse control than he did. However, he was certain that any trained professional would diagnosis the three of them as being dependent on alcohol. Drinking excessively was just the way that they learned how to cope with their lives. It wasn’t just Giuseppe’s abuse that drove them to drink. The man also insisted that they all know the taste of blood when they were little more than children. Damon’s first kill came when he was 15 years old.

Giuseppe had suspected that there was a snitch in his organization for weeks. One of their shipments had nearly been intercepted by the ATF. They might have been caught red-handed if it wasn’t for the payoffs that Giuseppe liberally spread around the local police department. They tipped him off ahead of time and he was able to switch the meeting place. However, after that narrow escape with the feds he began investigating his four capos. They were the only ones that knew the details of the shipment outside of his Uncles Bruno and Jackie.

Giuseppe ended up landing on Francisco De Santis or as Damon used to call him at the time, Uncle Frankie. The man had been like a father to him. He taught Damon how to clean his gun and to fire it. He used to take the boys hunting a couple times a year. Giuseppe forced Damon to torture the man until he confessed to being an informant. Francisco had been busted with a trunk full of semi automatic weapons that he had been skimming from the organization and selling for his own profit. The ATF dropped the case in exchange for his information and later testimony. When Giuseppe was satisfied, he made Damon slit Francisco’s throat. He hadn’t been able to sleep without nightmares for weeks after that happened. Damon knew that he had never stood a chance of being a decent human being after that.

Damon looked down when he realized that Sarah was talking to him again.

“I promise I’ll take care of it,” she said.

He blinked in confusion. “You’ll take care of what?”

She sighed dramatically. “Weren’t you listening to me, Papa?”

Ric stifled a laugh and shook his head as he swiped a cookie since Sarah wasn’t looking his way.

Damon couldn’t understand how his daughter could look so much like Stefan sometimes. However, she had definitely inherited that brooding forehead from him. “I’m sorry. I am listening to you now.”

“I want a puppy, Papa.”

He winced and asked, “A puppy? Wouldn’t you like a fish instead, bambolina?”

“No, I want a puppy,” she argued.

“But a puppy will probably use your pretty new doll as a chew toy,” he countered.

Sarah said, “I have lots of dolls. I do not have lots of friends. My puppy would be my bestest friend ever.”

Damon mentally cursed because he had officially lost this battle. He wasn’t about tell his 5 year old daughter that she couldn’t have a friend. It was bad enough that she was homeschooled with only her cousins as playmates. Occasionally, she had the opportunity to play with Elijah and Hayley’s children. He said, “I guess you can have a puppy but you will have to share him with your cousins. You can all take care of him together.”

Sarah didn’t look so sure about that. Stefan’s three children and Zach’s four children lived at the manor. That was a lot of people to share one puppy. “Can we have two puppies?” she asked.

Ric couldn’t help it that time. He cracked up laughing. “I think two puppies sounds like a great idea.”

Damon glared at his uncle over Sarah’s head.

“Two puppies!” she screeched happily.

Stefan walked into the kitchen with a forced smile on his face. The smile was strictly for Sarah’s benefit. He said, “Hey, big brother.”

Sarah’s face lit up. She squealed and raised her arms toward him. “Zio!”

He crossed the kitchen and picked her up. Stefan squeezed her and then peppered her face with kisses. “There’s my favorite niece!”

She hugged his neck and then asked, “Are Nico and Bella with you?”

Stefan chuckled and set her down on the ground. “Yes, they are in the living room with Tony. They can’t wait to see you.”

Sarah looked up at Damon with big eyes.

He laughed and handed over the bag of cookies. “Go on! Go share the cookies with your cousins.”

The three men watched as the five year old bounded out of the kitchen.

Sarah yelled, “Bella! Nico! Tony! I got cookies!”

The twins cheered in response.

Damon said, “You didn’t have to come, Stefan.”

The younger man raked a hand through his chestnut brown hair. “I think we both know that I did. Damon, I never for …”

“You don’t need to apologize. You didn’t do anything wrong. I know you wouldn’t have left Bonnie alone with him on purpose.” Damon would have loved to blame his brother. They were adversarial most of the time and a scapegoat would be nice. However, this fell squarely on his shoulders. He was the one that left his wife alone for two weeks.

Zach walked into the kitchen. “Should we do this, gents?”

Ric stood up and nodded. He was interested in what Damon had to tell them. They all knew what happened between Bonnie and Giuseppe back at the manor. Damon recounted the tale for Ric and Zach when they arrived earlier in the evening. Ric had filled Stefan in via phone.

The four Salvatore men walked to Sheila Bennett’s old office. Damon always set up shop there when he brought Bonnie and Sarah to Shadow Hills. The room was soundproof, spacious, and had a well stocked bar.

Damon walked behind the desk and sat down.

Ric locked the door and nodded for Damon to get started.

“You all know that Giuseppe beat my wife to a pulp and tried to rape her. My daughter bore witness to at least part of that. He could have caused Bonnie to miscarry our twins. Now Sarah is scared to go home. I know that he is our father and your brother….”

Zach added, “He’s also the boss. Taking him out is a move that we can’t come back from. If any of the capos find out what we did…it’ll be a civil war. It will tear the organization apart.”

“You’re right he is the boss but this can’t be allowed to stand. Giuseppe needs to die before he hurts anyone else. What he did to all of us was terrible but it was in the past. We are grown men now and we survived. Now we are always playing interference and trying to contain this psychopath. We keep him supplied in willing prostitutes and mistresses so that he isn’t out here forcing himself on innocent women. We hire the oldest possible maids at the Manor hoping that they won’t catch his attention. Our wives don’t even feel safe around him because they know he might turn on them without notice.”

No one responded to Damon because they all knew that it was true. Giuseppe had become more violent and unhinged in the last five years.

He continued. “We can’t continue to pretend that we can handle him. Even our wives know that is bullshit. Bonnie looked me in the eye today and said she is scared that one day Giuseppe will turn his attention to Sarah. I told her that was ridiculous because Sarah is his granddaughter but Bonnie reminded me that Giuseppe is her godfather. Then she told me that Jo and Caroline have the same fears for Josie, Lizzie, and Bella. Apparently, this summer Jo asked Caroline, Meredith, and Bonnie to make sure Josie and Lizzie were never alone.”

An uncomfortable silence filled the office as they all tried to make sense of this situation. The wheels turning in their heads were practically audible. Damon could almost see them connecting the dots the way he had that afternoon.

Ric’s jaw tightened because Jo had never mentioned her concerns to him. He couldn’t believe that his wife didn’t trust him enough to protect their daughters.

Zach was suddenly incredibly grateful to have four sons. His only concern was Giuseppe trying to push them into the family business before they were ready. Lucian was only 12 years old and Giuseppe wanted him to start training already.

Stefan blanched as he thought about his own little girl. Bella was only five years old. She adored Giuseppe and he had never been anything but loving towards her. However, he thought about Giuseppe’s relationship with Bonnie. He doted on the girl when she was a child. Stefan had been envious of that attention at one point.

Ric said, “I’ve wanted to kill the asshole for years. I can make it look like an accident.”

Damon asked, “How much do you know about Sheila and Giuseppe?”

The older man sat down in front of the desk. “They were together off and on since they were teenagers. She was probably the only person he was ever capable of loving. She definitely never put up with his shit.”

“I guess part of Sheila not putting up with his shit meant having an insurance policy. She recorded some of her conversations with him over the years. She gave everything to Bonnie after we got married. Sheila told Bonnie to only use the recordings if she felt her life was in danger.”

Ric snorted. “That sounds like Sheila.”

Damon removed a tablet from the top drawer and pulled up the audio file from earlier. “Zach, I’m warning you that this might be hard to hear.”

Zach raised an eyebrow at the warning but motioned for Damon to get on with it.

He pushed play and then relaxed in the chair as he watched his uncles and brother learn the truth about the man that raised them.

Zach was out of his seat as soon as the audio ended. Even if he could accept that killing their father was a business decision, he would never forgive Giuseppe for murdering his mother. He could barely remember Cecilia because she was taken from him so early in life. Zach bellowed as he slammed his fist into the wall as hard as he could.

Stefan jumped but remained silent. He couldn’t imagine what Zach was feeling. Giuseppe had taken his mother from him too, but it was in a less permanent way. Lilly was still a shell of a human being even after nearly 20 years away from him. His mother still saw a therapist because she suffered from PTSD. He asked, “What do we do? We can’t keep going on like this.”

Damon said, “I say that we take a page out of the old man’s book. You are right about killing him causing trouble because he is the boss. But maybe his bad heart just gives out…”

Zach scoffed. “That’s too good for him.”

Damon grinned. “Just because that is what his death certificate will say, doesn’t mean that is how he will die. I have something much slower and more painful in mind for Giuseppe.”

Ric said, “But first we need to get our house in order. Once Gio is dead, there can be no doubts about who will take his place. You know John Gilbert has delusions of grandeur.”

John had been Giuseppe’s consigliere for the last eight years. Damon despised the man because he was a kiss ass and a weasel. However, John could pose a problem if he made a play for the top spot in the organization. Damon said, “Send Mason to feel John out…discreetly. Figure out where his head is.”

Ric nodded. “I’ll get Mason on the phone tonight.”

 

Chapter Text

Bonnie had been quietly reading from the book The House on Pooh Corner for about a half hour. She loved the book almost as much as Sarah did. However, she looked down and realized that the little girl had fallen asleep at some point. She smiled as she closed the book and placed it on the nightstand. Despite, Damon’s presence in the house, Bonnie was still letting Sarah sleep in the master bedroom. If Damon objected, he could find somewhere else to sleep. She wouldn’t force their daughter to sleep alone again until she was ready. She tucked Sarah in more securely and then climbed out of the bed.

She quietly walked to the vanity and retrieved the phone from her jewelry box. Then she entered the bathroom so that her call wouldn’t disturb Sarah’s rest. Bonnie locked the door and then had a seat on the marble counter top. She needed to get this call out of the way before Damon decided it was time to turn in for the night. He had been locked in the office for several hours now. She could only hope that he was working on a way to kill his degenerate father. One way or another Giuseppe had better be in a coffin the next time she laid eyes on him. She dialed a number that she knew by heart and waited for an answer despite the late hour.

The person picked up after the first ring. “I’ve been waiting for you to call me for the last hour. I was beginning to get worried, Bon.”

Bonnie’s lips curved into a tiny smile at his concern. Her fingers fiddled with the Saint Christopher’s medal that hung around her neck. “I’m fine, Ty. What exactly did you expect to happen?”

In exasperation, he said, “Excuse me for being worried about you unprotected in the lion’s den. I heard that Alaric, Zach, and Stefan flew out there.”

Her spine straightened at that. “What danger did you expect me to face in my own home? This isn’t the Salvatore Manor.”

He scoffed, “You give your coward of a husband too much credit. You always have. A real man would have never allowed something like this to happen to any woman...let alone his wife. Excuse me if I don’t have as much confidence in him as you do.”

Bonnie would have chastised anyone other than Tyler for speaking about Damon in such a way. She didn’t even let her family get away with questioning his character. However, Tyler was a different case. He was her best friend and confidante. The pair had few secrets from each other, which meant he knew all about Damon’s indiscretions and shortcomings. She already knew that defending Damon would fall on deaf ears with him. “Well, put your mind to rest because I am fine. I was just making sure that Sarah got to sleep okay before I called.”

“How is she doing? Any more nightmares?” he asked with genuine concern.

“Sarah is doing better. She hasn’t had any nightmares since last week. I think that the worst of it might be over…at least I hope that is the case,” she confessed.

“She’ll get through this because of you, Bon.”

Bonnie nodded but the guilt hung on her heavily. She was just as responsible as Damon was for allowing Sarah to live in the same house with that man. She could have made demands of her husband months or even a year ago once the adoption was final. “Tell me that you have some good news. I could really use some right now.”

Tyler said, “Yeah. Alaric reached out to Uncle Mason tonight. He wants him to figure out where John’s head is when it comes to who should succeed Giuseppe. He’s going to meet with John tomorrow over drinks.”

She rolled her eyes at the mention of John Gilbert. He had his uses but he was a snake. “You have spent enough time with him. Where do you think his head is on the matter?”

Tyler had been dating John’s niece off and on for the last couple of years. He spent time with the man inside and outside of the business. However, it just meant he was more inclined to hate John.

“He’s arrogant and presumptuous but I think even he knows that his life would be forfeit if he tried taking Giuseppe’s place after his death. By the way, the word is Damon has people searching for the old man in Milazzo. He isn’t staying at the Salvatore compound.”

Bonnie smiled. She had been confident that Damon would kill his father. However, she was grateful that he was moving about things swiftly. She didn’t want Giuseppe’s death to become a lengthy maneuver. “Hopefully, he will have lowered his guard in the last few weeks. The last thing we want is for Giuseppe to see the hit coming. You know he wouldn’t hesitate to kill Damon in retaliation.”

Tyler sighed and said, “I should have killed him that night when you came to my house. When I saw your face…”

Bonnie had gone to Tyler first because there was no one else. She didn’t have any family in the city. “I know that you wanted to protect me but there wasn’t a plan, Ty. We would have had hell on our hands while we figured out what to do with the dead body of the West Coast’s biggest crime boss. Either you would have gone down for the murder or we would have had to pin it on someone else. There wasn’t time for that before he got on the plane to Sicily and you know it. Letting Damon sanction the hit on his father is our best chance.”

“I won’t let him get near you again. If Damon won’t pull the trigger then I will, Bon.”

Bonnie knew that he didn’t make idle threats. She loved Tyler because he was fierce and loyal. However, he used to be a hothead prone to violent outbursts at inopportune times. He had gotten better in the last few years but something like this was liable to make him revert to his former self. She said, “Damon wants him gone. I gave him the means to make that happen with as little blowback as humanly possible. I trust him to make this right. I know that you don’t trust him and I wouldn’t ask you to do that. However, I am asking you to trust me. Can you do that, Ty?”

“You know that I love you. I trust you with my life. But I don’t know if I trust you with your own. When it comes to Damon…I’m not so sure, Bon. It’s like you have a blind spot for him.”

She snapped, “Like you don’t have a blind spot for Elena. Or should we just pretend that she doesn’t think that she’s better than you? Little Miss Medical School likes to pretend that her father and uncle haven’t been working for the Salvatores for years.”

“You’re right. Elena does think that she’s slumming it by being with me. The difference is I’m not tied to her for the rest of my life.”

She laughed coldly. “Not yet but we both know that you’re going to propose to her soon.”

The line went quiet for a moment. “We’re not going to get married. I doubt that we will even be together by Valentine’s Day.”

Bonnie’s anger cooled at the sound of his voice. “What happened? I thought that you two were happy.”

“Don’t pretend that you want us together, Bon. I know how much you hate her.”

“Hate is a strong word. I don’t hate Elena. I mean I don’t like her but that’s a far cry from hate. Besides, it doesn’t matter how I feel about Elena. I know that you love her. I want you to be happy.”

Tyler said, “We’ve just been growing apart. It’s not important. I’m more concerned about you right now.”

Bonnie shook her head. “I know that my life is crazy right now but I’m still here for you. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not much to say. Elena just prefers hanging out with her med school friends. She wants to be this…different person now. I’m not sure that I fit into her five-year plans anymore. I’m not even sure that I still want to fit into her plans.”

“What about your plans, Ty?”

“I don’t know…they are the same as they always were.”

“You mean you still want to become a professional snowboarder and race car driver?” she asked teasingly.

Tyler huffed out a surprised laugh. “I had almost forgotten about that. You wanted to be a ballerina ninja.”

Bonnie chuckled and corrected him. “I wanted to be ballerina assassin.”

Tyler chuckled and then paused. “I’m sorry for getting shitty about Damon. He’s your husband and you love him. I get it but don’t ask me not to hate him. You deserve better than him and his fucked up family.”

“I was going to be someone’s possession the moment Grams found out that she was dying. I was too young to take over the business myself. If it wasn’t Damon then it would have been a cousin distant enough that our children wouldn’t come out with extra fingers or toes.”

“Don’t talk about yourself that way. You’re not a possession.”

Bonnie said, “We both know that I am. I’m still too young to take over the smuggling operation. The men wouldn’t respect me. I would lose what it took 100 years for my family to build. I won’t let something as simple as pride take that from me. I have a plan and I am going to follow it until I can take what is rightfully mine. If things work out with Damon then that’s great. If not…then we will just have to hope that one of the twins is a boy. Then he’ll never have to touch me again. I should go. It’s getting late.”

Tyler sighed and then asked, “When will you be home?”

“I’ll be back early next week. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without dinner at the Salvatore Manor.”

“We’ll keep in touch until then. I’ll let you know what Uncle Mason finds out from John.”

“Thanks, Ty. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Bonnie ended the call and then sat there for a few moments. She didn’t like arguing with Tyler. He was one of the few people in her very small support system. She lived in the manor surrounded by Damon’s family. They all cared for her but at the end of the day they would always choose his best interest over hers. She couldn’t blame them. What was good for Damon was good for the future of the Salvatore family.

She slid off the counter and landed gingerly on her feet. Then she went into the bedroom and hid the phone in her jewelry box once more. Bonnie contemplated climbing into bed to get a good night’s rest. However, too many thoughts and emotions cluttered her weary mind.

She picked up a thick fleece blanket as she walked out of the balcony’s glass paned doors. It was cold outside by Southern California’s standards. However, Bonnie liked the brisk weather of the Pacific Northwest. It felt like home to her. She settled down on the wicker loveseat and watched as the trees swayed in the wind. Her hand settled on her flat stomach. “It’s going to be okay,” she whispered.

Bonnie was worried for her unborn children and Sarah. Once upon a time, she had been a little girl that had witnessed the cruelties of life. She only hoped that the memories of that fateful night would fade for Sarah with time. Bonnie hadn’t been so lucky as a child.

Her ears perked up when she heard someone bumping around the bedroom. She had left the doors open just enough that she could hear if Sarah needed her. Bonnie stood and walked into the bedroom. However, Sarah was still sleeping soundly.

“Son of a bitch,” Damon barked from inside the bathroom.

She quietly crossed the room and lightly knocked on the bathroom door. “Are you okay, Damon?”

Damon opened the bathroom door with a sheepish look on his face. He was wearing a pair of pajama bottoms and had a toothbrush hanging from his mouth. He took out the toothbrush and said, “I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t wake Sarah.”

Bonnie shook her head and said, “No, she’s still asleep. I am sure that she is exhausted. She stayed up until 11 o’clock telling me about everything she wants to do tomorrow with Nico and Bella.”

His lips twitched into a smile as he looked at the bed from over Bonnie’s shoulder. Sarah, Nico, and Bella were all the same age. Growing up in the manor together made them as close as if they were siblings. Damon had grown up having a similar connection to Zach. He was closer in age to him than he was Stefan. He asked, “She’s sleeping in here with us tonight?”

“I hope you don’t mind. I figured that I would wait until she was ready to start sleeping alone again. She might not be ready until we go back home. She is used to sharing her room with Bella. I don’t think she likes sleeping alone.”

Damon shook his head. “No, I don’t mind. I would have done the same thing.”

Bonnie smiled and said, “I’ll let you get back to brushing your teeth. I am going to sit outside for a little longer.”

“Why don’t I come join when I am finished in here? We haven’t exactly had much time alone since I’ve been here.”

His offer surprised the young woman. Bonnie nodded. “I would like that, Damon.”

Damn brushed his fingers against her hand and said, “I won’t be too much longer.”

Bonnie left Damon to his nightly routine and returned to the balcony. She wrapped up in the fleece one more while she waited for him to join her. She wondered idly if he meant to update her about Giuseppe. However, Bonnie knew that he wouldn’t speak with her honestly about the man’s fate.

Damon pulled on a t-shirt as he stepped onto the balcony. He sat beside Bonnie on the loveseat. Genuine concern marred his handsome features. “How are you feeling? Are you in any pain?”

Bonnie pulled her knees up to her chin. “I’m a little sore but otherwise I am okay. Jo prescribed something mild for the pain. She said that it was safe for me to take it while pregnant but I don’t want to risk it. I was in more pain last week and managed to survive without any pain medicine.”

Damon didn’t like knowing that she was in pain. He wished that she would just take the medication. However, he knew it was more about assuaging his guilt. Bonnie had survived without medication or his concern for her wellbeing. He took Bonne’s hand and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me what happened? If you had called me, I would have come home, Bonnie.”

“My main concern was getting Sarah out of the manor and as far away from Giuseppe as humanly possible. I didn’t even know where I was going when I got in the car. I just knew that I had to run,” she said.

She removed her hand from his grasp and sought the Saint Christopher medal hanging from her neck. Her thumb caressed the image imprinted on the metal. Bonnie couldn’t tell Damon that she had first run to Tyler Lockwood. He would ask too many questions and might even get curious about her in ways he had never been.

Damon studied her heart-shaped face for some sign of deception. He said, “I understand why you didn’t call me that night. Getting you and Sarah to safety had to take precedence. I just don’t understand why you didn’t call me once you were here.”

“I was angry at you. Is that what you want to hear?”

He saw something that he didn’t recognize glint in Bonnie’s eyes. “Yes, if that is the truth. I know that my work schedule can’t be easy on you and Sarah.”

She glared at him. “I’m not stupid, Damon. I knew where you were. I always know where you are when you disappear for days at a time. I could have driven into the city to confront you at the Rischard but I didn’t want to deal with it.”

Damon felt his heartbeat quicken at her admission. He wasn’t delusional enough to belief that Bonnie was unaware of his extramarital activities. However, knowing that he maintained a penthouse at the Rischard was another matter. “Bunny…”

“It is what it is, Damon. I knew about your relationship with Katherine before we got married. Grams warned me that it would likely continue. I accepted that your infidelity would be part of the arrangement. My only concern was that you kept it out of the public eye so that I wasn’t humiliated. You’ve done well in that area. I don’t particularly like Katherine but then again I wouldn’t really like any mistress of yours. But she is very unpleasant,” she bit out.

His eyes nearly bulged right out of their sockets. He asked, “How do you know about Katherine?”

Bonnie resisted the urge to scream in frustration. Of course, his first reaction was to ask how she knew about his mistress. She gave a bitter little laugh. “Did you really think that someone as petty and vindictive as Katherine wouldn’t make her presence known? She’s contacted me on numerous occasions over the years.”

Damon couldn’t believe that Katherine would betray his trust this way. She knew how hard it was for him to allow anyone into his life. “Why haven’t you ever mentioned any of this to me?”

She shrugged and placed her feet on the ground. “We have a good thing going. You pretend to love me and I pretend to believe you. Telling you about Katherine’s pathetic attempts to hurt my feelings would only make us have to confront the elephant in the room. You see how well that is going.”

“I don’t pretend to love you, Bunny. I do love you. I’m sorry that Katherine has been contacting you. I obviously didn’t know but I will put a stop to it,” he promised.

Bonnie wasn’t surprised by Damon’s lackluster response. Of course, he believed the problem stemmed from Katherine, instead of acknowledging that the affair was wrong. “I don’t care about Katherine. She’s insignificant. It isn’t as if you are going to leave me for her. You are stuck with me. I just hoped that you would grow tired of her at some point. Or maybe…”

Damon asked, “Or maybe what?”

Bonnie shook her head and looked down at her hands. “Nothing. It’s stupid.”

He rested a hand on her knee and said, “Don’t do that. I want to know what’s on your mind, Bonnie.”

“I guess I hoped that one day you might fall in love with me, too,” she whispered. Bonnie hated feeling vulnerable with Damon. She loved him too much. She gave him too much power over her.

Damon felt a lump form in his throat as he swallowed. He thought back to his conversation with Rose that morning. He asked, “You’re in love with me?”

She nodded.

“Since when?” he asked incredulously.

She stood up and said, “You’re going to think that I’m an idiot. Can we just drop this, please? It’s late and I should be in bed anyway.”

He took both of her hands into his and steered her back to the loveseat. “Please, don’t run away from me. Just talk to me, Bunny. Please?”

She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “You’ve always been an important part of my life. I guess somewhere along the way I developed a crush on you. Then one day Grams tells me that I am going to marry you. I thought…all of my dreams were coming true. Then she told me about Katherine and it broke my silly little heart. I guess I should have tried harder to stop myself from falling in love with you but I didn’t know how to do that.”

Damon just sat there as he digested Bonnie’s confession. He understood that she had just gone out on a limb. He couldn’t leave her hanging. “I do love you, Bonnie. You are important to me.”

Bonnie nodded with a crestfallen expression. The epiphany she had been hoping for wasn’t going to happen. “But you don’t love me as a man should love his wife. You love me as a friend or God forbid as a sister.”

Damon chuckled darkly and said, “We have sex on a regular basis. I think it is safe to say that I don’t love you as a sister.”

She looked down and steeled herself. She said, “Then as a friend…”

He suppressed a frustrated growl. Damon didn’t like being caught off guard and he had just been blindsided. His wife was in love with him and just being with him was hurting her. He seriously wondered what in the hell Sheila had been thinking entrusting him with her pride and joy. He was too broken to be a good husband. It took all of his energy to be a good father to Sarah and he wasn’t always sure that he succeeded on that front. All he strived to do was not ruin his daughter in the way that Giuseppe had ruined him.

Bonnie saw that he was struggling to come up with a response. She could hear Tyler’s warning in her head. She forced a smile for his benefit. “It’s okay, Damon. I had no right to expect more than you can give me. I mean there are worse fates than having a husband that isn’t in love with you. I could have been married off to someone like Giuseppe.”

He huffed out a pained laugh. “Being married to me is slightly better than being married to an abusive psychopath.”

“That’s not what I said,” she argued.

“No, that’s what I am saying. You shouldn’t need to feel grateful that I don’t get drunk on the weekends and beat you. It’s not insane or asking too much for your husband to be in love with you. Things are just complicated, Bonnie. Between the age difference and my profession, I never imagined that you would fall in love with me. From the moment, Giuseppe told me about the arrangement, I was terrified that you would be afraid of me.”

Bonnie squeezed his hand. “I have never been afraid of you, Damon. I couldn’t be. You have always been gentle and considerate with me. Even though you weren’t in love with me I could see how you tried to make me happy. I mean you let me go to college despite all of the grief Giuseppe gave you about it.”

The older man had been convinced that Bonnie would divorce Damon after finding someone closer to her own age.

He rolled his eyes as he thought about the argument he had with his father about Bonnie enrolling in school. “I wanted you to be able to make friends and get out of the house. I know that our lifestyle puts some unfair limitations on you. I want to give you as normal a life as our circumstances permit.”

“I don’t want normal. I want you, Damon.”

Damon heard the sincerity in her words and it made him feel even worse. He could literally give Bonnie almost anything under the sun. However, all she wanted was for Damon to love her as much as she loved him. “You have me, Bonnie.”

She decided now was the time to put her cards on the table. She had to know if this was a lost cause. Bonnie had her plans but they could change. She asked, “Do you think that you could ever fall in love with me? It’s okay if you can’t. I’ll understand. I just need to know if I should stop hoping for the impossible.”

Damon really considered her question and said, “Yes, I think that I could. I think I haven’t allowed myself to consider the option because I didn’t think that was what you would want. Maybe we can explore things between us once Giuseppe has retired.”

Bonnie said, “I would like that, Damon.”

He cupped her cheek and kissed her sweetly. “Yeah?”

Her cheeks flushed after the kiss. She nodded. “Yes.”

Damon settled back on the loveseat and opened his arms. “Come here.”

Bonnie shifted so that her head was resting on his shoulder. She pulled the fleece blanket around her more. A little voice told her not to put too much stock in Damon’s words. However, her heart was running the show right now.

Damon’s mind strayed to his mistress. His blood boiled at the thought of Katherine ever speaking to Bonnie. He could only imagine the things that she had said. Damon truly wondered what she thought calling Bonnie would accomplish. Their marriage was the merger of two legitimate and illegitimate enterprises. A little infidelity on his part wasn’t going to suddenly end the relationship.

Then again, Katherine had a completely different upbringing than he and Bonnie did. She didn’t know what it meant to have a duty to your family. Damon always knew that he wouldn’t be able to marry for love. He was the eldest son and he was always going to marry someone of his father’s choosing. The same was true for Bonnie. Sheila allowed Abby to marry for love. She picked a horrible man and it did nothing to benefit the family. Worse Sheila had to pay off Rudy to get him to go away. Abby’s colossal failure had sealed her daughter’s fate.

He knew one thing. Katherine would regret sticking her nose into his marriage.

Chapter Text

Damon felt a migraine coming on as he listened to Giuseppe’s uncle explain the state of things in Milazzo. The older man was heaping yet another problem onto his great-nephew’s already overflowing plate. Just seventy-two hours ago, Damon felt as if everything in his personal and professional lives were on track. Now everything had gone to shit. He found himself rushing around trying to put out fires that he was just learning had been burning for quite some time. Damon knew that the complications of his personal life were all his doing. However, his professional life was in shambles because of his father’s treachery. Damon was sorely tempted to gun the old bastard down in the street and be done with it. Unfortunately, the nature of their business would require him to be calculating—not impulsive.

“Thank you for being honest with me, Zio. I’ll see you next month for Christmas. Ciao,” Damon said. He ended the call and threw his phone at the wall in frustration. “Son of a bitch!”

Ric looked at the cracked phone a mere foot from where he was standing. He removed his hands from his pants’ pockets and then walked up to the desk. “Was that really necessary?”

“Don’t start with me! I’m not in the mood right now! I’ve had it up to here with your fucking brother! Brutto figlio di puttana,” Damon angrily spat.

The older man’s eyebrow went up at his outburst. Giuseppe raised them in a multilingual home but Damon rarely spoke Italian outside of small phrases of endearment. He sat down in front of the desk and waited for his nephew to calm down. It was pointless to talk to him once he’d worked up a good head of steam.

It took five minutes for Damon to settle down. He refilled his glass of bourbon and took a deep breath. He ran a hand through his dark hair and said, “He’s been playing me this whole time. He has been playing all of us. Uncle Bruno said that Giuseppe has been in Milazzo solidifying his own position. He’s been worried for awhile now that I would take the family from him.”

Ric groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face. There was a nugget of good news hidden amongst the bed. The good news was that his older brother realized that he didn’t have the support to clip Damon. “Giuseppe must have found out that you have been doing the same thing stateside. He has to know that your position is all but guaranteed here.”

Damon had been ingratiating himself to their people for the last two years. They all knew that Damon was the future of the organization. He was also preferred because of his balanced temperament. Well, he was balanced in comparison to Giuseppe. The elder Salvatore didn’t limit his rage to just the members of his biological family. The slightest infraction could prove to be lethal if Giuseppe was in a bad mood. Damon also had the full support of Elijah Mikaelson. The alliance with the Mikaelson organization would stretch well beyond Giuseppe’s tenure.

“He will split the family in half, Zio. Even the ones loyal to me know that our connection to the old country is crucial. Giuseppe needs to die before he can move against me. He might have sped up his plans because of what he did to Bonnie. He knows I’ll want retribution.”

Ric silently considered their options for a moment. “You need to reach out to Big John. We need the Bendettos’ support now more than ever. The operation on this side of the Atlantic is loyal to you but you need to secure the other side. Having the Benedetto family on our side will go a long way. If Giuseppe loses favor in Big John’s eyes, he is dead in the water. They might be close but the attack on Bonnie changes things. John will always choose family over business.”

Damon incredulously asked, “Are you suggesting I tell my biggest ally that I allowed my father to beat the shit out of his first cousin’s pregnant granddaughter? That’s your big plan?”

Ric said, “No, I am suggesting that you use that relationship to your advantage. The Bendetto Family will go the way that Bonnie does. Maybe once she’s all healed you take a trip to Milazzo. Before then, you and I need to take the trip over. You need some face time with our family. They need to understand that the Salvatore line doesn’t end with Giuseppe. I’ve done my best to talk you up but you need to make that connection. You haven’t spent any meaningful time in Milazzo in the last couple of years. It ends now, Damon!”

The younger man ground his teeth in anger but conceded Ric’s point. He said, “Uncle Bruno and Uncle Jackie are on my side. They can help pave the way for me.”

Bruno and Giacomo were Giuseppe’s uncles. They were of course getting on in age but their ties to the organization ran deep. Giacomo had been Giuseppe’s consigliere for 30 years before he retired and moved back to Milazzo. John Gilbert took his place in the organization. Bruno had been an underboss for almost as long before Ric took over for him. Bruno lived in Milazzo now, too.  

Ric nodded. “Now you are using your head, Damon. Giuseppe is dead no matter what but we aren’t going to lose control of the family. You’ve earned the top spot and the old man knows it.”

Damon’s phone started ringing across the room.

The older man retrieved the phone for his nephew. “I am surprised that the damn thing is still working after the way you threw it.”

“Thanks,” Damon muttered as he took the phone. His cerulean eyes darkened when he saw that it was Katherine. He immediately ignored the call and tossed the phone on his desk.

“Trouble in paradise?” he asked. Ric wasn’t fond of his nephew’s mistress. However, he wasn’t exactly in the position to be anyone’s moral compass about infidelity. Alaric’s relationship with his mistress spanned nearly two decades at this point.

“Don’t start,” the younger man warned.

It had been two days since Bonnie’s confession of her feelings and Katherine’s betrayal. Damon still hadn’t figured out how to handle his mistress. He gave her a certain amount of leeway because she had been with him for years. However, it would be an understatement to say that she crossed a line by trying to hurt Bonnie. He was too angry to deal with Katherine right now. He was worried that if they spoke, she would say something flippant or disrespectful to send him over the edge. It wouldn’t take much for Damon to brutally remind Katherine of her place but he didn’t like being that type of man.

Ric shook his head. “Go spend some time with the family. It’ll help you relax. I’ll stay in here and make some calls. I need to talk to Uncle Jackie. He can give us a road map of the old stalwarts that you are going to need to sway in our favor.”

Damon considered rejecting the idea but he did want to spend more time with Bonnie. “Put more pressure on our people to find Giuseppe. Maybe he’s shacked up with one of his whores.”

“They’ll find him, Damon. It’s just taking time because we don’t want to arouse any suspicion. He’s laying low to test the waters after what he did. Get out of here and let me work my magic.”

The raven-haired playboy snorted at his uncle but reluctantly left the office. He walked outside where the rest of their family was congregating. Jo and Meredith had decided that it was too nice an evening to be cooped up in the house. They were grilling dinner on the heated patio.

Bonnie and Caroline were seated on the far end of the patio shucking fresh corn for dinner. They were also keeping an eye on Tony while he played in the playpen beside them. The toddler was Caroline and Stefan’s third and final child if you believed the blonde event planner.

Zach was kicking a soccer ball around with Bella, Nico, and Sarah in the backyard.

Damon sat down beside Stefan. “Double D definitely inherited Blondie’s athleticism.”

Stefan snorted and rolled his eyes. Everyone knew that he was the more athletic of the two Salvatore boys. Stefan had played football and baseball all four years of high school. “Caroline has told you a million times not to call him that.”

He clapped his younger brother on the back. “You shouldn’t have named him Damon Domenico Salvatore if you didn’t want me to call him Double D. Trust me he’ll love his nickname once he’s interested in girls.”

“I named him after you because I love you, asshole,” Stefan said.

“I know.” Damon smirked and watched as the kids tried to score a goal around Zach. However, his uncle was actively swatting the balls away from the net.

“Have you talked to Sarah about what she saw that night?”

The elder brother’s eyes darkened. He bit out, “No. I know that I should but…”

Stefan offered, “Maybe she could talk to a professional. I sure as hell wouldn’t know where to start.” He ran a frustrated hand through his hair and said, “It was bad enough having to keep our girlfriends away from the house. I hoped that I wouldn’t have to worry about my wife’s safety. I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to protect Bonnie.”

Damon smiled wryly He said, “He would have kicked your ass, pretty boy. You’ve never had to fight him one on one.”

The younger man nodded and tried to ignore the sense of shame that washed over him. His uncles and older brother had been stepping in the way of Giuseppe’s fists for years. “Maybe but I would have gladly taken it to protect her. I mean it’s Bonnie. The one time I shoved her as a kid I thought he was going to beat the shit out of me. He probably would have if Sheila didn’t get in the way. How does he go from protecting her like his own kid to attacking her?”

“He’s a psychopath. There is no use trying to assign logical thought to his actions.”  Damon looked amused. “Why the hell did you shove her?”

“I can’t even remember now. She was annoying the hell out of me because you weren’t around. I got frustrated and shoved her, but Bonnie has always been tiny. The shove sent her straight to the ground. I remember her just looking up at me in shock. I couldn’t have been more than ten at the time. The way Giuseppe barreled out of the house…I thought I was a dead man.”

Damon looked at his brother for a moment and then thought better of it.

“What?” Stefan asked.

“What? What?”

He rolled his eyes. “You had that look, Damon. You wanted to say something. Is this about Mom?”

Damon huffed out a laugh. “I’m still not ready to talk about you taking my niece and nephews to go see that traitorous bitch.”

Stefan didn’t bother sticking up for their mother. Lilly had made her own bed where Damon was concerned. She chose her own safety and wellbeing over that of her sons. “Then what is it?”

He lowered his voice and said, “I don’t know…it’s just something that Bonnie said to me recently. She said that she’s been in love with me for years.”

The younger man laughed and clapped Damon on the back. “You’re just figuring that out? Apparently, I got the looks, the athleticism, and the brains.”

Damon glared at him.

“Did you completely forget the summer after Bonnie’s 16th birthday? I spent most of that summer hard as a rock because of her walking around in tiny bikinis and short shorts. Trust me she wasn’t prancing around the manor like that for my benefit. I checked.”

Damon licked his lips because he remembered that summer very well. He avoided her like the plague because despite being a manwhore he drew the line at statutory rape. He scowled. “Wait! What do you mean you checked?”

Stefan shrugged. “What? She wasn’t your wife back then. She was just our little Bon-Bon. I put on the standard Salvatore charm and she ended up crying in my arms about you going out on a date with Sybil.”

He winced when he thought about Sybil. The woman had been a terrible decision on his part. She played Damon and Enzo against each other for months. “You’re lucky that you were always so bad at talking to girls. I would hate to have to kneecap my own brother. There is no statute of limitations here.”

Stefan grinned at his brother and clapped him on the back. “Whatever you say, big brother. Although, I think you are being a bit hypocritical considering all the women you’ve drug your dick through over the years. I’m surprised that Sarah is your only kid.”

“Bastard,” Damon muttered. Frankly, he was surprised, too.

Stefan winked and then jogged over to join the soccer game. He was tired of watching his uncle denying all of the kids’ scoring attempts.

Caroline scoffed loudly. “Seriously? I can’t believe that…that…harlot!”

Damon looked over at his wife and sister-in-law with curiosity. That was pretty salty language for Caroline. He stood and walked over to the table. He smirked and asked, “What’s wrong, Barbie?”

The blonde woman glared at him. “You and your man parts are what’s wrong, Damon,” she accused in a heated tone. “You men are just so disgusting. Thank God Stefan is nothing like you.”

“Well, no one has ever accused Stefan of being a man. What is it that I have supposedly done this time?” he asked.

Bonnie looked to be near tears. She snapped. “Stop, Care.”

“You don’t need to put up with his crap, Bon. I definitely wouldn’t do it.”

The girl stood up and said, “Well, you and I are in very different situations. Aren’t we?”

Caroline immediately looked chastened. Stefan being the younger brother meant that he was free to marry anyone of his choosing. Their marriage had been for love. “I’m sorry, Bon. I wasn’t thinking. Please forgive me and my big fat mouth.”

Bonnie said, “It’s fine. You were just trying to stick up for me.”

Damon was getting irritated. His position in the family meant that when he asked a question, people rushed to answer him. He was already on edge after his conversation with Bruno. He asked, “What the hell is going on?”

Bonnie glared daggers at her husband as she brushed by him. She rushed into the house because she needed a moment to collect herself. She was angry, hurt, embarrassed, but most of all she was shocked. Being blindsided was what hurt her the most. Bonnie strived to prepare herself for any situation. However, twice in as many weeks something unexpected had knocked her off course.  

Caroline said, “Just give her some space, Damon. You’ve done enough.”

Damon dismissed his sister-in-law with a heated sneer. He marched into the house with his blood boiling in his veins. If he didn’t like people ignoring him, he definitely didn’t appreciate his wife walking away from him. He growled, “Bonnie!”

“Leave me alone!” Bonnie yelled over her shoulder. She ignored the pain in her ankle as she marched up the stairs. She tried to slam the door but Damon raced forward and grabbed it.

Damon forced his way into the bedroom and slammed the door closed behind them. Then he grabbed Bonnie’s arm and said, “Don’t walk away from me when I am trying to talk to you, damn it! What the hell has gotten into you?”

Bonnie threw her phone into his face and asked, “Are you going to slap me around like your father did?”

The phone to the face hadn’t affected Damon but he released Bonnie’s arm when she suggested he might strike her. He backed away from the girl and stared at her with wild eyes. “I would never…”

Bonnie got a sick thrill watching the way Damon recoiled at her venomous words. “Just leave me alone, please.”

“If I’ve done something, I’d at least like to know what it is. I thought that we were okay now,” he said. His voice was calm as if he were talking to a spooked horse.

“Your girlfriend thought now was a good time to send me a few choice pictures of the two of you together. Although, the screen captures of your text messages were a nice touch. You found a real winner with her, Damon. Maybe I should have accepted that divorce when you offered it.”

Damon stepped forward but stopped when he saw the hardened look in Bonnie’s tear-filled eyes. Those eyes didn’t belong to his beautiful wife. “You don’t mean that.”

“Don’t I? I have tried so hard to be a good wife. I have turned a blind eye to your affair...no matter how much it hurts me. How much disrespect am I supposed to take, Damon? If you don’t appreciate me, someone else will…”

He was getting ready to object but his jaw ticked when Bonnie suggested there could be someone else. He ground out, “What the fuck are you saying?”

Bonnie rolled her eyes at his denseness. She said, “I’m saying that I’m young, beautiful, and rich. If Katherine means so much to you then let me go. I promise that I won’t be alone for long! I’m saying that I can do a hell of a lot better than you, Damon Salvatore!”

Damon growled and got in her face. All he saw was red as he thought about someone else touching his wife. “Are you fucking someone else?”

“You’ve got a lot of nerve accusing me when you just spent two weeks with your mistress! What if I do have someone else in my life? What if I am seeing someone that actually loves me and cares about my happiness? What the hell could you do about it?”

“It’s not the same thing and you know it! You are a mine. You are my wife. If I ever found out that there was someone else, I would slit his throat in front of you, Bonnie! Don’t play games with me, little girl! Now answer my fucking question! Are you fucking someone?”

She rolled her eyes at his threat.

Damon picked up a lamp and threw it at the wall. “Do you think that I am joking? I am the only man that you will ever be with, Bonnie.”

Bonnie looked unimpressed by his outburst. “Do you love her?”

Damon got whiplash with how quickly Bonnie switched topics. His mind still reeled at the possibility of another man touching his wife. “Of course not!” he shouted. “Why would you even ask me something like that?”

“Here’s the thing…either you’re lying to her or you are lying to me. Either way you are a freaking liar,” she screamed as a sob shook her body. Bonnie dashed into the bathroom and slammed the door.

Damon stood there in shock for a solid minute. He stared at the closed bathroom door and debated going after Bonnie. However, he looked down at her phone lying at his feet and then bent down to pick it up. He was glad to find that the screen wasn’t locked. Damon felt the urge to choke the life out of Katherine when his eyes fell onto a picture that she had sent Bonnie. It was a selfie of Katherine lying naked beside Damon while he was sleeping.

He scrolled through four pictures obviously taken in the last week. However, the screen caps of their text exchanges really took the cake. His relationship with Katherine was as complicated as it was long. Damon used her for sex and companionship. Katherine used him for money and companionship. He all but supported the family she thought he knew nothing about. However, Damon wasn’t the type of man to enter a long term affair with a woman he didn’t know every detail about. If he was being honest, he had grown to care about Katherine over the years. However, he only said that he loved her because that's what women wanted to hear. It was his way of appeasing Katherine. He certainly didn't feel for her what he felt for Bonnie. There wasn’t another woman alive that he would want as his wife. Damon could honestly say that he loved Bonnie more than he'd ever loved another person.

“Damn,” he muttered softly.

Damon walked over to the bathroom door and knocked lightly. “Bonnie? I’m sorry. Baby, let me in.”

“Just go, please. Leave me with a little dignity, Damon,” she pleaded through the door.

Damon leaned his forehead against the door and tried to settle himself. Yelling at Bonnie was the last thing she needed from him. He had already crossed the line by grabbing her like a fool. “I’ll sit here all night if that’s what it takes, Bunny.”

“I don’t know if I can keep doing this,” she said. Bonnie tried to stifle a sob. “Maybe you’d be happier with her.”

Damon said, “I won’t lie to you, Bonnie. I care for Katherine but it isn’t what I have with you. It never could be and she knows that. She’s jealous of you, baby. Don’t you see that?”

“She makes me feel like I’m the other woman, Damon. Maybe I am the other woman and I am just too stupid to realize it,” she replied.

Damon’s fists clenched in frustration. Katherine really wasn’t worth all of the trouble she was causing. He looked around the room for something to pick the lock on the bathroom door. However, his eyes ran across the balcony doors. Damon was suddenly glad that this was a Greek Revival house. He walked out the balcony doors and opened the ones that led into the bathroom.

Bonnie leaned against the counter as she cried. This wasn’t how things were supposed to be. She hated feeling weak. She hated letting Damon affect her this way. She jumped when the doors opened. In her fit, she hadn’t thought about locking the doors.

He walked into the bathroom and stood in front of Bonnie. “You are not the other woman. You are my wife, Bonnie Salvatore. And I love you. I do not love Katherine or anyone else.”

“I don’t believe you,” she whispered. “You don’t need to lie to me, Damon. I don’t actually want a divorce. I was just angry. Maybe it is time for me to grow up and start looking at this marriage as the business arrangement it was always meant to be. We wouldn’t be the first couple to live separate lives.”

Damon felt something crack inside of him as he watched Bonnie turn colder in front of him. He gently grabbed her face and pulled her into a kiss. “No. You’re my wife. Do you hear me? I love you and I know I’m a shit husband, Bon. But it isn’t because I look at this as a business arrangement. I’m just not a very good person.”  

Bonnie wasn’t swayed one iota by his declaration. All she felt was her heart breaking. “I’d really like for you to leave me alone now. I just need some time to myself. I am sure I look a mess after all of the crying. I need to fix my makeup.”

Damon leaned his forehead against hers and whispered, “I can’t just leave you alone while you are hurting. I’m sorry, baby. Please, forgive me. I never meant to hurt you. I didn’t think that Katherine would pull a stunt like this. I promise that I will end the affair. I’m done with her. You have my word.”

Bonne’s dewy eyes fluttered closed in despair. She didn’t believe a word coming from his faithless mouth. Bonnie might have allowed herself to believe him before she saw those text messages but they were damning. Damon loved Katherine. Bonnie couldn’t have foreseen that wrinkle in her plans. All of her insecurities came bubbling to the surface. What was wrong with her? What more could she possibly do to make Damon chose her? She finally understood that the heartbreaking answer was nothing.

“Did you hear me? I am done with Katherine, bunny. From now on, I’m just going to focus on our family. We have so much to look forward to, right? Our family is growing.” He rested his hands on her flat stomach. Damon nuzzled the side of her neck. “I love you.”

A little voice in Bonnie’s head was urging her to slam Damon’s face into the mirror behind her. She wanted him to hurt as much as she was hurting right now. However, she ignored the violent impulse and instead forced a smile for her husband’s benefit. “I love you, too.”

Damon relaxed when he felt the tension leave Bonnie’s body. He now knew exactly how to handle Katherine. It was time for her to get a visit from Enzo.

Chapter Text

Katherine checked her phone for the tenth time. However, there still weren’t any messages or missed calls from Damon. It was unlike him to ignore her completely. Usually, he at least texted her if he was busy. Her level of disinterest at the nightclub that evening hadn’t gone unnoticed by her friends. They tried to cheer her up and it had worked for the majority of the night. She forgot about Damon and focused on spending his money. However, he invaded her thoughts once more as she rode to the villa in silence.

Katherine was the ultimate chameleon. She could blend into any setting for the right price—and there was always a price. Katherine had spent the majority of her youth bilking wealthy men out of thousands of dollars. She was beautiful and had an exotic look about her. Men found her irresistible and Katherine saw nothing wrong with using her feminine wiles to get what she wanted. She knew that some women, like Rose, disdainfully called her a whore. However, Katherine thought it was foolish to have sex with men without receiving compensation. If she was going to spread her legs to have lackluster sex with uninteresting men, then she was damn well going to be paid handsomely for it.

Fortunately, lackluster sex wasn’t in Damon’s impressive repertoire. He was an absolute mad man in bed. Katherine could write love poems to his laudable skill set. She had been with Damon a little over eight years. Their relationship was by far the longest she had ever had. Katherine loved Damon. However, all the glitz and glam that came with him made her stay even after he married Bonnie. Over the years, he bought her racks full of designer clothes, expensive shoes, and fur coats. Damon even had one of the three bedrooms in the penthouse converted into a walk-in closet for her. She had her own bank account and access to his credit cards. Every couple of years she received a new sports car from Velocita. Damon ensured that she wanted for nothing. She had never wanted to be exclusive before he demanded it from her four years ago. That’s when their relationship changed.

Katherine was angry despite enjoying her stay at the Salvatore’s villa in the Canary Islands. She couldn’t believe that Damon had ended their two weeks together early in order to swan off after his wife. However, she had erased most of that frustration with a string of vicious texts to Bonnie. Katherine couldn’t stand Damon’s simpering child bride. The women had crossed paths on a few occasions mostly due to Katherine’s machinations. Frankly, she didn’t understand Damon’s interest in the girl. Furthermore, she took a perverse amount of pleasure from taunting Bonnie with the details of their affair.

Katherine wasn’t some delusional girl that idolized Pretty Woman. She knew that there would never be a time where she would become Damon’s wife. She didn’t have the background or patience for such a thing. However, she liked being desired above all else. Damon’s affection for Bonnie made her feel unsteady. She was concerned that everything they had built would come crashing down around her. When he first married the girl, Damon would still see Katherine several times a week. Now it was down to a half dozen times in a month. Sometimes he popped by the penthouse in the middle of the day for a quickie but it wasn’t the same. She could feel herself losing Damon as his affection for Bonnie grew. The jaded side of Katherine would argue that she feared losing her meal ticket. However, the honest part of her, that she vehemently ignored, knew that losing Damon would hurt.

Katherine grabbed onto the driver’s shoulder as she climbed out of the SUV. She needed the older man’s assistance because she was drunk but it was also to protect her modesty. The black mini dress with its diamond shaped cutouts left very little to the imagination.  If Katherine wasn’t careful someone was bound to get an eyeful of her bare crotch. It was nearly three o’clock in the morning so she needn’t worry about looky-loos seeing her. However, she knew from experience that the old curmudgeon reported to Damon regularly. Damon tolerated most of Katherine’s behavior. However, he had a few rules that were non-negotiable. Rule #1 she wasn’t allowed to have any other sexual partners. Rule #2 she wasn’t to embarrass him publicly. Rule #3 she couldn’t use any needle drugs. She knew the last rule was because of Bree’s near fatal overdose.

She tugged her dress into place once she was standing on the ground in front of the driver. She smiled up at him. ‘Thank you, Felipe.”

“Will that be all for the night, Miss?” He asked dutifully.

“Yes, I’ll need you back here at noon. I am having lunch with the girls.”

Felipe closed the door and nodded. “I will be here at a quarter til, Miss.”

Katherine walked toward the beachfront villa and called over her shoulder. “Good night.”

He stood there and watched as she made it to the door. “Good night.”

She unlocked the door and walked into the darkened two-story villa. She visited the Canary Islands often enough that this place felt as if it was her second home. Katherine had dreams of retiring in a place like this. She couldn’t stand the hustle and bustle of the city.

Katherine set the alarm and then braced herself against the wall as she stepped out of her stilettos. Afterwards she padded through the darkened house and went into the kitchen. She was hungry. Katherine hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

She searched the subzero freezer until she found a pint of mint chocolate chip. It wasn’t a balanced meal but it would do in a pinch. Katherine pulled a spoon from a nearby drawer and then ambled into the living room. She sprawled out on the couch and opened the carton of ice cream as she watched the ocean’s waves crashing against the shore. It was almost comical how her life had changed from her troubled youth.

Katherine’s father had abandoned their family after losing all of their money to his gambling debts. Her family ended up living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood on Boston’s south side. Her mother would carpool out to the suburbs where she cleaned the houses of the affluent. Katherine had come a long way from the girl that used to steal lacy underwear from the store by stuffing them into the sleeves of her winter coat.

She finished the pint of ice cream and left it on the coffee table. The house cleaner would take care of it in the morning. She sauntered into the bedroom as she struggled to pull off her dress. It was late and she had drunk far too much in her annoyance. She had called Damon several times since they parted ways and he hadn’t responded to her. His aloofness only fueled her rage. Katherine didn’t like being ignored but knowing that it was because of Bonnie drove her mad.

Once in the bedroom she peeled off the gauzy material and climbed into the bed. She hoped the cool caress of the silk sheets would calm her down. Katherine would hate to do something rash in her agitation.

Her eyes fluttered closed as sleep began to overtake her. The sound of the ocean right outside always soothed her.

Katherine was on the edge of sleep when she heard the unmistakable sound of a round being chambered in a gun. When her dark brown eyes opened, Lorenzo St. John was standing over her with a menacing look on his face.

He pressed the barrel of the gun so that the cool steel kissed her forehead.

She relaxed minutely and slowly eased into a sitting position. She swallowed thickly. “You scared me…”

“That was rather the point, love.”

Katherine turned on the lamp and rolled her eyes. “Is this your idea of a joke?”

Enzo sat on the edge of the bed and put the safety on his gun. “No, this was meant to be a warning.”

“From whom?” she asked incredulously. Enzo was Damon’s loyal soldier and had been for many years now. Of all people, he would know that she was untouchable.

“Mr. Salvatore didn’t appreciate the series of naughty pictures and text messages that you sent his Missus yesterday. He also found out that this isn’t the first time you’ve contacted her. You’ve been very naughty, Kitty Kat.”

Katherine was rarely shocked by anything. However, Bonnie showing some backbone was a serious departure. She couldn’t believe that the girl had actually grown a pair and told Damon about the texts. She pouted prettily at Enzo and asked, “What is he going to do take my black card away from me?”

Enzo grinned. “You don’t seem to understand the severity of what you did. You picked exactly the wrong time to fuck around with his wife, Katerina. The boss is very tense right now and he sent me to give you a stern warning. The next time you contact his wife or take pictures of him without his knowledge I am to put a bullet in your pretty little head.”

Her mind raced as she tried to figure out what the hell was happening. She only heard bits and pieces of Damon’s conversation with Rose the other day. She really only knew that Bonnie had taken his daughter to Shadow Hills. Damon’s reaction seemed extreme but he never joked about killing people. If this was the message he ordered Enzo to give her, then he meant it. “He’s threatening to kill me because of a few pictures?”

“Let’s just say the boss is a little more family minded these days. The little Missus is up the duff.” He knew better than to say anymore to Katherine about the situation. They were friends but she would throw anyone under the bus to save her own ass.

“I can’t believe that he actually did it. He knocked up the little bitch,” Katherine muttered. After four years of marriage, she had started to believe that Bonnie was simply infertile.

Enzo added, “With twins.”

She wet her lips as she tried to think of a way to appease Damon. He was easier to manipulate when they were face to face. Having an ocean between them could prove to be a major obstacle. “I might have made a miscalculation.”

“You think?” He chuckled and nudged her hip. “Move over.”

Katherine shifted positions to make room for Enzo in the bed.

Enzo kicked off his boots and scooted onto the bed more. He said, “The good news is that he’s angrier at someone else. You are just a more convenient target at the moment. If you lay low for a while, Damon will cool off. You should stay here for a few weeks. Maybe you could invite Rada out here. She could bring your sister and Nadia for a visit.”

She studied Enzo’s guarded expression. “What aren’t you telling me, Enzo? I would never ask you to betray Damon’s confidence because I know that you wouldn’t do it. Nevertheless, we are talking about my life here. Do I need to end things with him and cut my losses?”

He was silent for a beat. “He’s talking about ending things with you but I don’t think it is as serious as that just yet.”

“I’d beg to differ considering I woke up with a gun pointed in my face.”

Katherine was no fool. She knew exactly the type of people she was dealing with now. Her mother had warned her against pursuing Damon because of his family’s underworld reputation. However, she had reasoned that Damon was a college graduate. It wasn’t likely that he was a gun toting gangster. In their time together, she had learned that gangsters came in different types.

Enzo rolled his eyes. “I just wanted you to understand that this was serious. I know that you are used to Damon putting up with your shit but he’s not in a good place now. He doesn’t have the patience to overlook your tantrum.”

She bristled at the suggestion that her actions were little more than a childish tantrum. She opened her mouth to object.

He put up a hand to silence her. “Sending those pictures to Mrs. Salvatore was definitely a tantrum on your part. Don’t deny it.”

“I guess I can own up to that. It was just that I had two more days with Damon and he just took off with no warning. He didn’t even stick around to say goodbye to me. And he’s been ignoring my calls and messages since then…for her,” she spat.

Enzo considered her for a moment and then said, “If you breathe a word of this to anyone I will break your neck myself.”

She nodded in agreement. Katherine needed to know what she was dealing with here. Ending her affair with Damon wouldn’t be her first choice but survival was always her endgame. She could always find another arrangement with another man.

Katherine said, “I won’t say a word, Enzo. I know that you are the only one on my side.”

Enzo had been against Damon’s marriage to Bonnie from the beginning. He thought the girl was too young to be anyone’s wife. He certainly didn’t think that Damon was the right person to be her husband. Enzo had known from the beginning that their relationship would be an unmitigated disaster. While he knew that Katherine didn’t have the background, he always thought she was a better match for Damon. She was more his equal than Bonnie would ever be because of the age difference.

“Damon had to cut short your time together because his wife had an unfortunate run in with his old man. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about what happened,” he replied.

Katherine swallowed thickly and avoided Enzo’s gaze. She knew all too well the danger that Giuseppe Salvatore posed to young women. Katherine didn’t like Bonnie but she had sympathy for her situation. She couldn’t imagine living in the same house with him. Katherine went out of her way to ensure she never crossed the elder Salvatore’s path.

She tapped her fingertips against Enzo’s thigh in contemplation. She said, “I think that I will take your advice, Enzo. It has been a few weeks since I’ve seen Nadia. I’m sure Nadia and my mother would love to vacation here with me. We’ll probably stay until after the New Year.”

He nodded. “I am sure that she is missing her mother.”

Katherine pointedly glared at Enzo because she knew what he was driving at. He was always making little jabs about the secrets that she kept from his boss. “Damon has no interest in knowing about my real life. He likes that I am available to him at a moment’s notice.”

“His heart is not made of stone. Nadia is….”

“She is none of his concern,” she snapped. “She is my daughter and I decide who is allowed to be part of her life.”

Enzo held up his hands in surrender. “I only brought it up because knowing the truth would stay his hand.”

“The truth?” she scoffed. “You don’t even know the truth, Enzo.”

The hitman knew that he was treading in dangerous territory but he cared for Katherine. He could see the writing on the walls even if she couldn’t. Her relationship with Damon was going to come to an end sooner rather than later. Damon wouldn’t risk losing Bonnie for good. Katherine’s next benefactor might not be as generous or nice as Damon was.

“I know that Nadia is either Damon’s daughter or his sister. Either way he wouldn’t be inclined to kill her mother. He would also make sure that the two of you wanted for nothing no matter your relationship status.”

Katherine didn’t doubt that. She saw how quickly he adapted to the role of father after Bree disappeared. Despite his flaws, Damon believed in the importance of family.

She said, “His family would take her from me, Enzo. You see how Giuseppe keeps his family under his thumb. He would want to do the same with my Nadia and I won’t lose her. It is better that she lives in anonymity with my mother. I was taking care of my family long before I met Damon Salvatore. I will continue to take care of them once he’s no longer in my life.”

Enzo fell silent. “And if Mr. Salvatore was no longer a problem?”

Katherine shrugged. “Perhaps but that bastard will probably outlive us all.”

Enzo couldn’t tell her anything more. However, he had been searching for Giuseppe for the last few days. The man was living on borrowed time.

“Every story comes to an end, Katherine. I just want to make sure that Nadia has a good life. I want her to be able to go to college.”

She softened at Enzo’s concern for her daughter. “I know that you care for her.”

“Not only her,” he replied.

Enzo had never crossed the line with Katherine because he knew better. Damon would kill him with no questions asked. Moreover, he didn’t have the type of money that made Katherine’s panties wet. Nevertheless, they were friends and he always looked out for her.

Katherine didn’t dare look in Enzo’s direction. He was her friend but she knew that he wanted more from her. “I know that you think that I am shallow but I’m not stupid. I always knew that this arrangement with Damon had an expiration date. I’ve made good use of our time together. I won’t suddenly be plunged into poverty when it ends.”

He decided to relent because Katherine wasn’t likely to change her mind. She was stubborn for a woman that liked to live life on the edge.

“Are you staying to keep an eye on me? Or will you have to fly back in the morning?”

Enzo said, “I was in Madrid when Damon called me. I’ve been…handling some business there. I think I’ll stick around a few days, if you’ll have me.”

She grinned. “It’ll be a lot less boring with you here. My friends are going to love you. We’re going to get you laid.”

He huffed out a laugh. “I don’t need to get laid.”

“Trust me, Enzo. I know when a man is in need of some feminine attention. You’re practically living like a monk these days.”

It was true. He hadn’t been in a serious relationship in years. His lifestyle meant there were always willing women in the offing. However, he hadn’t been interested in random flings for a long time now. At 35 years old, Enzo felt it was time to settle down. He just hadn’t found the right woman yet.

“You could always hook me up with Veronika,” he teased.

Katherine laughed heartily. “My sister is too young for you. Besides, my mother would have a heart attack.”

“Rada loves me,” he argued.

“That doesn’t mean that she’d want you with her little girl. Besides, Veronika actually has a future.”

Enzo knew that was down to the sacrifices Katherine had made for her sister. She was paying out of pocket for the younger Petrova sister to get her bachelor’s degree in nursing. Veronika was set to graduate in the spring. “And you are saying that I don’t.”

Katherine said, “Not one that I would want my sister to have any part in, Enzo. There is a reason that I’ve never let her meet Damon.”

He jeered, “That’s because she’s six years younger than you. You’re worried that he’ll want her instead.”

She scowled at him because it was true. Rose’s insults had struck a chord in her at the penthouse. Katherine was on the wrong side of 30 now. Damon would be looking to replace her with someone younger in the near future. However, being in her 30’s wouldn’t stop her finding a new benefactor. She would just have to hunt for older prey. A 60 year old would still find her to be young and tempting.

“Well, then I guess it is fortunate that Veronika already has a boyfriend.”

Enzo looked genuinely surprised. “When did that happen? I thought Rada kept her on a short leash.”

Rada tried to prevent Veronika from turning out like Katherine had. She didn’t approve of her eldest daughter’s lifestyle despite the fact that it allowed her to stop cleaning other people’s houses.

She shrugged. “It’s not as if she can follow her to class every day. Besides, it’s not as if Mom knows. Veronika met a boy at school and has been keeping it a secret from her.”

“Good for her. Nika is a good kid.” Enzo glanced at his watch and said, “It’s late and I am exhausted. I should go to one of the guest rooms. I haven’t slept much in the last few days.”

Katherine rolled her eyes and said, “You can just stay here, Enzo. It’s not as if anything is going to happen.”

Enzo climbed out of the bed. “And if the maid arrives early tomorrow morning and finds us in bed together? I’ll see you in the morning, Kitty Kat. I’d prefer for my retirement package not to include a bullet to the head.”

“It was worth of shot,” Katherine said teasingly. She turned off the lamp as he started walking out of the room. “Good night, Lorenzo.”

“Night,” he replied with a wry smile. He closed the door as he left the room.

Chapter Text

Damon knew that certain people would call him a misogynist or a chauvinist. He would probably agree with those people to a certain degree. However, he generally just saw himself as having old school values. Giuseppe raised him to believe that a good wife had to possess certain qualities. Fortunately, Bonnie possessed those qualities in spades. She was beautiful, demure, compassionate, maternal, charming, intelligent, and elegant. However, Bonnie’s relative innocence had always been his favorite trait. Damon had never confessed that to even his closest friends for fear that Enzo and Rose would believe he was a pervert. He shuddered to think how Bonnie would react to the salacious thoughts tucked into the dark recesses of his mind.

In the beginning, he had been firmly against marrying Bonnie. Damon still thought of her as a child when Sheila and Giuseppe brought the proposal to him. She was 17 years old and closing in on being an adult—legally. However, she was still the little girl that he had watched grow up. Damon could remember helping her learn to swim. He didn’t understand how anyone could expect him to marry her. Giuseppe bribed him with the top seat at Velocita. It was a great enticement but Sheila had truly won him over. The truth was that Bonnie needed a husband to protect her interests. Sheila told Damon that he could be that husband or it could be someone the girl barely knew. Something snapped inside of Damon at the mere thought of Bonnie being married to some asshole he didn’t even know.

His engagement and subsequent marriage to Bonnie made him face some hard truths. His feelings for the girl weren’t quite as familial and platonic as he had led himself to believe. The best evidence of that had been the day of their wedding. Damon spent the majority of the day sporting half an erection because he couldn’t stop thinking of getting Bonnie alone. He struggled to understand from where this sudden burst of lust for her stemmed. Bonnie looked gorgeous in her wedding dress but that couldn’t be it. Dozens of stunning women had graced his bed and the back seat of his cars over the years. He knew it couldn’t just be Bonnie’s beauty that attracted him. However, the truth struck him like lightning when she emerged from their hotel suite’s bathroom dressed in white satin and lace. Damon was turned on by the fact that something so pure and innocent belonged to him. It was possessing Bonnie in every way that set his blood on fire. That night he claimed Bonnie’s body and heart as his own. No one else had ever been within her depths and no one else ever would.

After four years of marriage, Damon and Bonnie were never more in harmony than when they made love. All of their differences and conflicts seemed to fall away when they were intertwined. He had all but ordered Ric to get everyone out of the house that morning because he didn’t want to be disturbed. He needed to be alone with his wife because their argument about Katherine had left him uneasy. Bonnie had stopped being argumentative two days ago. However, she feigned smiles to their family and refused to speak to Damon. She shunned his attempts at apologizing. His words and gifts did nothing to dull the sadness in her eyes. He hated that he was the reason for her pain. Damon needed to make her realize that Katherine was merely a distraction in comparison to her. Ric had reluctantly agreed to Damon’s plan. However, his uncle had threatened him with castration if he managed to make things worse in their absence.

Husband and wife had spent all morning and most of the afternoon in bed. They angrily devoured each other leaving behind passion marks and scratches to stake their claim on each other. However, that slowly ebbed into heartfelt lovemaking that left Bonnie in tears. Afterwards, Damon just held his wife in his arms long after she drifted to sleep. He nestled his nose in her wavy brown hair and inhaled her calming essence. For the first time in days, everything felt normal and Damon could think clearly again. He didn’t understand how Bonnie could so thoroughly consume him. He truly didn’t know what he would do if she left him. Well, that wasn’t true. Damon knew exactly what he would do…he would kill anyone that got in the way of him getting her back. Bonnie was his and she would be until the day he drew his last breath.

Damon looked down when Bonnie started moving. He gently combed his fingers through her hair as his eyes lingered on the swell of her breasts. Damon ached to have her again but he knew there wasn’t time. The sun was getting lower on the horizon and soon enough their family would return. Moreover, he didn’t want Bonnie to overexert herself. Her body was still recovering from a trauma and she was carrying his children. Damon was still trying to wrap his brain around that. He always knew that he would have children because it was expected of him. However, Damon would never lie and say that he had planned for Sarah’s arrival.

In fact, he hadn’t even known that she existed until his flighty ex-girlfriend’s sister dropped Sarah on his doorstep. Frankly, that was a generous description. Bree’s younger sister quite literally abandoned his three-month-old daughter at the front gates of Salvatore Manor. She stuck around long enough for the guards to find the baby and then she sped off into the night.

Damon had been furious at first. He used thousands of dollars to track Bree down to get some sort of explanation. Damon learned that someone had broken into her house and shot her up with a nearly lethal dose of heroin when Sarah was two months old. Bree had been sober for years and the set back crushed her soul. Damon knew immediately that his father was behind it. Giuseppe must have found out about Sarah and decided to retaliate against Bree for keeping the baby from their family. She signed over her parental rights and Damon gave her enough money to check into the best rehab. Until this day, he puts a generous monthly stipend in an offshore account for Bree.

Damon lightly brushed his lips against Bonnie’s. “It’s time wake up, bunny,” he murmured quietly.

Bonnie’s green eyes fluttered open. She gave a tired smile and asked, “What time is it?”

He glanced at the clock and said, “A little after five o’clock. Everyone will be coming back soon. I figured that you would want a shower before then.”

She nodded and yawned a little. The three-hour nap just hadn’t been long enough. Bonnie bit back a wince when she started to sit up in the bed. “It was really nice of Ric to give us the house for the day. I am sure he didn’t really feel like taking everyone putt-putt golfing and go-cart racing.”

Damon noted the wince and asked, “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay.”

He cupped her cheek gently. “Are you sure that I didn’t hurt you? Maybe it was too soon…”

Bonnie smiled a little. Sometimes he could be so tender. It made her love him even more. She leaned into his touch and said, “I’m fine. You worry too much, Damon. I needed to feel close to you again. Besides, it had been awhile and I…just needed you.”

Damon smirked after his wife’s admission. He kissed her and then said, “I needed you too, Bon.”

Her smile brightened even more because she believed Damon. Bonnie knew that her husband wasn’t good with verbalizing his emotions. She had felt every bit of his desperation while they made love. He had been trying to prove something to her. She loved Damon and nothing would change that. However, she needed to start making moves for herself. Bonnie said, “I am going to shower and then squeeze in a little study time. I have finals coming up in a couple weeks.”

He watched with hungry eyes as Bonnie climbed out of the bed. However, he tried to temper his desire. He huffed. “You always ace your exams. You are a much better student than I ever was.”

Bonnie pulled on her robe and playfully rolled her eyes. “That’s not exactly a high bench mark.

Damon was across the bed and had his arms around her in mere seconds. He buried his face in her neck and murmured, “It’s not nice to call your husband dumb, bunny.”

“You weren’t dumb,” she replied. “You were lazy.”

He huffed out a laugh and steered her towards the bathroom with his hands on her hips. “I guess you are right about that but I still managed to graduate from business school.”

Bonnie slipped out of his grasp and turned on the shower. “I’ve been thinking that I might go to business school, too.”

Damon wasn’t surprised by that. Bonnie had always been intelligent and driven. He said, “I think that business school would be good for you. You know I support your education 100%, baby.”

She took off her robe and hung it from a hook on the door. “Really?”

He eyed her body and nodded. “Of course, bunny. I never expected you to be a stay-at-home wife.”

Bonnie bit her lip as she stepped into the shower. “Do you think that you could talk to Uncle Zach for me about an internship at Velocita? I need an internship to meet the requirements for graduation at the end of the spring semester. I want to be able to graduate in May. Maybe if I impress him, he’ll decide to hire me after graduation. I mean I know that I am guaranteed a seat on the board now that I am 21 but I want to be more involved. The best way I can do that is by learning about the company from the inside.

Her simple request floored Damon. He had always assumed that she would want to take over as CEO of Benedetto-Vicario Wine & Spirits after college. He had been looking into real estate to move the company’s headquarters to Southern California. He stepped into the shower with Bonnie. “You really want to work at Velocita after college? What about BVWS?”

She turned to Damon as she lathered herself with vanilla scented body wash. “Well, Tessa is doing an amazing job here. Her move with the microbreweries last year was genius. I don’t see a reason to remove her as CEO. Besides, BVWS belongs here in Shadow Hills and I belong with you.”

Damon’s heart thudded in his chest when Bonnie said that she belonged with him. He caressed her cheek. “Do you really want to work at Velocita?”

She nodded. “More than anything, Damon. I was always interested in Bennett Technologies before it merged with Velocita. I loved looking at the drafts for my papere’s designs when I was a kid. Besides, Velocita is like the two of us—the very best that the Salvatores and Benedettos have to offer the world.”

Damon didn’t remember much about Bonnie’s great-grandfather. Claude had died in the early aughts. He only remembered his father calling the man a coward for allowing his wife to keep her maiden name when they married. However, what he remembered of Miss Emily would suggest that Claude didn’t allow her to do anything. Giuseppe had been similarly displeased when Damon agreed to allow Bonnie to hyphenate her last. However, he understood that in the girl’s eyes her line was facing extinction. Damon couldn’t take away the last vestige of her grandmother.

He smiled a little. “The very best of the Salvatores and the Bennetts…I like that. If you truly want to work at Velocita then I will make it happen, bunny. We will talk to Zach tonight about finding an internship for you at the company. I don’t want you working in the mail room or some bullshit like that. I’ll make sure that you are shadowing him. I’m sure he could use a second assistant. He’s always bitching about all the work he has to do. I’ll also have the company extend an official offer of employment post dated for after graduation.”

Bonnie’s eyes lit up and she threw her arms around Damon’s neck. She kissed him soundly on the lips and then pulled back with a sheepish smile. “Thank you.”

Damon wrapped his arms around her waist and said, “You don’t need to thank me. I will always try to give you whatever your heart desires. Besides, Velocita is as much yours as it is mine, Sheila made sure of that during the merger. I would never try to deprive you of that.”

“But Giuseppe…”

He tensed when she mentioned his father. He shook his head. “He will be retired and no longer our concern. He won’t stand in the way of this or anything else in our lives. I promise.”

Bonnie leaned up and kissed him once more.

Damon reluctantly let Bonnie go when he heard his phone ringing in the bedroom. “I need to get that.”

She nodded. “Go. You’ll only distract me anyway.”

He winked at Bonnie and stepped out of the shower. Damon wrapped a towel around his waist as he exited the bathroom.

Bonnie gave a pleased little smile and finished showering. That had been easier than she had expected. Bonnie couldn’t tell if Damon truly meant it or if he was only amenable because of the guilt. Either way she would have her internship at Velocita and a permanent position after graduation. Bonnie knew the terms of the merger line by line. She knew that she could throw her proverbial weight around and demand a position of her choosing. However, it could quickly become acrimonious. An aggressive action would also tip off Damon. The longer he believed that she was a delicate flower the better. Damon wasn’t ready to see her true colors. She didn’t know if he would ever be able to handle the woman that Sheila Bennett raised.

Frankly, she found his naiveté to be confounding—if not useful. He knew how formidable Sheila and Emily had been. He had undoubtedly heard stories about the prowess of Hannah. How could he ever assume someone that shared the genes of those women could be a weakling? Even her mother was made of steel. Abby had the reputation of being a fragile heart and a free spirit. However, when Sheila refused to let Abby divorce Rudy the younger woman had systematically poisoned her husband for weeks. When Sheila finally caught wind of her actions, she allowed Abby to file for divorce and paid Rudy to make him go away.

Bonnie finished showering and then stepped out of the glass enclosure. She took her time drying off before walking into the empty bedroom. She assumed that Damon had gone to take the call out of her hearing range. She hoped that it was business and not Katherine. However, she doubted that the woman would be bothering them for a while. It seemed that Enzo’s late night visit had been impactful. Of course, Damon hadn’t told her about his right hand man’s actions. Bonnie had her own ways of getting information.

She sat on the edge of the bed and took time to lotion her body. She was starting to notice changes in her figure that weren’t there a few weeks ago. Her body was changing to accommodate the lives growing within her. Everything she was doing was for the benefit of the twins and their older sister. She wouldn’t bring them into a world where Giuseppe still drew breath. However, it was more than that. She planned to give her children the world and it started with Velocita. She liked Zach. Bonnie would go as far as to say that she loved her uncle-in-law. He had always been a big part of her life. However, there was no way in hell that she would ever let him be CEO of Velocita. The company was hers and one day it would be for her children. Just as one day, one of her children would become the don of the Salvatore family.

Sarah was not her child by blood but Bonnie had taken the child into her heart from the moment Damon proposed to her. She was the one that insisted on adopting Sarah so that the girl would never doubt her meaning to the woman raising her. She planned to raise Sarah to be as formidable as Sheila had raised her to be. It was a necessity in their world. One day she would marry Julian Mikaelson. He was the future head of the Mikaelson family. Bonnie hoped that Hayley and Elijah were raising him to be a good man…a better man than Damon was. Either way Sarah would need to be strong enough to bear the challenges that came with being the boss’ wife.

Whenever Damon left the house, Bonnie knew that one of their enemies might strike him dead. There had been peace for years but it came at a price. The Salvatores and Mikaelsons ruled the streets with an iron fist and made deadly enemies along the way. The people trampled by their powerful families wouldn’t stay down forever. As much as Bonnie wanted Giuseppe dead, she feared what was to come. Would their enemies try to take out Damon to destabilize the family? It’s what she would do were she in their position. She would target Damon, Ric, and Zach so that there would be no clear successor. Everyone knew that Stefan would never take the top spot. The Salvatore organization would cannibalize itself in the power struggle that followed. Damon knew the risks as well as she did and he was already increasing security on the family. Bonnie hoped that it would be enough.

The caramel skinned beauty dressed in a light blue baby doll dress that hugged her cleavage and then flared out at the waist. Then she applied makeup to cover the bruises on her face. She didn’t like the idea of everyone seeing her that way. Only a handful of people had seen the true damage to her face and she planned to keep it that way.

Afterwards she stripped the linens from the bed and carted them down to the laundry room. Her steps slowed when she heard Damon talking to someone in the living room.

Damon stopped talking when he heard Bonnie approach. “Bunny?”

She walked into the room and smiled at Mason Lockwood. She waved, “Hi, Mason. I’m sorry to interrupt. I was on my way to the laundry room and I heard voices.”

Mason stood up and said, “Good evening, Mrs. Salvatore.”

Damon walked over and pecked her lips. “Let me take these for you. You are supposed to be taking it easy.”

“I’m not an invalid but I know arguing with you is pointless. Just put them in the machine. I’ll add the detergent.”

Damon said, “I’ll be right back.”

Bonnie asked, “How are Vicki and the kids doing?”

Mason smiled at her. “Oh, they’re driving me crazy. I was glad to get a break from them but don’t tell, Vick. She’s a bit hormonal these days.”

Bonnie laughed quietly. “Well, your secret is safe with me.”

Mason gave Bonnie an appraising look but it wasn’t sexual. It was more a look of concern. His eyes fell onto the Saint Christopher’s medal around her neck. He recognized it as being his father’s because of the missing chip at the bottom. He removed a scrap of paper with a string of numbers written on it from his pocket. Mason silently slipped it into Bonnie’s hand and returned to his seat on the couch.

Bonnie eyed the offshore account number and slipped the paper inside her bra as Damon’s footsteps thudded against the hardwood floor. She smiled at Mason and then turned to greet her husband. “I am going to leave you two alone. I need to make the bed.”

Damon groaned and slid a hand onto Bonnie’s stomach. He said, “Stop it. I’ll take care of making the bed. Go relax. Eat something.”

She laughed softly and said, “Okay. A tuna sandwich with extra sweet relish and chips does sound pretty good right now.”

He wrinkled his nose. “Is that a craving?”

She shrugged. “I don’t think so. I just like tuna fish.” Bonnie kissed his cheek as she walked out of the room.

Damon shook his head and said, “Women.”

Chapter Text

Alaric sighed deeply as he ended the call with his uncles. Bruno and Giacomo had just finished a sit down meeting in Milazzo. The men had done their best to sway the old stalwarts of the Salvatore family in Damon’s favor. Unfortunately, there were still those that doubted his commitment to the operation in Milazzo. Ric had feared that Damon’s short-sighted approach to consolidating his power would backfire on them. Giuseppe had eagerly taken advantage of the boy’s rare business blunder. Ric understood that his nephew’s ties to the old country were weaker than his own were. However, Damon needed the trust and loyalty of the men on both sides of the Atlantic if he wanted to be successful.

Ric knew the only way to make this right was for Damon to have some face time with the capos in Milazzo immediately. His position as Giuseppe’s successor needed to be secure before they could kill the old bastard. Just finding him was proving to be challenging. It was as if Giuseppe had disappeared. The whole situation unnerved Ric. He had been his brother’s underboss for years. He knew how ruthless Giuseppe could be when his back was up against the wall. If Damon didn’t play his cards right, his father would kill him to protect his position as head of the family. Ric was going to do everything in his power to make sure that didn’t happen.

He had too many regrets to count where his older brother was concerned. Ric didn’t live full-time with Giuseppe until he was a teenager. By that time, he was capable of defending himself against the violent drunk and often did. He tried his best to protect his younger brother and nephews from Giuseppe. However, he ran off the college the moment had had a chance. That act of cowardice made him sick to his stomach til this day. He left those innocent kids to fight for their lives while he was partying in college. Zach had done the very same thing once he graduated from high school. Damon was the only one that decided to live at home while he attended college. He stayed to protect Stefan from Giuseppe.

The older man didn’t relish breaking the news to his nephew. Damon wouldn’t want to leave his wife and daughter after what happened at the manor. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any other options. He took one last drag from his cigarette and then extinguished it in an ashtray. Ric opened the glass-paneled doors that lead into the sitting room. His lips curved into a small smile as he surveyed the room.

Zach, Damon, Stefan, and Mason were watching a football game in the sitting room. Nico was perched on his uncle’s knee while he ate potato chips and cheese puffs despite the fact that he had already had dinner and dessert.

“Look! He caught the ball, Zio,” Nico exclaimed. He was a blonde hair blue eyed boy with his father’s olive colored skin tone. He was Stefan’s son but there was no doubt that Nico idolized his uncle.

Damon chuckled and ruffled his nephew’s hair. “What position does he play?”

“Uh…tight end?” he asked.

He grabbed a cheese puff from the bowl and chuckled, “That’s right, kid. We’re going to get you on a football field soon enough. Maybe you’ll be a quarterback like your old man was.”

He shook his head. “I wanna be like you, Zio.”

He smiled. “You want to be a wide receiver, huh? You’ve got the hands for it.”

Stefan rolled his eyes in mock annoyance. “Quit trying to steal my son. You might be having one of your own. Besides, Nico will play quarterback if I have anything to say about it.”

Mason snorted. “What are the chances of Caroline signing off on that?”

Damon laughed harder at the scowl on his younger brother’s face. Everyone knew that Stefan rarely refused Caroline’s wishes. Sometimes Damon envied how easily being a husband  and a father came to Stefan.

“Care wants to wait until Nico is a little older before we let him start playing full contact sports,” Stefan argued. “He’s going to stick to t-ball for now.”

“It’s all for the better. Caroline would tear out of the stands if Nico ever got hurt on the field. You can’t come back from that sort of thing in football,” Zach snorted.

Ric hated to interrupt. Seeing his nephews and younger brother like this was a stark reminder of what their life could be without Giuseppe looming in the background. He cleared his throat. “We need to talk, Damon.”

The younger man lowered the glass of bourbon from his lips and groaned. “Don’t say that. I had a good day with my wife. I’m watching the game with my favorite nephew. Can’t it wait?”

Stefan groaned. “Don’t let Caroline hear you picking favorites.”

The elder brother grinned and replied, “He’s my namesake. I’m allowed to say that he’s my favorite nephew. Besides, I’m sure Tony will be Favorite Nephew 1-A once he can string together coherent sentences and go to the bathroom on his own.”

Ric said, “I just finished talking to our uncles, Damon.”

Damon grimaced at the expression on Ric’s face. He set Nico on the floor and patted him on the back. “Go terrorize Bella and Sarah.”

“Okay!” Nico grinned as he ran out of the room.

Ric closed the doors to the sitting room and then sat down on the couch.

Zach sighed and sat up more in his seat. He turned off the television and studied his older brother’s expression. He could tell that the conversation hadn’t gone well. The only solution to their problem was for Damon to meet with the capos. He was already working the logistics out in his head.

They heard screams from down the hall as Nico undoubtedly did something to scare his twin sister and cousin.

Stefan shook his head but couldn’t hide his smile. He tossed a pillow at Damon’s face for putting the idea in his son’s head.

Damon caught the pillow with a smirk. However, his face sobered as he looked at Ric. “How bad it is, Zio?”

“Honestly, the meeting didn’t go as poorly as I originally suspected that it would. Uncle Bruno says that four of the seven capos support you, Damon. That’s more than I would have guessed considering how little time you have spent in Milazzo lately. There was also one person on the fence.”

Damon ignored his uncle’s blatant jab about his decision to focus on the United States. He knew now that was a mistake. He had trusted his father to pave the way for him. In hindsight, he recognized how naïve he had been. Damon should have known that Giuseppe would never retire on his own accord. He was too addicted to the power.

Zach asked, “Who was on the fence?”

“Leo Gianetti. However, one of Leo’s daughters is married to a Benedetto boy. He’ll more than likely swing our way if Big John supports Damon. We need the support of all seven capos in Milazzo.”

Damon asked, “What do I need to do to get them on my side?”

Ric scrubbed at the stumble on his chiseled jaw. “We are going to have to fly out there, Damon.”

“When?” he asked.

“Tomorrow?” Ric suggested. He looked at his younger brother for confirmation. The sooner they did this, the better it would be for Damon.

Zach shook his head. “No, we can’t leave before next Saturday. We have been invited to the christening of Elijah and Hayley’s little boy. And Niklaus is being released from prison tomorrow. He will stand up as the baby’s godfather during the ceremony. There’s no way all of the Salvatores can miss something like that without raising red flags from a lot of people.”

Alaric frowned and replied, “I had completely forgotten about the christening and Niklaus’ homecoming party. You’re right, Zach. The alliance between the families is too important. We can’t risk offending Elijah. We will leave next Monday, but that means we need to fly home before Thanksgiving. We are going to need to leave here in the next couple of days, Damon.”

The younger man put his head in his hands because he already knew that. However, he didn’t relish having this conversation with his wife and daughter. He didn’t know how he could ask them to go back to the manor after what happened. Damon also didn’t feel comfortable leaving them in Shadow Hills. His wife and daughter belonged under his roof. He took out his phone and started writing a text message to Rose.

Rose had flown back to Los Angeles a few days ago. He needed her at Velocita while he was here with his family. She knew how to keep things running at the company in his absence. Rose was perhaps the most overqualified assistant in the world. She had graduated from business school, too. However, she worked for Damon because he didn’t trust anyone else. She was well compensated for being so overqualified for her job.

“What are you doing?” Ric asked.

“Telling Rose that I am going to need three puppies instead of two and maybe a bird, too. Sarah likes birds,” he muttered in reply.

Ric looked at Mason for a moment. He had been mentoring the kid for years. He wanted Mason to take over as underboss when he finally made the decision to retire. Ric was in his early 40’s so it wasn’t as if he was planning to hang it up anytime soon. However, Bruno had mentored him for over a decade before he replaced him as Giuseppe’s underboss.

He nodded in Mason’s direction and said, “You’re coming with us to Milazzo. It’s time to start getting your feet wet.”

The younger man was surprised but nodded in understanding at Ric’s order. Mason had started out in his older brother’s crew. However, Alaric had quickly recognized his talents. He made Mason his de facto second in command when he was all of 26 years old.

Damon nodded in agreement. Mason was a couple years older than he was. However, they had been friends for most of their lives. The Lockwood family had a long history with the Salvatore organization. The connection between the two families stretched back to Damon and Mason’s great-great-grandfathers, Giovanni Salvatore and Giacobbe Loiacono. The pair had grown up together in Milazzo.

Damon asked, “How close are you to the Loiaconos still over there?”

He said, “Close enough. Brady, Tyler, and I go with my brother when he visits every year. I’d be surprised if my family was among the ones that didn’t back you.”

Ric smiled, “No, Dante was one of the capos that pledged his loyalty to Damon going forward.”

Zach asked, “When should we fly home?”

Damon groaned and said, “We’ll head back to L.A. on Tuesday morning. I want to give Bonnie and Sarah one last day here. They deserve that.”

Ric said, “They can always stay with Jo and the girls if they don’t feel safe in the manor while we’re gone, Damon.”

He shook his head. “I’ll talk to Bonnie in a bit and see where her head is on this.”

“Well, let me know if there is anything that I can do,” he replied. He motioned for Zach to follow him out of the room. They needed to put their heads together on finding Giuseppe. They knew all the places their older brother liked to hide out when he wanted time away from the family. It was time to start kicking over every rock. 

Stefan had remained silent throughout the conversation because he didn’t have a place in this. He was the baby brother and the numbers person. They always kept him in the loop information wise but he didn’t get to offer input. Stefan was a made man because Giuseppe required it of him. However, Damon was the one that finished off the man Stefan had been ordered to kill. His brother was always protecting him and carrying his burdens. He owed Damon more than he would ever be able to repay. He had been thinking of taking a more substantial role in the family. Now seemed as a good a time as any to make the first move.

Mason noted the look on Stefan’s face and decided to give the two brothers the room.

Damon looked up from his phone and realized that Stefan was the only one left in the room. He could tell that something was wrong with his brother. “What is it? You’re wearing your brooding face again.”

“I want to go with you,” he answered quickly.

The elder of the two brothers lifted an eyebrow. “No.”

“Why not?” Stefan asked.

Damon stuffed his phone into his pocket and regarded his younger brother carefully. He asked, “Why do you want to go with us to Milazzo, Stefan?”

Stefan said, “Because I’m a Salvatore, too. I should be helping you take him down. I’m not a little boy anymore, Damon. I don’t need protecting.”

He stood up and squeezed his brother’s shoulder. “I appreciate the offer but I don’t want you involved in all of this. You worry about the books and leave everything else to us, Stef.”

“Damon…”

He sat on the coffee table so that he was face to face with Stefan. He said, “I’m not mad at you for what happened with Bonnie. It wasn’t your fault.”

“That’s not what this is about.”

“Then explain it to me, brother. You have never had an interest in this thing of ours. I respected that and come hell or high water I made Giuseppe respect it, too.”

Stefan looked down at the floor. “I know…but things are different now. You’re going to be the boss. I should be there watching your back the way that you have always watched mine, Damon. I owe you.”

Damon blinked in surprise but then shook his head. He grasped his brother’s face in both hands. “You don’t owe me anything, Stefan. The things I did were because I love you. You are my little brother and it is my job to protect you. I don’t expect repayment…and certainly not in this way. If you want help me, then stay in Los Angeles. I need you to make sure that our people in the medical examiner’s office will play ball with Giuseppe’s body when the time comes. Pay whoever needs paying. Take Brady with you to intimidate whoever needs intimidating. That is how you can help me, little brother.”

The younger man’s shoulders slumped in acceptance. He nodded dutifully. “I’ll take care of it, Damon.”

“Thank you.” Damon patted his brother’s cheek affectionately before standing. He shook his head as he walked out of the room. He couldn’t fathom what Stefan was thinking.

He walked upstairs to the master bedroom. It was time to break the news to his wife and daughter.

Damon found Bonnie and Sarah sitting in the middle of the king sized bed. They were dressed in matching Frozen pajamas. He didn’t even know they made them in adult sizes. The cartoon playing on the tablet enthralled the little girl. Meanwhile, Bonnie was slowly taming Sarah’s long curly hair into two neat French braids.

He quietly closed the door behind him. “What are you watching, bambolina?”

Sarah looked up with a grin. “Loud House. It’s my favorite show.”

“Yeah?” he asked. Damon sat down on the bed.

She nodded. “I wish I had a bunch of sisters like Lincoln does.”

Bonnie laughed.

Damon lifted and eyebrow with his wife. “What’s so funny about that?”

“How many sisters does Lincoln have, bambolina?” Bonnie asked in an amused voice.

“Ten!” Sarah beamed up at her father as she rattled off the names of all 11 Loud children.

Damon’s eyes widened comically and he said, “Yeah that’s not happening. Papa would go insane with 11 daughters. I would have to start my very own convent for all of you on a deserted island. We’d call you the Holy Salvatore Sisters.”

She giggled. “You’re silly, Papa.”

He chuckled and kissed her forehead. Damon watched as Bonnie finished braiding Sarah’s hair. “You look beautiful.”

“Really?” Sarah asked.

Bonnie picked up a hand held mirror and moved it in front of Sarah. “See for yourself.”

Sarah’s smiled brightly at her reflection. “Thank you, Mama.”

“You’re welcome.”

Damon knew delaying the inevitable wouldn’t change their circumstances. “There is something I needed to talk about with the two of you. You know Thanksgiving is only a couple days away. I was thinking it would be a good idea if we went home Tuesday.”

Bonnie’s expression remained neutral. She had expected them to return home before the holiday. However, it seemed as if Damon had other plans before tonight. She wondered what had changed his mind. She nodded. “Okay.”

Sarah’s smile faded and she burrowed closer to Bonnie.

Damon reached for Sarah. “Bambolina…”

“I don’t wanna go home,” she whispered. “Something bad is gonna happen.”

He swallowed thickly as he tried to push down his anger. He shook his head. “Nothing bad is going to happen. I promise but we have to go home.”

“You said that we could stay here,” Sarah argued in a timid voice.

Damon said, “I know that I said that we could stay here but we need to go home, bambolina. I’m sure your cousins miss you. Don’t you miss them, too?”

Sarah nodded a little. Her voice trembled as she said, “But I’m scared…”

Bonnie’s heart broke listening to Sarah.

“There is nothing to be scared of, baby. I promise.”

“Grandpa is gonna hurt Mama again,” Sarah blurted out as tears slid down her cheeks.

Damon was speechless for a moment. It was one thing to know what his daughter witnessed. It was another thing to hear it in her words.

Bonnie picked up Sarah and hugged her. She shushed her softly. “It’s okay. He’s not going to hurt me.”

Damon’s heart tightened in his chest while he listened to his daughter cry. It was the most helpless feeling in the world to know that he couldn’t fix this. Sarah would continue to remember that night long after Giuseppe was dead.

He moved closer and wrapped his arms around Bonnie and Sarah. “I am so sorry that you saw Grandpa hurting your mom. It wasn’t very nice of him. He’s very sorry that he hurt her and that he scared you. That’s why he decided to go away for awhile. He’s not going to be there. I promise, bambolina. Do you believe me?”

Sarah buried her face into the side of Bonnie’s neck as she cried.

Bonnie smoothed her hand over Sarah’s back and murmured quietly against her ear. “It’s okay.”

Damon opened his mouth to say something but was silenced with a look from Bonnie.

“Papa will be home with us this time. He won’t let anything bad happen to me or you. Uncle Stefan and Uncle Zach will be there, too. We are going to have such a big and yummy Thanksgiving dinner. I bet Nonna Abby will be there, too.”

Sarah sniffled. “And Cooper?”

Bonnie nodded. “Well, Nonna can’t come to Thanksgiving without Cooper.”

Sarah whispered, “But what if Grandpa comes back?”

“Then we’ll come back here,” Bonnie said. “Just me and you.”

Damon wanted to object but couldn’t find the words. His daughter was scared to be in the one place that was always supposed to be her safe haven. He had failed her in a way that she didn’t yet understand. However, Damon knew that she would one day. He remembered the precise moment when he lost faith in Lilly. He wasn’t going to let history repeat itself.

Chapter Text

While Damon had his pied-à-terre at the Rischard, Bonnie had a little place of her own outside the city. She wisely sold the majority of Sheila’s real estate holdings after her death. However, she chose to keep a handful of places that held special meaning such as the Shadow Hills estate, the villa in Monaco, and their compound in Milazzo. Bonnie also chose to keep a beach house located 30 minutes from the Salvatore Manor. It was her own little Shangri-La when her home life became too suffocating. Today it would also serve the purpose of hosting a clandestine meeting with her mother. Since a staff of 20 people worked full-time at the manor, there was never truly any privacy there.

Before Bonnie could meet with her mother, she had to get away from Damon. Fortunately, Lucy was waiting for them in the airport’s bar when the plane landed. The older woman’s flight had arrived perhaps an hour before theirs did. Bonnie told Damon that she needed to spend some time with her older cousin. They hadn’t seen each other in months and there was a lot they needed to discuss. It was obvious that Damon didn’t like the idea of letting Bonnie out of his sight. However, he reluctantly agreed as long as they allowed two bodyguards to shadow them.

The young woman’s first order of business was to do a little shopping. She needed to buy a christening gift for Hayley and Elijah’s little boy, Erik. She also wanted to get a little Christmas shopping done. Spending three weeks in Shadow Hills had thrown off all of Bonnie’s holiday plans. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve were always big productions for the Salvatore family. As the lady of the house, it was Bonnie’s responsibility to ensure the holidays went off without a hitch. The entire family was on pins and needles because of Giuseppe. However, they would have to maintain appearances for the outside world.

Bonnie and Lucy went Christmas shopping with Sarah in tow. However, Bonnie had to make sure that her makeup was flawless. Damon and Bonnie’s relationship was a popular topic in the tabloids. She really didn’t want to make the gossip rags for the wrong reasons. Everyone would immediately assume that Damon was abusing her. She didn’t even want that theory out there because it would be too hard to refute. Damon already had a reputation with the tabloids because of his misspent youth. He had been dubbed a reckless playboy. Moreover, his violent tendencies had been well documented in the past. Damon had made a concerted effort to change all of that since he married Bonnie.

After putting Sarah down for a nap, Bonnie settled down in the living room. She decided to wrap the gifts she had purchased that morning. Frankly, it was just a poor attempt to distract her worried mind. Earlier in the morning, she learned that Niklaus Mikaelson had been released from prison. He was a wild card that Bonnie absolutely did not need right now. She could only hope that he had forgotten about her during his five-year incarceration.

Lucy walked out of the kitchen with a sterling silver tea set. She placed it on the coffee table in front of Bonnie. “Are you sure that I can’t get you anything to eat?”

She shook her head. “No, my morning sickness isn’t doing me any favors right now. I am just going to keep nibbling on these crackers and hope they settle my stomach. Thank you for brewing the tea.”

She waved her younger cousin off. “You need to take it easy. I saw the way you were flexing your wrist while you were wrapping those gifts. You’re still in pain.”

“It’s getting better,” she promised.

“There’s no need to be a martyr, Bonnie. No one is going to think that you are weak for taking it easy for few weeks. And if someone does say something about it I will bitch slap them,” she sassed.

Bonnie knew the comment was a thinly veiled shot at her husband. Lucy wasn’t known for having a forgiving nature. She blamed Damon for what happened to Bonnie. “Damon has been trying to get me to stay in bed but I am fine. The worst of my injuries have already healed.”

Lucy frowned because she still didn’t like the fact that Bonnie had concealed her situation for nearly two weeks. In fact, her cousin had only called to tell her about the assault when it became obvious that Rose suspected what happened to her. By most standards, she and Bonnie were merely distant cousins. Their grandmothers were sisters, but that didn’t mean much for the Benedetto family. They were also close to the grandchildren of their grandmothers’ cousins. One of Hannah’s enduring lessons had been the importance of family. It was how she kept the family close knit even after her son, Daniel, moved to Italy. They all gathered at the estate in Shadow Hills for a family reunion each year.

“I’ve been thinking that I might stick around through the end of the year.”

“Won’t your nana be expecting you home for Thanksgiving and Christmas?” Bonnie asked.

She shrugged and sat down. “She’ll get over it. Trust me. There are enough grandchildren and great-grandchildren to keep her occupied. I’m needed here…at least until Giuseppe is handled. Even if he stays in Milazzo past Thanksgiving, you know that he will be home in time for Christmas.”

The girl nodded in agreement. Giuseppe would wait to come home until he thought it had all blown over. “I won’t make the same mistake twice. I let my guard down and I shouldn’t have done that. I knew that something was off the moment Giuseppe came home that afternoon. Damon thinks his absence set his father off but I’m not so sure. He was in a mood and I think he was just looking for a punching bag…I just happened to be there.”

“Don’t make excuses for that motherfucker,” Lucy snapped.

Bonnie gave a humorless laugh. “I’m not making excuses for Giuseppe. I am only saying that I didn’t protect myself. Grams taught me better than that. I’ll never put myself in a situation like that again.”

“Well, I am staying anyway. Am I invited to Thanksgiving dinner?”

“Of course you are invited to dinner, fool. You might as well stay at the house if you are going to be in town. I hate that we haven’t been able to spend more time together.”

Lucy opened her mouth to say something but stopped short when she heard a door closing in the distance. She drew the gun she always kept tucked into the holster situated on her hip.

Mason walked into the room and waved. “It’s only me. Calm down, Stable Mable.”

Lucy growled and said, “I nearly shot you, boy.”

He chuckled. “I’m sorry. I came in through the backdoor because I know Damon has two guards posted out front.”

She slowly eased the gun back into the holster. Lucy sucked her teeth and muttered, “Asshole.”

“I love you too, Luce,” Mason taunted.

She flipped him the bird and rolled her eyes.

Bonnie looked at him expectantly. “Tell me you have good news. She should be here soon.”

“I was able to confirm that he bought a place for her out in Huntington Beach. She has been living there since the start of the school year. He’s been spending a couple of nights a week there with her and the kids.”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “At least she’s actually got the boys in school.”

Bonnie pushed down the hurt of learning that her mother had been less than 20 minutes away from her for months. She had to remind herself that right now this woman wasn’t her mother. Abby was merely a means to an end. She said, “Finally, her monumental selfishness will work for me.”

Lucy stood when she saw a car pull up in front of the house. She said, “That will be Abby.”

Mason said, “I’ll head upstairs and make myself scarce.”

Lucy watched as he quickly climbed the stairs. She might have also been admiring his toned backside. Then she turned to her younger cousin. “Do you want me to stick around for the conversation?”

Bonnie shook her head and smiled. “No, I’ll handle my mother. I need you to make that call to Uncle Johnny. I want eyes on Giuseppe while he is in Milazzo. I want to know everything he is doing.”

“I don’t see why we can’t just tell Uncle Johnny what he did to you. He is brave to brutalize you and then conduct business with our kin. Uncle Johnny would skin him alive if he knew the truth.”

She understood Lucy’s fury at Giuseppe’s audacity. Bonnie felt it too but involving their family would take matters out of her hands. She just couldn’t afford to do that right now. There was too much at stake. “Giuseppe is going to get what he deserves, Lucy. However, I need to know that Damon is the man I believe him to be. ”

The older woman nodded in understanding. She trusted that Bonnie knew what she was doing. However, Lucy planned to be there to keep her safe just in case things went off the rails.

Bonnie took out her compact and studied her reflection. She had cleaned the makeup from her face after they made it to the beach house. She needed to use her healing bruises to elicit guilt from her mother.

Lucy opened the front door and smiled at her older cousin. “Hey, cuz.”

Abby hugged her. “Hey. It’s so good seeing you. We need to catch up.”

“It’s good seeing you, too. It’s been too long since we’ve seen each other. Maybe we can get drinks later tonight. I’m just about to head out.”

“Drinks tonight sounds great, Lucy. I’ll call you with a time.”

“Great! Bonnie is waiting for you in the living room.”

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on? You dragged me half way across the country without so much as an explanation. Is everything okay?”

Lucy held her tongue because she knew that Abby was lying. However, it wasn’t her place to call her older cousin out. Bonnie would do that in her own time. She hugged her. “Just go talk to your daughter. She needs you right now.”

Abby removed her sunglasses with a frown as she watched Lucy walk out to her car. She closed the door and then locked it behind her. Then she walked into the living room. Abby froze in the middle of the room when her eyes fell onto her daughter. She dropped her purse and glasses onto the floor as she rushed to Bonnie’s side. “Who did this to you? Damon? I’ll kill him.”

“Sit down, Mom. Have some tea with me,” Bonnie suggested. She picked up the sterling silver teapot and poured a cup for Abby. “It’s Darjeeling…your favorite.”

“No, I won’t just sit down and have a cup of tea. Someone beat the shit out of my daughter and I want to know who did it. I know that you think that I am a peace loving hippie but not at the expense of my oldest girl. Now you tell me who did this to you, Bonnie Sheila Bennett.”

Bonnie was warmed by her mother’s genuine concern. She said, “Sit down, Mom. You had a long flight and there is much to discuss. I promise that I will explain everything.”

Abby slowly sat down on the couch and looked at Bonnie expectantly. She had no delusions about her track record as a mother. However, she sincerely loved her daughter. “Please, just tell me that this wasn’t Damon.”

Bonnie picked up her cup of tea and shook her head. “No, my husband isn’t a wife batterer. He wasn’t even home when this happened.”

The elder Bennett woman added sugar to the cup and slowly stirred the steaming brew. “What happened?”

“Did you get the money that Lucy wired you?”

She huffed. “Yes, but I don’t understand what it is for. Or what it has to do with why you look like this.”

“Giuseppe attacked me three weeks ago while Damon was away. These bruises you see are courtesy of him.”

Abby nearly splashed tea on her hand when she began to tremble. She placed the cup on the table. Dozens of thoughts raced through her head. She now understood some of the strange happenings in the last week. However, her heart broke for her daughter and herself. Abby had always loved Giuseppe as a father but she knew of his demons. She had hoped that they would never be visited upon her daughter. “Did he force himself on you?”

Bonnie shook her head. “He tried but I was able to convince him to stop. Anyway, the following morning he hopped a flight to Milazzo. No one knows where he is right now. On the matter of the money, I need a favor from you. If you agree to this favor I will match what Lucy wired to you last week.”

“You don’t have to pay me to help you, Bonnie. You are my daughter. Just tell me what you need and I will do it,” Abby promised.

The girl laughed. “You’ll have to excuse me if I am not inclined to take you at your word. The last time that you did anything useful for me is when Dr. Fleischman cut me from your womb. I prefer for this to be a business arrangement, Mother.”

She tensed upon hearing her daughter’s cold assessment. It wasn’t accurate but debating the point would get her nowhere. She asked, “What do you need?”

“How close are you to Alaric?”

Abby adjusted her position on the couch and picked up her teacup. She realized that her daughter was a great deal like Sheila. She wouldn’t ask a question that she didn’t already know the answer to. She said, “We have always been close. What does this have to do with Ric?”

“I am pregnant with twins and I am raising Sarah as my own flesh and blood. In good conscience, I cannot raise them in the same house with that monster. I want Giuseppe dead, not exiled to Milazzo. I believe that my husband is leaning in that direction but I am concerned about the others. Damon won’t discuss business with me. He believes that I am too delicate. However, I was hoping that your relationship with Alaric would be different. Maybe you could find out what they are thinking. Perhaps you could even whisper in his ear.”

Abby went through a myriad of emotions as she listened to her daughter speak. She was wracked with guilt for not being a bigger part of Bonnie’s life when she was younger. She had tried to be there for her since Sheila’s death but their relationship had highs and lows. “I’m going to be a grandmother again?”

Bonnie nodded. “I was going to tell you but everything got so out of hand.’

The older woman gave a wistful smile. “I can’t believe it. I mean my baby is going to have a baby—two babies.”

She smiled a little. “I’m not a baby anymore, Mom. Jamie, Cooper, and Savannah are your babies now.”

Abby said, “I don’t care that you are an adult now. It doesn’t matter that my mother raised you. You will always be my baby, Bonnie. I carried you for 36 weeks. I sat beside your incubator for hours on end just waiting for the doctors to let me hold you in my arms.”

“Will you do this for me?” she asked. Bonnie had no need for sentimentality. This was business.

She nodded. “You didn’t need to pay me for this, Bonnie. I would run that bastard over with my car if it meant keeping you and those children safe. I’ll have Alaric meet me at our place tonight to talk. I’ll call you when I know anything.”

Bonnie picked up a burner phone and handed it to Abby. “There is one number saved in the phone. Call it whenever you have information.”

Abby took the phone and tucked it into her pocket. She asked, “Are you okay? Truly?”

“I am bruised but I will heal. This will help me heal faster.”

She nodded. Abby took a sip of tea and asked, “How did you know about Alaric and me? We are careful at all times. He has a family after all.”

“Grams made sure that I had all the tools necessary if this situation ever arose. However, I knew about you and Alaric since I was 13 years old. I walked in on the two of you in the wine cellar at the manor.”

Abby looked away as a feeling of embarrassment washed over her.  “Then you know about your siblings?”

The boys were Bonnie’s twelve and six year old half brothers. Her half-sister, Savannah, was just two years old. She nodded and said, “I do.”

“And you haven’t said anything. Why?”

Bonnie said, “I’m vindictive but not petty. Exposing your relationship with Ric would only hurt my siblings and his other kids. If Jo is smart, then she knows about you. If she doesn’t know, then it certainly isn’t my place to tell her. Besides, if I told the truth Ric might do something stupid like break up with you. You’re more useful to me as his mistress.”

Abby bit her tongue and nodded. “I know what you must think of me but Ric and I…”

She waved her off. “I’m not judging you for being with Ric. It isn’t really any of my business. I’m just glad that you are happy. You are happy, right?”

She licked her lips nervously and confessed, “I am. We bought a house in Huntington Beach. He wanted us live closer to each other. Ric was tired of only seeing us once or twice a month.”

“That makes sense. Infidelity aside, Ric is a good father. I am glad that he’s spending more time with the kids. They need their father.”

Abby was shocked. She expected Bonnie to get angry. However, she realized that her daughter likely already knew the truth. She was Sheila’s granddaughter all over. “Speaking of fathers, you should tell yours what happened.”

Bonnie laughed. “I barely wanted to tell you and you’ve been more active in my life than he has. I have no interest in speaking to Rudy. If he ever decides to pick up the phone, then maybe I will consider it.”

The older woman opened her mouth to speak.

Bonnie threw up a hand to stop her. “Please, don’t launch into a pro-Rudy lecture. I haven’t seen him since my wedding four years ago.”

She huffed. “I have never been pro-Rudy, even when I was married to the bastard. But he is your father and he would want to know that you’re hurt. He would want to know that you are pregnant. I would want to know if our roles were reversed.”

“You are a different case, Mom. You are not mother of the year by any stretch of the imagination but you at least try. I see you during summer and the holidays. You actually make an effort to call me every week. Sure, you have been lying about where you are living but I am willing to chalk that up to hiding your affair. You’re always sending me pictures of the kids. We might not have a traditional mother/daughter relationship but is more than I have with Rudy.”

Abby knew she was fighting a losing battle. “Okay. How is Sarah doing?”

Bonnie relaxed once Abby dropped the subject. She smiled at the mention of Sarah. “Oh, she’s doing great. She is so smart, Mom. She is really enjoying being homeschooled with her cousins. She is interested in ballet, too. I’ve been thinking I might take her to a few classes to see if she really wants to learn.”

The love of dance was perhaps the one thing Abby had in common with her daughter. Abby had danced professionally for years before moving onto choreography. “Maybe you and Sarah could come visit me and the children sometimes. I mean now that you know the truth about me and Ric.”

The girl was always cautious where Abby was concerned. She knew better than to ever get her hopes up. “Really?”

“I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. I live here now and I’d like to spend more time with you and Sarah.”

She said, “I’d like that, Mom.”

“Does she know that you’re pregnant?”  

Bonnie shook her head. “Damon and I thought it was better to wait until I start showing more. We figured it would be easier for her to understand once there’s a physical difference to see.”

Abby smiled. “That’s what I did with Jamie. I waited until he started asking questions. He called me fat when I was pregnant with Cooper, rude little thing.”

She laughed quietly. “Kids are definitely blunt, that’s for sure.”

“How are things with you and Damon? I mean…outside of the obvious difficulties.”

Bonnie’s eyebrows rose at that. “We’re happy.”

Abby said, “I just…what happened is cause for divorce under the prenuptial agreement. If you were ever looking for a way out, now is the time. There is no shame in admitting that something isn’t working.”

“I love him, Mom.”

The older woman nodded. “I know. You always have but I never wanted you to marry Damon. The Salvatores are like an infection. I argued with your grams for days when she told me about the engagement.”

Bonnie stiffened. “That’s a strange stance from a woman dating a Salvatore.”

Abby chose her words carefully. “And it’s not without its struggles, Bonnie. I never wanted this for you. I wanted you to be free. I didn’t want you to end up the boss’s wife. I witnessed firsthand how toxic the love of a Salvatore could be. Your grams suffered for the love of Giuseppe.”

She relaxed when she realized that Abby’s concern was genuine. “Damon isn’t Giuseppe. I witnessed her suffering, too. I’ll never be able to forget it. Nevertheless, freedom means different things to different people, Mom. For you, freedom meant traveling the world without a soul to question your actions. For me, freedom means power and influence. I know that I could divorce Damon and take half the company but I’d much rather have the whole thing and my husband.”

“That’s an admirable goal but sometimes life has a way of knocking the wind out of us when we least expect it. If you are happy with Damon, then I am happy for you.” Abby looked down at the ring on her finger. It was a symbol of Alaric’s commitment to her and it was worthless.

Bonnie watched the emotions playing over her mother’s face. “I can see that you are worried for me but I don’t understand why. Damon would never hurt me.”

“Physical violence isn’t the only way that someone can hurt you, Bonnie. I know that I haven’t been a good mother. I probably don’t even have a right to say this but I love you too much to stay silent. You are a smart young woman. You are smart enough to know what your husband gets up to in his spare time. I just want you to be realistic about your situation. Damon is never going to change. He’s a selfish man-child just like his uncle is. You want power and influence but there will be a cost. At 21-years-old, it might not seem like a very steep price. But I assure you the weight of it compounds over time. I never want you to get to the breaking point like I did with your father. The good thing about Alaric is that I can walk away at anytime. It’ll hurt but I am free.”

She grasped her mother’s hands and said, “I love Damon with all of my heart. But I am not a fool. I know that my husband is a lying philanderer. I know that he is having an affair with Katherine Pierce. I also know that he is seeing a local news anchor on the side as well. After four years of marriage, I was finally honest with him about my true feelings. Now the ball is in his court. However, I would never be so naïve as to not have a way out of this marriage. If the day comes where I need to leave Damon it will be with my three children and my business. That actually brings me to the other reason that I had Lucy wire that money to you.”

Abby felt the tightness in her chest loosen after listening to Bonnie. She was relieved that her daughter didn’t view Damon through rose-colored glasses. “What else did you want me to do?”

Bonnie picked up a file folder and placed it in front of Abby. “This is a list of our family members and trusted associates that have the proper education and experience to run Velocita. Some of them used to work for BTS and stayed on after the merger. I need to know which ones I can trust.”

Abby was rendered speechless for a few seconds. She opened the folder and skimmed the list of names. She quickly recognized that the people on the list had been in executive positions in BTS before the merger. They would be the perfect group to help Bonnie execute a successful boardroom coup. She looked up at her daughter with a proud smile.

“I understand if you don’t feel comfortable doing this because of your relationship with Ric. I won’t hold a grudge if you decide to refuse. I can try to test the waters some other way.”

“My relationship with Ric doesn’t change the fact that I am always a Benedetto, Bunny. I haven’t spilled any of our family’s secrets simply because he shares my bed and I won’t start now.”

Bonnie smiled. “Thank you, Mom.”

Abby picked up a pen and jotted down a few family members that would jump at the chance to sabotage the Salvatores. “I don’t need thanks. This is like my grandmother’s last big fuck you to Domenico. She hated that racist asshole. I’m sure he is turning over in his grave. A Benedetto will be running Velocita and one day a Benedetto will be the boss of the Salvatore family. It won’t mean a thing that your future son will carry the Salvatore name…it’ll be Benedetto blood that runs through his veins.”

Bonnie eyed the names that Abby added to the list. She knew then that reaching out to her mother had been the right decision. Abby’s relationships with her first and second cousins would prove useful. She knew them much better than Bonnie and Lucy did.

Abby’s phone rang. She stood and walked across to pick up the purse that she had dropped earlier. Abby pulled out her phone and said, “This is Ric. I should take this.”

Bonnie nodded. “Okay.”

Abby disappeared into the kitchen to get some privacy.

Bonnie could hear her mother’s raised voice from the kitchen. She could only assume that Abby was ripping Ric a new one for not telling her about Giuseppe.

A few minutes later, she marched out of the kitchen. She picked up the folder Bonnie had placed on the table and tucked it into her purse. “I’m sorry to run but Ric is going to meet me at home. We’ll talk soon, baby girl.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

Abby kissed Bonnie’s cheek and then dashed out the front door. Ric was going to regret keeping something like this a secret from her.

Chapter Text

A normal life was never in the cards for Bonnie. She was the matriarch’s oldest granddaughter. Therefore, at some point she would have been married off to secure an alliance with one of the West Coast’s major crime families. However, the marriage would have occurred when she was older and more prepared. Unfortunately, Abby’s decision to marry and then divorce a civilian had sealed Bonnie’s fate when she was 3 years old. It became her duty to ensure the survival of their family.

Bonnie’s earliest memory was kneeling in a puddle of blood as the most important man in her life bled to death. She could remember the acrid smell of gunpowder as the getaway car’s tires squealed against the rain slick road. On some nights, her great uncle’s lifeless hazel eyes still turned her dreams into nightmares. That fateful day, she learned that the price of having everything was blood.

Bonnie had received the best education that money could buy from private tutors. However, Sheila taught her the most important lessons. She learned about the proud history of the Benedetto family—both legal and illegal. Sheila taught Bonnie how to maneuver in a world that would always underestimate her. In fact, her grandmother believed that the underworld’s misogyny could be her greatest tool. Bonnie could manipulate the pieces on the chessboard to her benefit while the men simply ignored her presence. Moving in the shadows allowed her great-grandmother Emily to sway a man that once upon a time would have died to protect the Salvatore family. Now that man’s descendants would gladly slaughter Giuseppe’s sons and brothers for Bonnie.

Too many of the up and coming criminal organizations ran as if they were a corporation. However, what they lost sight of was the sense of family that should bind their members together. Money and fear weren’t adequate motivation when men were faced with death or lengthy imprisonment. The people allowed into the Salvatore organization’s innermost circle had deep roots that spanned back to the old country. To betray the Salvatore family would be to betray their own blood and their family’s legacy. It wouldn’t be a decision they arrived at lightly.

Outward appearances would lead people to believe that the men of the Lockwood family were the Salvatore organization’s most loyal soldiers. Giovanni Salvatore and Giacobbe Loiacono had been boyhood friends in Milazzo. However, they lost touch when the Salvatore family immigrated to the United States in the early 1900’s. The family settled in California where Giovanni and his two younger brothers opened a string of illegal gambling halls and brothels. However, everything changed at the start of Prohibition.

Giovanni saw an opportunity to capitalize on the government’s sudden morality. He wanted to expand his organization into bootlegging. However, he needed more men. Giovanni sent his younger brother back to Milazzo to recruit men they could trust. Giacobbe was among the first men recruited. Giovanni paid the fee for the man’s family to immigrate to the United States with him. His family changed their last name to Lockwood because of the Immigration Act of 1924. The act restricted immigration from southern European countries. Giacobbe was grateful to Giovanni for helping get his family out of Milazzo during a perilous time. He swore an oath of loyalty to his childhood friend and kept it until his death.

The bond shared between Giovanni and Giacobbe was passed down to their respective sons, Niccolo and Georgio. When the widower, Georgio, went to prison for murder, Niccolo Salvatore took in his children. He had two sons named Alonzo and Mauricio. The boss and his wife already had three sons, Domenico, Bruno, and Giacomo. However, he treated the two boys as if they were his own flesh and blood.

Domenico and Alonzo were as thick as thieves into adulthood. Everyone believed that Alonzo would become consigliere when Domenico took over for his father. However, jealousy and male pride derailed those plans and forced a wedge between the two men. They both fell in love with a young woman named Rosemary. She chose Alonzo but Domenico petitioned his father to arrange a marriage between them. Niccolo didn’t like the move but convinced Alonzo that it was better for the family in the long run. Rosemary’s family had powerful political ties back East that could be useful to them.

Domenico married Rosemary but grew bitter when he realized that she would never love him. His jealousy further corrupted his already tattered relationship with Alonzo. When Niccolo died, Domenico chose his brother, Giacomo, to be his consigliere. The move caused a rift in the organization. Many of their high-ranking capos thought that he was being short-sighted.

Domenico realized his mistake because his younger brother was inexperienced and unprepared for the job. However, he couldn’t look weak in front of the organization. As the tension built, Alonzo was arrested for manslaughter. He was guilty but the timing was suspicious. The arrest stemmed from an incident that happened three years prior. However, an eyewitness miraculously appeared to testify against him. Alonzo thought Domenico was responsible for his predicament but could never prove it.

Alonzo’s wife and his young sons were destitute during his incarceration. They had to move to Puyallup, WA to stay with some distant relatives on the wife’s side of the family. Sheila’s mother, Emily, saw an opportunity to gain a foothold within the Salvatore’s organization. She wasn’t fond of Domenico. He had been a good friend to her family for decades until she married a Black Creole man from Louisiana. Suddenly, Domenico didn’t want to socialize with her family—their interactions became strictly business related. Emily was a pragmatist and she wasn’t going to turn away money. Her family did business with many people who were prejudice but she hadn’t considered any of them to be true friends the way Domenico had once been.

Emily quietly supported Alonzo’s family for the twelve years he spent in prison. She also made sure that his sons went to the best private schools in the city. Alonzo understood that Emily’s assistance would come at a price once he finished his prison sentence. He willingly became Emily’s inside man in Domenico’s organization.

Fortunately, the don felt guilty for his role in Alonzo’s incarceration. He eagerly welcomed his foster brother back into the organization and his family. Alonzo hid his resentment well. He systematically worked his way to being Domenico’s most trusted confidante again. All the while, he reported to Emily and helped her install more moles into the Salvatore organization. Nearly forty years later, Emily’s investment was still paying dividends for her great-granddaughter.

Mason walked downstairs and asked, “Can I take it from your smile that the meeting with Mommy Dearest was a success?”

Bonnie’s smile brightened. “And then some. Who knew she loved me quite so much? I have you to thank for this, Mason. I knew that my mother used to have a relationship with Ric. However, I wouldn’t have known that it was ongoing without the information from you.”

He smiled as he sat down across from the couch. “As always, I am at your service, Bonnie. My loyalty and that of my family will always be to the Benedetto family.”

Bonnie said, “I can’t express how much your support means to me. I appreciate everything that your family has done for me since Grams died. If not for all of you, I would be completely alone here in Los Angeles. Giuseppe went out of his way to isolate me from my family after I married Damon.”

Mason’s eyes darkened at the mention of Giuseppe. He had watched helplessly as the man had assumed control of the American side of the Benedettos’ arms smuggling operation following Sheila’s death. The very people meant to protect Bonnie now worked for the man that could hurt her the most. Unfortunately, Mason’s fears had been realized when he attacked the girl at her most vulnerable.

“My father made a promise to Miss Emily. He might be long gone now but we will continue to pay our debt to your family.”

Bonnie looked down at the mention of Alonzo Lockwood. Alonzo and her great-uncle had been killed protecting her and Stefan from a hail of gunfire. They had been ambushed while leaving a wedding in Milazzo. It was a hit meant to assassinate Sheila, Giuseppe, and Big John. The attempt ultimately failed and the men responsible had suffered greatly before they were given the mercy of death. 

“I’m sorry. I don’t think that I’ve ever said that to you,” she replied.

Mason reached out and squeezed Bonnie’s hand. “My father died 16 years ago, Bonnie. An apology from you is not necessary. My father gladly gave his life for the Benedetto family just as I would.”

Bonnie forced a small smile. She said, “Well, don’t go falling on your sword just yet. You are invaluable to me inside the Salvatore organization. You becoming Alaric’s second in command is fortuitous.”

He nodded in agreement. “It is as if Miss Emily was planning for this moment from the very beginning. She spent years cultivating the perfect assets within the organization. Miss Sheila doubled those efforts when you were a little girl. Your marriage to Damon was a long time coming. Those women had a plan for every contingency.”

“It’s the best way to make sure you aren’t caught with your skirt round your ankles.” She went quiet for a minute and then said, “I do have another favor to ask of you, Mason.”

“Ask away,” he replied.

Bonnie said, “I want you to subtly explore just how many of our people are still loyal to me. I have still been paying for their services despite not calling upon them. However, that may change in the near future.”

Mason sat up straighter after hearing Bonnie’s request. “I’ll get into it starting today. I’ll suss them out and kill anyone that has forgotten to whom they answer.”

She was glad that the older man understood what needed to happen without elaboration. “Thank you.”

“Working on a contingency of your own?” he asked with a knowing look.

Bonnie hummed in response. “One can never be too careful. These are delicate times for us all. Things are about to change. I have been thinking I might also need to increase my security.”

Mason nodded. “We need more of our people in that house. Giuseppe would have never drawn another breath if one of ours had been working in the manor that night. I can see about getting Brady or Ty assigned to you.”

He couldn’t think of anyone that he would trust to protect Bonnie more than his younger brother or his nephew.

“Either would be a good choice. I would prefer to have Tyler protecting me. You may need Brady’s help with the task I gave you. Anyway, I’ve already planted the seed with Damon that I’d feel more secure with a personal guard in the house. He said that he would speak to Ric about finding someone suitable.”

“I have Ric’s ear. I’ll be sure to nudge him in the right direction.”

“Thank you,” she replied.

“You are welcome.” He checked his phone and sighed. “Sorry, I am waiting for Vicki to call me back.”

“How is Vicki doing?” Bonnie asked with an amused smile. Mason had once vowed never to get married.

He smiled wryly. “She has her good and bad days. Today is one of the bad days. She’s been on one since I left her alone with the kids while I was in Shadow Hills.”

The young woman snickered in response. “That’s what you get for marrying a crazy woman. Donovan women have two settings: crazy and crazy as fuck. Frankly, I don’t know how Mattie survived growing up with Kelly and Vicki.”

Mason snorted. “Well, I have some insight into that because Kelly has been living with us for the last few months. She said it was to help Vick with the new baby but I think she’s moved in for the long haul and they just haven’t told me yet.”

“You poor bastard. You’ll be lucky if they don’t kill one another even if this was their plan.”

He huffed out a laugh. “Oh, they’re getting along for now but it’s only a matter of time before they are at one another’s throats. She drives me crazy, but Kelly really has been a lifesaver. Adding a fifth kid to the family wasn’t our smartest move. ”

Bonnie let out an impressed whistle. “I still can’t believe that you have five kids. I’m freaking out at the prospect of having three.”

“Well, Vicki and I won’t be having any more kids. We both decided to get our junk snipped, tied, yanked out…whatever.”

Her eyes went wide. “What are you going to tell Father Finn about that?”

He snorted. “I’m going to tell him that if I get Vicki pregnant again that she will stab me in my sleep.”

Bonnie laughed with a shake of her head.

He looked down at his phone after it vibrated. He quickly responded to the message and then stood up. “Looks like Tyler is here. I reminded him to come around back.”

She nodded. “Hopefully, that won’t be necessary for much longer.”

“Don’t worry. I will make sure that Ric chooses Tyler or Brady for your security detail. I’ll feel better when it’s one of us protecting you,” he replied.

“Me too,” Bonnie agreed.

Tyler walked into the room carrying food from In and Out Burger and a shopping bag. He set the food on the table and said, “I brought lunch. Where’s Sarah?”

Bonnie’s mouth watered a little at the smell of grease and cheese. She was about 50% sure that she would throw up after eating. However, she wasn’t about to turn down a meal from her favorite fast food spot. “She’s taking a nap right now.”

Mason clapped his nephew on the back. “I am going to get back to work now that you are here. I’ll make sure to start those inquires as soon as possible, Bonnie. Call me if you need anything.”

“I will and thanks—again,” she replied.

He clapped his nephew on the back and then headed toward the back to slip out of the house unnoticed.

Bonnie rushed into Tyler’s arms as soon as the door closed behind Mason. She wordlessly melted into his familiar embrace. There weren’t words to express the bond they shared. Tyler had been there for when she needed him most—and it wasn’t the first time. “Thank you for coming.”

Tyler tightened his hold on Bonnie and pecked her forehead. “Where else would I be?”

“I missed you,” she whispered into his chest.

He relaxed feeling Bonnie’s soft curves against him. “I would have gone to Shadow Hills with you and Sarah if my disappearance wouldn’t have been suspicious. I hated that the two of you were there alone.”

“I know,” she whispered. “But the time alone was good for us. I was able to devote all of my attention to Sarah and she needed that. I think that I needed it, too.”

He pulled back enough to study her face. He cupped her chin and said, “You are looking better. How do you feel?”

“I feel better, too. Morning sickness is causing me more discomfort than any of my injuries are,” she replied.

Tyler’s eyes went down to her stomach. He smiled and asked, “Do you think the kiddos will let you scarf down a double-double and fries?”

“Maybe. Did you remember to get extra fries for me?”

He rolled his eyes and asked, “What kind of question is that? I even stopped off at the market to buy a bottle of creamy Romano salad dressing for you.”

Bonnie’s eyes lit up. “You are the best, Ty.”

“I know,” he replied with a grin. “Now sit down so that we can get some food in you.”

She sat down on the couch and curled her legs underneath her. She couldn’t ignore the sense of calm that washed over her in Tyler’s presence. She could be herself when she was with Tyler. He knew her in ways that Damon never could. Moreover, she trusted him to have her best interest at heart.

Tyler handed Bonnie’s food to her. He said, “I bought lunch for Sarah, too. I’ll just go put it in the fridge for her. She might want it when she wakes up.”

Bonnie nodded but she was too busy squeezing Romano dressing onto her fries to respond. She popped one fry into her mouth and sighed happily at the garlicky flavor. She was happy that her stomach didn’t automatically rebel against the rich food. Bonnie hoped that at least some of her earlier nausea had been because of her frayed nerves.

Tyler returned a few minutes later with a bottle of water and a glass of strawberry milk. He had a seat beside Bonnie on the couch and toed off his designer dress shoes. He hated his job as a corporate investigator for Velocita. The work was mind numbing because he was overqualified for his job. However, it was a good cover and provided income he could claim on his tax returns to appease Uncle Sam.

He took off his suit jacket and tie before digging into his own lunch. He glanced over at Bonnie with a smirk. She was practically inhaling her meal. “Good?”

She nodded happily. “So good.” Bonnie eyed the glass of strawberry milk he had placed in front of her. “Did you check the expiration date on that milk? I can’t remember the last time I stocked the kitchen. Everything in the refrigerator is probably out of date by a couple of months.”

Tyler chuckled and said, “Don’t worry. I am not forcing you to drink spoiled milk. I went shopping this weekend for the essentials. I figured we’d need some fresh food around here if we’re going to use this place as our base of operations.”

“Thank you for doing that, Ty. I didn’t even think about needing food when I was out earlier.” Bonnie took a big gulp of the milk and asked, “How much did it run you? I’ll pay you back.”

“Don’t worry about it. Mason and Brady will be here more often than either of us will be. I’ll make them reimburse me for it,” he replied.

He was well acquainted with his uncles’ voracious appetites. They would burn through the food he picked up in a week’s time even with them only being there a few hours each day.

“How’d the meeting with Abby go?”

Bonnie put her feet in Tyler’s lap as she bit into her burger. “Better than I expected. It didn’t take much to get her on my side. I guess I never realized how much she disliked my marriage to Damon.”

He snorted and said, “I think that is the party line for anyone that actually cares about you, Bon. My old man definitely wasn’t on board with the idea but Miss Sheila promised that she had a plan.”

Verdant eyes studied him carefully. “She did have a plan and I am following the framework. But I am also doing things my own way. I know that you worry about my objectivity but I haven’t taken my eye off the prize. My feelings for Damon will never overshadow my duty to the family, Ty.”

Tyler put down his half-eaten burger and moved closer to Bonnie. He took her hand and said, “I’m sorry for saying that I didn’t trust your judgment, Bon. I didn’t mean it. I was just…in a bad headspace at the time. Can you forgive me?”

A weight Bonnie hadn’t even realized that she was carrying began to lift off her shoulders. She nodded at Tyler with a small smile. “Of course, I forgive you.”

He pecked her cheek.

The two childhood friends fell into a companionable silence as they finished eating lunch.

Tyler stood up and collected their trash. “Do you want more strawberry milk?”

Bonnie stifled a yawn and shook her head. “No, I think I am going to head upstairs to get a nap. Are you going to hang around here?”

“Yeah. I don’t trust those assholes that Damon has watching your back. Go get your nap. I’ll be down here when you wake up,” he said.

“Thanks, Ty.” Bonnie climbed the stairs and went into the master bedroom. She closed the heavy curtains to block out the late afternoon sun. Afterwards she climbed into the bed.

She was on the edge of sleep when Tyler burst into the room holding his phone aloft. He closed and locked the door so that he wouldn’t disturb Sarah down the hall. The last thing they needed was for her to walk in on them discussing business. The kid was smart as a whip and didn’t miss very much going on around her.

“We found the fucker,” he barked out.

Bonnie’s eyes popped open and she sat up in the bed. “We found Giuseppe?”

Tyler grinned as he sat beside her on the bed. “Yeah. He turned up on Cousin Dante’s doorstep tonight. It makes sense that he would reach out to a Loiacono first. He was fucking testing the waters…trying to figure out who knows what. I don’t have all the details yet. My old man just texted me the basics.”

She considered her options. “Make sure the information gets to Lucy but keep the Salvatores in the dark for now. I want to hear what Abby learns from Alaric first.”

He nodded and quickly fired off a text to his father. “Dante knows the score. He’ll keep his mouth shut until we tell him otherwise.”

Bonnie smiled in relief. She had been uneasy not knowing Giuseppe’s whereabouts. The man had to know that his back was up against the wall and a cornered animal was unpredictable. “This is the best news I’ve gotten all day.”

“You and me both,” he replied. He reached out and ran his pointer finger over the Saint Christopher medal hanging around her neck. “Mason told me that you were wearing it in Shadow Hills.”

Bonnie looked down to where Tyler’s finger rested just above the swell of her breasts. “I never took it off. Do you want it back?”

Tyler had been torn in two the night that Bonnie turned up to his house bruised and battered. He wanted to keep her close and never let her out of his sight again. However, he also understood that they were playing the long game. Both of their families had made incredible sacrifices to get them to this point. Damon couldn’t learn that the Lockwoods’ allegiance had long been flipped in the Benedetto family’s favor. Tyler knew that it was ridiculous but giving Bonnie his Saint Christopher medal felt as if he was sending a piece of himself with her. The medal had belonged to his grandfather.

“No, I want you to keep it. I like knowing that you’re wearing it,” he replied quietly. Tyler drew Bonnie into his arms as he sought out her soft lips.

The kiss was tender, heartfelt, and so different from the way that Damon kissed her. Bonnie knew that this was wrong but every fiber of her being tingled from Tyler’s touch. She wanted him. She needed him.

Chapter Text

Abby raced down the 405 like a woman possessed. She might not have struck the blows that bruised her little girl but she was certainly an accessory to the crime. Bonnie wouldn’t even be married to Damon right now if not for Abby’s choices. Sheila had allowed her only child to marry for love against her better judgment. Unfortunately, Abby chose a man that didn’t love or respect her. After all this time, she wasn’t even sure that Rudy had ever liked her. Her mother had been furious when after just three years of marriage Abby wanted to file for divorce. Sheila had given the young woman an ultimatum. She could divorce Rudy on the condition that she married Alaric. Otherwise, Sheila would cut her off financially. Abby had balked at the idea of trading one bad marriage for another just for the sake of business. At the time, Ric was a coked up womanizer with a violent streak that scared her. He used to take a little too much pleasure doing wet work for the family. Ric was a different man now but she couldn’t have known that eighteen years ago.

Abby inhaled a steadying breath as she drove into the three-car garage. The 3,500 square foot house she shared with Alaric was located in one of Huntington Beach’s most exclusive gated communities. The house was too large for their little family. However, Alaric insisted on the neighborhood because of the security. He wanted to know that his family was safe even when he couldn’t be with them. Unfortunately, he was absent from their lives more often than not. Honestly, his work took him away from both of his families more than he liked. His duties had doubled when Damon began quietly consolidating his power.

She climbed out of the car with a hard set to her jaw. Abigail Bennett was a woman on a mission. She had let down her daughter too many times to count. She had her reasons for leaving Bonnie behind as a child. In hindsight, none of those reasons were good enough. Abby had acted selfishly and Bonnie was still paying the price for her poor decisions. Sheila wasn’t there anymore to pick up the slack for her feckless daughter. Bonnie needed her mother to come through for her more than she ever had in the past.

Abby was glad that the children were out with the nanny for the afternoon. She needed to have this conversation with Ric in private and without interruptions. He was bound to put up some resistance in the beginning. He was old school and didn’t like when Abby stuck her nose in his business. However, he couldn’t dismiss her in the same way that Damon often dismissed Bonnie. Abby might have taken a hands-off approach to the business but at the end of the day, she was always a Benedetto.

Ric had hoped that the 40-minute drive would have helped calm her. However, those hopes were dashed the moment he saw the thunderous expression on her face. He started, “Baby….”

She stormed across the room and slapped him so hard that her hand stung from the impact. Abby winced in pain but her features remained hard as she glared at the man she loved. “I will take the kids and move to Milazzo if you ever keep something like this from me again, Alaric.”

He clenched his jaw and set his glass of scotch on the fireplace’s mantel. Ric knew from their brief phone conversation that Abby would be mad at him. However, threatening to leave with their kids was crossing a line for him. He wasn’t a good partner but he tried to be a good father to his children. He said, “Don’t threaten me, Abigail.”

Abby stood tall in front of Ric with her shoulders squared and her eyes narrowed. She didn’t like arguing with Alaric but it was the only way to make him take her seriously. “That wasn’t a threat, it’s a promise. Your sexual predator brother attacked my little girl and you didn’t have the decency to tell me about it. How can you claim to love me while withholding something so serious about my child?”

“If Bonnie wanted you to know what happened, she would have told you. I didn’t think that it was my place to get involved in your relationship. Perhaps if you hadn’t spent her childhood gallivanting all over the world she would have thought to call you,” he replied bitterly. Bonnie wasn’t the only one that Abby abandoned while she traveled the world.

The truth hurt but she wasn’t about to be distracted by her guilt. She wasn’t the one in the wrong right now. Alaric knew that he screwed up and he was trying to deflect.

“Yes, I am a terrible mother to Bonnie. But you are a coward. Giuseppe lives despite the fact he has been terrorizing your family for years. How many of Zach and Damon’s bones has he broken over the years? When exactly did Stefan feel safe enough to start sleeping in his own bed every night? Ten? Eleven? How many young women has your big brother beaten and raped while you turned a blind eye?”

Ric turned away from Abby because her words were cutting too deep. He knew that he was a coward for letting Giuseppe’s reign of terror continue as long as it had. He could have put a stop to him years ago but didn’t for one reason or another. The maniac was his big brother and he loved him. Alaric didn’t know what it said about him that he was capable loving someone like Giuseppe.

“He’s the boss.”

Abby mocked him. “He’s the boss. Is that all you have to say? No, you let him continue to live because you are a little bitch!”

He whirled around with fire in his eyes and advanced on Abby. He got right in her face and bellowed, “What did you just call me?”

“You are a lot of things Alaric, but you ain’t hard of hearing. Come on Billy Badass put your hands on me. I’ll burn your ass alive in this house while you sleep,” Abby promised.

Ric tensed and just stared at her because he knew that Abby’s threat wasn’t idle. If Ric crossed the line, the hazel-eyed love of his life would make good on her promise. Moreover, he hadn’t actually intended to hit her. He only wanted to intimidate Abby to make her drop the subject. It was uncomfortable to have a mirror held up against his years of inaction. However, he should have known better than testing Abby while she was in this state. “Abby, just let me explain.”

“What is there to explain, Alaric? Your brother attacked my little girl. He tried to rape her! Maybe you were okay with him abusing your younger brother and nephews but I’m not you. I’m not cut from that type of cloth. I should have put my foot down the moment Mama told me that she was dying. I knew letting Bonnie marry into your family was a terrible idea. Giuseppe is a cancer that none of you seem willing to cut out!”

He scoffed, “That’s big talk for a woman that had to ask her mother for permission to end her marriage.”

Abby knew that it was time to toss out her trump card. She said, “Maybe it’s time that I call home.”

The threat in Abby’s words was implicit. While Sheila had handed over control of the US side of the smuggling operation to Giuseppe before she died, Big John Benedetto still controlled the Italian side of the business. Reaching out to the Benedetto family would at best result in Giuseppe’s death and at worse start a bloody mob war spanning two continents. Big John wouldn’t stop until everything that once belonged to the Salvatore family was his.

Abby’s family had split in two during the 40’s. Her grandmother, Emily, stayed stateside to help her parents with their business. Abby’s great-uncle, Daniel, moved to Italy to control the smuggling operation from the other side. He retained his father’s last name, Benedetto. While in America, the family changed their name to Bennett during World War II because of anti-Italian sentiment. However, even after almost 80 years on two different continents the Benedetto family was still bonded by blood and tradition. They would never allow something like this to stand.

Ric stepped closer and pulled Abby into his arms. He hoped that he would be able to placate her. He kissed her softly. “You don’t need to do anything as rash as that, Abby. Damon isn’t going to let Giuseppe get away with what he’s done. We are going to kill him but it has to be the right time. He has been working against us in the old country. We think he is attempting to split the family in two to prevent Damon from taking it from him. Damon and I have a trip planned for after Thanksgiving. We are going to go over and have a sit down with all of the capos. Zio Bruno is arranging everything. Once we know that Damon has their support, Giuseppe will be nothing more than a bad memory. I promise.”

She scrutinized him closely as if looking for deception. However, she slowly relaxed when there didn’t appear to be any. “I won’t stand for him hurting my daughter again, Ric. I’ll let you and Damon work your strategy but if Giuseppe even breathes on Bonnie again I will pull this whole thing down on your heads.”

He stroked her back and said, “It won’t come to that. Giuseppe won’t show his face after what he’s done. He has to know that’s he’s crossed a line. He’s been in hiding since it went down. But if he does return, I will handle it. No questions asked, absolutely no hesitation.”

“No regrets?” she asked. She understood how complicated family could be. Giuseppe had been like her father when she was a child. Her love for him had only dimmed when she learned that he was responsible for her actual father’s murder. Abby had realized then that he was a two-faced monster not to be trusted.

“I promise that there will be absolutely no regrets when I kill Giuseppe. He’s earned this a thousand times over.” He took a breath and added, “He killed my dad.”

Abby’s hazel eyes widened to the size of saucers. She stared at Ric in silence for a beat. She finally uttered a confused, “What?”

“Giuseppe orchestrated the plane crash that killed my dad. Your mother recorded a conversation where he confessed to her. Sheila gave the recording to Bonnie before she died…”

Her eyes fluttered closed as she silently thanked her mother. She knew they were only considering killing Giuseppe because of that recording. When Abby’s eyes reopened, she looked up at Alaric with sympathy. “I’m sorry, honey. He killed my dad, too. He’s taken so much from the people he claims to love above all else. Are you okay? Is Zach?”

Ric leaned his forehead down against hers. “Zach is despondent. Even with the abuse, he always felt grateful that Giuseppe didn’t allow him to go into the foster care system. Now he knows that our loving brother is the reason he was an orphan. He killed our father and then terrorized us for years.”

“What about you?” she asked again.

“I’m always fine.”

“We both know that is a lie. You don’t have to pretend that you’re not hurt by this. You remember what a wreck I was when I learned the truth. You knew your father much better than I knew mine.”

Ric said, “I can’t even say that I am surprised because I’ve always known that Giuseppe was faithless. I have watched him turn on men that have given our family years of loyal service for some perceived slight. It just never occurred to me that he would kill the man that gave us life. Our father had his flaws, as all men do, but he loved us. I can’t remember our old man raising his voice at us, let alone hitting us.”

She brushed her lips against his and asked, “Is there anything that I can do to help?”

“Don’t go,” he whispered.

Abby felt guilty for threatening him earlier. However, it had been necessary. “I won’t but you can’t keep something like this from me, Ric. She’s my little girl. What if our roles were reversed? You would never forgive me for keeping something like this from you about one of our kids.”

He sighed deeply. “I’m sorry. I won’t keep you in the dark again but you can’t tell Bonnie any of what I just told you. Damon told her that he is going to force Giuseppe into early retirement. He doesn’t want her knowing the things he’s capable of doing.”

“You are forgiven,” she replied. “I won’t say anything to her, Ric. Mama kept her away from the business for good reason.”

The lies rolled off Abby’s tongue so effortlessly. She loved Alaric but her allegiance would always be to her blood.

Ric visibly relaxed after Abby forgave him. He asked, “Where are the kids?”

“The boys had a half day at school today. Seline took them and Savannah to the aquarium and then the zoo.”

Ric nodded. “Will they be home soon? I have a surprise for Jamie.”

“They probably won’t be home until around dinner time. What did you buy for Jamie now?” she asked with an amused smile.

“I picked up that first-person shooter game that Jamie has been wanting.”

She frowned. “Do you mean the game that he’s not really old enough to be playing?”

He tightened his hold on Abby’s waist. “Come on. Let me be the good cop, please. I’m trying to make up a lot of ground here. I haven’t really been a consistent part of his life until now. Parenting over Skype and phone calls wasn’t easy. It’s bad enough that I’m Uncle Ric.

Abby knew how much Alaric resented the choices she had made over the years. He hated that she had refused to marry him when they were younger. He hated that until very recently, she refused to live in the Los Angeles area so that he could be close to their children. Ric tried to be present in the kids’ lives despite the distance. Before Abby moved to the area, he would fly cross-country to spend two weekends a month with them. Jamie turning 12 years old changed her mind about the situation. Her son needed a strong male role model in his life full-time.

However, their arrangement was like balancing on a knife’s edge. Their kids didn’t even know that Ric was their father. It was too much to ask children to keep such a big secret when they often spent time at the manor. One slip of the tongue and the entire family would know that Ric and Abby were having an affair. Of course, the relationship wasn’t a secret to everyone. Giuseppe, Zach, Damon, and now Bonnie all knew the truth. However, everyone kept quiet on the matter for the sake of Jo and the twins.

“Jamie is going to be so excited about the game. And he’ll have plenty of time to play it while he’s out for Thanksgiving break.”

“Thank you,” he replied.

“Do you have to leave immediately? I know things must be crazy for you right now.”

Ric shook his head. “No. I was thinking that I might stay the night here with you and the kids.”

Abby smiled. “I would like that.”

He asked, “Do you want to fool around while Savannah and the boys are out with Seline?”

She rolled her eyes but nodded. “I think that we could both use a little comfort right now. I just want to put this afternoon out of my mind, even if it is just for a couple hours. But you have to take a shower first because you are ripe.”

Ric grinned and said, “I had just finished working out when I called to check in with you. I didn’t expect all of this to follow.”

Abby laughed and said, “Well, at least you’re not planning to get flabby in your old age.”

He bought his palm down against her backside with an audible crack. “Who are you calling old?”

She jumped and slapped his chest. “That hurt!”

Ric grinned and said, “Let me kiss it better.”

Abby huffed and shoved his shoulder. “Go take your shower before I change my mind about having sex with you. I am going to call Seline to make sure that she doesn’t bring the kids home early.”

He kissed her cheek. “Good idea. I’ll see you upstairs.”

Abby walked into the kitchen and took out her phone. She typed a quick message to Seline.

Abby: Could you try to stay out until 5? If not, at least call before you come home.

She then took out the burner phone that Bonnie gave her and walked out by the pool. She called the number on the phone and waited patiently for her daughter to answer.

“Hello?” Bonnie asked.

“Hi, baby. I talked to Ric. He told me that Damon plans to kill Giuseppe but there’s been a snag. Giuseppe has been trying to secure control of the family’s presence in Italy. They are going to fly over next week to meet with the heavy hitters to make sure that doesn’t happen. After that, Damon will give the green light to kill Giuseppe. Alaric is going to be the one to carry out the hit. I am going to pressure Ric to get it done faster. I don’t like the idea of that monster on the loose.”

“Well, that’s good news. Really good news. Thank you for doing this, Mom.”

Abby said, “You don’t need to thank me. I’ll start working on that other thing after the holiday. I don’t want you to pay me for this, Bonnie. I am doing this because I love you. You can look at it that I am doing this because I owe you for all the times I’ve let you down in the past. Either way I don’t want your money, baby girl.”

“Mom…”she argued.

“No. I know that I haven’t been a good mother for you. I can’t change any of that now. What kind of gutter dweller would I be if I didn’t do this out of the goodness of my heart? You’re not going to change my mind about this. I will just return the money if you wire it into my account.”

Bonnie relented. “Fine. Are you bringing the kids over for Thanksgiving? I roped Lucy into helping me cook. I gave Sophie the holiday off so I could use another set of hands.”

Abby bit back a smile. “I’ll be there. Your grams never gave you the secret ingredient to her sweet potato pies so yours never taste quite right.”

The girl huffed out a laugh. “Whatever. At least I can make macaroni and cheese better than you do.”

“That’s true. You work magic with that mac and cheese casserole.”

Bonnie asked, “Do you want to stay over tomorrow night? Lucy and I are going to start cooking the day before Thanksgiving.”

“Sure. I’d like that. I should go before Ric finishes his shower. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay. Bye.”

“Bye, baby.”

Abby ended the call and then went back inside. She quickly climbed the stairs and was relieved to hear the shower still running. She ducked into her walk in closet and opened her floor safe. Abby tossed in the burner phone after turning it off. She wouldn’t have to worry about Ric stumbling across the phone and asking any questions. He actually had the audacity to be the jealous type despite his own double life.

She stripped out of her clothes and walked into the bedroom just as Ric turned off the shower. However, just then his phone rang. Abby walked over to his nightstand and glanced at the phone to see who was calling.

She picked up the phone and walked into the bathroom. “Your nephew is calling you.”

Ric stared at her body for a beat before taking the phone. He answered the call and said, “You have terrible timing, nipote.”

Abby shook her head and said, “I’ll leave you to it but I’m start without you if this call takes too long.”

He groaned as he watched her swing her hips as she left the bathroom. “What do you want, Damon?”

“I love you too, Zio,” he snarked. “Exactly what am I interrupting?”

“Don’t be a little shit, Damon. What do you want?” Ric asked. He stepped out of the shower.

Damon laughed. “I get to poke a little fun at the fact that you are banging my mother-in-law. I mean she’s hot so I get it.”

“More like you married the daughter of my longtime girlfriend but we’re splitting hairs here,” he retorted.

“Touché. Anyway, I told you that Stefan asked to join us in Milazzo.”

“Yeah. And you turned him down.”

He said, “Well, he brought it up again. He really wants to make the trip over with us. I think he might be serious.”

Alaric was dumbstruck by that idea. His younger nephew had always steered clear of the dirty side of the business. Ric and Zach had put their foot down when Stefan was a teenager. They refused to let Giuseppe force him into the business as he’d done with the rest of them. They wouldn’t let him steal the boy’s childhood that way. As a result, Stefan had always been more focused on the numbers and the family’s revenue streams. “What brought this on?”

“Fuck if I know what goes on in Stefan’s head. He just walked into my office and told me that it was time for him to step up. I told him that I would think about it.”

Ric snorted. “And what you meant was that you would have me think about it.”

“I am just trying to make sure that I don’t permanently damage my delicate baby brother. You know he wasn’t really meant for this thing of ours. I was never bitter about him avoiding the awful shit that we all had to do. He’s the good one. He just might be the only one of us not going to hell.”

The elder Salvatore definitely couldn’t argue with Damon’s point. Stefan was always the more sensitive brother. The kid had been soft spoken even after he went through puberty. “He can come with us and observe but nothing more than that. We need to ease him into this to make sure it’s really what he wants.”

“That sounds fair enough. I will let him know tonight. Are you coming over for dinner?’ Damon asked.

“No. I’m going to stay out here with Abby and the boys,’ he replied. He scowled when he heard a buzzing sound coming from the bedroom. “Is that it? Because she actually started without me.”

Damon barked out a laugh. “I really didn’t need that mental image. Yeah, that was all I needed. I’ll talk to you later, Zio. Don’t have a heart attack.”

Ric rolled his eyes and said, “Later, kid.”

He left his phone on the counter and grabbed a towel from the rack. Ric did a quick pass over his body to dry most of the moisture from his skin before walking out of the bathroom. He stood in the doorway and drank in Abby’s appearance. “You’ve been a very bad girl.”

She wasn’t actually interested in having sex right now. However, the best way to manipulate Ric was to sate him with sex. After an orgasm or two, he would be putty in her hands. Abby wouldn’t be satisfied until she knew everything. She could tell that Ric was holding something back. The time for being hands off with her daughter’s life had come to an abrupt end that day.

Abby bit her bottom lip. “You took too long.”

He licked his lips and said, “Well, don’t let me interrupt you.”

Chapter Text

Damon felt his blood run cold when he walked into his bedroom at the manor. The room bore signs of a violent struggle. Furniture was out of place and a bedside lamp lay broken on the floor. However, his stormy blue eyes locked onto the disheveled bed. He could see streaks of blood staining the periwinkle sheets. Damon’s mind went to dark places as he wondered if Bonnie lied about being able to stop Giuseppe from violating her. His fists clenched so tight that his short nails dug into the palms of his hands. Even after having a week to digest what happened here, seeing the aftermath brought a new realization. His little bunny had fought back. It was almost inconceivable to him.

The staff never entered their room without explicit permission from him or Bonnie. If the door remained closed then they weren’t allowed to enter. Part of him wished that he had called ahead to instruct the cleaning staff to take care of the mess. However, something in him needed to see this. In his mind’s eye, he could picture the attack clearly. His father was a hulking man that stood several inches taller and weighed nearly 60 lbs more than he did. Giuseppe had been lying in wait for Bonnie after she put Sarah to bed. He didn’t need to imagine her fear at finding Giuseppe waiting for her. Damon had been on the receiving end of Giuseppe’s fists for as long as he could remember. Their most recent fight had taken place about six months ago. However, at 31 years old Damon could hold his own in a fight with the older man. Years of boxing meant that he had knocked his father on his ass easily. Zach and Stefan had to pull him off Giuseppe before he inflicted real damage.

Damon would never understand how his father became this type of man. His great-uncles were good men. Maybe they liked to drink and gamble a little too much but everyone had their vices. He’d never heard of them striking their wives or children. From all accounts, his grandfather hadn’t been a needlessly violent man either. Yet somehow, his father had grown into a violent sociopath that laid waste to everyone unfortunate enough to cross his path when he was on a bender. There was always alcohol involved when Giuseppe lost control with his family. However, Damon always believed that it was an excuse—not a reason. Giuseppe used his alcoholism as a cover to lash out whenever he felt like it. Once he was sober, he would offer an insincere apology and then acted as if it never happened.

He still couldn’t believe that his little princess had to witness any of Giuseppe’s madness. This wasn’t the life he imagined for Sarah when she landed on his doorstep five years ago. Damon had been drunk off his ass and more than a little high when Zach burst into his room with a squalling bundle in his arms. At first, he thought that his uncle was holding one of Stefan and Caroline’s twins. They had been born a few months earlier. However, Zach quickly snapped him to reality by depositing the infant into his arms. Damon thought all babies looked alike. He couldn’t even tell his niece and nephew apart but instantly realized that this was a different baby. She was obviously biracial and her cerulean eyes matched his own. He hadn’t needed Zach to say that the child was his. However, his uncle had read the note that Bree’s sister left behind to confirm his suspicions.

Briefly, Damon had considered giving Sarah up for adoption. He also considered giving her to Ric or Zach to raise. They were both men he respected and they were good fathers. One thing Damon had known was that he wasn’t fit to be anyone’s father. He worked and played hard. He slept with any woman that smiled at him. He used to drink too much alcohol and snorted enough coke for it to be classified as worrying. However, Sarah’s tiny hand had clenched the material of his t-shirt and she held on for dear life. Keeping her was a snap decision but he never regretted it until now. Now he found himself wishing that he had shielded his little girl from this life and her grandfather.

Zach cleared his throat as he walked into the room. “Damon…”

The younger man turned around at hearing his uncle’s voice. “What’s up?”

“I just talked to Alaric. He’s worked out a roster for more guards to be posted here. He also mentioned that you wanted personal guards for Bonnie. He tapped Tyler Lockwood and Matt Donovan to protect her and Sarah. I’ll find people to fill their roles in the interim at Velocita.”

Damon was familiar with both young men. However, he knew Tyler on a more personal level than he did Matt. Stefan and Tyler were best friends. As children, they used to cause chaos around the manor. However, they were never more troublesome than when Bonnie was present. It seemed that they were twice as loud, reckless, and messy with her assistance. Bonnie was obviously the ringleader despite being two years younger than Stefan and Tyler were. However, those big green eyes of hers managed to get them out of trouble every time.

He had gotten to know Matt better in the last seven years. The younger man had become friends with Stefan while they were in high school. Prior to that Damon had only seen Matt in passing because of the age difference. The boy’s old man was fourteen years into a 25-year prison sentence for murder. Peter Maxwell was a deadbeat father even before he went to prison. However, he had been a loyal soldier for the Salvatore family. He took his prison sentence like a stand up guy and refused to take any of the deals the prosecution offered him.

He nodded. “They’re both good choices. I want them to start as soon as possible. They can work out trading off days amongst themselves. I just want to know that Sarah and Bonnie are protected at all times.”

“Mason sat Tyler and Matt down to explain exactly what we will be expecting of them, Damon. Tyler should be on his way to keep an eye on Bonnie right now. They will drive her around, too. We’re going to make sure that she is safe,” he promised.

“Good.” He could focus on Giuseppe if he knew that his wife and daughter weren’t in harm’s way.

“Should I have one of the maids come take care of this?’ he asked.

It was Zach’s way of telling Damon to let this go. Trying to recreate the night in his head wasn’t going to help them find Giuseppe. Moreover, Bonnie could return home at any moment. She didn’t need to be subjected to this. The best thing for the young mother was to put all of this behind her as soon as possible.

Damon took a deep breath and said, “Yes, that would be good.”

“Come take a walk with me,” Zach suggested. He stuffed his hands into his pockets. “We can see how Dorian is getting along with the menagerie that you purchased.”

The younger man scoffed as he followed his uncle. “It’s hardly a menagerie, Zio. Besides, I asked Rose to hire a dog trainer to help Dorian with the puppies. I’m sure he’ll have it all under control in a matter of days…or weeks.”

“We now have four dogs, a cockatoo, and a budgie living in our home. What would you call that motley crew if not a menagerie, Damon?” Zach asked with a raised eyebrow.

Damon shrugged and replied, “An apology to my daughter for what happened. And maybe an apology to all the children for what I’m about to do to Giuseppe.”

The older man hummed in agreement. Zach’s children adored Giuseppe. He was like their grandfather. Fortunately, they had all been spared his cruelty thus far. However, Bonnie was evidence that it was only a matter of time. He motioned to a maid when they arrived on the main level. He said, “Please make sure that their room is spotless before Mrs. Salvatore’s arrival.”

“Yes, Mr. Salvatore,” the older woman replied.

Damon added, “Maybe get in some of Bonnie’s favorite flowers to brighten up the room. They’re uh…”

Zach chuckled at his nephew’s lack of knowledge.

“I’ll get in some fresh orchids from the florist, sir,” the maid helpfully suggested.

Damon nodded. “Thank you.”

The maid scurried off to prepare the room for Bonnie. There had been rumors amongst the staff about the reason for Bonnie’s sudden disappearance. Some thought that she had finally left Damon.

Zach said, “You’ve been married four years now. How is it possible that you don’t know your wife’s favorite flower?”

He rolled his eyes as they continued outside. “I don’t know anything about flowers. Besides, Rose generally handles all of that. I know the important things like her birthday and our anniversary.”

“Well, aren’t you a hopeless romantic,” he said with no shortage of sarcasm.

“Not everyone can be whipped like you, Zio.”

Zach laughed. “I’m not whipped. I just know how to appreciate my wife. It wouldn’t kill you to do the same, Damon. You should be looking at this as a new beginning for you and Bonnie. She chose to stick by you when most sane women would have run for their lives.”

Damon scowled at Zach. “I do appreciate my wife.”

The older man just shook his head in exasperation. Unlike Alaric and Damon, he actually honored his vows. Zach had never cheated on Meredith. He loved his wife and he was content with their life together. Frankly, he didn’t understand how his brother and nephew had the time or energy to carry on with other women. Zach hardly had a moment to himself whilst balancing his home life, his work at Velocita, and the family business. His workload would only increase once Damon was officially head of the Salvatore family.

“You know that I don’t like meddling in your personal affairs…”

Damon snorted and rolled his eyes. Zach was always giving him a hard time about his shortcomings. He didn’t do it in a negative way. His uncle just wanted him to be a better man than Giuseppe was. It was all he wanted for both of his nephews.

Zach smiled wryly. “I just don’t want you to lose the best thing that ever happened to you. You have matured so much since you married Bonnie. She’s good for you and Sarah.”

“I know that,” he argued.

No one could dispute the metamorphosis Damon had undergone since he married Bonnie. He kept his dalliances out of the public eye. He stopped using cocaine completely. Damon even scaled back his drinking so that he was more of a functional alcoholic. However, he knew that there was room for improvement. He could try to be a better husband and father.

“Well, then act like it. Or maybe one day, Bonnie will figure out that you need her more than she needs you. She’s not Katherine. She doesn’t need your money. Bonnie is set for life if she never makes another dime,” he warned.

They walked outside to where a small kennel had been hastily constructed by the grounds crew. Dorian was taking notes as the dog trainer spoke. However, Zach and Damon were far enough away that their conversation couldn’t be overheard.

Damon ran a hand through his hair and said, “I’m trying. Okay?”

The older man lifted a skeptical eyebrow. Zach seriously wondered what his nephew considered ‘trying’.

“I’m not screwing Katherine as often as I did when I first married Bonnie,” he explained.

“Why are you dealing with her at all after that stunt she pulled with Bonnie?” he asked.

Damon shook his head. “I know that Katherine is a manipulative bitch. She is a complete train wreck but so am I most days. I can be myself when I am with her. I know that nothing I do or say is going to scare her away from me. Katherine has seen me at my most destructive and she stuck with me. It’s not just about the money. I’m not egotistical enough to believe that she couldn’t get what I provide from someone else.”

Zach’s eyebrows knitted together in concern. This was as honest as his nephew had ever been about his relationship with Katherine. He said, “I understand that you might have worried about scaring Bonnie when you first married her. However, she’s not a little girl anymore. Frankly, the way she handled the situation with Giuseppe proves that she isn’t as delicate as you make her out to be. You should be getting to know your wife. Bonnie is a lovely young woman.”

He scoffed, “I do know her. I’ve known Bonnie since she was born.”

Zach shook his head and clapped Damon on the back. “You know the little girl that grew up running through these halls. You may have even known the grieving young woman that married you after her grandmother died. However, she is not that anymore and hasn’t been for a long time. If you won’t be a better husband for Bonnie, then do it for the business. You have to know that her family will pounce on even a whiff of discord in your marriage. The Benedettos were not in favor of Bonnie marrying you. They were very much in love with the idea of Bonnie marrying a distant cousin. It is an arrangement that would be eagerly presented if this doesn’t work.”

“She’s pregnant with my children. Bonnie isn’t going anywhere,” he snapped angrily. He wasn’t going to let anyone take his wife away from him.

Zach shook his head. “Why does Bonnie need to stay married to you if she gives birth to a son?”

Damon opened his mouth but then quickly closed it. His eyes darkened as he mulled over his uncle’s question. “She loves me,” he finally spat out.

The older man chuckled at his flummoxed nephew. “Trust me when I say that love isn’t enough for her to keep putting up with your bullshit. You need to cut Katherine loose because she is a liability, Damon. If you just need something on the side then choose someone smart enough to be fucking discreet.”

Damon didn’t like the tightness in his chest that came from thinking of Bonnie leaving him. It took him back to the night in Shadow Hills when Bonnie suggested that she could find someone more worthy of her. Damon wasn’t delusional. His wife was beautiful and intelligent. He knew that she could have a line of suitors a mile long if so inclined. However, the very thought made his blood boil.  “I’ll figure it out, Zio.”

“You had better because Big John won’t be interested in you controlling his family’s smuggling operation if you aren’t married to Bonnie,” Zach pointed out.

Damon growled, “I get it! I’ve had enough life lessons from you today.”

Zach shook his head with a wry smile. “Not yet. I’m expecting you to restrain yourself Saturday night when we’re at Klaus’ welcome home party. I know that the two of you aren’t the best of friends…”

“I hate that pompous asshole,” Damon corrected.

“Pompous asshole or not, he’s the little brother of our best ally. You know Elijah intends to make him a captain. You are going to have to put the bad blood aside for the good of the alliance.”

Damon said, “I still can’t believe that Elijah is putting that rabid dog in charge of his own crew. Maybe if we’re lucky he’ll flip out and beat another man half to death on camera.”

Zach rolled his eyes. “Quit your bitching. You are lucky that their father didn’t get his way. Mikael wanted you to marry Rebekah to reaffirm the alliance.”

“Thank fuck he died before he could convince Giuseppe of that,” Damon replied. He’d slept with Rebekah a few times but there was no way in hell he’d want to be married to her.

“Giuseppe was never going to go for that arrangement. His eyes were always focused on joining the Salvatore and Benedetto families. However, it was amusing to hear Mikael pitch his idea a half dozen times. At one point, Giuseppe offered up Stefan to appease him.”

Damon laughed. “She would have eaten poor little Stefan for lunch and used his bones as toothpicks.”

Lucian ran out of the house bouncing a basketball. The boy was already 5’5” tall despite just turning twelve years old earlier that year. He was the spitting image of his father. He bumped Damon on purpose as he stopped next to him. “You really bought puppies for us, cugino?”

Damon ruffled his younger cousin’s hair. “Yeah. You little animals are going to help Dorian take care of those little animals. Got me?”

He grinned up at him. “Yeah. Thanks, Damon.”

Zach scowled playfully. “You’re not even going to speak to your old man?”

Lucian shrugged and said, “You didn’t buy me a puppy.”

Damon laughed at the expression on Zach’s face.

Zach smirked. “Where’s your mother?”

“She’s upstairs giving Jon a bath. Uncle Logan let him play in the mud. He’s covered in the stuff. She’s pissed.”

“Aye! What have I told you about your language?’

“Pissed isn’t that bad,” Lucian argued.

Damon said, “Exactly. He could have said fucking pissed.”

Zach glared at his nephew. “Don’t put any ideas in his head.”

Damon smirked. “I’m sure he’s cursing every chance he gets. I did when I was his age.”

Lucian looked at the ground with a sly smile on his face.

His father groaned. He didn’t want to think about the ways his son could be like Damon. He kept a closer eye on his children than Giuseppe ever did with them. However, there just weren’t enough hours in the day and there were too many ways for Lucian to find trouble. “Just don’t let your mother hear you or you’ll be an altar boy until you go off to college.”

“I won’t, Papa.”

Damon tapped him on the back. “Go over there and listen to what the trainer is telling Dorian. You’re the oldest around here so I am expecting you to help out the most.”

“Okay.” Lucian jogged across the yard to join Dorian and the trainer in the kennel.

Zach said, “I’m going to head inside and see how bad the damage is with Jon. Think about what I said earlier. Yeah?”

Damon nodded. “Yeah, I’ll think about it, Zio.”

Zach shook his head as he walked into the house.

The younger man considered his uncle’s plea. Perhaps it was time to end things with Katherine. He had already promised Bonnie that he would end the affair. He had truly meant it in the heat of the moment. He would have said anything to stop Bonnie from pulling away from him. Katherine’s tantrum could have very well cost Damon his marriage. However, there was part of him that just didn’t want to let her go. Enzo seemed to think that Katherine had heeded his warning. However, he knew that his best friend had a soft spot for his mistress.

Damon took out his phone and scrolled through his contacts. He had earned the moniker of playboy honestly. He could call any number of women to satisfy his appetite at a moment’s notice. While Katherine was his longest relationship, she was not the only woman to receive his attention. His flavor of the month was Andie Starr. They had crossed paths a few months ago during a charity gala. Bonnie had been with him at the time but he sent Andie flowers the next day. They had met up several times since then and he wasn’t disappointed. Perhaps she could be the woman to replace Katherine.

A guard walked outside and said, “Mrs. Salvatore has just arrived, Sir.”

Damon put away his phone and nodded in acknowledgement. He headed out to the front of the house to greet his wife and daughter.

An SUV with tinted windows pulled up in front of the massive three-story mission style home. The Salvatore manor sat on a ten-acre lot 40 minutes outside of Los Angeles. The perfectly manicured grounds featured an Olympic sized pool, and full-size tennis and basketball courts. The only way onto the property was the gated entrance at the bottom of the hill. The manor had been the Salvatore family’s prized possession for seventy-eight years.

Damon walked up to the car once it came to a stop. He was eager to get his family back into their home. He opened the back door and smiled at his wife. “I was wondering when you would come home.”

Bonnie took Damon’s hand and stepped down from the SUV. She said, “Sorry. I did some shopping for Christmas gifts and decided to wrap them at the beach house. Sarah took a nap while we were there. Then I took a nap, too.”

Damon scooped Sarah out of the car and said, “Well, I am glad that you are both here now and well rested. I have a surprise for you, bambolina.”

The little girl looked up at her father with big eyes. She tightened her arms around his neck. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“What is it?” she asked curiously.

Damon said, “I’ll just have to show you. But I think that you are going to like it.”

“Is it a puppy?” Sarah asked in a hopeful voice.

“Maybe,” he hedged playfully.

Bonnie looked over her shoulder at Tyler. “Could you bring those bags inside? You can give them to one of the maids. Just tell them to put everything in the bedroom.”

Tyler nodded and said, “Of course.”

Bonnie followed Damon and Sarah into the house. She wasn’t afraid to be inside the manor. Giuseppe valued his life too much to return so soon after attacking her. However, the atmosphere felt tainted to her in some way. She used anticipate visiting the manor as a child. Now the nostalgia was replaced by the feeling of being in enemy territory.

Damon led them out to the kennel in the backyard.

Sarah squealed in excitement and squirmed until Damon put her onto the ground. “Puppies! There are four puppies! I love them, Papa. I love them so much.”

Damon watched as his daughter rushed into the kennel to meet her new canine friends.

Bonnie smiled looking at the four chocolate Labrador puppies that couldn’t have been more than a six months old. She asked, “Did you buy them from a breeder?”

He slipped an arm around Bonnie’s waist and pecked her cheek. “No, I know how you feel about breeders and puppy mills. Rose adopted the puppies from a local rescue group. They’re all part of the same litter. That’s Georgie. She’s the dog trainer. She’s going to come by a couple days a week to help Dorian train the pups.”

She watched Sarah fawn all over the puppies. She was grateful that for now their daughter wasn’t thinking of what happened here. “You did a good job, Damon.”

“Yeah?” he asked.

Bonnie nodded. “Oh, I hope you don’t mind but Lucy is going to stay with us for the holiday. Maybe a little longer than that actually…”

Damon tensed at the mention of Lucy staying at the manor. It wasn’t that he had any problems with her. In fact, she had stayed at the manor many times in the past. However, he was concerned about having an outside voice in Bonnie’s ear. He was reminded of his uncle’s warning from a few minutes ago. He hadn’t been concerned when Alaric told him that Abby knew what happened to Bonnie. The woman might have been her mother but they didn’t have a close relationship. However, Lucy was a different matter completely. The girls were close and Bonnie often sought her older cousin’s counsel.

He feigned a smile. “I don’t mind at all. I think it would be good for you to have family around for the holiday. Lucy is welcome to stay as long as she wants.”

“Are you sure? I can put her up at the beach house if it’s a problem,” Bonnie offered.

He shook his head. “It’s no problem at all. You know that we have the space. Maybe she can convince you to rest.”

She laughed. “You two are starting to sound like a broken record. If both of you got your wish I would be on bed rest.”

“Is it a crime to be worried about you? You are pregnant after all,” he murmured into her hair.

“It’s not a crime but it is completely unnecessary. I am fine. Your aunts have assured you of that several times in the last week.”

He grumbled. “They’re not obstetricians.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes while she smiled fondly at her husband. “No, but one of them is a neurosurgeon and the other is Chief of Surgery at a level one trauma center. Besides, they’ve both had an obstetrics rotation. If it makes you feel any better, I’ll make an appointment with Dr. Huerta for next week. You can come with me.”

Damon squeezed Bonnie’s hips and said, “There’s actually something I need to talk about with you.”

She scoffed. “Are you going to say that you don’t trust Dr. Huerta now?”

He kissed her neck. “No. But there’s some business I need to handle next week. I’ll probably be away at least ten days.”

“Oh,” she said.

Damon quickly added, “But you will be safe here. Tyler Lockwood and Matt Donovan will both be protecting you. I promise that nothing is going to happen.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

“Bunny…”

Bonnie smiled. “I understand, Damon. Lucy will be here, too. Sarah and I will be fine. If I don’t feel safe I’ll just go to the beach house.”

He didn’t like that idea at all. However, he wasn’t exactly in the position to reject the plan. He couldn’t make any guarantees on how long he’d be away from home. “Just call me before you decide to go anywhere. Okay? Things are just…unsettled right now. I want to keep you safe, bunny.”

“I will be safe. I have guards now,” she replied.

Damon conceded, “Well, let me know if you don’t like them. We can find replacements.”

“I think that Matt and Tyler will work out just fine. It’s nice that they are familiar faces,” she replied. When Bonnie looked over her shoulder, Tyler was standing near the entrance. The tides were starting to turn and she could feel it.

Chapter Text

In Damon’s line of work, being in the presence of murderers was commonplace. His own body count was impressive for his relatively young age. Damon started doing wet work for the family straight out of high school. Either Alaric or Zach accompanied him on every hit in the beginning. They were there to watch Damon’s back and to offer instruction. However, the kill was up to him. Giuseppe had been adamant that his heir should know how to defend the business that he would one day inherit. From a young age, Damon learned what it took to be the boss. His father never sheltered him from the ugliness of their business. Damon witnessed his father throwing brutal beatings to unlucky souls that drew his ire. He wasn’t more than 13 years old when he watched his father kill someone for the first time.

Damon killed out of necessity. The same was true for most of the men that worked for the Salvatore organization. Generally, they were good men with families that did bad things for a living. It was a fine line but most of them found a way to walk it successfully. However, a few men on their payroll took entirely too much pleasure from doing their jobs. Those types of people had their uses even if he didn’t want to invite them over for Sunday night dinner. Malachi Parker was one of those people. He had been a head case since he was a kid. The poor bastard showed all the signs of being a textbook psychopath. Instead of institutionalizing him, Joshua Parker decided to mold his son into the perfect weapon for the Salvatore organization. Kai and his younger brother, Luke, worked together as a team. Kai was brute force and Luke was the brains. The brothers were a successful tandem for that reason.

Luke had been listening to Damon explain their predicament for the last ten minutes. However, he could feel his older brother fidgeting beside him. Kai didn’t enjoy the minutia of the business. Sometimes he thought of his brother as an attack dog snarling and straining against the leash holding him in place. However, Kai could play the part of mastermind if the job called for it.

Kai asked, “So you don’t want us to kill her?”

Luke resisted the urge to slap his brother. Not that he thought Damon would mind judging by the look on the older man’s face. However, it would just start a fight with Kai. His brother wasn’t above stabbing Luke during a fight to prove a point. He always made sure it was a nonlethal strike but still Luke wasn’t looking to get stabbed today.

Damon lifted an eyebrow at the pair in front of him. “No, I don’t want you to kill Sabine. In fact, I hope that it doesn’t come to that at all. I only want the two of you to keep an eye on her without revealing yourselves. In recent years, Giuseppe has vacationed at Sabine’s home in Saint-Malo. I need to know if he is there or if he shows up there.”

Zach stood off to the side with a glass of water in his hand. He didn’t like sending Kai after Sabine. She was an innocent woman whose only crime was garnering Giuseppe’s affection. However, his brother had few weak points and Damon needed to exploit all of them. He added, “And in an extreme case we might need to use her as bait to draw him out of hiding. Either way, we need to make sure that Giuseppe doesn’t spirit her away in anticipation of our move.”

Luke nodded in understanding. He looked at Damon and said, “We’ll be on the first flight out tomorrow, Boss.”

Damon had to admit that he liked the sound of that title. He said, “You’ll be taking the jet. Zach has already made the arrangements for your travel and accommodations. I am sorry that this will interrupt your holiday plans.”

Kai scoffed at the idea of spending the holiday with his family. He was the third youngest child in a family of eight. During the Thanksgiving holiday, the Parker house overflowed with his siblings, nieces, and nephews. They ate dinner early in the afternoon to accommodate his oldest sister’s family. Giuseppe required his family to spend the holidays with him. This meant that Jo had to be at the manor for dinner at 7 o’clock sharp.

“We’ll manage somehow,” he quipped.

The two younger men stood up when Damon did. He shook their hands and said, “Thank you. I will let Zach fill you in about the arrangements.”

Damon walked out of the study and headed toward the kitchen. One of the guards had texted him when Bonnie made it back from the grocery market. He was hoping to spend a little time with her before his next meeting.

He stopped short of walking into the kitchen when he heard Bonnie laughing boisterously as Lucy sang at the top of her lungs. Somehow, he had gotten used to Bonnie not drawing attention to herself. She was demure and prim in social situations. Damon enjoyed those qualities but he also missed the girl that used to snort when she laughed too much.

Damon peered into the kitchen and smiled as he watched Bonnie dancing barefoot to a song he didn’t recognize. He noticed that grocery bags covered every available surface in the massive chef’s kitchen. Damon supposed that he never truly considered what went into making a holiday meal for a family of their size. Normally, he just turned up at dinnertime with a half bottle of bourbon already in his system. He initially objected to Bonnie working so hard in light of her injuries. However, she brushed off his concerns, as Jo gave her the all clear to cook until her heart was content. Bonnie was ready to move on and enjoy the holiday with their family. Damon wouldn’t get in the way of that.

Bonnie had gone to the market with Lucy, Caroline, and Tyler after dinner. They spent nearly two hours shopping for the ingredients she would need to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Bonnie intended to recreate the same dishes her grandmother had cooked every year for as long as she could remember. While in Shadow Hills, she had dug out her family’s weathered recipe book. Some of the pages were yellowed from age because it first belonged to her great-grandmother. Emily had feverishly recorded her own mother’s recipes before Hannah died. Then she had added a few of her own recipes to the book before passing it on to Sheila. In turn, Sheila had made a few entries before she died. Sometimes Bonnie wondered if Abby resented her. The girl had inherited everything that her mother should have when Sheila died.

Lucy let out a whoop. “That’s right! You better sing it, girl.”

Tyler smiled watching as Bonnie tried to imitate Patti LaBelle’s signature dance moves. Her green eyes were shining bright with amusement and happiness.

Lucy shook her head. “You gotta put your shoulders into it more. Let me show you!”

Bonnie giggled. “You look like a fool, Luce. But this is a good playlist. Grams used to love Patti LaBelle.”

Lucy stuck out her tongue. “I made it for Nana. She wanted all of her old school jams on her phone like Miss Patti, Stephanie Mills, and The Spinners. After I made the playlist, I decided I wanted it for myself, too. It brings back all the good memories, you know.”

“Yeah. Grams couldn’t cook a big meal without playing music for motivation. Your playlist is going to get a work out the next couple of days. Oh, this is my favorite part!” Bonnie sang along with Patti LaBelle, “Ten long years and if you don’t know me I’m not going to try to prove myself no more. You will never, never, never know me. You’ll go on. You’ll go on find yourself some else. Because if you think you’re lonely now wait til tonight comes.

Lucy wistfully said, “If you don’t sound just like my aunt Sheila. You got her voice that’s for sure, baby girl.”

Bonnie smiled sadly as the song ended. She missed her grams so much it hurt sometimes. She stood in front of the massive marble slab island as she looked through a cloth grocery bag. She frowned. “Did we get fresh garlic? I need fresh garlic for half the dishes I am cooking.”

Lucy opened a bottle of cabernet that was older than she was. She said, “Yes, the insane amount of garlic you bought is over here with the flat leaf parsley and rosemary. We didn’t forget anything, Bon. I promise. Caroline and I doubled checked the receipt against your list before we left the store.”

Tyler knew how important this meal was to Bonnie. They had talked about it that afternoon before he drove her home. He interjected, “You can always send me out for anything you might have forgotten. I’ll be here during the day all week. As you saw tonight, I know my way around a grocery store.”

“That’s because your mother raised you right,” Bonnie said with a grateful smile.

Caroline kicked off her shoes after she walked out of the pantry. She said, “Oh! I’ll take a glass of that, Lucy. Fill it to the brim please.”

Lucy poured a glass of wine for Caroline and slid it across the counter. She tilted the bottle in Tyler’s direction in a silent offer.

Tyler reluctantly shook his head. He could use a drink after being stranded in the Salvatore Manor for the better part of the evening. Tyler could barely stomach being in the same house where Bonnie was attacked. He didn’t understand how she could stand it. However, being there to protect her was better than the alternative.

“No, thank you. I’m still on duty for another couple hours. What year is it?”

“It’s a ’80 cab. Bon brought it home from Shadow Hills,” Lucy replied.

“That’s a good year for a cabernet. I might be a little jealous,” he replied.

Lucy said, “I should take a trip up there to spend time in the old house. I miss it.”

Bonnie laughed. “I think you mean that you want to go visit the house and then raid the wine cellar.”

“That, too,” Lucy agreed. She looked at Tyler and asked, “Since when are you a wine connoisseur?”

“Since Elena has dragged me to a half dozen wine tastings this year. Her med school friends love going to Sonoma on the weekends.”

“Elena is domesticating you little by little,” Lucy teased.

Caroline said, “Everyone is expecting them to get engaged soon.  She’s going to have him driving a minivan and telling lame dad jokes in no time.”

Bonnie tensed when Caroline brought up the topic of marriage. Her sister-in-law didn’t know that Tyler’s relationship with the medical student was on the rocks. She discreetly looked at her friend to see his reaction.

Tyler merely huffed in amusement. “Bite your tongue, Caroline. I still leave my clothes on the floor for her to pick up. I leave the toilet seat up at night and I put empty milk cartons back in the refrigerator.”

The three women made a collective sound of disgust.

“I don't understand how you convinced someone as smart Elena to live with you. She’s going to be a doctor. She could do better,” Lucy replied.

Caroline added, “Much better.”

Bonnie shook her head with an amused smile as she sorted through a bag of fresh vegetables. She started putting them in the refrigerator.

Tyler smugly replied, “Lena knows that I am a catch.”

Lucy laughed as she turned up the volume as another song started playing. “No, you're not. Now your uncle Brady is a completely different story. That man makes me tingly in all of the right places.”

Caroline’s eyes widened because the elder Lockwood always made her nervous. He had a way looking through someone that made her uncomfortable. She didn’t need anyone to explain his purpose in the Salvatore’s organization. However, Caroline liked to pretend none of it was going on since her husband wasn’t involved.

Tyler said, “I can pass on the message for you, Lucy. He isn't seeing anyone right now.”

Bonnie said, “I thought that you and Jonah were a thing.”

Lucy shrugged as she helped unpack the groceries. “His kids hate me. Besides, there ain't no ring on my finger. And Brady is sexy as hell. He looks really intense like he'd fuck me up against a wall.”

Caroline nearly choked on her wine. “Lucy!”

Bonnie giggled. “Brady does look like he would go all aggro on you in the bedroom. The two of you together would be frightening. I’m imaging the recreational use of firearms and handcuffs.”

Lucy smirked. “I know you are innocent, little cuz. But if it doesn't hurt just a little then you aren't doing it right.”

Tyler looked at Bonnie with a grin. “I bet you fifty bucks that we will have to bail one or both of them out of jail before New Years.”

Bonnie giggled. “I’m not taking that bet. They’ll definitely be arrested for something. Will it be for some sort of domestic spat or a public indecency charge? That’s the real question.”

He chuckled. “Both.”

Lucy said, “To hell with both of you.”

Caroline smirked and asked, “Can I get in on this wager?”

Damon couldn’t remember the last time he had heard Bonnie behaving so carefree. It irked him that she was that way with her cousin and Tyler of all people. He knew that Bonnie and Tyler had been friends as children. However, she hadn’t mentioned him since she married Damon. He wondered if they were still friends. He could see why Bonnie would keep it from him. He wouldn’t approve of her socializing with a man. It could give people the wrong idea. Damon walked over to his wife to make his presence known.

He asked, “Did you leave anything at the store for everyone else?”

Bonnie laughed and said, “I might have left behind a few things. Anyway, we are having close to 30 people here for Thanksgiving dinner. I just want to make sure that we have enough food for everyone.”

Damon rested a possessive hand on Bonnie’s hip and surveyed the cluttered kitchen. He replied, “It looks as if you have enough food here to feed twice that many people, bunny.”

Tyler moved to the other side of the island because being so near Damon wasn’t a good idea. Lately, he had the recurring urge to kill the bastard. The Salvatore family had long become more trouble than they were worth. However, Giuseppe’s attack on Bonnie had truly taken the cake. He couldn’t understand how Damon could want to be a leader of men and yet he was so careless with the most precious things in his life.

Bonnie said, “It will probably end up being too much food but I just want everything to be perfect…like when Grams was alive.”

Damon’s lips curled into a small smile because he used to love when Sheila would cook during the holidays. It was always this perfect blend of traditional soul food and Italian cuisine. Nobody made chocolate panna cotta quite like Miss Sheila did. He asked, “Are you going to make panna cotta?”

Bonnie nodded with a smile. “Yes, I am. We’re going to have chocolate panna cotta and espresso panna cotta.”

Damon pecked her lips and said, “I won’t even want to eat dinner.”

“I don’t know about that. I am cooking a twenty pound bourbon and honey glazed ham…”

He chuckled and asked, “Are you trying to fatten me up, woman?”

“Maybe…” she replied with a grin. “I thought you were pretty cute when you had that beer gut.”

Caroline choked on a mouthful of wine. “When did Damon have a beer gut? Please, tell me there are pictures!”

Bonnie said, “I think it was like his third year of college. When Grams and I came to visit for Thanksgiving he was like a sexier drunker Joaquin Phoenix.”

The blonde girl snorted. “A drunker Joaquin Phoenix? How is that even possible?”

“I’ve always been an overachiever, Blondie. Besides, I lost the weight by the time Bonnie came to stay with us for the summer. I cut back on the drinking and hit the gym.”

“Sure you lost the weight because of healthy living and exercise,” Lucy smirked and made a not so subtle sniffing noise. She was obviously alluding to Damon’s coke problem around that time.

Damon glared at Lucy but there was no heat behind it. His cocaine problem at the time wasn’t a secret from anyone—least of all Bonnie. Unfortunately, she had seen more than her share of his bad behavior at the time.

Bonnie tossed a carrot at Lucy and said, “Leave my husband alone. He wasn’t the only one that spent their early 20’s putting thousands of dollars up their nose.”

Lucy caught the carrot and then stuck her tongue out at her cousin. “You’re just mad because you missed out on having those awesome youthful indiscretions.”

This time Damon’s glare was serious. He didn’t want anyone reminding Bonnie of everything she gave up to marry him. His conversation with Zach was weighing on him heavily. The thing that had been most damning was the fact that Bonnie wouldn’t need him if she was pregnant with at least one boy.

Caroline shook her head. “Being around your families makes me feel like my childhood was normal. The most outrageous thing I ever did was dye my hair purple while my dad was running for governor.”

Damon chuckled. “You’re just going to skip right over the fact that your dad got outed because he was banging that married state senator?”

“That’s why I dyed my hair purple, Ass,” Caroline snapped.

Damon smirked but didn’t keep pushing. He knew it was still a sore subject with Caroline. Damon often gave his sister-in-law grief for her endless optimism and cheerful disposition. However, they actually had a close relationship because of Sarah. She was a lifesaver during the early months of his daughter’s life. Caroline had snapped into action the moment he decided that putting the baby up for adoption wasn’t an option. She insisted that Sarah share Bella and Nico’s nursery. The twins were only a few months older than she was. Caroline thought it would be good to get the three infants on the same schedule. Caroline handled purchasing all of the things that a baby would need—most of which left Damon perplexed. He was grateful to hand over his card and let Caroline do the heavy lifting. She had even pumped enough breast milk to feed Sarah right along with the twins. Caroline had insisted that breast milk was the best for newborns. She had overwhelmed him with facts and figures but Caroline had really come through for him and Sarah.

Damon asked, “When will you start cooking?”

Bonnie said, “Probably early tomorrow afternoon. My mom is going to help us cook. She promised to tell me the secret ingredient for Grams’ sweet potato pies.”

Lucy’s eyes lit up at that. “You’re baking sweet potato pies, too! I didn’t realize you were trying to pull off Aunt Sheila’s Christmas menu. I am going to eat my weight in food and then die a happy woman.”

“I miss Grams this year even more for some reason. This will help me feel closer to her. The taste and smells will take me back to happier times. At least…I hope that is what it will do,” she explained.

Caroline looked at her friend with sympathy. “I’m sure that it’s harder because you are pregnant this year. I don’t know what I would have done without my mom during my first pregnancy. She was there to offer love, support, and advice. She made me feel like I could be a good mother even if I didn’t think so at the time.”

Damon silently chastised himself for not talking to Bonnie about how she felt about the pregnancy. He had been too busy trying to find Giuseppe and securing his position as head of the family. He just assumed that the girl would handle pregnancy with the same poise as she handled everything else in their life. She had taken to being Sarah’s mother easily enough. However, he recognized that wasn’t the same thing as carrying twins, giving birth, and caring for them from the outset.

Lucy nudged Damon out of the way so that she could hug Bonnie. She wrapped her arms around her cousin and squeezed. “I know it’s not the same but I’m willing to share my grandma with you. Maybe around your birthday I can kidnap you for a couple weeks. You haven’t been down to Miami since Aunt Sheila died.”

Giuseppe didn’t think it was proper for her to go to Miami without Damon. Unfortunately, her husband was always too busy to go visit her family. She gave a noncommittal, “Maybe.”

Lucy noted the way Bonnie’s eyes moved to Damon. She bit back the snide reply on the tip of her tongue. “Don’t make me convince Nana to come out here. You know once she gets a chance to baby you that she might never leave.”

Bonnie laughed. “I don’t know if that is the threat you think it is. I could keep Aunt Geneva here and she can make banana pudding with extra Nilla wafers every day.”

The older woman rolled her eyes. “You don’t even like banana pudding! You only eat the Nilla wafers off the top of the pudding.”

She smiled sheepishly and said, “The cookies taste better with just a little bit of pudding on the back of them.”

“You are so weird,” Lucy replied with a shake of her head. “Do you want banana pudding? I make it just like Nana does.”

“Really?” Bonnie asked.

“Mmmhmm. I’ll even make sure that it is more cookies than it is pudding.”

“I would love that, Lucy,” Bonnie said with a big smile.

John Gilbert walked into the kitchen wearing a fake smile. He didn’t appreciate being summoned to the manor by Giuseppe’s eldest son. He was the consigliere. He should be the one summoning Damon to his home. However, there were appearances that he needed to keep for the time being. Something was going on and he needed to get ahead of it. “Damon…”

Damon was brought out of his thought by John’s voice. He couldn’t stand the man. However, as Giuseppe’s number two he might actual know where the man was hiding. It was high time he put his cards on the table. “Thank you for coming, John. Let’s go to the study so that we can talk.”

John nodded. “Of course.”

Damon kissed Bonnie’s cheek. “I will see you later, bunny.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

Tyler shared a look with Bonnie as Damon and John walked out of the kitchen together.

Damon led the older man into the study. He closed the door behind him and motioned to the couch. “Please, have a seat. Do you want something to drink?”

John lifted an eyebrow at the younger man’s cordial behavior. He shook his head. “No, I had a few drinks while I was at dinner with my brother.”

He nodded and then poured a glass of bourbon for himself. He sat down across from John and said, “Do you know where my father is, John?”

The question was simple enough but his inflection suggested that it had a hidden depth. John said, “He’s in Milazzo.”

Damon asked, “Have you spoken to him lately?”

John’s spine straightened as his mind raced. He said, “I haven’t spoken to him for about week. Giuseppe said he wanted to take some time to himself. Has something happened?”

“My father is wisely hiding from me,” he said.

The older man’s eyes narrowed and he huffed out a laugh. “Giuseppe has no reason to hide from you.”

Damon moved to the edge of the seat and said, “My father attacked my wife in this house three weeks ago. He beat her black and blue. Giuseppe has every reason to hide from me. He trained me…he knows very well what I will do when I find him.”

That statement hung in the silent room like a cloud of foul air. The two men stared unflinchingly at one another for several minutes.

John adjusted his tie as he tried to figure out his next move. He couldn’t believe that Giuseppe had put them all in this position. However, now he understood Mason’s visit. Only now, he wondered which of his employers Mason was representing at the time. “I don’t know where he is, Damon. I haven’t spoken to Giuseppe in well over a week. I assumed that he was just spending time with one of his mistresses.”

“We’re checking into all of his usual haunts. We will find him eventually,” Damon promised with an edge to his voice.

“I am sorry for what happened to your wife. She is a sweet girl. She didn’t deserve that. However, there may be some who resist what you are planning, Damon. This must be handled with the utmost tact. Let me help you work out a truce with Giuseppe.”

“A truce?” he asked.

John nodded quickly. “Giuseppe has been thinking about stepping down for some time. Let me speak with him before you do anything hasty. The best thing for this family is a peaceful transition of power. Don’t you think?”

Something in John’s voice left Damon feeling unsettled. He never trusted the man. John thought too highly of himself. Damon knew that John envisioned himself as the boss one day. However, letting this play out had its merits. He would learn if John could remain a part of the organization or if he was too firmly in Giuseppe’s camp. Giuseppe was dead either way but he would gladly send John with him.

Damon nodded. “We will try this your way…”

Chapter Text

It was a quarter til 11 o’clock when Tyler stepped out of the Salvatore Manor. The time had come for him to hand off his protection duties to Matt until 8 o’clock the following morning. Starting tomorrow, they would each work 12-hour shifts protecting Bonnie and Sarah. He popped a cigarette between his lips and lit it as he walked out to Matt’s truck. Tyler climbed inside and closed the door to afford them a little privacy. Guards were always patrolling the property to protect the family from threats and the occasional rogue photographer. However, Alaric had assigned even more men to protect the house as they barreled into an uncertain future.

Tyler took a drag from his cigarette and said, “Bonnie had the staff set up a spot for you in the alcove down the hall from her bedroom. She made sure that it is stocked with snacks and shit in case you get hungry while you’re on duty. You also need to stop by the study to see Zach before you start your shift. He’s going to give you access to the manor’s external security cameras.”

Matt nodded in understanding. His eyebrows furrowed in concern as his thumbs drummed against the steering wheel. “How is she?”

He huffed and shook his head. “You know, Bon. She’s the fucking Rock of Gibraltar as always. She is more concerned with making sure we lock shit down. How did your trip to see your gramps go?”

Matt hadn’t expected anything else from Bonnie but he had been worried for her all the same. He said, “He was able to get our guy in Lompoc to hand over the visitor’s logs for Shane. Freddie has been visiting him every week for months now.”

Tyler cursed, “Cazzo traditore. I’ll tell Bonnie in the morning. We might have to clip him inside the prison. Do we have anyone on the inside that can make it happen?”

“Gramps already suggested having my uncle Robbie take care of him. Ain’t like he’s ever getting out of there anyway,” Matt said with a shrug.

Matt had the distinction of both sides of his family being connected to the Salvatore organization. He was part of the fourth generation of Maxwell men to work for them. However, he and the Salvatore boys were distant cousins through his mother’s side of the family. His mother’s family had been loyal to the Salvatores until Domenico betrayed Alonzo Lockwood. It hadn’t taken much effort to convince Rob Sr. to change his allegiance to the Benedetto family.

He nodded and said, “I’ll talk to Bonnie in the morning and get back to you. Hopefully, you’ll have a quiet night here. Call me if anything happens.”

“I’m not going to take offense to you implying that I can’t handle anything that might happen on my watch.”

“It’s not like that,” Tyler replied with a pinched expression.

The blond man chuckled. “I’m just fucking with you. Get out of here. It’ll be eight o’clock before you know it. We both know you’re not a morning person.”

“You’re an asshole.” Tyler shook his head with a mirthful expression as he climbed out of the truck. He walked down the winding driveway to his car and climbed inside.

Tyler felt exhaustion tugging at the back of his eyelids as he drove off the Salvatore property. However, he couldn’t go home and fall into bed just yet. Tyler’s father and uncles were waiting for him at his parents’ house. He was sorely tempted to crash in his old bedroom after they finished talking. Driving home after the meeting sounded as if it would take more energy than he currently had to give. Unfortunately, while his body was ready to give out, his mind was working overtime.

The brooding young man was grateful that there wasn’t much traffic at that time of night. Therefore, it didn’t take him very long to make it out to his family’s house in Santa Clarita. He parked on the street since the driveway was already full. Tyler killed the engine and sniffed his shirt. Of course, he smelled like an ashtray. He groaned as he searched his glove compartment for a bottle of Febreeze. Tyler settled for a can of body spray instead. He spritzed his clothes hoping that it would mask the cigarette smell. Afterwards he climbed out of the car and headed up to the house.

He walked around to reach the house’s side door and entered the kitchen. Tyler smiled seeing his mother loading the dishwasher in her bathrobe. “Hey, Ma.”

Carol turned around at the sound of her only son’s voice. “Hi, honey. Are you hungry? I was just putting away the leftovers.”

He locked the door and shook his head. “No, I’m not hungry. I ate while I was working tonight. Where is everyone?”

“They’re downstairs in the basement waiting for you. Are you sure that you aren’t hungry? I can heat up a little something for you. I made stuffed pork chops, au gratin potatoes, and roasted asparagus.”

He looked tempted for just a moment and then shook his head. They had business to get to downstairs. He pecked her cheek and said, “Nah. I should get down there. Put some aside for me and I’ll grab it on the way out.”

Carol smiled triumphantly. “I’ll hide a plate for you in the vegetable crisper to keep it away from Brady.”

“Thanks, Ma.”

She wrinkled her nose and lightly slapped his cheek. “What did I tell you about smoking cigarettes? You wanna get throat cancer like my father?”

Tyler winced and said, “I’m trying to quit, Ma. I promise.”

“You better,” Carol said.

“You’ll probably be in bed before I leave. I love you. And I’ll see you for Thanksgiving. I probably won’t make it here until after dinner,” Tyler explained as he grabbed a beer from the refrigerator.

She nodded in understanding. Carol wasn’t involved in the family business but she kept her ears open when the men were talking. She said, “I love you, too. How is Bonnie doing?”

Tyler paused with his hand on the basement door. He didn’t know how much his father had told her. He said, “She’s doing okay.”

“You keep her safe…okay?” Carol whispered. She turned around to hide her pained expression from Tyler.

Tyler stood there dumbstruck for a moment. An uncomfortable feeling settled into his bones and suddenly he had questions that he didn’t want to be answered. He headed downstairs to the soundproof basement. The huge space had been finished with drywall and hardwood flooring years ago. It served as a meeting room/man cave for the Lockwood men. However, Brady’s room and the gym also occupied the space.

Brady was sitting on an L-shaped leather couch that ran the length of two walls. He was finishing what was undoubtedly a second helping of Carol’s dinner. Brady nodded to acknowledge his nephew when he walked into the room.

Mason turned off the television and moved to sit on the couch with his younger brother. He was exhausted and still had to go home to his wife and children. However, rest would be in short supply in the coming weeks.

Richard stood up from his recliner and clapped his son on the back. “How did the handoff with Matthew go?”

“It was fine,” Tyler replied. He took a sip of his beer. “He’s posted down the hall from Bonnie and Damon’s bedroom. He also has a clear sightline to Sarah and Bella’s room. He knows what to do if anything happens.”

“That’s good,” Richard said. He trusted Matt almost as much as he trusted his son. The boy would protect Bonnie and Sarah from any threats—internal or external.

Tyler plopped down on the couch. “Bonnie’s worried that we’ve got a problem and she’s not wrong. Damon called John Gilbert out to the manor tonight. They were locked up tight in the study for well over an hour before Zach joined them. The three of them were still in the office when I left.”

The frustration rolling off Richard’s body was practically palpable. In the beginning, they had all been pleased when Giuseppe named John his consigliere. John’s father, Jonathan, had been one of the first moles Alonzo helped Miss Emily plant in the Salvatore organization. Jonathan had been utterly devoted to the Benedetto family from that moment forward. However, his youngest son was more self-serving. John played his part but it was obvious that he longed for more power.

“Senior has similar concerns about Freddie,” Richard revealed. He had spent over an hour talking to the elder statesman of the Donovan family.

Tyler nodded. “Matt told me that Freddie has been visiting Shane like clockwork.”

The older man looked to his younger brother. “What was your read on John when you went to his house last week?”

Mason frowned and said, “He said all the right things but that is par for the course for John. He is too smart to say anything that we could use against him. Besides, was more interested in talking about his half-wit nephew. He was fishing around for information about Ric’s daughters.”

Tyler snorted. “He can’t be serious. Josie and Lizzie won’t even turn 15 for a few more weeks. There’s no way Ric will even think of arranging a marriage for either of them.”

Richard shook his head and said, “It’s not too early to lay the groundwork for it. Giuseppe and Sheila had been working out the details for Damon and Bonnie’s marriage long before she got sick. The cancer just sped up the timetable. John’s looking for a way to secure their position in the organization. He knows that Ric and Damon both favor our family more than they favor his. Marriage between a Gilbert and a Salvatore would cement their importance…might even change Ric’s mind about who should take his place as underboss in the future.”

Mason was uncomfortable with how easily they traded the lives of their daughters and sisters. He had three girls of his own and couldn’t imagine selling them off like cattle to gain a better jockeying position in the family.  Yet his older brother had done that very thing to his only daughter.

The official story was that Lexi had fallen in love with one of Big John Benedetto’s grandsons. Everyone believed that Cesare and Lexi met while she spent the summer with the Loiaconos in Milazzo. In truth, Sheila and Big John had orchestrated the marriage. The Lockwood family was Sheila’s greatest ally. The marriage between Lexi and Cesare was meant to bind the two families in a more permanent way.

Mason said, “John might be a problem but it’s mine to sort out. Bonnie told me to start looking into how many of our people are still loyal to the Benedetto family. I think I’ll start with John’s sycophants. We can’t risk him outing Bonnie or us to the Salvatores to gain their favor.”

Brady suggested, “You should try Freddie first. He’s been suckling from John’s teat since he became consigliere. If anyone knows which side John is playing, it will be him. Besides, it would be killing two birds with one stone since we need to know about his meetings with Shane.”

Richard nodded in agreement. He had been thinking the same thing. Freddie would be a hard nut to crack but everyone had a breaking point. “I’ll get drinks with Grayson after work tomorrow. He’s always been the more sensible Gilbert. The rest of you are going to need to divide and conquer to get face-to-face time with all our people. We can’t leave Bonnie in that house with Damon if there is even a chance that someone might tell him the truth.”

“He wouldn’t hurt, Bonnie. He wouldn’t risk war with Big John,” Tyler said confidently.

Brady scoffed. “Killing her while Giuseppe is on the run would be the perfect cover. He could blame it all on his father. It would get his old man and his wife out of the way in one fell swoop.”

Richard could practically see the dark thoughts in his son’s head. He decided to put his mind at ease. They couldn’t afford for Tyler to do anything rash. He said, “I don’t like Damon but he does love Bonnie. It’s just in the screwed up way that all Salvatores show their love for the opposite sex. He wouldn’t kill Bonnie if he learned of her betrayal. However, it doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t face consequences for her actions. He could lock her up in that fortress of a house and there wouldn’t be much we could do about it.”

Tyler’s expression hardened. Giuseppe had done enough to isolate Bonnie from her family. He didn’t want to imagine her being even more alone. “What should I do?”

“You worry about keeping Bonnie safe. The moment we think her safety has been compromised, we will pull her out of there,” Richard promised.

“She won’t leave without Sarah,” he replied. He knew how much Bonnie loved that little girl. She had fallen in love with Sarah from the start. The baby had reminded Bonnie so much of herself—both abandoned by their mothers.

“I know. It’s one of the reasons I was happy when she adopted Sarah. She is the girl’s mother in the eyes of the law. Bonnie and Damon can fight for custody like any other disgruntled couple.”

Tyler nodded but he didn’t like playing fast and loose with Bonnie’s life. He still worried that she had a Damon-sized blindspot. Normally, Tyler trusted her judgment and ability to plan for the unforeseen. He was scared that Damon would catch her off guard. However, he trusted his father and he trusted himself. Tyler would gladly carve Damon’s heart from his chest to protect her. Fortunately, he was in the perfect position to do that.

Richard looked at his watch and rubbed at his tired eyes. “I am going to turn in for the night. We’ll meet back here tomorrow night. Call the burner if anything important comes up before then.”

The younger men all agreed. They knew that he was burning the candle at both ends just as they were. However, Richard had a real job at Velocita. He was the director of marketing. His presence would be missed if he was out of the office for any length of time.

Mason waited until he was sure that his older brother was on the main floor. He lifted an eyebrow at Tyler and asked, “Did you and Bonnie talk after I left?”

“Yeah?” he asked.

Brady chuckled. “He’s trying to ask if you are banging the boss.”

Tyler’s jaw ticked in anger. He growled, “Watch your mouth.”

Brady’s smile grew even more. “You know that I wouldn’t disrespect Bonnie. I was just trying to gauge your reaction. You’ve got it bad for her. Don’t you?”

Mason was certain that Tyler’s feelings for Bonnie weren’t one-sided. Normally, he wouldn’t interfere with his nephew’s personal life. Unfortunately, they were on the edge of either getting everything they had been working for or plunging into a full on mob war. Now wasn’t time for the two twenty-somethings to figure out their feelings for each other.

“If you want to keep Bonnie safe…then you keep this thing platonic until we’re out of the shit,” Mason said. “Damon might forgive her for going behind his back to protect her family. But you know he wouldn’t forgive her for sleeping with another man. And he’d kill you.”

“I’m not afraid of that asshole,” Tyler snapped.

Mason said, “You’re a fool not to fear a man with wounded pride, Ty. Damon is a selfish son of a bitch but Bonnie belongs to him. He’ll kill you if he even suspects that you are more than just friends with his wife.”

The younger man huffed but conceded, “He doesn’t even know that we are really friends. I mean I am sure that he remembers us playing together as kids but he thinks that is all in the past now.”

“Then you understand what I am saying to you. You are my only nephew and I am not about to lose you to that asshole’s jealous rage. If you want Bonnie then you need to be patient.”

“I’m with Elena,” he argued weakly.

Mason rolled his eyes but decided not to comment on that doomed pairing. He said, “If you want Bonnie then you need to be patient. Damon isn’t capable of changing. If he were then he would have done so already. His whore has been taunting Bonnie for years. He knows that now, yet Katherine is still holed up in the Salvatore villa in Tenerife. Bonnie will eventually grow tired of his bullshit. Just give her some time. In the mean time, keep your head in the game.”

Tyler quietly considered what his uncle was saying to him. He was right that putting Bonnie in more danger was selfish and stupid. “You know Lucy was asking about you.”

Mason asked, “Me?”

He chuckled. “No, she thinks you’re an idiot. She was asking about Uncle Brady.”

Brady raised an eyebrow as he thought about Lucy. He hadn’t seen her in a couple of years but she had always been a smokeshow. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. She thinks that you are hot. She’s definitely DTF. There was talk of tingles and fucking against walls,” the younger man explained.

Mason huffed. He looked at his younger brother and said, “She’s crazy. She pulled a gun on me this afternoon.”

Brady grinned. It always looked so unnatural when he smiled. Therefore, a full-fledged grin was disturbing. “I like em crazy. How long is she in town?”

“She’s here until Giuseppe is dead. If Damon won’t put a freaking bullet in his old man’s head, she will.”

“Give her my number, Ty,” Brady replied. He was seeing a couple of women casually but it was nothing serious. He liked keeping his options open.

The elder brother frowned deeply. “She’s crazy and you know better than to shit where you eat, Brady. When you piss her off, there could be blowback for all of us. And you are going to piss her off—it’s just part of your charm.”

Tyler laughed as he took out his phone. He said, “You’re just mad that she never gave you the time of day. Lucy has always been impervious to your bullshit. Anyway, Luce told me to give you her number. I’ll text it to you.”

“He’s just not used to women being able to ignore the lure of those beautiful green peepers.”

Mason rolled his eyes. “Says my blue eyed baby brother. I am happily married to a crazy woman of my own. I don’t need more problems in my life. I’m just saying that Lucy is violent and crazy. Don’t call me when she stabs your ass for looking at another woman.”

Brady’s phone buzzed when he received the next message from Tyler. He said, “I’m going to go give her a call.”

“Seriously?” Mason asked.

“Yeah. She is probably foaming at the mouth because of Giuseppe and Damon. I could go for an angry fuck right about now,” Brady replied. He walked down the hall to his bedroom.

Mason just shook his head and stood up. He didn’t even know why he tried with Brady sometimes. Fortunately, his brother was all business where it counted. “I’m about to head out. Are you leaving, too?”

Tyler said, “Nah. I think I might hit the gym.”

The older man gave his nephew a knowing look. He clapped Tyler on the back and said, “You might want to consider having a conversation with your old man. He’s going to see your Saint Christopher’s medal around Bonnie’s neck and come to the same conclusion that I did. Don’t blindside him on this, Ty.”

He ran a frustrated hand over his head. “I don’t even know what the fuck this.”

Mason gave him a skeptical look.

“What? I don’t.”

He slowly sat back down. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Tyler glared. “Are we going to paint our fucking nails and eat ice cream, too?”

Mason smacked the back of his head. “Don’t be a wise ass. This isn’t just your life on the line. You know none of us would be able to just let it go if Damon had you clipped.”

The younger man knew that his uncle was speaking the truth. He groaned, “Bonnie and I kissed the night she came to my house. She was crying. I was ready to murder Giuseppe. It just happened. I know that sounds lame but it is the truth. It just happened. It didn’t go any further than that because she was in so much pain. We didn’t talk about the kiss after that night. We just pretended like nothing happened until this afternoon. I was beginning to think that maybe the kiss was driven by adrenaline, you know…”

“This afternoon?” Mason asked. He braced himself for the worst.

Tyler rolled his eyes. “We kissed again. This time it was just…I don’t know. Different. It was different. It wasn’t rushed. It wasn’t passionate. It was just…fucking right.”

The older man sat there pensively for a few minutes.

Tyler became irate. “You ask if I want to talk but then you go as quiet as a mouse!”

“I’m thinking,” he huffed. “You should try it more often. Maybe use that fancy college degree my brother paid for.”

“Yes, I’m sure my double major in criminal justice and political science would really help me with this shit,” he quipped with a small smirk.

Mason chuckled deeply. “I will never understand what you were thinking.”

“It was meant to be ironic. Then I realized that I actually liked both subjects,” he explained sheepishly. Tyler had considered going to law school for a minute. However, the rigors of law school and his real job wouldn’t have meshed well. Instead, he took a corporate security position at Velocita.

He smiled wryly. “Look it seems like you aren’t sure what’s happening between you and Bonnie. She’s married and you are dating Elena. You both have some things to sort out first. I’m all for what’s good for the goose being good for the gander. Except in this situation, the goose is a homicidal asshole that dropped his first body at 14 years old. You don’t need those types of problems unless you’re both sure.”

Tyler grimaced but nodded. “You’re right. I know that you are right. The last thing Bonnie needs to be is the other woman. She’s had enough of being someone’s second or third choice.”

Mason said, “I am glad that you are seeing my point of view. For a minute, I thought I was going to have to get Dickie down here.”

He chuckled. Few people dared to call his father by his childhood moniker. Richard might have the persona of a boring corporate suit. However, everyone in the family had seen the brutal lethality he possessed. “I don’t need Pop losing sleep over anything else.”

Brady walked out of the back smelling of cologne. He had already changed clothes.

Mason asked, “Where are you going?”

“Lucy and I are going out for drinks,” Brady replied.

Mason groaned. “Looks like I’m 1 for 2 tonight. Let’s hope I fare better with Freddie in the morning. I‘m going home before Vick sends out a search party for me.”

Brady chuckled. “I’ll walk out with you. You can express all of your freaking agita about my situation.”

Tyler shook his head at his uncles as they argued on their way upstairs. He took out his phone and pulled up Bonnie’s number. He considered calling just to check on her. Tyler sighed and dropped the phone onto the coffee table. It was as if his uncle’s lecture had just gone in one ear and out the other.

He stood and walked to Brady’s room. He decided to borrow some workout clothes. He needed to burn off whatever was eating at him before he had to go back to the Manor in the morning.  

Chapter Text

Damon stood in the doorway as he watched Bonnie get ready for the day. She was dressed in a sleeveless sapphire colored sheath dress that fell just above the knees. It hugged her curves perfectly and displayed a tasteful amount of cleavage. However, his eyes were trained on her face as she used makeup to cover her healing bruises. He hated that she had to go to such lengths to cover what his father did. It didn’t help that Damon was no closer to finding the elusive bastard. He wished that Bonnie had told him about the incident as soon as it happened. Her decision to wait meant that Giuseppe had a two-week head start that was beginning to look insurmountable. They were working on the assumption that he was in Milazzo. However, all they really knew was that he had been there a couple weeks ago. It was anyone’s guess where he was now. For all Damon knew, his father could be hiding in Los Angeles. The old mobster had plenty of ways to enter the country without going through the proper channels.

Bonnie had been studying Damon’s expression in the mirror for a few minutes. This was the first she had seen of him since John Gilbert’s arrival last night. Damon had stayed in the study with his father’s consigliere for a few hours. However, her husband left the house after he finished meeting with John. He didn’t return until well after Bonnie had fallen asleep. She wondered if his absence from their bed was for business or pleasure. She asked, “Is everything okay?”

Damon smiled to cover his surly mood and walked up behind Bonnie. He wrapped arms around her waist and said, “Everything is fine. I was just thinking about my schedule for today. I have to make an appearance at Velocita even if it is the day before Thanksgiving. According to Rose, I have been MIA for too long. I can’t tell if she is telling me the truth or if she’s just tired of doing my job for me.”

The girl chuckled quietly as she finished putting on her lipstick. “I am sure it is a little of both. In any case, she is right about you making an appearance. People will start to talk if you are out of contact for much longer. You know it doesn’t take much to get the rumor mill churning at Velocita.”

He kissed the side of Bonnie’s neck and said, “You are supposed to side with your husband against everyone else.”

If Bonnie were made of weaker stock, she would have tensed at his playful assertion. Instead, she merely turned in Damon’s arms so that they were facing one another. She took his face into her hands while wearing a gentle smile. “You’re about to force your father into early retirement. He could easily call the board together for a no confidence vote out of spite. You can’t give him any ammunition, Damon.”

Some small part of Damon wondered if Bonnie would suspect his part in Giuseppe’s death. He would never tell her the truth. However, he was slowly learning that his wife kept certain knowledge to herself. His mind went to the recording that Sheila left Bonnie and the text messages that Katherine had been sending for God only knows how long. She only shared the information when it was advantageous for her. Damon hated to think of it that way because it assigned some level of deviousness that his sweet bunny just didn’t possess. He pecked her lips and asked, “What are you going to do today?”

“I need to stop by the beach house to pick up Grams’ roasting pan. Then I am going to the church. I might do a little Christmas shopping, too. Afterwards I am getting lunch with Lucy. I’ll be back here after that because my mom will be here to help me cook. We have a lot of prep work to do before we can get started.”

He lifted an eyebrow when Bonnie mentioned going to church on a Wednesday morning. Damon wasn’t particularly religious but he had grown up in the Catholic Church just as Bonnie had. “What does my wife have to confess?” he asked teasingly.

Bonnie laughed lightly. “I am sure there are a few things for which I should be asking absolution. However, today I’m only stopping by to see Father Finn. He called yesterday to say he has the wish lists for the two families that we’re adopting for Christmas.”

Damon’s eyes widened as he remembered that Bonnie had asked for his help last month. “The turkeys for Thanksgiving…”

“Don’t worry about it, Damon. I took care of it while I was in Shadow Hills. Father Finn has two truckloads of turkeys and hams courtesy of the Bennett family. He has already handed out the majority of them to the less fortunate. The rest will be cooked to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving.”

The use of her maiden name didn’t escape Damon’s notice. It was her subtle way of acknowledging that she had used her own money to pay for everything. Sheila had established a veritable firewall between the two families’ finances before Damon and Bonnie wed. He couldn’t touch a cent of the Bennett fortune. Moreover, Damon controlled her family’s North American smuggling operation, but the lion’s share of the profits got kicked up to Bonnie. He said, “I’m sorry, Bunny.”

She smiled. “It’s fine. I had free time on my hands. It was easy to just put in a few calls to local wholesalers.”

Damon said, “Let’s do the same thing for Christmas.”

Bonnie looked genuinely surprised. Damon never really took much interest in her charitable work with the church. “Really?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I know it’s important to you and it is the season for giving, right?”

She leaned up and kissed Damon passionately.

Afterwards, he grinned like a Cheshire cat. He tugged on the zipper at the back of her dress. “I’ll be charitable more often if it gets this sort of reaction from you.”

Bonnie laughed as she batted his hands away and slid by him on her way out of the bathroom. She called over her shoulder, “We don’t have time for that this morning, Damon. You have to go to work and I have to go to see Father Finn.”

He followed her into their walk-in closet. He gasped in mock horror. “There is always time to make love to my beautiful wife.”

She giggled while stepping into a pair of pumps. “As soon as we get started Rose will show up to drag you to Velocita. Or worse, Lucy will finally get back and come looking for me.”

Damon knew that Bonnie was right. Rose was downstairs having a cup of coffee right now. He had maybe ten minutes before she came to collect him. They would already be on the road if not for his insistence on seeing Bonnie before he left. He asked, “Where is Lucy anyway? I thought that she was going to be staying here.”

Bonnie put on the sapphire and diamond tennis bracelet that Rose purchased on Damon’s behalf. Then she searched for the matching earrings gifted to her last Christmas. Bonnie said, “She went out to have drinks with Tyler’s uncle.”

“That was quick,” he commented. Not that he was surprised. Not many men would turn down a woman who had Lucy’s looks. He and Lucy had flirted when they were younger. However, he was grateful that it never went any further than that.

She switched her belongings to the purse she selected for the day. “Well, you know Lucy. She doesn’t do anything by half measures. I should get going. I have a lot to do before this afternoon. I will see you when you get home from work.”

“You look beautiful.” Damon walked over and kissed her. “Try not to overdo it. Please?”

She smiled. “You have my word that I will not push myself too hard. I’ll come home when I start to feel tired.”

He patted her on the backside. “Alright, I guess that you are free to go then.”

“I love you, Damon,” Bonnie said on her way out of the bedroom.

“I love you, too.”

When Bonnie walked out of the bedroom, Tyler was already waiting for her. He had arrived fifteen minutes ago to relieve Matt. His brown eyes darkened as he drank in Bonnie’s appearance. He licked his lips without even thinking about it.

Bonnie’s cheeks heated up when she saw Tyler’s reaction to her. She said, “Hey.”

“Hey,” he replied. “Have you eaten breakfast?”

“Not yet. I don’t really have time to get anything right now. I have quite the to-do list this morning,” she answered.

He nodded. “I will bring the car around front for you.”

“Thanks.” Bonnie went downstairs to the kitchen where the kids were all eating breakfast around a long farmhouse table made of redwood. “Good morning,” she said cheerfully.

A chorus of ‘morning’ came from little food-filled mouths.

She stopped behind Sarah’s chair and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “I’m leaving for a little bit but you are going to have such fun with Monique today. You can call me at any time if you want me to come home. Okay?”

Sarah looked up at her mother with a smile and nodded in agreement. “Okay, Mama.”

Bonnie was glad that her little girl seemed more secure around her cousins. She pecked the top of Sarah’s head again. “Be a good girl while I’m gone.”

“I will,” she promised with a giggle.

Bonnie walked out of the house just as Tyler pulled up with the car. She climbed into the backseat without waiting for him to open the door. They were on a clock. She needed to be back around lunchtime as she had told Damon. She wouldn’t classify her husband as controlling. However, he had been raised in the old ways. He liked to know where his wife was at all times. Their current tenuous situation made it more of a necessity than a luxury. Despite their issues, Damon’s concern for her safety was genuine.

Tyler passed Bonnie a travel mug and an insulated lunch bag. “I brought breakfast for you. I stayed the night at my parents’ house. My mom was happy to put something together for you.”

Bonnie smiled a little as she inspected the items. The travel mug was filled with peppermint tea. The lunch bag contained two blueberry scones, fruit salad, and Greek yogurt. She took a sip of the tea. “Thank you, Ty.”

He said, “We gotta keep you and the kiddos fed, right?”

“Right,” she replied. Bonnie tried to ignore the warm fuzzy feeling overtaking her. “I’m not going to be able to eat all of this. Do you want one of these scones?”

He chuckled. “Sure.”

She picked up the scone with a napkin and passed it to Tyler.  As Bonnie dug into the freshly prepared fruit salad, she hoped that her morning sickness wouldn’t rear its ugly head.

Tyler bit into the lemon glazed pastry as he sped away from the Salvatore Manor. He said, “Everyone is waiting for us at the beach house.”

Bonnie’s attitude shifted on a dime. She lifted an eyebrow at the mention of that morning’s activities. “Good. Who is it? Matt wasn’t able to tell me much because we couldn’t get any privacy. He just said that we found one.”

“It’s Freddie…”

The young woman’s face took on a pensive expression at this unexpected news. Frederick had always been loyal. Her grandmother had trusted him implicitly while on her deathbed. Bonnie wondered if his allegiance changed with her grams’ death. How many people had abandoned their duty to her family because she was at the helm now? “Well, that’s not good news. Does that mean that we should be worried about John Gilbert, too?”

“I don’t know. Mason didn’t give me very many details when we talked. He only said that you weren’t going to like what they found. Mason scooped up Freddie during his morning run. We couldn’t wait any longer after finding out that he’s been visiting Shane in prison. Mason made sure it was a clean grab with no witnesses. We’re lucky that idiot likes to go running at 4:45 AM every morning like clockwork,” he explained.

She sighed and rubbed at her temples. Bonnie would have a tough hill to climb if her relative inactivity with the business had caused people to lose faith in her family. Richard and Mason had been managing their people in her stead. They made sure that everyone was compensated well. The information about the Salvatore family’s organization had been flowing up the chain as it should. It was the same way that her grandmother had run things for years. However, Sheila had earned a level of respect from the men that Bonnie had not. Perhaps they viewed her as a naïve little girl as her husband and his family did.

Tyler met her eyes in the rearview mirror. “Hey. I’ve got your back, Bon. I’ll do what needs to be done…even if that means getting rid of John Gilbert. I’ve never liked the son of a bitch anyway.”

“What about Elena?” Bonnie didn’t want to put him in an awkward position with his girlfriend. No matter the state of their relationship, she knew that Tyler loved Elena. “You can leave the job to Mason or Brady if it comes to that.”

“She’s never been particularly close to John. Besides, you know where my loyalty lies. I will choose you every time,” he swore.

She smiled in response and then went back to eating breakfast. Bonnie knew that Tyler was talking about his loyalty to the Benedetto family. She selfishly wished that his earnest words had another meaning. Briefly, she thought about how they made out like teenagers yesterday. Neither of them had let it go any further than that. However, being with Tyler was the first time that she had felt truly loved in a very long time.

The drive out to Sheila’s beach house was a little over 40 minutes long. However, it gave her time to think through their current predicament.

When they arrived at the beach house, Tyler climbed out of the SUV and opened the door for Bonnie.

She nodded in thanks and walked into the house with Tyler.

The young man set the security alarm so that no one could enter undetected. They couldn’t risk any unexpected visitors. Fortunately, Bonnie had never seen fit to give Damon keys to the beach house. He said, “They’re upstairs.”

Bonnie walked up to the second floor and then headed up to the attic. Her grandmother had done little more than soundproof the cavernous space and install easy to clean non-porous floors. Sheila had renovated the space with exactly this purpose in mind. This side of the business was ugly but necessary.  

A couch, an antique desk, and a couple of chairs were the only furniture in the room. However, she was happy to see that the Lockwood brothers had thought to put plastic down to contain the mess. However, she had not expected anything less. They were professionals after all. Mason had many purposes in the organization but this was Brady’s specialty.

Bonnie carefully surveyed Frederick’s bloodied and bruised body. Mason and Brady had strung the man up from the attic’s structural beams before torturing him. They had done a top-notch job judging by Freddie’s current state. She glanced at the bloody drill bits lying on the floor. It took skill and years of training to learn how to torture your victim without killing them prematurely. Fortunately, Brady and Mason had that down to an art form.

Lucy was sitting atop the antique desk drinking a cup of coffee. “Morning, cuz.”

“Good morning,” Bonnie chirped in a chipper voice. She kissed Lucy’s cheek. “Did you have a good night?”

The older woman smirked and looked over at Brady. “You know I did. I’ll tell you all about it over lunch.”

Bonnie patted Lucy’s arm with a fond smile and then walked up to Frederick. She asked, “What do we have here? It appears that Christmas has come early for me this year.”

Tyler walked up behind her and huffed. “I can’t believe I missed out on all the fun. I was looking forward to making this fucker squeal.”

The green-eyed girl removed her cardigan and placed it on a chair along with her purse. She squeezed Tyler’s arm and said, “Maybe the next one.”

Brady was sitting on the couch eating a bowl of Fruit Loops. His white tank top was smeared with blood. “I’m sure there will be more than one. We have a small insurrection on our hands. It’s nothing we can’t squash quickly. It isn’t as wide spread as we feared.”

Mason nodded in agreement. He already had ideas about how to handle their situation. He asked, “Where does Damon think you are now?”

They were all walking a tight rope here. His job was to protect Bonnie from all threats and that included her temperamental husband.

Lucy scoffed but didn’t say anything. She hated that Damon had Bonnie on such a short leash. She also felt guilty for not spending more time with her younger cousin recently. Lucy thought that she had been doing the right thing by not causing friction with Bonnie’s in-laws. She had recognized that Giuseppe was trying to muscle the Benedettos out of the girl’s life. She didn’t interfere when Bonnie did not object to the move. However, Lucy didn’t care what Damon wanted going forward. She wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

Bonnie sat down on the arm of the couch and crossed her legs. She said, “He knows that I am here. Only he thinks I am looking for my grandmother’s roasting pan before going to see Father Finn. Oh, I should pick that up before we leave. I have a massive glazed ham to cook in it.”

Tyler said, “I’ll make sure that we grab it on our way out.”

“Thanks.” She asked, “What do we know?”

Mason said, “He hasn’t just forgotten that his loyalty lies with you. Freddie has also decided to feed information about Damon to Giuseppe. He’s the reason that the old man learned that Damon was making a power play to take the family from him. Freddie has been feeding information to Giuseppe for at least a year now. Looks like he went running to the boss the moment Damon started making moves to consolidate his power. However, it doesn’t seem like he told Giuseppe anything about what we’ve been doing. Brady pressed him hard on that and he denied it.”

Bonnie looked to Brady and asked, “How hard?”

“I pressed hard enough that he gave up two more people that are siding with Giuseppe over us. One of those people just happens to be his younger brother,” he replied.

Bonnie nodded in satisfaction. Freddie practically helped raise Raphael. There’s no way he would rat out his brother unless he was at his lowest. “What about John Gilbert? Is his loyalty to us in question?”

Mason nodded. “He intends to join Giuseppe in Milazzo. He wants to take over once the old man kicks the bucket. He's also not opposed to hastening Giuseppe’s trip to the great beyond now that Damon has turned on him.”

Bonnie’s eyes darkened dangerously. She said, “That beady eyed snake. I want him gone, Mason. John could expose all of us to Giuseppe or worse Damon.”

Brady asked, “When?”

“I want him gone before Damon takes out Giuseppe. But it can't look like a hit. I won't start a war to cover my actions the way that Giuseppe did.”

Mason nodded in agreement. Freddie had his own crew but John was big game. His death would have repercussions. He asked, “Should we make it look like an accident?”

Brady suggested, “A home invasion gone wrong. His affinity for whores has exposed him before.”

“What about a drug overdose? John’s been doing party drugs since he started fucking 20-year-olds,” Tyler said. He had to pay off more than a few girls to keep them from sharing pictures of John partying.

She hummed. “Maybe or a suicide. We are approaching the anniversary of Isobel’s death and Christmas is right around the corner. You know the holidays are always the hardest for those who are grieving. April and Violet barely speak to him now. Perhaps it has all become too much for him. Figure out which option can be accomplished quickly and cleanly.”

Mason nodded in understanding. “I will have something for you by the time I return from Milazzo.”

She nodded at Mason and then turned to look at their bound associate. Bonnie’s eyes narrowed dangerously as she regarded Freddie’s bloody visage. Then she removed a stiletto blade from a sheath that had been hidden inside her bra.  

Brady lifted an eyebrow at the hiding place but remained silent. However, he did share a look with Lucy before going back to eating his cereal.

Bonnie walked up to the bound man and thrust the blade into his abdomen. She twisted the knife slowly and stared into his eyes as he screamed. “You could have cost my husband his life, traditore,” she hissed.

“Please,” he tried to beg. “John made me do it. He threatened to tell the boss that I was working for your family.”

She shushed him as she removed the blade from his stomach. Bonnie then rammed the blade into Freddie’s thigh. “You could have gone to Mason or Richard for help. No, you chose John’s side because you thought he was the better bet.”

Freddie didn’t bother refuting the claim. John had convinced him that Bonnie was a child incapable of wielding the power Sheila left in her hands.

Bonnie slowly enunciated, “You. Were. Wrong.”

The girl’s verdant eyes held an eerie darkness as she studied the man in front of her clinically. Giuseppe and Sheila disagreed on many aspects of childrearing. The Bennett matriarch had never raised her hand to Bonnie. A raised voice and sending the girl to her room was punishment enough. However, Sheila and Giuseppe agreed that their business wasn’t meant for anyone with a weak stomach. The price for power was always blood. Sometimes it was the blood of their enemies. However, other times it would be the blood of their allies. Sheila ensured that her granddaughter would never need a man to help her protect what was hers.

Freddie mumbled. “Please. I’m sorry. I’ll do anything. I can make this right.”

“The time for mercy in this life has long since passed, Freddie. However, I promise to make it a quick death. I’m not a sadist by nature,” she replied.

His eyes went wide as tears slipped down his cheeks. “No. Please, don’t do this. I can help you. I can prove my worth to you!”

She looked at Tyler. “Cut him down.”

Tyler removed his jacket and pulled out a pocketknife. He cut Freddie down and let his exhausted body collapse onto the floor.

“Please,” he murmured.

“There is nothing I can do for you, Freddie. You picked the wrong horse. However, I am going to give Raph an opportunity to redeem himself. He’s still young. He can earn his way back into my good graces. I hope that gives you some solace in your last moments,” Bonnie said sincerely.

“Thank you,” he murmured in resignation.

She walked up behind Freddie’s weak body and grabbed him by the hair. She swiped the razor sharp blade across his throat in one smooth motion.

Blood gushed forward and sprayed the plastic sheeting covering the floor and nearby wall.

Bonnie released his body and watched him bleed out at her feet. Bonnie wasn’t her grandmother, nor would she try to be. However, they would all learn that she wasn’t the one to be fucked with.

Brady shook his head with a mirthful smile. This was the reason his family remained loyal to the Benedetto family. It wasn’t because they feared retribution but because they respected the power. Sheila had been pulling Giuseppe’s strings for years. He believed that Bonnie would do the same with Damon. Today, she had taken the first steps to doing just that.

Lucy knew that it was time for her to make Los Angeles her home. If Bonnie was about to make a move of this magnitude then she would need more than just the Lockwoods and Donovans watching her back. Giuseppe had inadvertently awakened a sleeping giant when he attacked her younger cousin.

Bonnie surveyed her handiwork and then held the blood soaked blade out toward Tyler. “Take the signet ring off his finger.”

He quickly took the knife from Bonnie and offered her a towel. Tyler wrenched the gold ring from the man’s finger. Freddie had proudly worn the ring for years. It would be easily recognizable to anyone in the family.

She meticulously cleaned Freddie’s blood from her hands. “I’m going to go freshen up and then I will be ready to go.”

Tyler watched Bonnie walk out of the room with a smile on his face. If it was possible, he loved her even more than he already had. He handed the bloody knife to Mason.

“I’ll clean it and sharpen it for Bonnie,” Mason said.

Brady slurped the milk from his bowl of cereal. “This was a great way to start the day.”

Mason gave his brother a pointed look but he had to agree. He had believed in Bonnie because of the woman that raised her. However, it was nice to see her in action. He said, “I am glad that you are finished eating because we need to make Freddie disappear and get this place cleaned up. We’re going to take him to DeCastro’s funeral home for cremation after dark.”

Tyler asked, “Do you need my help with anything?”

He shook his head. “No, we can handle all of this. You just keep Bonnie close to you. We’ll see you later on at your old man’s house.”

The younger man nodded as he stepped into the attic’s bathroom. He scrubbed away any trace of blood from his hands. He put on his suit jacket after exiting the bathroom.

Tyler grabbed Bonnie’s purse and cardigan as he walked out of the attic. He went downstairs to the kitchen and searched the cabinets for the roasting pan Bonnie had mentioned earlier. Tyler knew that it was important to her even if it was also an excuse she fed to Damon.

He was just setting the pan on the counter when Bonnie walked into the room.

She said, “I don’t think I got any of his blood on my dress. Do you see anything?”

Tyler watched as Bonnie slowly spun around in front of him. He walked up to her so that they were inches apart when she finally faced front again. He shook his head and said, “Not a spot on you.”

Bonnie sighed in relief. “That’s good news. I really didn’t want to change clothes. I like this dress.”

In a deep voice, he said, “I do, too. This shade of blue is a good color on you.”

She bit her lip. “Thanks.”

Tyler cupped her cheek. “I want to kiss you but…”

Bonnie followed his gaze up to the ceiling. “We shouldn’t. I am about to go see Father Finn. He’ll probably smell the adultery on me or something.”

He barked out a genuine laugh. “Like the blind priest in Little Nicky?”

She laughed along with Tyler and nodded. She ran a hand down the buttons of Tyler’s shirt. “Do you know where Damon went last night when he left the house?”

Tyler asked, “Do you really want to know?”

Bonnie said, “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t…”

“Jesse drove him to the Claiborne so that he could meet up with Andie Starr. Jesse waited for him outside the room until 4 o’clock in the morning.”

Bonnie wasn’t surprised. Damon was probably stressed out after meeting with John Gilbert. Sex was always his way of blowing off steam. “Would it be wrong if I chose this dress with you in mind?”

Tyler’s expression became more serious. He tangled his fingers in Bonnie’s wavy hair and placed a kiss against the corner of her mouth. “Don’t say things like that to me and then expect me not to kiss you.”

“Yesterday, we said that we weren’t going to do that again. Twice was enough, right? We’ve got it out of our systems,” she whispered.

He rested his forehead against Bonnie’s and said, “We lied.”

Her green eyes darkened with desire. “We did,” she agreed.

The pair jumped apart when Brady came lumbering down the stairs. He lifted an eyebrow at both of them but didn’t question it. “I need a meat cleaver.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes as she tried to slow her breathing. “You will not use my grandmother’s good knives to hack up Freddie. Check out the utility room for a hacksaw or a hatchet. Everything you need should be in there along with ammonia and bleach to clean up.”

“Okay. I’ll head out there now,” Brady replied. He gave Tyler and Bonnie one last knowing look before he went to the utility room.

“We should go, Ty. I can’t keep Father Finn waiting,” Bonnie said.

Tyler chuckled and picked up the roasting pan. “Come on. I’ll let the windows down to see if we can air out the stench of our sins.”

She rolled her eyes at the ridiculousness of that statement. Bonnie put on her cardigan and grabbed her purse.  “That won’t work any better than cologne does to hide your smoking.”

“You can smell that?” he asked as they walked out of the house. Tyler sniffed at his shoulder. “I hoped cologne would cover it better than the body spray did last night.”

“Of course I can smell it. You smell like cigarettes and Tom Ford. One doesn’t really cancel out the other,” she explained.

Chapter Text

Ric looked at his watch with a frown as he rode the elevator up to Damon’s penthouse at the Rischard. He was meeting his younger brother and nephew for a working lunch. The trio needed to discuss the enlightening conversation Ric had with their uncle just an hour ago. If everything went as planned, Bruno and Giacomo might be able to intercept Giuseppe in the next few days. However, he was most relieved to have confirmation that his older brother was still in Milazzo. Ric could enjoy Thanksgiving with his family without the fear of Giuseppe popping up unannounced and unwelcomed.

The holiday was stressful enough with Jo and Abby being under the same roof. The two women were always civil with one another but there was a lot of history between them. Jo would never be able to escape the fact that she had been Alaric’s second choice. Everyone in the family knew that Ric had wanted to marry Abby after she divorced Rudy. They also knew that Abby turned him down cold and proceeded to flee the country as if she were running from a pack of wolves. Despite rejecting Ric, Abby still spent the holidays at the Manor in order to be with Sheila and Bonnie. Ric and Abby would get into epic screaming matches that devolved into hate sex.

It would be putting it mildly to say that Ric took the rejection poorly. He had coped by throwing himself more fully into his work. Those were dark times for Alaric. He could admit now that he had reacted childishly. Instead of sulking, he should have chased after Abby. However, he spent the next few years whoring around the West Coast and crushing their family’s enemies without mercy. Eventually, Giuseppe stepped in to put a stop to his pity party. Joshua Parker had been dangling his eldest daughter in front Giuseppe for quite some time. The mob boss had been divorced from Lilly for years. Everyone wondered why he hadn’t remarried. Giuseppe wasn’t interested in marrying Jo but he decided that she might be a good fit for Ric.

Alaric was ever the dutiful younger brother. He didn’t object when Giuseppe suggested an arranged marriage. The Parker family hailed from a town not far from Milazzo. Their connections had helped the Salvatores increase their territory in Italy. Pulling them more firmly into the family seemed like a just reward. Ric and Jo actually dated for a year before they were married. While she wasn’t the love of his life, he did fall in love with Jo. She was beautiful, smart, and ambitious. However, Jo’s loyalty made him want to marry her. He knew that she would never betray him as Abby had. Somehow, that knowledge soothed his wounded pride.

In the beginning, he tried to be faithful to Jo. Abby had respected that and tried to keep her distance whenever she was in town for a visit. It worked for all of two years. Ric and Abby crossed paths by chance while he was in Milazzo on business. They barely made it through dinner with Big John Benedetto before falling into bed with each other. Thirteen years later, he has a wife, a mistress, five children, and two houses 30 minutes apart. Ric’s whole life was a balancing act but he was too far down the road in both relationships to call it quits now.

Ric stepped off the elevator and walked down the hall to Damon’s penthouse. He knocked and waited for someone to open the door. His nephew’s mistress lived in the penthouse whenever she was actually in Los Angeles. However, Damon also swept the penthouse for listening devices on a weekly basis. He never knew when he might need to use it for business. Sometimes driving all the way to the manor just wasn’t an option.

Zach opened the door having shed his suit jacket and tie at some earlier point. He beckoned his older brother inside. “You’re late. We started eating lunch without you.”

Ric rolled eyes as he walked into the living room. He closed the door and asked, “Did you at least order something for me? I’m starving.”

Damon was sitting on the couch while devouring an 18-ounce rib eye steak with all the sides. He motioned to a cloche-covered dish sitting on the coffee table. He said, “We wouldn’t leave you hanging like that. I ordered one of their heart healthy options for you, Zio.”

He scowled at his nephew while he took off his suit jacket. Jo and Abby were equally worried about his health. His wife cooked heart healthy meals from a cookbook his cardiologist suggested. However, Abby forced him to eat a gluten free paleo diet whenever he stayed at their house. “I’ll kick your ass and take your steak if you did.”

The raven-haired playboy scoffed, “I’d like to see you try, old man.”

Zach smirked as he returned to his chair with a bottle of beer for his older brother. “Calm down. He ordered the exact same meal for all three of us. You know neither of us cares if you keel over from a heart attack at an early age. We’re not the ones that will be responsible for raising your spawns all alone.”

Ric sat down on the other end of the couch and removed the cloche. He laughed, “That’s why I love the two of you so much. Do you know that Stefan tried to get me to drink this soup in a bottle crap? What is wrong with that boy?”

Damon and Zach both got a good laugh out of that one.

Zach said, “He got me to try one of those things a few weeks ago. It wasn’t so bad once I added vodka to it. It was like a thicker Bloody Mary.”

Damon shook his head. “I will never understand why you humor the little bastard.”

“Because he’s my favorite nephew,” Zach replied with a lazy grin.

Damon flipped off his uncle as he sipped from his bottle of beer. Stefan was the baby and they all treated him accordingly.

Ric laughed at the petulant expression on his nephew’s face. He cut into his steak and said, “I finally have some good news to report on finding Giuseppe. He reached out to Uncle Bruno after to speaking to John a couple hours ago. He is interested in working out some sort of truce. He agreed to meet with our uncles later in the week. They’re going to feed him lines about you only wanting a peaceful transition of power.”

Damon smirked as he reclined against the couch. It appeared that his decision to lean on John Gilbert had born fruit quickly. He should have known the little weasel had a way to contact Giuseppe. However, the old man was playing it smart. The Salvatore boss had accurately assumed that John wasn’t the right person to help him make peace with Damon. Giuseppe knew well his son’s disdain for John. However, he didn’t realize that Bruno and Giacomo were only leading him to slaughter. There could be no truce. Damon wanted Giuseppe dead—they all did.

“We can’t make it that easy. My old man knows that I wouldn’t just let something like this go. Besides, I all but told John I planned to kill him. He’ll get suspicious if I go all Kumbaya on him now.”

Zach sat back to give it some thought because Damon was right. Giuseppe raised them to be cold-blooded killers. He would never believe that Damon would simply let bygones be bygones. He suggested, “We could set conditions that bar him from entering Italy and the United States. The consequences for violating those conditions would be death. No questions asked. He might buy it then. We just need Giuseppe to believe the ruse long enough to get him to the compound in Milazzo.”

The other two men mulled over Zach’s suggestion. They had to get this right because they would only get one shot at tricking Giuseppe. He hadn’t been boss this long by being led around by the nose. If he slipped through their fingers now, they would have go about things the hard way—the bloody way.

Ric said, “We can tell him that we know about his attempts to turn our people in Milazzo against Damon. He would believe that you are selfish enough to put your self-interest ahead of revenge. But it would mean tipping our hand and it might expose our uncles’ allegiance to us. They’d be burned and no longer useful for getting information from Giuseppe if it doesn’t work.”

The youngest of them frowned deeply. He was fond of his uncles. They had always been good to him. “Giuseppe wouldn’t hesitate to kill them, if he finds out that they’re supporting me. I don’t want to put them in that position, Zio.”

Ric cocked an eyebrow at his nephew. “They’d both kick your ass for making them sound like doddering old fools that can’t protect themselves. They have known Giuseppe for his entire life. Our uncles will be prepared for anything. This is our best chance to get the drop on him. Do you really want him to go to ground?”

Zach nodded in agreement. If they lost Giuseppe now a civil war would surely ensue between the disparate factions of the family.

Damon huffed. “Excuse me for exercising some fucking sensitivity. It won’t happen again.”

Zach chuckled. “They won’t be there alone, Damon. We’ll make sure our people are nearby to take out Gio if it comes to that.”

“Maybe you should try calling him, Zacharias. You’ve always been the sensible one out of all of us. You’re also the last person that Gio would expect to want him dead,” Ric suggested. He slathered his salad with ranch dressing.

His jaw ticked in response to his brother’s suggestion. Of course, Giuseppe would think that because he believed that Zach was still in the dark about his parents’ deaths.

Damon noted the dark look in his uncle’s eyes. “I won’t ask you to do that. I mean…I get it. You have the biggest grievance with him out of everyone.”

“Stefan?” Ric offered. “We just need someone to get his guard down.”

Damon tilted his head as he considered that option. “Baby bro has been talking about stepping up.”

Zach’s eyebrows furrowed. “I don’t know, Damon. That’s a lot to ask Stefan right out of the gate.”

“You’re worried that he is going to fuck it up? It’s just a phone conversation. He’d never suspect, Stef,” Damon replied.

“I’ll reach out to Giuseppe. I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on Stefan. He’s always been a terrible liar,” Zach muttered.

Damon chuckled and said, “You’re right about that. I’ve been thinking of pulling him aside to ask about Tyler.”

Ric looked puzzled. “Ask him what about Tyler?”

“Just wondering if Tyler and Bonnie are friends or whatever,” he replied in a nonchalant voice.

“Any reason you can’t ask your wife that question?”

Damon glared at his uncle.

Zach asked, “What’s going on, Damon? Is Tyler not working out as her bodyguard? It has barely been 24 hours.”

“I don’t know. They just seemed very familiar with each other last night. I overheard them talking in the kitchen. They were joking and laughing together.”

“Alone?” Ric asked.

Damon said, “No, Lucy and Caroline were in there with them.”

“Then what the fuck are you worried about?” Ric asked in exasperation.

Zach chuckled. “He’s worried that his wife might want someone closer to her age that doesn’t fuck everything in a skirt. Glad that something I said yesterday sunk into your thick skull.”

“It’s not just that. She said some shit to me while we were arguing about Katherine. She said that she could find someone better.”

Zach said, “She could. Have you looked at your wife lately? She’s definitely not a little girl anymore.”

Ric laughed at Damon’s sour expression. “It’s not as if Tyler and Bonnie have been hanging out behind your back. You always know where Bonnie is going. I guess they could be talking on the phone. You could verify that by checking her phone records. But that is a dick move even for you.”

Zach said, “It is also a waste of time. She is not cheating on you, Damon.”

“I didn’t say that I thought that she was cheating on me. I said that I wondered about her friendship with Tyler.”

The older man chuckled. “You’re just trying to make sure that you are her only option?”

Damon growled when both of his uncles laughed at him. “Fuck the both of you. I know that I am being paranoid. Bonnie isn’t that type of girl. She’s loyal.”

Ric lifted an eyebrow but didn’t keep making fun of Damon. He knew that his nephew’s ego could be fragile. They didn’t need him throwing a fit over his sudden paranoia. “Do you want me to put someone else on Bonnie?”

Damon sat there a moment but then shook his head. “No. But I was thinking I might take Bonnie on a trip around her birthday…to reconnect or something like that.”

Zach said, “That’s a good idea, kid. Putting in a little effort won’t kill you.”

Ric checked his phone and groaned. “Are we done here? Abby is about to head over to the manor with the kids. I want to be there when they arrive.”

Damon shook his head. “I don’t think that there is anything else to talk about right now. I should be getting back to office anyway. I’ve got shit to do.”

Zach looked at his watch. “Yeah, I should be heading back, too.”

Ric stood up and pulled on his suit jacket. “I’ll see you both at the house later.”

The three men said their goodbyes and Ric left the penthouse. He took the elevator down to the parking garage.

Ric took the time to reply to Abby’s text before he pulled out of the garage. He was hoping the gift he bought for Abby would put her in a better mood than she had been since he had returned to Los Angeles. She said that she forgave him for not being honest about what happened to Bonnie. However, something felt off between the two of them. He wasn’t sure if Abby was still angry with him or if she was just tense about being at the manor with Jo for a couple days.

Ric made good time driving to the Salvatore Manor. He arrived at the same time that Abby did. He parked and then went to greet his family.

Abby was already out of her car with Savannah perched on her hip. She opened the backdoor for Cooper.

Cooper hopped out of the car and ran towards Ric. The six-year-old boy was practically her twin. He had curly chocolate brown hair and hazel eyes. He was short for his age but made up for it in sheer energy. He launched himself at Ric fully expecting to be caught.

The older man caught him with a grunt. “What are you doing here, speed racer?”

“I'm having a sleepover.”

“Really? Me, too!” The older man replied facetiously.

Jamie walked by the two of them carrying his overnight bag. He was the opposite of his younger brother. He had curly jet-black hair and his complexion was fairer. Jamie also got his height from their father. He was tall and gangly for his age. His hazel eyes were the only similarity he shared with Abby.

Ric ruffled Jamie's hair as he walked past. “How's it going, Jamie?”

He shrugged. “Is Lucian home?”

“Uh, yeah. He's probably in the theater. You know the way, right?”

Jamie walked into the house without saying anything else.

Ric placed Cooper on the ground. “Go inside with your brother. I am going to help Mama with your bags.”

Cooper chirped, “Okay, Uncle Ric.”

Ric watched the boys enter the house before walking over to the car. He tickled Savannah’s leg to make her smile at him. “Is everything okay with Jamie?”

Abby balanced Savannah on her hip as she grabbed bags from the back of the car. Packing light wasn’t an option with three children. “He's been sulking all morning. I don't know what's going on with him. I even let him play that game you bought for him.”

Ric sighed and took the bags from Abby. “I will talk to him. Are you okay being here after what happened to Bonnie?”

She tucked a curl behind her ear and nodded. “I mean if Bonnie can stand being here, then so can I. Besides, it's not as if he is here.”

He pecked her cheek with a nod. It was hard keeping their interactions platonic but Jo and his girls were inside. “I'll take care of the bags. You can go inside. I’m sure you are eager to see Bonnie.”

“Okay. I will see you inside.” Abby walked into the house. She made her way into the kitchen and smiled when she heard Chaka Khan belting out Through the Fire.

Bonnie was at the island cutting up vegetables. “Hey!”

Abby hugged her and said, “You got started without me.”

“Not really it's just the prep work. I am glad that you are here. You can leave Savannah in the playroom if you want. The nannies are in there with younger the kids,” Bonnie explained.

Savannah tucked her head against Abby’s neck.

She said, “I don't think Miss Savannah is going to be happy with that. It's almost nap time for her. I'll put her down in a bit.”

Bonnie said, “Well, you can just hang in here with us if you want. We could use the company.”

Abby sat down with Savannah on her lap.

Bonnie smiled at her little sister. The toddler was a perfect mix of Abby and Ric. She wondered how Jo never saw it. Savannah had curly sandy brown hair and dark hazel eyes. Her olive toned skin made her look even more like Ric. “She's getting so big.”

“Yes, she is. At least she is calmer than the boys were at this age. They were little terrors.” She quickly added, “That I loved dearly.”

Bonnie hated the part of her that was jealous of her younger siblings. There was always the little voice in the back of her head that wondered why Abby stuck around for them and not her. The mature part of Bonnie knew it wasn’t as simple as that. Abby was barely 18 years old when she gave birth to Bonnie. She knew all too well how hard it was to be a young wife and mother. “Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?”

“Started and finished. I ordered everything online. The boys’ wish lists were crazy this year but I managed to find everything. I still might get a few things during the Cyber Monday sales. What about you?”

“Lucy and I did some shopping today and yesterday. Nevertheless, I will probably do the bulk of my shopping online, too. It is just easier that way.”

Lucy smirked as she shredded blocks of cheese. She said, “Well, Santa came early for me this year. I went out with Brady Lockwood last night.”

The younger girl huffed out a laugh. “Lucy got a text from him and she was out the door ten minutes later.”

“Lucy never wastes time when it comes to men,” Abby teased. “She sees what she wants and takes it.”

Lucy gave Abby a knowing look. “I could say the same about you, cuz.”

She coughed to cover a laugh. “Well, I suppose it is a Benedetto trait. It might as well be our family’s motto.”

Bonnie hummed in agreement. She was working on getting what she wanted. “How was it?”

Lucy winked. “I'm seeing him again tonight. He is everything I thought that he would be in bed…not that we ever found ourselves in a bed last night. I was right about him liking to fuck against walls.”

Abby laughed and said, “Don’t talk like that around Savannah. She repeats everything these days.”

Lucy smiled at her younger cousin and said, “You aren’t going to repeat that, are you?”

Savannah just looked at Lucy with curious eyes.

Lucy gave the girl a small chunk of cheddar cheese and chuckled as she promptly shoved it into her mouth. “I think we have a deal.”

Abby laughed softly. “Where is Caroline?”

“She had to work today. Liz’s company is always busy this time of year. Tons of Christmas related events to plan during December. Care will be here tonight to help us cook.”

Abby asked, “What’s on the menu, anyway?”

Lucy grabbed several laminated pieces paper and handed them to Abby. The list detailed everything they would be cooking for Thanksgiving. There was even a schedule for when each dish should start and finish cooking. “Your daughter is a level of neurotic that I am unfamiliar with.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes. “Caroline is the one that scheduled everything. You would know that if you hadn't ditched us to go see Brady last night.”

The eldest Bennett woman smiled wistfully. “These are some of Mama's greatest hits when it comes to cooking a holiday dinner. It is going to be amazing. I am proud of you baby girl.”

“It's just dinner, Mom.” Bonnie couldn’t remember a time her mother had ever said that to her. She didn’t know how to take it.

“I am not talking about dinner. I mean that I am proud of the woman that you have become. I would have crumbled after what happened to you. You are everything that I never could be and I am proud of you. My greatest regret is not doing better by you. You deserved a better mother and you had one in your grams. I know because she was a damn good mother to me, too.”

The girl blinked in confusion. “Mom…”

Abby shook her head. “I'm sorry. I just needed to say that. I needed you to hear that from me. Okay? I should go put Savannah down for her nap.”

Bonnie washed her hands. “I will come with you.”

The two women left the kitchen in silence. They took the left staircase to enter the west wing of the house. Abby had stayed in the same room at the manor since she was a little girl.

Bonnie pushed the door open. “My old room next door is set up for the boys. But they will probably end up crashing in the playroom. Stefan has a bunch of activities planned to keep the kids occupied tonight and tomorrow.”

Abby walked into the room and smiled at the fresh flowers. “Gardenias are my favorite. Thank you, Bonnie.”

“Those aren't from me. You might want to check the card. Here give her to me.”

Abby shifted Savannah into Bonnie’s arms. “Go to Sissy.”

She walked over to the nightstand and took a moment to smell the flowers. Then she picked the card and read it.

*You are my heart, forever and always*

Bonnie bounced Savannah gently and hummed to her. She smiled looking at her tiny fingers.

Abby picked up a small velvet ring box that was sitting beside the vase. She opened the box and gasped softly at the ring. “Shit…”

Bonnie craned her neck to see what was inside the box. “Wow.”

The older caramel skin woman sat on the side of her bed and plucked the ring from the box. The white gold ring featured filigree accents with a four-carat canary yellow diamond. She explained, “His way of apologizing.”

“That is quite an apology.”

She smiled and slipped the ring onto her finger. “He's not great with words.”

Bonnie snorted. “Neither is Damon. I'd prefer words over fancy gifts that I can afford to buy for myself.”

“Have you told him that?”

“No. I just pretend that I don’t know his assistant is the one that chooses the gifts he gives to me and Sarah.”

Abby said, “Your marriage is still new enough to make changes. I made that mistake with your dad. I kept letting things slide until I wanted to kill him. The constant disrespect and his controlling nature drove me insane. The string of mistresses certainly didn't help.” She frowned and added, “Yes, I see the irony in all of this. Trust me. Sometimes I wish I could do it all over again but then that would be wishing away my children.”

Bonnie sat beside Abby. “Are you talking about my dad or theirs?”

“Both. He takes me for granted just as much as Rudy did. He just doesn't feel the need to berate me at every turn as your father did. He doesn't call me a worthless whore in front our children as Rudy did. But this is my bed and now I have to lie in it.” She studied the ring on her finger with a tired expression. Abby didn’t want to wear the ring but Ric would be offended if she didn’t.

Bonnie was confused. She knew that her father wasn't a great guy but this was new information. “What are you saying?”

Abby shook her head. She had said too much. “I am saying to be smarter than me, baby girl. If you aren't happy, then change it. Don't wait for the man you love to do it because ultimately they are selfish. They will do whatever they think that they can get away with.”

Bonnie thought about Damon's false promise to end his relationship with Katherine. Even if he did stop seeing her, it was obvious that he planned to keep sleeping with other women. Just last night he had been with Andie. “I should get back to the kitchen to help Lucy.”

Abby took Savannah and nodded with a small smile. “I won’t be long,” she promised.

Bonnie walked down to the kitchen feeling shaken. She had never seen her mother like that before.

Lucy slowly lowered her wine glass. “What happened? Do I need to cuss out Abby?”

The younger girl shook her head. “No, she was actually helpful. I need you to find someone's location for me.”

“Okay. Who are we talking about here?”

Bonnie took out her phone and typed a quick text to her cousin.

Lucy opened the message and raised an eyebrow in question. “You know I'm down for whatever but you need to be sure.”

“I know what I'm doing, Luce.”

The elder of the two wasn’t so sure but she knew how stubborn Bonnie could be once she made up her mind. “I'll take care of it. I should have something for you by tomorrow.”

“Thank you.” She washed her hands and went back to chopping up vegetables.

Chapter Text

Bonnie stifled a yawn as she slowly climbed the stairs. It was only ten o’clock and she was already dead on her feet. There was still work to do if they wanted to remain on schedule for tomorrow. However, Bonnie had decided to take a break in order to check on Sarah. She was still concerned about how her little girl was coping with being home. Fortunately, she had found Sarah fast asleep in the playroom with the rest of the children. Stefan’s plan to tire out the kids had worked like a charm. It seemed that only Ric and Jo’s twins were still awake.

She yawned again as she walked down the corridor to her mother’s room. Bonnie had decided to check on Abby before returning to the kitchen. Her mother had hastily fled the room with a weak excuse. That had been well over an hour ago and she never returned. Abby’s departure had come literally minutes after Jo stopped in to grab a snack before heading to bed for the night. Bonnie had nearly cut her finger when Jo offered to set Abby up on a blind date with a neurosurgeon from the hospital. Jo had jokingly said that Abby wasn’t getting any younger. The little jab made Bonnie wonder if Jo knew about Abby and Alaric’s affair.

Bonnie knocked on the door. “Mom? Are you in there?”

Abby opened the door a few seconds later. Her eyes were red and puffy as if she had been crying. However, she put on a brave face for Bonnie. “I promise that I still plan to help you cook. I just needed a little time to collect myself.”

“I don’t care about that. Lucy, Caroline, and I have everything under control for now. I came to check on you because I was worried. Did your call with Ignacio not go well?” she asked.

The hazel-eyed beauty smiled sadly at her daughter. She had lied about needing to call an old friend in order to get out of the kitchen without suspicion. In truth, she had received a text message from Alaric asking her to meet him in the library. The look on his face when she arrived would be etched into her memory for a long time. “It’s nothing,” she choked.

Bonnie’s eyes widened in surprise because her mother wasn’t prone to emotional outbursts. Sheila had raised them both to believe that lack of control was unbecoming of a Benedetto woman. However, tears were especially loathsome because they were a sign of weakness. Instead of questioning Abby further, she just hugged her. “Just let me know if there is anything I can do to help,” she whispered.

The floodgates opened when Abby wrapped her arms around Bonnie. She was such an absolute failure as a mother. For a time, Abby believed that she was doing a better job with Jamie, Cooper, and Savannah. She was older and more prepared to be a mother by the time Jamie was born. Yet somehow, she had managed to fail them just as spectacularly as she had failed Bonnie.

Bonnie quietly ushered her mother into the bedroom and closed the door. She knew that Abby would not appreciate anyone else seeing her in this state. Afterwards, she just stood there and allowed her mother to cry for as long as she needed it. Bonnie could practically feel the despair spilling out of her mother and it was painful. Sometimes Bonnie had moments like this, when she felt helpless. Those were the times that she went to the beach house for a few hours. There she had the privacy to scream and cry at the very top of her lungs to release all of her pain and frustration. When she returned to the manor, her mask would be firmly in place again.

Abby pulled away when she had herself more under control. She dried her eyes and shook her head. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize. We all have our moments. I know being here with Jo can’t be easy for you,” Bonnie replied. She figured a lost job prospect wouldn’t be enough to make Abby spiral out in this way.

Abby shook her head and slowly sat down on the settee near the window. “I have never been jealous of Jo. I had the opportunity to be Alaric’s wife and I turned him down. I still think it is the best decision that I ever made. I love that man but the idea of being bound to him legally scares me to death. What we have is complicated and unfulfilling but marriage doesn’t guarantee anything. Alaric is never going to leave me and he’s never going to leave Jo. We’re in this eternal stalemate until one of us dies—it will probably be Alaric with his complete disregard for his health.”

Bonnie sat beside her mother. “Then what’s wrong?

“I didn’t leave the kitchen to call Ignacio. I went to see Ric. He had just finished talking to Jamie. Your little brother has been in a shitty mood all day. I just chalked it up to him being an angst riddled preteen. You certainly had your moods when you were his age,” Abby said.

Bonnie smiled a little at that. When she was a little girl, she would be on her best behavior whenever Abby spent time with her. She had foolishly hoped that by being a good girl that her mother would stay. However, as she got older she realized that was never going to happen. After her epiphany, Bonnie’s attitude toward Abby was unpredictable from day to day. Sometimes she wanted be her mother’s sweet girl. Other times she took great pleasure in seeing her mother flinch at her unkind words. Bonnie was never disrespectful because Sheila wouldn’t allow it. However, her grandmother never stopped her from being truthful about Abby’s failures. She asked, “Is Jamie okay?”

Abby shook her head. “We’ve both talked to him now but he’s still confused. More than that, he’s hurting and it’s all my fault. He overheard my conversation with Uncle Johnny this morning.”

Bonnie tensed at the mention of Big John. She hoped that her mother hadn’t done something unwise like tell him about what Giuseppe had done to her. If Big John learned the truth, he would take away her leverage by striking out against the Salvatores.

She noted the look on her daughter’s face. “It was just a routine call, baby girl. I talk to him once a week. He likes to keep in touch. He worries about me. Besides, I wouldn’t tell him what happened to you unless it became necessary. I know that you have your own thing going. I’m not trying to step on that.”

The green-eyed girl relaxed visibly. “Why would a conversation with Uncle Johnny upset Jamie?”

Abby raked her fingers through her curly brown hair. “We were arguing about Alaric—again. It has become routine since I moved to Huntington Beach to be closer to him. I thought Jamie was outside playing with Cooper. He had come back inside to get something to drink and overheard me say that Alaric was his father.”

Bonnie stared at her mother in disbelief. She knew a little something about learning uncomfortable truths about one’s parents. She was a little younger than Jamie was when she learned that Rudy had essentially sold her to Sheila. Bonnie had been heartbroken by the revelation. She refused to speak to her father for years. Sometimes Rudy would call to speak to Bonnie but she would only hold the phone silently. Once she was older, Bonnie understood that her father didn’t really have a choice. Sheila would have killed him if he refused to sign away his parental rights. However, by then Rudy was a bitter man and no longer cared to have a relationship with his daughter. It was petty to hold a grudge against a teenager but that was exactly what Rudy had done.

“Oh my God.”

Abby said, “He’s devastated and confused. Who can blame him? He’s been calling Ric ‘Uncle’ for as long as he can remember. Now he learns that this man is his father. He had questions. He had so many questions. We tried to answer all of them with as much detail as is appropriate for a 12 year old. He’s furious with Ric. I’ve never seen him angry before. Jamie is my sweet little boy. Things usually roll off him like water off a ducks back. But not this…”

Bonnie asked, “He’s only mad at Ric?”

Abby sighed deeply and nodded. “I was crying while talking to Uncle Johnny. Things have been stressful with Ric because he doesn’t want me working as a choreographer. It got worse after our argument yesterday about you. I’m faking it for Ric but things are tense. We’ll sort it out eventually…we always do. I don’t know exactly how much of the conversation Jamie heard but it was enough to make him worried about me.”

Bonnie nodded in understanding. Whatever her issues with Abby she would never stand for someone hurting her mother. She could only assume Jamie felt a similar connection to Abby. “Why should he have a problem with you working? Jo works 60 freaking hours a week.”

“Oh, Ric is perfectly fine with me working. He just doesn’t want me working as a choreographer. He’s worried that I’ll end up getting a job as some artist’s tour choreographer,” Abby explained.

The younger woman suddenly understood his fear. Abby had gone on tour with music artists in the past as their choreographer. She always hired a pair of nannies so that she could take the kids with her. Bonnie had to imagine that it wasn’t easy getting Abby to agree to settle down in the first place. For such a short marriage, Rudy had certainly done a number on her mother. Abby hated feeling confined or controlled. Although, Bonnie sometimes wondered if at least some of that phobia was related to Sheila. Her grandmother wasn’t abusive like Giuseppe was but she ruled her family with an iron fist. Her word had been as good as law and there was no room for disagreement. Bonnie couldn’t think of anything worse than disappointing Sheila. She had hidden the worst experience in her life from her grandmother for fear of that disappointment.

Bonnie asked, “What are you guys going to do about Jamie?”

Abby sighed softly. “Ric promised to sit Jo and the girls down after Christmas to tell them some version of the truth. All of this is an absolute disaster. I hate having to ask Jamie to keep secrets for me.”

Bonnie nodded in understanding. “I know this isn’t ideal but you couldn’t have meant to keep this a secret forever.”

“No. We had a plan. It wasn’t a very good plan but it was something. Ric wanted to wait until Lizzie and Josie graduated from high school. We don’t have that luxury anymore.”

She could understand the appeal of that option. However, the cat was out of the bag now and there was definitely going to be fallout from this. Bonnie felt terrible for the children caught in the middle. She even felt bad for her mother and Jo. This couldn’t be what they thought their lives would be when they were young women. Bonnie couldn’t believe that two intelligent women were letting Alaric make fools out of them this way. Then again, Bonnie had killed Freddie today without a second thought yet she allowed Damon to humiliate her with his infidelity. She was hardly in a position to judge anyone’s relationship.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked. Bonnie’s relationship with her mother had peaks and valleys. However, she had always adored her little brothers and sister.

Abby suggested, “Maybe you could spend a little time with Jamie. He might feel more comfortable talking to you than he does with Alaric or me. Well, he’s not actually speaking to Ric at the moment but you get my point.”

“I can definitely do that,” Bonnie replied.

Abby squeezed her hand. “Thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me for looking out for my little brother.”

Abby smiled a little. “You shouldn’t leave Lucy alone for too long. She’ll end up putting too much nutmeg in the béchamel sauce.”

Bonnie chuckled. “She does do that, doesn’t she?”

She nodded. “She gets it from Aunt Geneva. They’re always so heavy handed with the seasonings. It used to drive Mama crazy.”

Bonnie squeezed Abby’s shoulder when she stood up. The girl winced when she was hit with a wave if dizziness. “Jamie is going to get through this because he has a family that loves him. He is going to get through this because he is a Benedetto. We bend but never break. And we always…always survive.”

Abby huffed out a laugh. “Don’t let Ric hear you say that. He gets his knickers all up in a twist when I say that.”

“Well, maybe if he had stepped up and claimed his own children then he’d have some sort of argument. But he didn’t. They are Benedettos just as we are,” Bonnie said.

Abby couldn’t have agreed with Bonnie more. She had worked hard over the years to ensure that her identity didn’t get lost in the maelstrom that was the Salvatore family.

Bonnie walked out of the room and headed back to the kitchen.

Tyler was standing near the island with a box in his hands. He should have been off duty two hours ago. However, Matt was running late. The Donovans were meeting with Tyler’s father and uncles. They were working out the details of killing Atticus Shane in prison. He was set to go before the parole board in a few months. However, his betrayal of the Benedetto family had marked him for death. Moreover, as Giuseppe’s godson he was too much of a wildcard. Bonnie didn’t want any pretenders challenging Damon for the throne.

“Hey, Bon. This came for you earlier. Sorry about it being opened but all mail and packages are being inspected first. It’s just a precaution but…”

Bonnie frowned because she wasn’t expecting anything. She wondered if this was another gift from Rose on Damon’s behalf. She walked over to take the box from him.

Tyler held the box away from her and said, “It’s actually pretty heavy. There are a couple of books in here. I’ll just put it on the table for you.”

Bonnie playfully rolled her eyes at Tyler. He had been needlessly fussing over her since he learned that she was pregnant. However, she followed him over to the table and inspected the package. She pulled out three leather bound volumes. “Thanks, Ty.”

He lifted an eyebrow and asked, “Edgar Allen Poe? They look old.”

The young woman’s stomach plummeted when she saw the author’s name in gold lettering on the spine of the book. “They are first editions,” she muttered.

Bonnie opened the first book and studied the table of contents. She quickly discarded the book and moved on to the second one. Her finger slid down the page until it stopped on the title of a poem. Bonnie flipped through the pages so quickly that she nearly tore a page.

“Bon?” Tyler asked with concern coloring his voice.

Bonnie’s heart nearly stopped when she saw beautifully drawn orchids defacing the priceless book.

Tyler peered over Bonnie’s shoulder and noticed that she had stopped on the poem Annabel Lee. He vaguely remembered reading the poem in high school. “What’s wrong?”

Bonnie slammed the book shut with shaking hands. “Get rid of them. I want them out of the house. Now!”

Her raised voice drew Caroline and Lucy’s attention from across the room. “Bonnie?” Lucy said with trepidation.

She clapped a hand over her mouth and rushed from the room as a wave of nausea overtook her. Bonnie ran down the hall to the bathroom that was fortunately empty. She slammed the door closed behind her and proceeded to throw up.

Tyler stood outside the bathroom feeling agitated. He didn’t understand why a box of old books would send Bonnie into a tizzy. However, he had recognized the genuine fear in her eyes. The package hadn’t listed a sender. The dubious origin of the package was one of the reasons that security had taken so long to pass it on to Bonnie. They had inspected every inch of the package to ensure that it wasn’t malicious.  Tyler could only assume that it was a message of some sort. However, a list of suspects didn’t immediately come to mind. It was too benign to have come from Giuseppe. Tyler took out his phone and googled the poem that had caused Bonnie so much distress. Perhaps the context would give him a clue.

His brown eyes flicked over the screen rapidly as he studied the words. He didn’t feel any closer to an answer after he finished reading the poem. He knocked on the door. “Bon? Are you okay?”

Damon was headed to the study when he heard Tyler’s voice. He walked into the corridor and asked, “What’s going on?”

Tyler tensed at Damon’s sudden intrusion. He hadn’t even noticed the man’s presence until he spoke. Tyler was annoyed at himself for being so distracted that he didn’t sense his approach. He said, “I’m not sure. Bonnie just ran out of the kitchen. I think she might be sick or something.”

The older man eyed Tyler with no small amount of suspicion. Damon quickly dismissed the thought. He was being jealous for no reason. “I can take it from here.”

Tyler didn’t like the idea of leaving Bonnie when something was obviously wrong. He certainly didn’t like the idea of leaving her in Damon’s care. However, he nodded reluctantly and walked away from the bathroom door to give husband and wife some privacy. In the meantime, he would find out more about how that package had arrived.

“Bunny?” Damon called through the door. “Open the door, sweetheart.”

Bonnie looked shaky when she opened the door. She was still sick to her stomach. However, more pressing was the absolute terror at her past coming back to haunt her.  “I’m fine. It’s just a little morning sickness.”

Damon could smell the vomit as soon as he stepped into the bathroom. He frowned when he saw how peaked Bonnie looked. He flushed the toilet and put the lid down. “Sit down, bunny,” he murmured.

Bonnie slowly sat down because her head was still spinning. She had hoped that five years would be enough time. She should have known better. Few things truly scared the young woman. However, this situation was delicate. She couldn’t kill the person causing her this distress. His death would no doubt spark a bloody war. Bonnie couldn’t allow that to happen.

Damon found a washcloth and soaked it with cold water from the faucet. He wrung out the cloth and then placed it on the back of Bonnie’s neck. “Maybe you are overdoing it with all of the cooking. You are pregnant and you are still recovering from what happened. You should be resting.”

The cool towel on the back of her neck actually felt good. She closed her eyes and tried to settle her stomach. “It’s just morning sickness, Damon. I would be sick rather I was in bed or not. Although, I’m sure no one is going to want to eat Thanksgiving dinner prepared by someone that keeps throwing up.”

Damon chuckled quietly. “I think you severely underestimate the strength of a Salvatore man’s stomach.”

Bonnie groaned softly as another wave of nausea hit her. She was up and leaning over the toilet in a matter of seconds.

His smile fell away when Bonnie started vomiting again. He moved forward and swept Bonnie’s hair away from her neck so that it didn’t get in the way. “Try not to struggle against it. It’ll just make your abdominal muscles hurt more.”

She groaned once she stopped throwing up. “This is so gross. You should go. I’ll be okay, Damon.”

Damon said, “I grew up in a house with all boys. This doesn’t even graze my gross meter. Stef once threw up in my bed with me in it.”

Bonnie groaned as she laughed. She lowered the lid and sat down again. Bonnie flushed the toilet and sprayed the room with air freshener because the smell of vomit was making her sick all over again. “Don’t make me laugh.”

“I’m being serious. The little bastard was maybe 8 or 9 years old. He wanted to sleep in my bed because he had the chicken pox. He was miserable and had a fever. I couldn’t say no to him. He fell asleep while I was slathering him with that pink ointment stuff. I had just closed my eyes so that I could go to sleep, too. The next thing I know Stefan whines something I couldn’t really understand. He puked on the bed and on me. Then he rolled over and went right back to sleep.”

Bonnie covered her mouth as she laughed. Damon didn’t know how much she needed a little levity at the moment. “What did you do?”

Damon leaned against the counter and shrugged. “I took a shower and then moved Stefan to the room across the hall for the night. My bed needed a serious cleaning after he spewed chunks all over it.”

Bonnie giggled with a shake of her head. “You were a good big brother. I don’t think I would have been that calm.”

“Eh, don’t even get me started on his bed wetting phase. There’s nothing like waking up to realize that someone else has pissed in your bed,” Damon replied with a mischievous grin. 

“Now that sounds like amazing blackmail material. How old was he? Please, tell me that he was at an age where wetting the bed officially becomes a faux pas,” Bonnie pleaded.

He smirked and asked, “What sort of brother would I be if I gave you ammunition to ridicule my baby brother?”

“I don’t know but you’d be an awesome husband,” she argued.

Damon chuckled and said, “Well, that’s dirty pool on your part, wife. I am officially Switzerland between the two of you. I have good blackmail material on you, too.”

“No, you don’t,” Bonnie said dismissively. She noted the smirk on his face. “Do you?”

“My lips are sealed,” he replied. Damon carded his fingers through Bonnie’s hair. “Are you felling any better?”

She nodded. “Yeah. I think it has passed for now. Besides, I doubt that there is anything in left in my stomach to throw up. I just need to brush my teeth.”

Damon helped Bonnie stand up. “Come on. I’ll walk upstairs with you.”

Bonnie moved by him to wash her hands before leaving the bathroom. She still felt a little unsteady and it was immediately obvious once she started climbing the stairs.

Damon’s eyebrows furrowed in concern at the way Bonnie gripped the banister. He swept his wife off her feet without warning.

She flailed a little at the sudden movement. “Damon!”

He carried Bonnie up the stairs easily. He said, “You looked like you were going to fall.”

“I wasn’t going to fall. I just had a head rush,” she argued.

Damon hummed skeptically but didn’t put Bonnie down until he reached their bedroom. “Maybe you should try lying down for a bit after you brush your teeth.”

She frowned. “I need to get back to the kitchen. It was my big idea to give Sophie the holiday off. I can’t leave everyone else to cook without me.”

He cupped her cheek and said, “Your health is more important than dinner. I know the holiday is important to you but this is important to me. Caroline, Abby, and Lucy can manage without you. If not I’ll pitch in to help them.”

Bonnie laughed. “You don’t know how to cook.”

He rolled his eyes because she was right. He knew enough about cooking that he wouldn’t starve if left to his own devices. However, he didn’t know enough to accomplish Bonnie’s ambitious holiday menu. “Then I’ll draft Ric into service. Zio Bruno taught him how to cook.”

She huffed. “You aren’t going to give up on this are you?”

“Nope,” he replied.

Bonnie sighed. “It feels like you are putting me in time out and I don’t like it.”

Damon just raised an eyebrow at her.

“Fine.  I am a little tired so I will lie down for exactly one hour. No longer than that, Damon.”

He grinned and said, “There’s my girl.”

She shook her head in exasperation and continued into the bathroom. Bonnie called over her shoulder, “I think I might be too hot.”

Damon walked over to the thermostat and lowered their room’s temperature. Afterwards, he stripped down to his boxers and pulled on a pair of pajamas. If he got his way, Bonnie would be staying in bed for the rest of the night.

Bonnie walked out of the bathroom a few minutes later with minty fresh breath and a freshly washed face. Her steps slowed when she realized that Damon was in the bed. “What are you doing?”

He chuckled. “I thought we could spend your timeout together.”

She toed off her ballerina flats and climbed into the bed that was really too high for her. Bonnie said, “You aren’t funny.”

Damon pulled her across the bed with a grin. “You are so cute when you pout. Are you going to be this stubborn for the whole pregnancy?”

Bonnie settled into his arms and but didn’t answer him.

He nuzzled her neck and sing-songed, “Bunny.”

She bit her lip as she tried to ignore his antics.

“Bon-Bon,” he tried again. When Damon was met with silence again, he tickled Bonnie’s side.

Bonnie huffed out an unexpected laugh and squirmed. “Stop that.”

He chuckled and said, “She speaks!” Damon slid his hand onto her stomach. “I just want to make sure that you’re healthy. I promise I won’t be overbearing.”

She scoffed at Damon’s promise because she knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep it.

“Okay. I promise that I will try not to be overbearing. Better?” he asked.

“More believable at least,” she replied. Bonnie stifled a yawn.

Damon smiled smugly but wisely kept his mouth shut. Instead, he carded his fingers through Bonnie’s hair hoping that she would fall asleep.

Bonnie wished that she could tell Damon about the danger looming over her. However, she was too ashamed to tell anyone—including Tyler. In quiet moments, she still wondered how she could have been so gullible. Bonnie didn’t cut herself any slack because of her age at the time. She had been raised to take over a criminal empire and somehow she had become prey. The girl said a silent prayer for guidance as she felt her body giving in to exhaustion.

Chapter Text

Bonnie excelled at being the quintessential mob wife. She knew how to be charming and demure around her husband and his business associates. She was always careful not to outshine Damon because his ego couldn’t handle it. However, she commanded the respect commiserate with her station when socializing with the other wives. It didn’t matter that she was a decade or more younger than some of her counterparts. She held herself in a way that let them know she wasn’t to be discounted. Unfortunately, the age disparity meant that Bonnie didn’t have many friends. Either she was too young to have anything in common with them or they were too far down on the food chain to join her social circle.

Damon hated the tedious nature of these social gatherings. It was always a careful dance ensuring that no one felt disrespected or slighted. It became an even more complicated prospect when dealing with the Mikaelson family. The Mikaelsons and Salvatores had been allies for several decades. They survived the mob war 30 years ago because of their alliance. However, hurt feelings and misunderstandings could damage even the strongest relationship. Therefore, Damon always looked to Bonnie to maintain the social relationships between the families. She was responsible for remembering milestones and acquiring the appropriate gifts. She reminded him about the key details in the lives of the men loyal to both families. He knew the men but he often drew a blank on their wives and children. Whereas Rose ran Damon’s life in the realm of legitimate business, Bonnie ran this side of his life.

Normally, Bonnie played her role of the dutiful wife effortlessly. However, today had been something of a struggle for the young woman. She hoped that she managed to keep anyone from noticing but Bonnie was off her game. She had been in a sour mood for days now. She was certain that pregnancy hormones and morning sickness were at least partly responsible for her disposition. It was hard to feel chipper when she was sneaking away to vomit periodically. However, spending the holiday with their family had taken its toll on Bonnie’s psyche and her spirit. Watching her mother and Jo navigate around one another for three straight days was a kind of torture.

Bonnie was certain that she was viewing Abby and Jo’s situation through the prism of her own damaged relationship. She kept feeling as if she was watching a scene arranged by the Ghost of Christmas Future. The young woman couldn’t imagine spending the next twenty years of her life pretending to be deaf, blind, and naïve on the matter of Damon’s dalliances. It was hard enough suppressing her more violent tendencies around him. She found it laughable how soundly Damon slept beside a woman that could slit someone’s throat and then go about her day as if nothing happened. Bonnie had moments when she wanted to unleash her darker nature to show her loving husband exactly whom he married. However, she had worked too hard and sacrificed too much to tip her hand now.

Bonnie was standing beside her ‘devoted’ husband and pretending that she didn’t want to pull out every strand of his luscious raven colored hair. Predictably, Damon was arguing with Elijah Mikaelson about American football versus what the rest of the world called football. The friendly arguments were always ridiculous seeing as the men were avid fans of both sports. Damon and Elijah had even attended a few games together. Bonnie had come to learn that they just enjoyed arguing with one another.

Meanwhile, Hayley gushed about Hope’s part in the Nutcracker. More than anything Bonnie wished that she could be at least a little intoxicated. They had just finished a six-course meal after spending two hours at baby Erik’s christening. Now they were enjoying cocktail hour at the Mikaelson’s mansion. Correction, Damon was enjoying cocktails. Bonnie was stuck drinking sparkling cider and ginger ale. At the very least, the beverages were helping her keep the nausea at bay.  All Bonnie really wanted to do was go home so that she could curl up in her bed.

The best part of her evening had been socializing with Hayley Mikaelson. The 30-year-old woman was as much of a free spirit as one could be while married to a crime lord. Hayley owned an avant-garde art gallery that had become quite popular in recent years. However, the women got along so well because Hayley understood Bonnie in a way that few others could. Hayley had married Elijah, a man 12 years her senior, in order to prevent a mob war ignited by her older brother’s reckless actions. The Labonirs sacrificed their only daughter for the good of the family. The move had also saved their son’s life. The beginning of their marriage had been rocky. Rumors of affairs ran rampant. There had even been questions about Hope’s paternity. When the chaos faded away, it left behind a marriage that was even stronger. Bonnie had hoped the same would happen for her marriage. However, the longer she was with Damon, the harder her heart became towards him.

As if the universe was making fun of Bonnie, a sudden wave of nausea hit her. She tried sipping her ginger ale but it didn’t help.

Damon felt his wife tense beside him and glanced in her direction. “Are you okay?”

She nodded and flashed a winning smile. “I’m fine. Could you just excuse me for a moment?”

He eyed her with some concern but pecked her cheek. “Hurry back.”

Bonnie placed her glass on a nearby table and calmly walked out of the room.

Hayley quickly caught up with her. “Follow me.”

The younger woman didn’t even question her. She followed Hayley into a guest room on the first floor.

“You can use the bathroom in there. No one should be coming in here to disturb you.”

Bonnie raced into the bathroom and lifted the toilet lid just as she began to vomit. She hadn’t been able to eat much at the restaurant but it was all coming back up in a blaze of glory now. She slowly stood up after ensuring that her stomach was empty. Bonnie flushed the toilet and put the lid down. She couldn’t have been more embarrassed.

Hayley stood in the doorway. “There are new toothbrushes, mouthwash, and travel sized toothpastes in the drawer to your left.”

Bonnie smiled in gratitude. “Thank you.” She easily located the items and rinsed her mouth before brushing her teeth.

The older woman left the bathroom to give Bonnie some privacy but waited in the guestroom for her. Hayley had a seat in a chair by the door. She was glad to know that Bonnie was simply pregnant. She had been concerned about the girl all evening. Hayley could tell that something was wrong but couldn't quite put her finger on it.

Bonnie emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later wearing a sheepish smile. “I am so sorry. I don't know what came over me.”

Hayley said, “There is no need to apologize, Bonnie. I have been there before—dozens of times. How far along are you?”

“I’m 14 weeks pregnant…with twins,” she confessed. Bonnie didn’t see the point in lying to Hayley now.

Her face lit up. “Congratulations! I am so happy for you.”

“Thank you. But we’re not really telling anyone just yet…”

Hayley nodded. “I understand. I promise that I won’t say anything to anyone. Are you excited? I can’t believe that you are having twins!”

Everyone had been waiting for Bonnie to get pregnant since marrying Damon. Some of the wives had begun to wonder if the young woman had fertility issues. They knew Damon couldn’t be the problem since he already had a daughter. However, others wondered if he was too busy sleeping around to do his duty as her husband. Fortunately, Bonnie’s pregnancy would finally silence those rumors.

“I am excited, but I’m a little scared, too.”

“That’s natural. I was terrified when Hope was born. I was even more of a nervous wreck after Julian was born,” she replied.

Hayley didn't need to explain Julian’s importance. The pressure to have a son had been unbearable after Hope was born.

Bonnie asked, “Does it get easier with time?”

She nodded, “Of course it does. I finally had a handle on motherhood once Helena and then Erik came along. I’m not nearly as neurotic as I used to be. I have learned that there is no such thing is a perfect mother. I wish someone had told me that in the beginning.”

Bonnie said, “Being a mom to Sarah was easy. I mean she was already a year old when I married Damon. I am worried about having two tiny people needing me to always be at my best.”

Hayley said, “You have a close knit family, take advantage of that. I certainly did. Esther and Rebekah kept me sane after Hope was born. And there is no shame in making use of your nanny in the middle of the night. An exhausted mommy is no good for anyone.”

Bonnie didn’t have much of a support system at the manor but she knew that Caroline would have her back. She was definitely her best friend. Caroline also had invaluable experience in raising twins.

“That is great advice that I will be sure to keep in mind. Thank you, Hayley,” Bonnie replied earnestly.

“You know that I am here if you ever need anything.” Hayley stood up and said, “I should get back out to the party but you can stay in here as long as you like. I’ll let Damon know that you are feeling a little under the weather.”

She smiled. “Thank you. You are a lifesaver.”

Hayley squeezed Bonnie’s hand in support before slipping out of the room.

The younger woman locked the door and turned off the lights. She needed a moment to lie down on the bed. Bonnie was exhausted and still felt sick to her stomach. Cocktail hour was nearly over but Damon had yet to sneak away to talk business with Elijah. She could be stuck there for at least another hour. Bonnie closed her eyes for a moment and willed her stomach to stop churning. She really didn’t want to throw up again.

Lying down in the dark was probably a terrible idea considering she was having trouble sleeping at night. Niklaus had invaded her dreams and turned them into nightmares since she received his gift.

Bonnie was on the edge of sleep when she heard someone walk into the bedroom. Her heart immediately began to beat faster because she knew exactly who it was. A locked door had never been an obstacle for him. However, she foolishly hoped that it was her husband coming to check on her. “Damon?” she asked.

A vicious laugh echoed off the walls as heavy footsteps thudded closer to the bed. “Guess again, love.”

Bonnie recognized the owner of that smooth voice immediately. She fumbled with the lamp on the nightstand until soft light flooded the once darkened bedroom. “Niklaus,” she breathed in a barely audible voice.

Klaus took a moment to drink in Bonnie’s appearance. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. He tenderly cupped her cheek and stroked his thumb over her plump bottom lip.

The young woman clumsily got to her feet so that she was out of his grasp. Bonnie was furious at herself for being so stupid. She should have known that Niklaus would come for her the moment she was alone. She had felt his intense gaze on her from the moment she walked into the church that evening. Bonnie hastily tugged at the hem of her emerald green cocktail dress. She had chosen the dress at Damon’s behest because it accentuated her sharp eyes.

“What are you doing in here, Niklaus?”

He ground his teeth in response to Bonnie’s tone. However, he could forgive her this once since she looked ill. “I saw Hayley shepherd you in here and I got curious when you didn’t rejoin the festivities. Are you unwell, petal?”

Bonnie tensed at the pet name Klaus had given her years ago. She had forgotten how the simple word had the power to strip her bare beneath his hungry eyes. For the briefest moment, Bonnie felt as if she were the powerless girl that had fallen under Niklaus Mikaelson’s spell once upon a time.

Bonnie made a snap decision to keep her pregnancy a secret from him. Klaus was unpredictable when he became enraged. She wouldn’t risk him doing something rash to harm the twins. She stepped into her pumps and afterwards tried to move around him. “It must have been something I ate. I feel better now.  I should return to the party.”

“What is your rush?” he asked with a raised eyebrow. His stormy blue eyes studied Bonnie as if she were a puzzle he was trying to arrange.

Bonnie could have easily caused a commotion that would have drawn attention to their location. However, she couldn’t risk Damon and Niklaus behaving like idiots. The two men had been rivals since they were children. Bonnie had no interest in causing tension between the two families if it was unnecessary.

“We shouldn’t be in here alone. It is not proper. Someone might get the wrong idea,” she explained.

Klaus widened his stance to block her exit. “Well, you have been avoiding me all evening. I thought this might be my only chance to speak to you.”

She had hoped that her efforts to avoid Klaus would have escaped his notice. Bonnie smiled at him sheepishly. “I haven’t been avoiding you, Niklaus. You were busy at the church seeing as you are little Erik’s godfather. Congratulations on that by the way. He is a lucky boy.”

His eyes twinkled as he looked at her. He brushed his fingers through her soft curls. “That doesn’t explain why we didn’t speak at the restaurant. Or why you conveniently chose to chat up my sister when I spoke to Damon earlier.”

Bonnie had to will her body not to flinch away from his touch. It would only encourage the intoxicated man to be rougher with her. She could smell the scotch practically bleeding out of his pores. “I planned to speak to you, Niklaus. I wanted to thank you for the beautiful gift you sent me, but your family and friends have surrounded you all evening. Everyone is thrilled that you are home again.”

He chuckled deeply at the half-truths falling from her painted lips. He cupped her cheek and replied, “Everyone is excited with the exception of you. Isn’t that right, petal?”

This time she shied away from his touch, because she could see that his pupils were dilated. She couldn’t believe that he was high on Erik’s special day. “Please, move, Niklaus. Someone might come looking for me.”

“Damon?” he asked bitterly. He continued, “He slipped off into my brother's office as soon as you disappeared with Hayley. I am sure that he will be occupied for a while.”

Once again, her husband was nowhere to be found when she needed his protection. Yet this time he had no way of knowing that she would need him. This time it was Bonnie’s deception that had left her vulnerable to attack. She knew that dangerous glint in Klaus’ eyes intimately. He was angry with Bonnie and wanted to punish her for the perceived slight. Bonnie edged away from him. “Klaus…”

Niklaus easily picked Bonnie up despite her protestations. Then he placed her on the mid height chest of drawers and wedged himself between her stocking clad legs. Kol had been offering to set him up with whores all week. However, he had turned down all of his brother’s generous overtures. There was only one woman he desired and her name was Bonnie Bennett-Salvatore. He pushed her dress up until he could see the black lace of her panties. A guttural growl escaped his pink lips shocking them both.

Bonnie trembled as she tried to figure a way out of this situation because she knew what came next. “Please,” she pleaded quietly.

Klaus hooked one of his fingers into her panties and pulled them aside so that her perfectly waxed sex was exposed to his heated gaze. He stared at her in silence for what seemed like an eternity. Then he said, “I don’t like that you were trying to avoid me tonight. It makes me think that you didn’t miss me. I missed you during those lonely nights in prison. They would have been a little less lonely if you had written me even once.”

She swallowed thickly but decided not to fight him--yet. Bonnie still clung to the hope that she might be able to talk herself out of this disaster. Dealing with Niklaus was like wrangling a boa constrictor. Struggling just made him clamp down tighter. She dragged her manicured nails up the base of his skull and stroked at his blonde curls soothingly. “I’m married now, Niklaus. You know that, right? I couldn’t write you without Damon or Giuseppe learning the truth.”

His eyes flashed dangerously at Bonnie’s attempt to manipulate him. He grabbed her face in a tight grip and stared at her with unbridled rage. Klaus used his other hand to force two fingers inside of her. He pumped his fingers into her slowly but it still hurt without lubrication or even a hint of arousal. “You know I don’t like when you call me by my given name, petal. What are you supposed to call me? Have I been away so long that you have forgotten our times together?”

Bonnie’s body rebelled against the invading digits by clenching around them painfully. She whispered, “Nik…”

He smiled as his fingers slowed to a stop. He brushed his lips against hers. “That’s better. Yes, I know that you are married to Giuseppe Salvatore’s manwhore heir,” he spit out with distaste. “However, we both know that you should have been my wife. After all, you were mine first. Does he know?”

Bonnie’s mouth snapped shut with a defiant click.

He growled and wrenched her face so that she was looking up at him. He spoke with a taunting lilt to his voice, “Does he know that I had you first? Does he know that my seed was the first you tasted? I should have fucked you when I had the chance then he would have known that you belonged to me.”

Bonnie thanked God everyday that Niklaus had left her intact. He had foolishly thought he was saving her virtue for himself. She couldn’t imagine what Damon would have done if she wasn’t a virgin on their wedding night. Bonnie’s fingers fumbled with the wide garter that held her stockings in place.

Niklaus wrapped his hand around Bonnie’s throat as he became more enraged. “Answer me!”

A metallic click disturbed the silence of the room and briefly confused Klaus. Bonnie saw her opening and pressed a switchblade against his pale throat. She ground out, “I am so fucking tired of men manhandling me as if I am little more than a piece of property. I am not yours, Niklaus. I don’t belong to anyone.”

His blue eyes widened at Bonnie’s unexpected defiance. His adam’s apple bobbed against the cold steel. Klaus went from looking shocked to grinning like a mad man. However, he slowly withdrew his fingers from inside her. “What are you going to do? Are you going to tell Damon about this? The Salvatores wouldn’t risk destroying the alliance…not even for you.”

Sadly, Bonnie knew that Klaus was right. She had known five years ago, too. The alliance was more important than any single person was. It was certainly more important than a teenage girl who was too stupid to keep herself from being violated.

However, she merely smirked at him and pressed the blade against his throat hard enough to nick the skin. “Well, I guess it is a good thing that I am not a Salvatore. I am a Benedetto and I give exactly zero fucks about the alliance. I would stand aside and watch you all cut each other down until only my family is left standing.”

Klaus studied the feral look on the young woman’s face with interest. Something in her had changed. She was not the same girl that had fallen for his pretty words once upon a time. He took a step back and raised his hands in the universal sign of surrender.

Just then, someone tried the door. Damon called out, “Bonnie?”

Bonnie stared at Klaus and whispered, “Should we test your theory?”

Klaus couldn’t tell if Bonnie truly meant her threat or not. He decided now was not the time to find out. He lifted her from the chest of drawers and placed her on the ground. “I’ll be seeing you again…soon,” he promised.

Bonnie watched him disappear into the bathroom to hide. She fixed her appearance and tucked the switchblade into the small pouch sewn into her garter. Bonnie had sworn that she would never again be unarmed after Giuseppe had caught her off guard. She grabbed her purse and then she opened the door, “Hey.”

Damon gave her a worried look. “Are you okay, bunny? Hayley said that you weren’t feeling well.”

“I’m fine now. It was just a little morning sickness. I didn’t mean to stay in here for so long. I think that I might have dozed off for a minute. I have been feeling tired all day. I’m sorry, Damon,” Bonnie replied while she feigned embarrassment.

He kissed her sweetly. “No, I am sorry for keeping you here this long. I should have made our excuses after dinner. We can leave now. Sarah is exhausted, too. Stefan has already taken her out to the car.”

Bonnie said, “Thank you.”

Damon rested his hand on the small of her back as they walked into the living room. “You can go outside while I say goodbye to Elijah.”

“Are you sure? I can always call Tyler to pick us up,” she offered. Truthfully, Bonnie was craving the safety of Tyler’s presence.

He shook his head. “No, I can talk to Elijah some other time. I am going to go home with you and Sarah.”

She nodded and said, “I will see you outside then.”

As she made her way to the foyer, she saw Klaus emerge from the shadows with a glass in hand. He looked at her pointedly and then smelled the two fingers that had been inside her just minutes ago.

Bonnie walked out of the house so fast that she walked right into Stefan’s broad chest.

He wrapped an arm around her body. “Are you okay, Bon?”

She looked up with startled eyes. “Oh, I am fine. I just feel a little light headed.”

Stefan said, “Let me help you to the car.”

Bonnie allowed Stefan to lead her downhill to the idling SUV. She climbed into the car where Sarah was already waiting with their driver. “Thanks, Stef.”

The little girl was engrossed in the movie playing overhead. “Look, Mama.”

She smiled. “I see, bambolina. Enjoy your movie.”

“Can I get anything for you, Bon?” Stefan asked.

She shook her head. “No, I will be fine. I just need to get home. It's been a long day.”

He nodded in agreement. He had been ready to go home hours ago but this was part of taking a bigger role in the family business. He said, “Damon will be out soon.”

Bonnie relaxed once he closed the door. Her heart rate was slowly returning to normal. Klaus was a problem. He was as violent and unpredictable as he had always been. He was also back to using drugs again if his pupils had been any indication. The only good news for Bonnie was that they had no reason cross paths routinely. He certainly wouldn’t be making any appearances at the manor. Damon and Elijah were friends. However, he and Klaus hated each other. As teens and even into their early twenties, they were always competing against one another. Damon and Klaus were always trying to outdo each other with their cars, girlfriends, and parties. However, there was one place that Damon would always best Niklaus—he was the eldest Salvatore and therefore would be head of the family one day.

Bonnie hadn’t realized it at the time but Niklaus had been using her. He probably thought that getting Bonnie to fall in love with him would have forced Sheila into arranging a marriage between them. However, he couldn’t have imagined the plans the girl’s grandmother had for her life. Bonnie was raised to be a Trojan horse that the Salvatores foolishly allowed through their gates.

Damon climbed into the car a few minutes later and the driver pulled away from the Mikaelson Mansion. “Stefan said that you are feeling light headed. I can stay home with you tonight if you want me to.”

Bonnie knew that he really wanted to go to Klaus’s party. While he wasn’t fond of the Mikaelsons’ third son, he did enjoy strippers like the majority of the male population. She had heard through the grapevine that the party was being held at Klaus’s flagship club. His right hand man, Marcel, had kept his clubs afloat in his absence.  “It’s fine, Damon. I am just going to go to bed. You should go and have fun tonight.”

“Are you sure?”

She nodded. “I am positive. It’s not as if I will be home alone. Meredith will be on hand if I suddenly start to feel worse.”

“Okay. But I want you to call me if anything changes. I’ll come home,” he promised. Then Damon turned his attention to dozens of calls and texts that he had missed.

Bonnie hated that her first thought was that Damon was replying to Katherine or Andie. She didn’t like how paranoid and jealous she was becoming. The young woman decided to close her eyes and allowed herself to doze off on the ride home.

She didn’t stir again until a strong pair of arms lifted her out of the car. She was met by Damon’s smirk when she opened her eyes.

“Is this the part of the pregnancy where you become a narcoleptic?”

She laughed a little as she yawned. She murmured, “I’m sorry. I’ll be better once I get some sleep.”

Damon kissed her forehead as he carried her into the house. “I know. Thank you for being amazing as always. You make those events bearable.”

“I didn’t do anything special.”

He walked up to the master bedroom. Damon chuckled, “You stopped me from calling Andrew’s wife his daughter.”

Bonnie snorted. “Well, it’s not an unreasonable assumption to make. Dinah is my age and Andrew is old enough to be your father.”

Damon placed her on the bed. “She’s wife number three. I wonder how many more wives he’ll have before he finally kicks the bucket.”

“That’s not nice.”

He chuckled and loosened his tie. “It’s not as if you like him either.”

Bonnie said, “That’s because he always stares at my breasts when he speaks to me.”

Damon’s smile faltered. “He does what?”

“You’ve never noticed?”

His eyes darkened. “No, I’ve never noticed that asshole ogling my wife.”

Bonnie lifted an eyebrow at his reaction. She said, “He’s hardly the only person to do that. Andrew just happens to be the least discreet.”

Damon kissed her but his look hadn’t brightened. “Has he ever made a pass at you? Has anyone?”

Bonnie winced at the way his eyes bulged as he questioned her. He always looked demented when he did that. “He’s been a bit flirtatious but he’s never said anything out of line to me, Damon. I would have told you.”

Damon made a mental note to have a word with Andrew about his wandering eyes. “I am going to get changed so that I can head out for the night. Do you need anything before I leave?”

She shook her head. “No. I’m fine.”

Damon walked into their closet to find something to wear. He called out from inside the closet, “Who else?”

Bonnie asked, “What?”

He stepped into the doorway shirtless and asked, “Who else ogles you?”

“Are you being serious right now?” Bonnie asked. She was massaging her sore feet.

Damon debated answering truthfully. Finally, he grinned. “I’m only joking, bunny.”

Bonnie shook her head when he disappeared into the closet again. Damon wasn’t joking and this topic would surely come up again. However, she would worry about her husband’s jealousy later. Right now, she needed a plan for dealing with Klaus. She refused to live through a repeat of tonight but endangering the alliance wasn’t a solution.

Her threat to Klaus had been all smoke. The Salvatore organization would undergo enough upheaval once Damon became boss. The change of leadership would surely tempt their enemies to strike against them. The alliance was crucial in making sure their attempts failed. Bonnie had her problems with Damon but she didn’t want him dead. More importantly, she wanted the organization to remain strong. One day this would all belong to her son. Bonnie would protect her son’s inheritance by any means.

Chapter Text

Despite their best efforts, Ric’s uncles had been unable to lure Giuseppe to the Salvatore compound. They weren’t certain if he suspected a trap or if Giuseppe was just being overly cautious. In any case, his squirrelly older brother insisted on meeting Bruno and Giacomo at a café in the heart of Milazzo. The location ensured the safety of all three men. None of them wanted the heat that would come from turning the trendy tourist area into a shooting gallery. The Salvatores had a good working relationship with local law enforcement. The police largely looked the other way as long as they weren’t dropping bodies out in the open.  

Alaric was even more concerned about their trip to Milazzo now. Giuseppe could be lurking in the shadows while Damon met with the capos. He knew that his brother would have no reservations about killing his own son. Giuseppe’s number one goal was always to survive. Therefore, the security on this trip would be suffocating. They were taking fifteen of their most loyal soldiers from this side of the Atlantic. They would also have twenty men from in and around Milazzo that Bruno trusted implicitly. Damon wouldn’t be able to move an inch without another body shielding him. His nephew complained about the security plan. Damon thought it made him look weak. However, Alaric’s job was to get the soon-to-be mob boss out of there alive.

Ric closed his book with a sigh when he realized that he had been staring at the same page for five minutes. His brain was enumerating all the ways in which everything could go horribly wrong. Moreover, catering to Damon’s whims was making his life more difficult. The original plan had been to fly to Milazzo late Monday afternoon. However, his nephew had decided he wanted to leave Sunday night. Damon wanted to stopover in the Canary Islands to see Katherine. Ric didn’t care about his nephew’s affairs as long as he kept them out of the public eye. They didn’t need the media glare that would surely come from that. However, the change in plans irritated Ric because it meant that he had less time to spend with his families. His personal life was in upheaval right now and Ric needed to do damage control before he left.

Alaric, Jo, and their girls had spent the evening celebrating Erik Mikaelson’s christening. As soon as he dropped them off at home, he drove the 40 minutes out to Huntington Beach to see Abby and their kids. Unfortunately, the younger kids were already asleep when he arrived. Meanwhile, Jamie had locked himself in his bedroom as soon as his father walked into the house. Ric decided to stay the night so that he could see them in the morning at breakfast. Then he planned to spend the rest of the day with his wife and daughters. Alaric was trying to cram in as much quality time with his children as he could because he would be out of the country for at least a week.

Ric took off his reading glasses as Abby walked into the bedroom. He smiled and asked, “Did you have a good bath?”

Abby grabbed a bottle of lotion from her dresser and sat on the side of the bed. She nodded emphatically. “A long bath was just what the doctor ordered. I needed to relax and regroup. Savannah is not on board with my potty training plan.”

Ric chuckled as he placed his long neglected book on the nightstand. At this rate, it would take him six months to finish the novel. “Was it really that bad?”

Abby scowled at Ric over her shoulder as she lotioned her toned legs. She said, “Your daughter took off her pull-ups and peed on the floor no less than four times today. The last time she had the nerve to laugh while I was cleaning it up.”

He bit back a laugh because Abby wouldn’t appreciate it. He knew that he was on thin ice with her. Ric scooted across the bed so that he could rub Abby’s back.  “This was only the first day, honey. It will get easier with time.”

Abby relaxed a little and nodded. “I know that it will get easier. I have potty-trained three children successfully. I can do it again.  Today was just stressful because Cooper was demanding my attention, too.”

“Jealous of his baby sister?” he asked.

“Maybe,” she hummed. “Or he was just bored. Cooper really enjoyed playing with the other kids while we were staying at the manor. I was thinking that I might talk to Bonnie about scheduling a playdate for Cooper and Sarah next week.”

“That is a good idea. Those two are as thick as thieves whenever they get together. Reminds me of Stefan, Tyler, and Bonnie when they were that age.”

Abby laughed a little as she closed the lotion bottle and put it on the nightstand. She scooted back to rest against the headboard. “Well, my Bonnie was more demanding than little Sarah is. The way she used to order those little boys around was comical.”

Ric chuckled in response. “I seem to remember you having a similar temperament as kid.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied with a grin. “I was always sweet to you. You were the one that was mean to me.”

Ric pulled Abby on top of him and rested his hands on her hips. He kissed her neck and murmured, “That’s not how I remember it.”

“I guess we can add senility to your growing list of ailments,” she teased.

He laughed and rolled them over so that he was on top of Abby. “I don’t know why you find it so funny. You are going to be the one responsible for taking care of me in my old age.”

Abby said, “I think you completely misunderstand the role of mistress, Alaric. When you get old and decrepit, Jo will be the one taking care of you. I doubt I’ll even have the opportunity to see you.”

Ric’s playful attitude faded away at the mention of his wife. “Why would you say that?”

“Because it is the truth.”

He asked, “Where is this coming from?”

Abby sighed and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Forget that I said anything. You were just about to prove how young and virile you are.”

“No, I think that we need to talk. Things have been strained between us all week. I apologized for not telling you about what happened to Bonnie. I thought that you accepted my apology,” he said.

She said, “I did.”

“Then what the fuck was that crack you just made?” he asked.

Abby sighed, “I guess I am just worried about what comes next.”

“What do you mean?” Alaric said as he sat beside her.

“What if Jo gives you an ultimatum once you tell her about us?”

He tensed at the suggestion. “She wouldn’t do that.”

Abby huffed and said, “I think that Jo is at the very least suspicious of us already, Alaric. She offered to set me up with someone from the hospital. Then she made a wisecrack about my age.”

“What did you say?” he asked through gritted teeth.

She rolled her eyes and said, “I turned her down, but that is not the point. What if Jo makes you choose between her and me? I just need to know that you will still be part of the kids’ lives. Jamie knows the truth now. You can’t just disappear on him. It will break his heart.”

“Jo wouldn’t put me in that position. And she would get a rude awakening if she did,” he replied. “But no matter what happens in either relationship, my kids will always come first. I am their dad before I am anything else.”

Abby could rattle off a list of reasons why that was complete bullshit. At the top of her list would be his refusal to put his name on Jamie, Cooper, and Savannah’s birth certificates. However, addressing that topic would just drag them into a fight that Abby didn’t have the energy for now.

Ric could practically see Abby struggling against saying what was on her mind. She was confrontational by nature—so was he. It was the reason that their relationship had always been so volatile. Abby had only been afraid of one person and that was Sheila. She would cuss out everyone else at the drop of a hat. Abby gave him hell whenever she felt like it and didn’t care that he dwarfed her in height and weight.

The doorbell ringing broke their stalemate. 

“Who the hell would be coming here at this hour?” Ric asked.

Abby climbed out of the bed and pulled on her robe. “I have no idea. Maybe it’s Jo coming to confront us.”

“That’s not funny,” he snapped.

“I wasn’t joking, dear. Stay here. I’ll go see who it is.”

Ric raked a hand through his sandy brown hair and groaned. He didn’t need these complications right now.

Abby walked downstairs and opened the iron cutout in the front door. A thick piece of bulletproof glass sealed off the hole but allowed an unobstructed view of the porch. Abby and Alaric had made a compromise mingling design and safety when she chose a Craftsman style door with an iron viewer.

Her hazel eyes widened in surprise when she saw her daughter standing outside in her pajamas. Abby threw open the door. “Bonnie? What’s wrong, baby girl?”

Bonnie’s eyes were puffy as if she had been crying. “I’m scared and I don’t know what to do, Mama. I don’t know what to do now.”

The older woman's heart nearly stuttered to a stop at the appearance of her oldest child. Bonnie hadn't called her ‘Mama’ since she was a little girl. “Come inside, baby.”

Ric stood at the top of the stairs wearing his boxers. “Is everything okay?”

Bonnie froze as her eyes darted up to Alaric. “I'm sorry to bother you. I thought that he would be at Niklaus’ party. I shouldn’t have come here tonight. I’ll go.”

Abby closed the door. “Don't be silly. You aren't leaving here in this state. Alaric was just leaving. Weren't you?”

Ric frowned at his girlfriend. He didn’t particularly like being kicked out of his own house. Moreover, he was interested in what was happening with Bonnie. He needed to know if it was something that he needed to talk about with Damon. They didn’t need problems with the Benedettos right now.

He said, “Abigail…”

Abby glared at Ric for his stubbornness. However, she wrapped an arm around Bonnie’s shoulders and guided her into the kitchen. “Have a seat, baby girl.”

The green-eyed girl sniffled softly. “I don't want to cause trouble between the two of you. I know that you are both going through a lot because of what Jamie overheard. I should have called first but I just needed…”

Abby smoothed a stray curl behind Bonnie’s ear. She said, “You needed your grams but all you've got is me.”

There was no malice in her reply. She was grateful that Bonnie came to her but it also scared her. She couldn't imagine the situation that would force the girl onto her doorstep in tears.

She nodded. Bonnie figured that there was no sense in lying when her mother obviously knew the truth. “I just…it feels like we’ve been getting closer lately.”

“We have been. I am glad that you came to me. I know how it feels to be completely alone in the world. But you’re not alone because I am right here.”

“Thank you,” she whispered in response.

The older woman put on the kettle and pulled out a selection of teas. Abby kissed the top of Bonnie’s head and then said, “Pick something. I will be back soon.”

Bonnie sat down at the granite-topped island and pulled the container to her. A cup of tea sounded soothing with the way her stomach was churning in discomfort.

Abby squeezed Bonnie’s shoulder as she walked by. She went upstairs to the master bedroom and frowned at Ric. She couldn't believe he was just lying in bed. “I wasn't joking. You need to go, Alaric.”

He caught his pants when she threw them at his head. “Why do I have to leave? I can just stay up here while you talk to Bonnie.”

She folded her arms over her chest and scowled. “She won't feel comfortable talking to me with you lurking around up here. And don’t tell me that you won’t try to eavesdrop so that you can report back to Damon. Because we both know that would be a bald-face lie.”

Alaric walked over to Abby. “You are being ridiculous. I'm essentially her stepfather. I might actually be of some help here.”

Her hazel eyes narrowed into slits as she laughed in his face. “You are no such thing. I am not about to have this argument with you. You need to leave, Alaric. My daughter needs to talk to me. It is probably about that idiot nephew of yours.”

“Don't start a fight with me, Abigail,” he warned.

“Then get the fuck out of my house, Alaric. Go home to your wife,” she sneered.

Ric scrubbed a hand over his face. This attitude was why he was with Abby instead of at a strip club with his brother and nephews. Something was off between the two of them and he couldn’t figure out what it was. He had this nagging fear that one day he would walk through that door to find his family gone. He asked, “Do you blame me for what Giuseppe did?”

She sighed heavily. “I blame a lot of people for what happened to Bonnie. I blame Giuseppe, my mother, Damon, and myself. And you are right. I blame you, too. You promised to look after my little girl. You promised to protect her from that monster. I trusted you. But I shouldn’t have because you have always been Giuseppe’s bitch. You didn’t protect your own flesh and blood from him. I don’t know what made me think you would protect mine.”

The mobster’s jaw ticked when Abby called him a bitch. No one else would be brave enough to speak to him so disrespectfully. “Do you really want to get into a fight with me tonight? Keep talking like that.”

She sucked her teeth derisively. Abby said, “I don't have time to deal with you right now. My daughter needs me. Get. The. Fuck. Out. Of. My. House.”

Ric glared at Abby for a moment before he started putting on his clothes. He didn’t really want to fight with her while Bonnie and the kids were in the house. After Ric finished getting dressed, he pulled Abby into a hug.

He kissed her tenderly and then said, “Call me when Bonnie leaves. I will come back. I think we need to talk.”

She merely nodded in agreement. They did need to talk but it wouldn’t be tonight. Everything that was festering between them would have to wait until he returned from Milazzo.

Ric took Abby’s hand and walked downstairs with her. He kissed the top of her head. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Ric nodded and reluctantly walked out of the house.

She locked the door and then took a moment to collect herself. Afterwards, she walked into the kitchen to check on Bonnie.

Bonnie was blowing on her tea to cool it down. She said, “I made a cup for you, too.”

Abby smiled tiredly. “Thank you. Let's go get comfortable in the living room.”

The girl followed her mother with a package of buttery crackers she had dug out of the cabinet. She had a seat on the couch and toed off her shoes. Bonnie knew that she had to look insane showing up in the middle of the night dressed in her pajamas.

Abby took a sip of the tea. “Mmm, ginger. This was a good choice.”

“I hoped it would settle my stomach. I have been nauseous for most of the day,” she explained.

“Ginger tea is great for that. I had such terrible morning sickness when I was pregnant with Cooper.”

Bonnie chewed at her bottom lip and said, “I hope that I didn’t cause too much trouble between you and Alaric.”

“Don’t worry about Ric. He is a big boy. He will be just fine. Frankly, I could use a break from him right now,” she confessed.

Bonnie nodded a little and slowly sipped her tea. She was losing her nerve now that she had Abby’s full attention. Bonnie had only ever shared her story with a priest under the seal of confession. However, after what happened tonight she needed one safe place in the world. She prayed that her mother could be that place.

“What’s going on, baby girl? What has you all worked up?” Abby asked gently.

She took a deep breath as tears began to blur her vision. She explained, “I am about to trust you with something that only three people in the world know. You can't tell anyone about this. You can’t tell Ric, Lucy, or Uncle Johnny. You definitely can't tell Damon. I just...I need you to be in my corner. I need one person that is going to take my side. If you can't do that then send me home. I won’t hold it against you, Mama.”

Abby put her mug down and scooted closer to her daughter. “I swear on my life that I won't say a word to anyone. I just want to help you. You are scaring me. I have never seen you like this before. What’s wrong?”

“I made a mistake when I was sixteen. Now it is coming back to haunt me and I don’t know how to fix it. This situation could ruin everything that I have worked so hard to achieve. But the part that scares me the most is how people would look at me if they knew the truth. I don’t even want to think about what Damon would do,” she explained in a trembling voice.

She said, “Most teenagers think they are invincible. I certainly thought I was at that age. I got into so much trouble that your grams considered sending me to live with Uncle Johnny. I’m sure that she used me as a cautionary tale for you.”

Bonnie smiled a little because Big John was a big ole teddy bear. He wouldn’t have been any firmer than Sheila was with Abby. He always let Bonnie get away with murder whenever she visited him.

Abby continued, “I don’t care what happened. I am not going to judge you. I love you and we will figure out a solution to this. I know that I have let you down in the past but I am here now, baby girl. I’m not going anywhere.”

The young woman wanted to believe her mother because she couldn’t hold this burden alone. “The year that I turned sixteen, Grams and I stayed at the manor as we did every summer. Caroline and Stefan’s twins had just been born a few months earlier. One night, there was this huge beach party in Malibu. Stefan and Caroline decided to make it their first night out as new parents. I begged Stefan to let me go with them. Grams and Giuseppe were out of the country on business at the time. Stefan figured it would be safe since there was bound to be armed security at the party. It was Niklaus’ 25th birthday after all. Mikael might not have been fond of him but he always made sure that he was protected.”

She winced in sympathy. She had seen firsthand just how much Mikael despised Niklaus. Abby never understood how Esther allowed the man to treat her son in such a heartless way. Sheila would always standup to Giuseppe when she thought he was being too hard on the boys. It didn’t matter that they weren’t her blood, she wasn’t about to stand by and watch children be abused. Unfortunately, it only worked while she was there to put her foot down.

“The night started out fun. I was having a great time but then Damon and Sybil showed up. I hated that cow more than I hated anything else in the world. It was bad enough that she was dating the guy that I had this silly schoolgirl crush on but she was a total bitch to me whenever she got the chance. Damon lost his shit when he realized that Stefan brought me to Niklaus’ party. He made me stick close to him and it drove Sybil up the wall. I might have antagonized her a bit by making Damon pay more attention to me. Eventually, she got fed up and ‘accidentally’ wasted an entire pitcher of strawberry daiquiri all over me. I looked like a drowned rat. I had never been so embarrassed in my life. Fortunately, Rebekah and Niklaus were living at the beach house at the time. Rebekah told me that I could go upstairs and take something from her closet. Niklaus walked into her bedroom while I was changing clothes. He apologized and then left the room while I finished getting dressed. But when I was about to head back downstairs to the party…he stopped me. He asked me to hang out with him since it was his birthday after all. He said that he was having the worst birthday ever. And he kinda was…he’d just found out that Hope was his daughter. Elijah and Hayley had lied to him about it for three years. He only found out because Mikael blurted it out in the middle of an argument.”

Abby’s heart was thumping loudly in her ears because she didn't like where this was headed.

“I figured there was no harm in hanging out with Niklaus. I had known him for years. He had never shown any interest in me before. I thought it was innocent at the time. We were playing this game where we traded shots of vodka while sharing stories about our shitty parents,” Bonnie paused. “I’m sorry…”

She shook her head. “No, you had and have every right to say that about me and Rudy. We have both let you down.”

Bonnie took a deep breath and said, “Niklaus kissed me while we were sitting on his bed. I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t really know what to do. I had only kissed one other person before him. It was kind of nice at first but then he took things too far…”

Abby’s hands curled into fists. However, she managed to keep her voice unaffected by the storm brewing inside her. She asked, “Did he rape you?”

Bonnie lowered her eyes and fiddled with the Saint Christopher’s medal hanging from her neck. “At the time, I didn't think so. But I'm older now and I know that what he did to me wasn't okay. I was stupid for even going into his bedroom. It’s my fault…”

In that moment, Bonnie looked her relatively young age. Abby just wanted to hold her, so she pulled the girl into her arms. She smoothed her hand over Bonnie’s hair and murmured soothing words.

She melted into her mother's embrace and let a few silent tears fall. That feeling of warmth and comfort allowed Bonnie to let go. Her sobs were muffled against Abby’s robe.

“It's okay, baby girl. I've got you,” she whispered. Abby didn't know exactly what happened but she had a good idea. “Did it happen just once?”

She shook her head and said, “It happened a few times that summer. The worst time was when we were at the Mikaelson’s house following Mikael’s funeral. I had never seen Niklaus so mad or so drunk before. I was scared that he was really going to hurt me that time. Niklaus forced me to perform oral sex on him in the pool house.”

Abby stared in shock because she had attended dinner at the Mikaelson’s house the night of the funeral. She couldn't believe that maniac had raped her daughter under her nose. Abby searched her memories for even the slightest hint that something had been wrong with Bonnie that night. “Why didn’t you tell your grams?” she asked gently.

“I was scared that she would be disappointed in me. It’s not like I ever said no to him. Not once. Whenever he wanted to touch me, I just let him. I never fought him. I just took it. I thought if he made me orgasm that I must have liked what he was doing on some level,” she whispered.

“It doesn't matter if you didn't say no. The point is that you didn't say yes. Besides, you were too young to consent even if you had wanted to have sex with him. He was 25 years old and you were sixteen. He had no business touching you for even a second. He was the adult. Niklaus knew better and he took advantage of you. How far did this go, Bonnie?”

Some small part of the girl knew that her mother was right. However, that tiny voice was drowned out by the louder one that berated Bonnie for being weak and stupid. That voice was also the one that made her believe that Damon’s disinterest in her was because there was something wrong with her. She wasn’t pretty enough. She didn’t do enough to please him sexually. She wasn’t interesting enough. It was the voice that made her question why her own parents hadn’t wanted her. Bonnie hated those weaknesses that hid deep within her soul.

Bonnie was powerful. She was smart. She could be as deadly as any of the men that worked for her family. She had the ability to bring the Salvatore organization to its knees. Yet there she sat crying over something that should have been water under the bridge. The amount of self-loathing rippling through Bonnie was staggering.

“We never had intercourse. It was mostly just oral sex and sometimes he would penetrate me with his fingers. He never went any farther that summer. By the time Grams and I visited for Thanksgiving, Niklaus was already in prison.”

She asked, “Did seeing him tonight bring all of those memories rushing back? Is that what upset you?”

Bonnie nodded. “But it is more than that. He cornered me tonight after the christening. He was drunk and high but his intentions were clear.”

“Did that bastard touch you?” Abby practically snarled.

Bonnie didn’t want to lie to her mother but she was worried that Abby would feel compelled to tell someone. “Damon showed up before it went too far but Niklaus promised to see me again soon. I was at home alone tonight when he called my phone. I don’t even know how he got the number. I don't know what to do, Mom. I love Damon but I don't think he would understand if I told him the truth. There is also the chance that he might kill Niklaus in a rage and you know what would happen then.”

She could see the irony in her fears. Bonnie was worried that her cheating husband would think of her as tainted or damaged goods because of something that happened before they were married. However, the men in this life were territorial. Honestly, most men were territorial regardless of their line of work.

Abby took a deep breath because Bonnie needed her to be calm. She couldn’t believe that her little girl had been holding in this pain for five years. She held her daughter’s tear stained face in her hands.

“I know that I can’t tell you not to feel ashamed but you did nothing wrong. Niklaus saw a broken little girl and he took advantage of you. I am so sorry that we didn’t give you a life where you felt safe enough to tell us what this man was doing to you. Your grams loved you so much. She would have never let this stand…not even for the sake of the alliance. You need to know that. Nothing was ever more important than you, Bonnie.”

Bonnie hugged her mother and cried for a long time. There wasn’t a magic word or phrase that could fix this. More than the emotional toll, the threat to her safety was very real. Niklaus could be reasoned with when he was sober. He was charming and could be incredibly sweet. Bonnie believed that some part of him truly cared her because they were kindred spirits. However, tonight was proof that he was off the wagon or perhaps had never been on it. There were plenty of ways for a man of Niklaus’ means to obtain illicit substances while in prison.

“I don’t know what to do,” she whispered to her mother in a broken voice.

Abby stroked her hair. “We will figure it out, baby girl.”

She sniffled. “I appreciate you listening to me. I couldn’t tell anyone else. Lucy would fly off the handle and try to kill Niklaus. You know how quick she can go from 0 to 100.”

Abby knew that Bonnie didn't mean it as an insult but it was. Her daughter didn't think that she could or would protect her from a man that meant her harm. This was a man that molested and took advantage of her as a teenager. However, Abby realized that she had earned her daughter’s doubt.

“Do you want to stay over tonight? Your brothers and Savannah would be thrilled to wake up with you here in the morning. I could make blueberry and ricotta pancakes for you.”

“I can't. Ric will probably tell Damon that I came here in tears. I am already going to have to make up a lie for why I was here. I'll need a bigger one to explain why I stayed the night. Can I just sit here a little longer?”

Abby kissed her forehead and stood up. “You can sit here as long as you want, baby girl. Make yourself comfortable on the couch. I am going to go upstairs to check on Savannah.”

Bonnie curled up on one end of the couch and closed her eyes. It was silly but she felt comforted being there with her mother. She would worry about Niklaus later.

Abby walked upstairs and went into Savannah’s room. The little girl was sleeping peacefully. Abby remembered when Bonnie was this small. It was before everything went so off track in her life. Maybe if she had run with Bonnie, her daughter wouldn’t have gone through all of this hell.

She felt helpless and spineless. Bonnie was fighting for her life and Abby was just watching. Maybe she offered a shoulder on occasion or worked Alaric for information but it wasn't enough. Bonnie needed Sheila but Abby was here now. It was time for her to be the mother that Bonnie deserved. She had the reputation for being a peace-loving hippie that believed in homeopathic remedies. However, Abby had been forged in the same fire that produced her daughter, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She was capable of getting shit done when necessary.

Bonnie was sleeping peacefully by the time Abby returned.

Abby grabbed a chenille throw blanket from the back of the couch and draped it over her daughter. She pressed a kissed atop the girl’s head. “Mama’s here now…”

Chapter Text

A ringing phone awakened Bonnie from a vivid nightmare. She hugged her midsection protectively as she slowly sat up on the couch. Bonnie began to panic when she did not recognize her surroundings immediately. It was as if the nightmare she had awakened from was coming true. However, her heart rate slowly returned to normal as she remembered that she was at Abby’s house. She looked around the room for her mother but found that she was alone. Bonnie wondered for how long she had been asleep. She had only meant to rest her eyes for a few minutes. Unfortunately, sleep hadn’t come easy for her since she received Niklaus’ gift a few days ago. Some nights she couldn’t sleep at all. While other nights her sleep was restless and full of nightmares.

Bonnie’s phone started ringing again just as the haze of sleep began to lift from her tired mind. She searched her purse for the phone and frowned upon seeing that the incoming call was from a private number. Her mind automatically went to the call she received from Niklaus earlier in the night. Part of Bonnie wanted to send the call to voicemail. She felt steadier than she did earlier but Bonnie was in no shape to go another round with him. However, she knew how persistent Niklaus could be. He wouldn’t give up until he got her on the phone again. He had no reason to be discreet since Damon was likely still at his party. Klaus probably figured that she was all alone.

She steeled herself in hopes that she could remain calm. Bonnie did not want Klaus to know that he had rattled her in their earlier conversation. She couldn’t let him think that harassing phone calls in the middle of the night was the way to get under her skin. Bonnie wanted his lasting memory of her to be that brief moment tonight when she had held his life in her hands. It would have been so easy to sever his carotid artery with that switchblade. She had grown up in the five years that he spent in prison. Bonnie was no longer the little girl too afraid of him to protect herself.

She answered the phone on the last ring. “Hello?”

“Good evening, love,” Klaus said. His smirk was practically audible over the phone.

She was grateful that Klaus sounded less impaired than he did a couple hours ago. Bonnie hoped that meant he had stopped drinking for the night. Trying to forecast Niklaus’ moods while he was intoxicated was a fool’s errand. His highs were as tall as skyscrapers, but his lows could be deeper than the Grand Canyon. One never knew if Klaus would lock himself in his room while in the throes of a meltdown or if he would lash out and brutally beat someone within an inch of his or her life. The latter had landed him in prison for five years after he accepted a plea agreement for assault with a deadly weapon.

Bonnie glanced at the time on the phone and quipped, “I would think that ‘Good morning’ would be more appropriate considering the time.”

He hummed in agreement. “I suppose you are right about that. Unfortunately, my night is only beginning. There are just so many sycophants here to congratulate me on my release from prison. I despise them all. I am avoiding the lot of them for now by sitting in my office. Elijah will surely come to fetch me sooner rather than later.”

She rolled her eyes at Klaus and his perpetual pity party. She understood that his life sucked. There was a time when Bonnie would have felt sympathy for him. She might have even been willing to commiserate with him because her life sucked, too. However, he had killed any goodwill in her heart a long time ago.

“What do you want from me, Niklaus,” she asked in an even tone. Bonnie was annoyed but there was no sense in antagonizing Niklaus when he was calm.

There was a long pause. “I am sorry, petal.”

Bonnie found herself flummoxed by Niklaus once again. She had expected many things from this phone call but an apology certainly wasn’t on the list. Initially, she wondered if this was some sort of trick. However, she could hear the sincerity in Niklaus’ somber voice. Apparently, feeling guilty about what he had done to Bonnie was part of his pity party. She genuinely wondered if a psychiatrist had ever evaluated him. Were alcoholism, frequent drug use, and general sociopathy the cause of his violent outbursts? Perhaps an underlying diagnosis could explain Niklaus’ dual nature. For all the pain and terror he had caused Bonnie, she knew that he was capable of love and compassion.

She licked her lips nervously and asked, “What exactly are you apologizing for?”

“I am sorry for what happened at my brother’s house tonight. I should not have been so rough and unkind to you. It has been such a long time since I have had to handle someone so delicate and precious. I forgot my own strength. You know that I would never try to hurt you on purpose, petal. I was just frustrated. It was infuriating watching you on Damon’s arm all evening.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes at his half-ass attempt at an apology. This was par for the course for Niklaus. He always apologized profusely for being rough with her. When Bonnie was a young girl, his words had been so convincing that she would forgive him. Niklaus had gifted Bonnie five beautifully illustrated original poems in the days following the assault after Mikael’s funeral. He swore that their love was true because she was the only one that could understand him.

She replied, “Damon is my husband now. I am sorry if that upsets you. I understand it must be difficult acclimating to a world that has moved on in your absence.”

“You must see how unworthy Damon is of you. He never gave you the time of day until your ailing grandmother dangled the keys to the kingdom in front of him. It is power that he covets…not you.”

Niklaus had just targeted the major conflict in her marriage. Damon had been too old to show any romantic interest in Bonnie before they were married. He treated her as if she were a younger sibling that needed his protection. Marrying him had complicated their relationship. They were expected to behave as a married couple would but Damon didn’t know how to merge the disparate strands of their past and their present. Now the couple found themselves in a relationship where he jealously asserted his claim over Bonnie but didn’t actually desire her. She often wondered if she divorced Damon would he mourn the loss of power more or the loss of his trophy wife.

However, Bonnie couldn’t be truthful with Klaus. It would only encourage his delusions of them continuing what they once had. No matter what happened in her marriage to Damon, she would never allow Niklaus to touch her again.

She countered his argument with a simple reply. “I love him, Nik.”

“You love him?” he spat out bitterly.

“I do. He loves me, too. We are happy together, Niklaus. I know that might be hard to hear but you will find someone else that can be yours—completely.”

Niklaus gave a sharp bark of laughter. “He loves you? Are you really so blind that you don’t see that he is making a fool of you? I have been out of prison for less than a week and even I know that he is cheating on you with several women. You are letting that imbecile take advantage of your kind nature! You deserve better than the likes of Damon Salvatore.”

Bonnie knew that the message was accurate even if she despised the messenger. She hated how easily he dented the armor that she had carefully built around her life. However, Bonnie’s insecurities about her marriage lived close to the surface.

“You have a lot of nerve accusing my husband of taking advantage of me. Damon has his flaws but he has never hurt me physically. He has never made me do anything that I didn’t want to do. There are worse fates than having a husband with a wandering eye.”

The line went silent for a moment. Like a wounded animal, Klaus roared, “And you are saying that I have? What manner of brainwashing has Damon subjected you to in my absence? I have never placed an unwanted hand on you. I would never!”

Bonnie was taken aback by Niklaus’ vehement belief in his innocence. He truly believed that he hadn’t done anything wrong. In the past, Bonnie would have believed him, too. She would have begun to doubt herself. Not anymore, she knew better now.

Something inside Bonnie snapped and she screamed, “I can’t tell if you are delusional or if all the booze and coke you have abused over the years has left you brain damaged. You raped me, Niklaus! You raped me repeatedly that summer. Every time you have ever touched me, it was unwanted. You forced yourself on me when I was sixteen years old and I just took it. I couldn’t accuse a Mikaelson of rape! Who would have believed me? What would have been the consequences if they did?”

He sputtered, “Who has put this fiction into your head? I have never had to force any woman in order to get her to lie with me. Do you know how many women would willingly drop to their knees to please me?”

Bonnie steamrolled right through his questions because there were a few things she needed to get off her chest. She asked, “What exactly do you think happened tonight at Elijah’s house, Niklaus? I wanted to leave the room and you would not let me. You didn’t ask if I wanted you to touch me. You just took what you wanted from me. It is what you have always done! You have never once asked permission. You have just taken from me as if my body belongs to you.”

The line went quiet again for nearly a minute before Klaus spoke again. “You make me sound as if I am some sort of monster.”

“Sometimes you were monster to me, Niklaus. I made so many excuses for you. I blamed the drinking and the cocaine. I blamed your screwed up childhood. I blamed Hayley and Elijah for hurting you. Most of all I blamed myself. I thought maybe I had done something to deserve what you did to me,” she replied in a broken voice.

He swore, “I never meant to hurt you. You were the first person after Hayley that I thought understood me. You knew that I was the Big Bad Wolf and you didn’t run from me. I wanted you long before the night of my birthday party. You were just this beautiful burst of pure goodness and I thought being with you could make me better. You were going to be my salvation. I still think that. We could be happy together, Bonnie.”

“I believe that you truly think that. But you don’t hurt someone the way you have hurt me if you care for them, Niklaus. I get that Mikael really fucked you up. My parents really fucked me up, too. But at some point, you can’t keep blaming other people for your bullshit. You raped me—not Mikael or Esther. Maybe it’s partly my fault because I never asked you to stop.”

Klaus asked, “Why didn’t you? If I was hurting you so much why did you never ask me to stop?”

Bonnie said, “Because I was terrified that I would make you angry. I thought…it might somehow make everything worse.”

He went quiet again because Bonnie had just turned his life upside down. “I can’t begin to count the amount of time that I spent with my head between your thighs, Bonnie. Have you rewritten our history so much that you have forgotten how many times I made you cum in my mouth?”

“It just made things more confusing for me. I couldn’t control the way my body responded to what you were doing…”

Loud music blared in the background as someone opened the door to Klaus’ office. Briefly, the phone went silent as he muted the call. A few moments later, he said, “I have to go, love. I am afraid duty calls. Maybe we can talk…just talk again soon. I feel this is a conversation that we need to finish.”

Bonnie stared at the phone after the call ended abruptly. She sat there as still as a statue while trying to process the conversation. Did Niklaus truly not understand how badly he had hurt her?

Abby cleared her throat and said, “Bonnie…”

The girl’s blood ran cold when she saw Tyler and her mother standing a few feet away. She had been so focused on her conversation that she didn’t hear them walk into the room. Bonnie tried to recall the last few minutes of her conversation with Klaus. However, everything felt distorted because of the sheer intensity of her emotions.

She choked out, “How much did you hear, Ty?”

Tyler was visibly shaking with rage. Through gritted teeth, he said, “I heard enough.”

“I’m sorry, baby girl. I know that you wanted to keep what happened between the two of us. I invited Tyler inside because I didn’t know how long you would be asleep. I could not just leave him out in the car all night. I didn’t expect…”

She shook her head stoically. “This isn’t your fault, Mom. I am the one that decided to have that conversation out in the open. I’m lucky that I didn’t wake up one of the kids.”

Abby couldn’t have planned for Tyler to overhear the conversation between Bonnie and Niklaus. However, she was happy that it played out that way. Her daughter was stubborn and brave to a fault. Bonnie needed protection from Klaus. Abby had no doubt that Tyler would keep Bonnie safe by any means necessary. The Lockwoods were loyal to her family but it was more than that. Abby had not missed the longing looks Bonnie and Tyler had shared over the Thanksgiving holiday. There was something more than business and friendship brewing between the youngsters.

“I need you to stay calm, Ty. Just hear me out before you do anything crazy,” she implored in a soft voice.

He had a murderous look on his face. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Bonnie. You want me to be calm?”

Bonnie prayed that a bottomless pit would open beneath her feet and swallow her whole. She didn’t know if she would ever be able to look Tyler in the eyes again. It had been difficult sharing something so personal with her mother. She chose Abby because Bonnie trusted her mother to keep her shameful secret. Moreover, she knew that Abby had made too many mistakes to judge her too harshly. Her relationship with Tyler was much more complicated. He was unquestionably Bonnie’s best friend and most trusted confidant. However, he was also her employee. She didn’t know how he could ever respect her after learning how easily Niklaus had taken advantage of her.

She said, “I can explain.”

“There is nothing to explain. I am going to fucking kill him!” he swore. Tyler’s mind was racing as he thought of ways to kill Klaus tonight. “Is he still at the Full Moon?”

Bonnie stood from the couch and rushed over to Tyler. She knew that his words were not an idle threat. She grabbed onto his leather jacket to prevent him from leaving the house. “You know that you can’t kill him, Tyler.”

Tyler barely even heard Bonnie’s desperate words because his brain was on autopilot. All he could think about was ending Klaus as slowly and painfully as humanly possible. He would make what Mason and Brady did to Freddie look like a walk in the park.

“No, you aren’t talking me out of this, Bonnie. You said that he raped you—more than once. Now he is out of prison and thinks that he can pick up where he left off? He’s out of his fucking mind and you are too if you think that he gets to live after what he’s done to you!”

Abby interjected, “Maybe the two of you should talk about this in private. There is a guest suite just down the hall. Either Jamie or Cooper is bound to wake up if you keep arguing out here.”

Bonnie looked properly chastened. She was only in this mess because she didn’t have the foresight to talk to Klaus in private. She took Tyler’s hand. “Just hear me out, please.”

Tyler was out for blood but he couldn’t deny Bonnie’s request. He had never been able to say no to her. He nodded. “Fine…”

Bonnie squeezed his hand in gratitude and led him down the hall. She expected Tyler to pull away from her in disgust but he just squeezed her hand tight. She walked into the first floor suite and turned on the overhead light.

He closed and locked the door so they wouldn’t be interrupted. Tyler was very aware that Alaric could return at anytime.

She sat down on the loveseat in the suite’s sitting room. “Will you sit with me?”

Tyler took a deep breath and sat beside Bonnie. He could tell that she was nervous and upset. He didn’t want to burden her with his anger. However, he didn’t know how long he would be able to contain it. He was practically foaming at the mouth but there was also this horrible feeling of guilt. Maybe Bonnie would have told him the truth years ago if he hadn’t been such a hothead.

Bonnie took a deep breath and said, “The best thing for everyone is if we just leave the past in the past, Tyler. It was all water under the bridge until Niklaus was released from prison. He got a little too close tonight after Erik’s christening but it didn’t go too far. I was able to stop him.”

Tyler’s eyes darkened but he kept his tone mild. “You should have never been put in that position, Bon. How did you get him to stop tonight?”

She looked down at her shaking hands. “I pulled my switchblade and threatened to kill him. Damon came looking for me before I had to make good on my threat. But Niklaus was already backing off at that point.”

Tyler tensed when he learned that Bonnie had taken a switchblade to the christening. It meant that she had been expecting Klaus to accost her. “What if he goes after you again?”

“I think I really got through to him just now on the phone. He seemed seriously surprised that I viewed what happened between us as rape. Besides, he has only ever been violent with me while he was drinking or using cocaine,” she explained. She wanted to downplay everything to soothe Tyler.

He ran a hand over his face. “Mother of God. I can’t believe that you kept this from me, Bon. I can’t protect you if I don’t know what I am protecting you from. I knew that something was up when you got those fucking books. I have never seen you look so scared. I used every contact that I have trying to figure out who sent them to you. Klaus is a rabid animal. He’s dangerous and needs to be put down, Bonnie.”

“The alliance…” she started.

He bellowed, “Fuck the alliance! Fuck Niklaus Mikaelson and every other fucking Mikaelson. They can all burn with him for all I care. Who else knows about this?”

Bonnie flinched involuntarily when he started yelling. “I told my mom tonight. Years ago, I confessed to a priest. No one else knows and no one else can know. You know that Niklaus is untouchable. People learning the truth puts us all in an awkward position. Do you think I would be able to live with everyone knowing that he raped me? Can you imagine how Damon would look at me? Do you think he wants a wife that is damaged goods? He barely wants me now.”

Tyler softened when he saw the tears falling down Bonnie’s face. He felt like such a jackass for raging instead of focusing on the fact that she was hurting. He shouldn’t have been surprised that Bonnie would have kept something like this a secret. She was always trying to live up to her family’s insane legacy. Tyler knew a little something about living up to the family name. Some children wanted to be doctors or firefighters when they grew up. However, from a very young age Tyler knew that he would one day follow in the footsteps of his father, uncles, and grandfather.

He gently wiped away her tears. “Don’t talk about yourself that way. You are not damaged goods, Bon. What Klaus did to you was not your fault and doesn’t change how amazing you are. Damon is lucky to have you even if he’s too self-centered to realize that.”

“Come on…you know how this goes. Men can fuck as many women as they want but we aren’t given the same kind of freedom. Damon isn’t going to want a wife that was assaulted by someone he hates. If Damon learns the truth, he won’t want to be with me anymore. Then all of this would have been for nothing,” Bonnie replied in a broken voice.

“Let me kill Klaus and no one will ever have to know what he did.”

Bonnie shook her head. “If you get caught, Damon will execute you to preserve the alliance. It’s the only thing that would appease Elijah.”

He shrugged.

“No, don’t pretend as if it’s not a big deal. You know I wouldn’t let Damon execute you. I would have to make him understand why you would do something that would risk plunging us into a mob war. Either way my secret would be revealed.”

Tyler asked, “Do you remember when I took the oath?”

“Of course I remember.”

He said, “I swore that I would give my life for this family. I meant it then and I mean it now, Bonnie. I would die to keep you safe. Others would step up in my absence. Matt would go to the ends of the Earth for your family.”

Bonnie said, “I don’t want you to die for me, Tyler. I would go crazy if I lost you. You are the only person in the world that I know loves the real me. You overheard me talking about my weakest moment and you are still loyal. You are still here willing to die for me. After Giuseppe attacked me, it was you that I sought out—not my husband. I could never replace you with anyone else.”

“You are talking bullshit now. You are not weak, Bon. You are one of the strongest people that I know. Life keeps dealing you knockout punches and you keep standing back up. I don’t know if I would be able to keep going the way that you have. You deserve better than this life, Bon. If I could take you away from all of this I would.”

She sniffled softly. “You’re a good friend, Ty. You make all of this bearable.”

He caressed her back and sighed. “Life isn’t just supposed to be bearable.”

“We both know that happiness was never really in the cards for me. I was just too stupid to realize that in the beginning. I had a fairytale in my mind. Damon was supposed to be my prince charming. But he’s no prince and I am certainly not a princess.”

“You aren’t stupid, Bon.”

She asked, “What would you call it? Damon was never going to love me. He is not built for it…at least not in a way that would be satisfying to me. After everything that has happened, Damon is going to see Katherine before he goes to Milazzo. I told him once that he makes me feel as if I am the other woman. I have come to realize that I am. He always puts his own gratification above what I need.”

Tyler replied, “Wanting to be loved isn’t stupid. And no matter how Damon feels about you, I can say with certainty that you are loved, Bonnie. I know this because I love you. I always have and I always will.”

“Don’t say things like that,” she pleaded.

“Why can’t I tell you the truth? It’s not as if I am saying something that you don’t already know in your heart,” Tyler said as he placed his hand over her heart.

“You’re going to make me want something that I can’t have. My grandmother suffered years under the cruelty that Giuseppe called love to put me in this position. To walk away from all of her plans would be to dishonor the woman that raised me. For what? She didn’t promise that Damon would love me. No, she warned me that he was a broken man that would cheat on me with Katherine and anyone else that smiled at him prettily.”

Tyler looked into her eyes and asked, “Who says we can’t have what we both want? Haven’t we both given enough for our families? There is more than one way to take over the Salvatores’ business. You don’t have to stay married to someone that makes you feel worthless.”

Bonnie lifted an eyebrow. “I’m not going to kill Damon.”

He chuckled. “I wasn’t suggesting that we kill him. There are other ways to take the family from him. Trust me. I have been thinking about this for a long time. If you are honest with yourself, I know that you have, too. You’re too smart not to have an exit strategy.”

“How long is a long time?” she asked curiously.

“Probably since the moment my old man sent me to Milazzo for the summer to keep me away from you,” he replied.

Tyler had never been so angry with his father than he was that year. Richard had sent him to stay the summer with the Loiaconos in Milazzo. It was under the guise of strengthening his ties to the old country. In truth, Richard had learned that Tyler and Bonnie were talking on the phone every day while she was at home in Shadow Hills. Sheila always intended for Bonnie to marry Damon one day. However, ideally it would have happened when Bonnie was in her mid-20’s. Richard and Sheila had both been concerned that the teenagers would fall in love and ruin a plan that had been years in the making.

“No matter what you decide, I am always going to have your back, Bon. I just want you to be happy and safe,” he replied.

“Does this mean that you won’t go kill Klaus tonight?” she asked. Bonnie traced shapes on the back of Tyler’s hand. She would call Richard to stop him if necessary.

Tyler frowned but shook his head. “No, I won’t kill him tonight.”

“And tomorrow night?” she asked. Bonnie slid into Tyler’s lap and relaxed when his arms tightened around her.

“Ask me tomorrow night,” he murmured into her hair.

“You won’t tell anyone else, right?”

Tyler looked into her eyes and said, “I won’t tell anyone else. This stays between us. I promise. But Niklaus is going to pay for this. The world is a safer place when that animal is locked away in a cage.”

Bonnie relaxed more and rested her head on his shoulder. Sending Klaus back to prison was a novel idea. She stifled a yawn.

“You’re still tired. Why don’t you try to get some more sleep?”

She shook her head. Bonnie wanted to be close to him. “I’m comfortable right here.”

Tyler said, “There’s a bedroom right through those doors. I promise to stay until you fall asleep. You and the kiddos need rest, Bon.”

She tucked her face against his neck and murmured, “My mom might come in…”

“That’s why they invented locks.”

Bonnie slowly stood from his lap and said, “Okay.”

Tyler walked over to the door and double-checked the lock. Then he followed Bonnie into the bedroom. He kicked off his shoes and climbed into the queen-sized bed. “C’mere.”

She snuggled into his outstretched arms and closed her eyes. Bonnie’s mind lingered on something Tyler said a few minutes ago. “You know...I love you, too,” she whispered.

He stroked Bonnie’s back soothingly. “I know…”

Chapter Text

Damon sat back with a smirk on his face as he watched his little brother make a complete ass of himself. Stefan didn’t exactly share the rest of his family’s alcoholic tendencies so after a handful of shots he was usually on the wrong side of buzzed. They had been at Niklaus’ party for over three hours and Stefan was well past his limit. At some point, he had lost his shirt and started chugging from a bottle of champagne while he danced. A better older brother would have stepped in to make Stefan calm down. However, Damon was enjoying the display too much to do that. Besides, it wasn’t as if he would let Stefan get into any real trouble. It was just nice to see Saint Stefan let loose every once in awhile.

The trip to Milazzo weighed heavily on Damon’s mind. He had some reservations about allowing Stefan to become more involved in the family business. He still didn’t understand why his brother had made such a sudden about face on the issue. Alaric, Zacharias, and Damon had gone to great lengths to protect Stefan from Giuseppe’s abuse. However, they had also sought to protect Stefan from the harsh realities of mob life. They never wanted him to have to get bloody the way that they all did. Damon had learned how to torture and kill their enemies before he was old enough to drive a car. He vowed then he would never allow his father to subject his baby brother to the same torments. Defying Giuseppe had not been easy but Zach and Ric had backed him up on the matter.

Damon wanted his younger brother to have as normal life as possible. Stefan was a good kid that married his high school sweetheart. Caroline and Stefan were sickeningly sweet in their love for one another. However, Damon also had less altruistic reasons for steering Stefan away from the blood and death that consumed him and their uncles. Stefan had always been his older brother’s moral compass. Damon often evaluated his actions by considering how he would explain them to Stefan’s disappointed face. Damon knew without a shadow of doubt that Stefan would be the one to pull him back if he ever stumbled into the madness that had claimed their father long ago. No one else would be able to reach him.

Damon was close to getting the thing he had worked for his entire life. However, he found himself approaching the precipice with trepidation. He held no illusions about the fact that he was an abomination. Giuseppe had shaped his son into a remorseless killer. Yet he still managed to retain some barely noticeable morsel of humanity. Damon feared that he would lose that remaining shred of humanity once he became the boss. His father had not always been a demented beast that ruined everything good and pure in his path. His uncle, Bruno, often told stories of how happy and full of wonder Giuseppe was as a boy. Damon wondered had something sinister always lurked within the depths of his father’s soul. Perhaps some life-changing event could explain the cruelty he heaped onto the people he claimed to love.

Damon had listened to the recording of Giuseppe and Sheila’s conversation repeatedly since he received it from Bonnie. He wondered when Sheila had stopped loving his father and began to view him as her enemy. Was it after his grandfather arranged for her to miscarry what would have been Damon’s older brother or sister? Had his father done some unspeakable thing to the woman he claimed to love above all else? Damon certainly would not put it past him. Giuseppe viewed women as disposable playthings. People called Damon a playboy, but he couldn’t begin to count the number of women Giuseppe had bedded over the years. On numerous occasions, he accidentally walked in on his father with some woman that he had never seen before bent over some hard surface.

Zach chuckled from beside his nephew. He took a puff from his cigar and said, “He is covered in stripper glitter and cheap perfume. I can’t wait to see Caroline’s face when we take his drunken ass home.”

Damon laughed and shook his head. Stefan had a hall pass of sorts from Caroline. She trusted her husband to remain faithful even if he enjoyed a lap dance or two. Infidelity had never been an issue in their five-year marriage. Stefan trusted his wife, too. Caroline had recently visited a strip club while in Las Vegas for her cousin’s bachelorette party. At the time, he couldn’t believe how unbothered Stefan had been by the whole thing. Damon couldn’t imagine ever allowing Bonnie to visit a nightclub let alone a strip club. It had never come up since she had only turned 21-years-old recently. However, he hoped that it never came up. Damon did not enjoy dictating Bonnie’s activities.  

He said, “I am just glad that Blondie gave him a hall pass for tonight. Sober Stefan is a buzz kill. And you know how pathetic he gets when she is pissed with him. I wouldn’t want to deal with that shit since he’s joining us on the trip to Milazzo.”

“I still can’t believe that Alaric agreed to let Stefan come with us,” Zach said in a dubious tone. His older brother had belatedly gained his approval. Zach was not in favor of Stefan accompanying them.

“We made sure that Stefan knows that he’s only going to observe.”

Zach said, “I am more concerned about Gio targeting him. I want to look over Ric’s security plan again. Stefan makes for damn good leverage to use against you.”

Damon frowned because that was true. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to get Stefan back if Giuseppe kidnapped him. “Where is Zio anyway? I expected him to join us. He is always bitching about maintaining our relationship with the Mikaelsons. He should be here making nice with Klaus so that I don’t have to do it.”

“He told me that he was spending the night with Abby. She’s pissed at him so he’s trying to make it right before we leave town,” Zach replied.

He didn’t envy his older brother’s predicament. He had long believed that having a mistress was too much work. He was happy with Meredith. Occasionally, he hit up the strip clubs with his nephews but he was perfectly satisfied with just looking. However, he understood that Alaric’s situation with Abby was about more than having a little something on the side. They had children together and that changed things.

Damon snorted. “He completely misunderstands the purpose of having a mistress! They’re supposed to be fun and not complicated.”

Zach lifted an eyebrow at his nephew. “Is that right? Then how exactly do explain what the hell is going on between you and Katherine?”

He flipped his uncle off as he finished off his glass of bourbon. He grumbled, “She’s been unusually complicated lately. It is really unlike her. I still can’t believe that she has been texting Bonnie behind my back. I don’t know what the fuck she was thinking.”

“Maybe she was thinking that she has been with you the longest?” Zach suggested flippantly.

“She knew the deal when I married Bonnie. I gave her an out and she didn’t take it,” he snapped.

Damon had been relieved when Katherine rejected the idea of breaking up simply because he was getting married.  He knew that their relationship needed to be more discreet but he didn’t feel the need to change anything else. Damon had upped Katherine’s compensation in light of her loyalty. He had grown used to women abandoning him but she was different.

He chuckled. “You are acting as if people are completely rational beings when it comes to matters of the heart. You know that Katherine is in love with you. Besides, you are a hypocrite. You would be ready to kill someone if Katherine decided to start seeing another man in her free time.”

Damon scowled but didn’t try to argue the point. Katherine belonged to him and he didn’t share. He knew it wasn’t fair to her or Bonnie but that was just the way that things were. Damon was hardly the only man in his position that had a mistress. It was almost expected in their world.

“Well, she is pissed at me because I sent Enzo to warn her about harassing Bonnie. She has decided to stay at the villa in Tenerife until January.”

Zach nodded. “I guess that’s why we’re leaving a day early so that you can see her. Trying to patch things up?”

He shrugged. The truth was that he missed Katherine. He didn’t really want her to stay out of the country for so long. He might have gone overboard with having Enzo threaten her life. However, he didn’t know how else to get her to back off Bonnie. His wife didn’t deserve to be taunted and humiliated. He wouldn’t stand for it, not even from Katherine.

“Something like that. I am going to try to convince her to come home early. If she stays gone until January I will have to find someone else to scratch my itch.”

Zach rolled his eyes. “You have a wife. Why not try being faithful for a few weeks? It won’t kill you, Damon.”

“Sometimes I just want to blow off steam. I can’t do that with her. Besides, things with Bonnie are complicated already. She is in love with me and I don’t know what she’s expecting. No matter what I do, she is going to end up being disappointed. You know that I’m not cut out to be anyone’s husband.”

“You didn’t think that you were cut out to be anyone’s father either. Nevertheless, you figured out how to do that without screwing up my niece. You can do this, too. You just need to make your wife a priority, Damon.”

Damon groaned and said, “I’m not here to get life lessons from you. I’m here to get drunk off my ass and maybe get a blow job from one of these strippers.”

“Aren’t you lucky that I am always around to tell you when you are being a fucking idiot? You have a wife that loves you. You need to get your life together, Damon. You are my nephew and I love you. I don’t want to see you lose the best thing that has ever happened to you. You can put up a front for everyone else but I know how much you love Bonnie. You are so afraid of showing her the real you that you are pushing her away.”

The younger man growled and flagged down a topless dancer. He flashed a wad of cash at her. “Come here, sweetheart. I need you to give my uncle the time of his life. I think he might be literally turning into a pussy. Save him from himself.”

The woman giggled in response and walked over to Zach. “Hi, Mr. Salvatore…”

Zach laughed at Damon and said, “Fuck you, asshole.” However, he spread his legs to give the curvy blonde enough room to do her thing.

Damon tried not to think about his uncle’s warning. If Bonnie stayed with him after what Giuseppe did, then she would never leave. Damon knew that he was a bastard. He could stand to treat Bonnie and Katherine better. He could make excuses about his shitty childhood filled with abuse and neglect. He could blame his fear of women abandoning him because of Mother of the Year award winner, Lilly Salvatore. His excuses were honest but did not make him any less culpable for his behavior. Damon reasoned that he could not focus on being a better person right now. He would worry about that after Giuseppe was dead and he was the head of the family. Then he would take Bonnie away for an extended vacation. It would be just what they needed to reconnect.

Klaus swaggered over with a bottle of champagne in his hand. He was in a sour mood after his conversation with Bonnie. He couldn’t believe that she had accused him of raping her. He was certainly in no mood to socialize with Damon. However, Elijah had ordered him to go talk to the Salvatores.

“Are you enjoying yourselves, mates?”

Damon stiffened but flashed a grin. He had always hated the cocky bastard. However, a certain amount of civility was required when dealing with the younger brother of your greatest ally.

“You've outdone yourself with this party, Klaus. We are all glad to have you home again. You were always the fun Mikaelson brother,” Damon joked.

The blond mobster adopted a languid pose on the leather couch. Klaus imagined shooting Damon in the head and freeing his petal from the hold he had on her. Damon’s influence was the only way that he could explain Bonnie’s earlier outburst.

“It is good to see you again, old friend. I hear life has been good for you while I have been away. You are married to the Bennett girl now, right?”

Damon didn't like Klaus’s tone of voice but he chalked it up to bitterness. His life had stood still for years while everyone else moved on without him.

“Yeah, I am. Bonnie and I will be celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary early next year.”

Klaus took a long gulp from the bottle of Dom Perignon. The idea of Damon touching Bonnie was driving him insane. He regretted his decision of not claiming her fully when he had the chance. It would have given him endless pleasure for Damon to know that another man had deflowered her. Instead, he was filled with rage thinking about Bonnie using the skills he taught her to please Damon.

“Whatever happened to that one bird you were so fond of? I think her name was Katherine. She was gorgeous and cultured. She is exactly what I need to get back on my feet socially,” he inquired. Surprisingly, Klaus managed to keep a straight face.

Stefan had moved closer to the group when Klaus joined them. He was there to act as a buffer between his brother and Klaus. He knew how quickly an argument could spark between the two men. He said, “She's his comare.”

“I am not familiar with that term,” Klaus said innocently. He was lying of course.

Damon frowned at his younger brother for speaking so freely to Klaus. However, he knew that they were friends. Stefan had actually visited Klaus in prison several times.  He said, “She is my mistress.”

He laughed. “Truly? What has it been seven or eight years now? In some quarters, you would be considered common law married.”

Zach nearly spit out his drink as he tried to stifle a laugh.

Damon shot his uncle a nasty glare. “I don’t think that counts if you don’t live in the same house.”

Zach’s eyebrows went up at that because he wondered what Damon thought the penthouse at the Rischard was. He had been financially supporting her for years. If Damon and Katherine were to end their relationship now she would certainly be entitled to palimony under state law.

Klaus feigned enlightenment and said, “Ah, I see. Well, congratulations on your good fortune. I suppose I will have to let Rebekah set me up with one of her dreadful friends. Elijah is insisting that I attend some charity auction at Hayley’s gallery next week. He wishes to begin the rehabilitation of my reputation immediately. I am afraid that tonight is the last time I will be able to behave like a cad publicly.”

Elijah had sat his brother down for a stern talk on the same day he was released from prison. He painstakingly explained what he expected from Klaus going forward. Niklaus’ five-year sentence had come at great cost to his family. The seriousness of his crime had deserved a more severe penalty. However, his brother had burned several favors to ensure that Klaus wasn’t brought up on charges that were more serious. Many had speculated that he should have been charged with attempted murder given the video evidence the prosecution had.

Damon winced in sympathy. He had been through a similar gauntlet after he married Bonnie. Giuseppe had insisted that he start behaving more discreet. It took some time to adjust but Damon ultimately realized that his father was right. However, he didn’t care as much about how he looked as the CEO of Velocita. He didn’t want to do anything that would embarrass Bonnie. He remembered how devastated his mother had been every time rumors of Giuseppe’s infidelity reached her ears. It wasn’t only his father’s abuse that had driven Lilly insane.

He advised, “It just means that you will have to be more discreet. You can still have fun—believe me. It is all about choosing the right women. I keep Katherine around because I can be truly myself with her. She has never found anything I do around her or want from her to be offensive or off-putting. We are closer in age, too. I never thought that sort of thing mattered until I married someone ten years younger than I am. Katherine and I actually have things in common. Besides, her experience means she is a hellcat in the sack.”

Klaus wished that Bonnie were there to hear Damon talk about why Katherine was better than she was. He found her defense of this idiot even more laughable.

Ric walked over to the group with a scowl on his face.

Stefan grinned at his uncle. “Zio! I didn’t think you were going to make it. This is Candy. Candy, say hello to my uncle Ric.”

The voluptous redhead smiled at him while she handed Stefan a new bottle of champagne. “Hi, Uncle Ric.”

“Hi, darlin.” He chuckled and snatched the bottle of champagne from his nephew’s hand. “I’m glad to see that you are having fun, Stefan. But that’s enough drinking for you.”

Damon chuckled. “Goody the grumpy uncle has decided to join our night of debauchery. I thought you were supposed to be getting laid.”

Ric sat down and took a gulp from the bottle of champagne. “She kicked me out before anything could happen.”

Zach and Damon both laughed at the same time.

The younger man ribbed him. “You have a wife and a mistress and you can’t get either of them to screw you. Are you even a Salvatore? I think we may need some sort of DNA test to prove it.”

“Shut up. Abby kicked me out of my own damned house because of you! Your wife showed up on my doorstep in tears. I’m going to assume that you did something to her.”

Damon’s smile slipped from his face. “What are you talking about? I left Bonnie at home in bed hours ago. How long ago did she show up at your place?”

Klaus stayed silent and hoped that the Salvatore clan would forget that he was in their midst. Niklaus knew that he was likely responsible for Bonnie’s desire to seek out her mother. He could only hope that she hadn't shared anything with Abby. Whereas the Salvatores could be reasoned with for the good of the alliance, Bonnie had proven that the Benedettos were a wildcard. His finger idly stroked the tiny cut Bonnie’s switchblade left on his neck.

Ric looked at his watch. “She showed up maybe two hours ago. Bonnie didn’t call first or anything. She just turned up on our doorstep in her pajamas. I don’t know what happened because Abby wouldn’t let me stay upstairs. She figured Bonnie wouldn’t feel comfortable talking freely with me in the house. I don’t know what you did but it must be big. I told Abby to call me once Bonnie left. I waited around for almost ninety minutes before I gave up. I probably won’t hear from Abby until the morning.”

Damon’s eyebrows furrowed as he thought over the evening he spent with Bonnie. Finally, he said, “I haven’t done anything to Bonnie. I am an asshole but usually it isn’t unintentional. We were on good terms when I left the house. Do you think something could be wrong with the babies? I mean she was feeling sick all day…”

Klaus’s jaw tightened when he heard Damon mention the word babies. He thought that Bonnie felt a little thick around the middle earlier but he had forgotten about it in his haste.

Ric started to look concerned. He asked, “How has she been sick? I mean is it something other than morning sickness?

Zach shoved some money at the stripper and patted her on the butt. “Thanks, honey. That’ll be all.”

The girl quickly cleared out.

Stefan unceremoniously dismissed the stripper he had been dancing with, too. He leaned against the railing and tried to focus on the conversation. However, his level of intoxication made that a serious challenge. “Bon told me earlier that she felt lightheaded.”

Damon stood up and began to pace. “I don’t know if it is more than morning sickness or not. She fell asleep for a bit at Elijah’s house after throwing up. Lately she has been tired more often than not. I asked if everything was okay but Bonnie told me that all she needed was sleep. I guess that she could have been lying to me. Maybe she thought I would be mad if she told me the truth. I mean Dr. Huerta is concerned about Bonnie carrying twins. She is not gaining enough weight or something.”

Zach frowned and added, “Meredith mentioned that Bonnie was significantly underweight during her last check up. The morning sickness probably hasn’t helped her pack on the pounds the way Dr. Huerta would like.”

“I’m going over there,” the raven-haired mobster muttered.

Ric stood up to stop him. “Calm down, Damon. You don’t know that Bonnie is sick. Meredith and Jo interacted with her during dinner and cocktail hour. If she were sick, they would have noticed. It’s more likely that she was just upset and needed to talk to her mother.”

He rolled his eyes. “Because she has such a great relationship with Abby?”

He didn’t often pull rank with his nephews but he had his limits. He admonished Damon. “I get that you are worried but don’t talk shit about Abby. She deserves respect as my girlfriend and your wife’s mother.”

Damon was practically grinding his teeth. He took a deep breath. “I am sorry. I am just worried about Bonnie. You know that she isn’t the type of person to complain. There could be something wrong with her or our babies.”

Ric ran a hand over his scruffy face. “Look, Tyler was waiting outside in the car when I left. Call him to see if he knows what is happening with Bonnie. If she is still at my house then you know that everything is fine. Abby would have insisted on Bonnie going to the hospital if she was sick.”

Damon slowly sat down and nodded. “You are right. They would be at a hospital if it was serious.”

Zach nodded. “It doesn’t hurt to check. Do you have Tyler’s number?”

Damon took out his phone and scrolled through his contacts. He called the number and waited for the kid to answer.

“Hey, Damon. Is everything okay?”

“Where is my wife?” he snapped. Tyler hadn’t done anything wrong but he wasn’t in the mood for niceties.

“Bonnie asked me to drive her over to Abby’s house a few hours ago. We’re still here,” he explained.

“Why did she want to go over there? Ric said that Bonnie was crying when she made it to the house. Is she sick?”

“I don’t know why she was upset. I asked but she wouldn’t tell me anything. Bonnie just asked me to drive her to Abby’s house. Matt is at the manor protecting Sarah right now. Bonnie didn’t want to leave her unprotected.”

Damon frowned. He wasn’t sure that he believed the kid. However, Damon knew that some of his suspicion was because of Tyler and Bonnie’s friendship. He didn't like that his wife had hidden the relationship from him. However, he hadn’t figured out how to question Bonnie about it yet.

He snapped, “Take the phone to her.”

“She’s asleep, Damon. Do you really want me to wake her?” he sounded disapproving of the notion.

Damon ended the call and scowled.

“What did he say?” Zach asked.

“He said that she is sleeping but I can tell that the little fucker knows something. Why did you assign him to Bonnie’s security detail?”

Ric said, “Mason is the one that put together the security team for Bonnie and Sarah. He figured that Bonnie would be more comfortable with people that she knew well. You wanted someone to protect her, Damon. You didn’t say anything about them spying on her for you.”

“I am not asking him to spy on Bonnie. I think it might be time to replace him. I don’t like how friendly they are with each other,” he complained.

Stefan winced because he could tell that his brother was close to throwing one of his epic tantrums. He wasn’t about to let Damon take his bad mood out on Tyler. The two young men were still best friends. Tyler was actually godfather to Stefan and Caroline’s youngest son.

Stefan said, “Don’t do anything to make the situation worse, Damon. If Bonnie isn’t sick then you probably did something to upset her. Maybe Katherine contacted her again.”

“How do we know that Bonnie isn’t sick? Tyler doesn’t actually know what’s wrong with her. Or at least he isn’t telling me.”

“Tyler would have taken Bonnie to the hospital if she were sick. We were all close as kids. She wouldn’t be able to hide something like that from either of us.”

He ground out, “How close?”

That question intrigued Klaus as well. He remembered the Lockwood runt vaguely. However, he was more familiar with the boy’s uncles.

Stefan rolled his eyes. “It’s never been like that. They are friends. Some men are capable of being friends with the opposite sex without fucking them. You should give it a try, Damon.”

Damon said, “It didn’t stop you from trying it and according to you Bonnie was like a little sister.”

Ric gave Stefan an unimpressed look. “Really?”

He huffed. “It’s not my fault! She was walking around in a white bikini and I had the libido of a teenager. Maybe I loved her like a distant cousin. You know the type of cousin you can fool around with guilt free. The point is that Tyler is not screwing your wife. Maybe you should have stayed home with her since she was sick instead of coming here. Then you wouldn’t need someone else to tell you about your wife’s condition.”

Damon’s jaw clenched. He stood up and asked, “The fuck did you just say to me?”

Stefan straightened up to his full height. He knew what was about to happen but he would rather Damon’s fury was directed at him. “I said that you should be at home with your pregnant wife instead of trying to get some stripper to suck your cock. Here is another novel idea, instead of leaving early to see Katherine you could spend that time with your traumatized wife and daughter. Or did you forget what happened the last time you prioritized screwing Katherine over being there for your family.”

Damon got in his younger brother’s face. He practically growled, “No one asked for your opinion. Not everyone is willing to let their wife hold onto their balls for them. Shut the fuck up about my marriage because you know nothing about it.”

“Are you being serious right now? Everyone in the manor knows how shitty you treat Bonnie. Caroline is always trying to cheer her up while she pretends that she isn’t depressed. I spend more time with your wife than you do, Damon!”

Damon said, “Get the fuck out of here before you make me do something I will regret. I won’t be taking advice on how to be a man from someone that is still afraid of his own father. The last time he went after you I was still the one right there saving your ass! Making sure that he didn’t break fragile little Stefan’s pretty fucking face.”

Stefan tensed as his older brother’s words cut him to the bone. “You are right. You have always been there to protect me from Giuseppe. But where the fuck were you when Bonnie needed you to protect her? I might be a coward but I have always protected my wife from that fucking psychopath. Let’s ask your wife who is the better man between the two of us.”

Damon punched Stefan in the face three times before the younger man even had the time to react.

Stefan swung out blindly and connected with Damon's chin. He targeted his older brother’s kidneys with his next punches. Stefan didn’t fight often but it didn’t mean that he couldn’t.

Klaus casually walked away from the fight. He had gathered more than enough information for the night.

Ric and Zach quickly separated their nephews before the situation got more out of hand.

Ric yelled, “Knock it off! You are adults!”

Zach held Stefan back while Ric restrained Damon.

Stefan yelled, “Like father, like son! You feel better now! Do you wanna hit me again? Better get it out of your system before you have to behave like a civilized human being with Bonnie.”

Damon bellowed. “Get him out of here before I kill him!”

Ric sighed and said, “Zach.”

“Yeah, I got him.”

Stefan’s nose was bleeding as Zach led him away. He called over his shoulder. “It’s the things that are true that makes us the angriest. You’re the fucking coward out of the two of us and you know it, Damon!”

Ric pointed at Damon. “Sit down.”

“I am going to go see my wife.”

“Not until you calm down because your wife is in my house with my kids. You aren’t going over there with a head full of steam. Have a drink. Get a blow job and calm the fuck down.” He muttered, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

Damon said, “I can calm down on my way over there. Something is going on with Bonnie. You know that she is not close with Abby. It has to be serious if she went to her.”

“I am serious. You are not going to my house like that. My kids are asleep. You are not going to wake them up and scare them because you are out of control. You might be able to knock your little brother around but I dare you to try that shit with me. I’ll knock you on your ass.”

He looked down at his knuckles and groaned seeing Stefan’s blood. He ran his other hand over his face as he sat down. “Damn him and his big mouth. He never did know when to shut up.”

“I want to hear less talking and see more drinking. Chill out. Bonnie is fine. She is asleep at my house. You can talk about whatever is going on with her later. For all you know it could just be a case of pregnancy hormones. Abby threw a knife at me when she was pregnant with Savannah…all because I ate the last of the Nutella. I am not talking about a small knife either. She threw a freaking butcher knife at my head.”

Damon chuckled as he picked up his glass. “Abby might be a special case.”

Ric smirked. “Maybe but Bonnie is from the same bloodline so…”

He took a deep breath and downed his drink with one large gulp. Damon couldn’t believe that he had lashed out at his brother that way. However, he wondered what made Stefan keep pushing his buttons. He had to know that Damon was close to the edge.

“That little bastard hit me,” he muttered.

The older man laughed at him. “Your charm has its limits, nipote. Trust me…”

Damon stood up.

“Where are you going?” Ric asked.

“Calm down, Zio. I am about to take your advice. I am going to see if I can find Candy. I’ve had my eye on her all night.”

Ric nodded. “Good luck…”

“Don’t need luck,” he replied cockily. “Do you want me to send one of the girls your way?”

He shook his head. “You’ll be carting me to a hospital if I go home to Abby smelling like strippers.”

Damon shook his head with a laugh and headed out of the VIP section.



Chapter Text

Damon tried mightily to forget his fight with Stefan. However, the incident weighed heavily on his mind long after his brother left the club. Protecting Stefan had always been Damon’s responsibility. For years, he had been putting himself in the path of all the terrible shit that threatened to taint his baby brother’s soul. In the beginning, it wasn’t even a conscious decision on his part. Stefan’s pitiful cries had stirred something deep within Damon’s soul and he acted. That fateful night had started out as so many others had in his childhood. Giuseppe had come home stinking drunk and spoiling for a fight. Damon awoke to the familiar sounds of his mother begging for mercy as Giuseppe beat her. He would have gone back to sleep if not for Stefan’s tiny voice. His younger brother couldn’t have been more than four years old at the time. Damon had raced out of his room to save Stefan from witnessing their father’s brutality.

However, he could have never predicted what he saw after entering his parents’ bedroom. Stefan was huddled with Lilly in a corner of the room. Giuseppe had ordered the little boy to move out of the way but he was too afraid to move. Moreover, Lilly was too grateful for the brief reprieve to push him out of harm’s way. Damon had watched in horror as his father reared back to punch Stefan for his disobedience. Twelve-year-old Damon had rushed forward and wedged his lanky body in front of Stefan. 

Giuseppe had pummeled his son until he grew tired. In the end, Damon walked away with an array of bruises and a dislocated shoulder. The next day, Giuseppe pretended as if nothing had happened the previous night. He called their personal physician to treat Damon’s injuries discreetly. Then he lavished his family with gifts to apologize for his brutality. A few months later, Lilly disappeared in the night before having Giuseppe served with divorce papers.

Damon kept replaying his argument with Stefan in his mind. He couldn’t understand why his brother kept provoking him. Stefan knew better than most how on edge Damon had been lately. His struggle to find Giuseppe was taking him to some dark places. However, his thoughts drifted to Stefan taunting him about having to behave like a civilized human being around Bonnie. His heart began to beat faster as he considered the motivation behind those words. Did Stefan truly think that Damon was so far gone that he would ever raise a hand to Bonnie in anger? Had he provoked Damon as a means of protecting Bonnie from him? The very notion made him feel sick to his stomach. He would never hit his wife or any other woman for that matter. Even if he did learn that Bonnie had been unfaithful, Damon would simply kill her paramour.

The blue-eyed mobster watched as two insanely beautiful women performed for his pleasure. However, Damon realized that the erotic scene was doing very little to arouse him. He really just wanted to see his wife. He wanted to know what situation had brought her to tears. More importantly, he wanted to know why it compelled Bonnie to seek out her mother instead of calling him. Earlier, he had told Bonnie that he would come home if she needed him. Perhaps this was her way of saying that she didn’t need Damon. Just as she hadn’t sought out his help after Giuseppe attacked her. Damon wondered what it said about their marriage that his wife didn’t seek his comfort. He hadn’t even known about these bouts of depression until Stefan blithely wielded them as a weapon against Damon. Was this depression a serious clinical diagnosis or simply a case of the blues? Was Bonnie’s depression related to her being significantly underweight? Damon hadn’t even realized that her weight loss was unhealthy until the doctor’s visit in Shadow Hills.

Damon stood up and placed two stacks of hundred dollar bills on a table. He smiled at the women. “I hate to run but I have somewhere else to be.”

Candy pouted and asked, “Do you have to go right now?”

“We’re just getting started,” the other woman added with a mischievous smile.

He said, “I’m afraid that I do. Good night, ladies.”

Candy hopped up and ran over to Damon. She slipped a card into his hand. “Call me if you ever want to finish this…”

Damon glanced at the card and tucked it into his pants’ pocket as he walked out of the champagne room. When Damon emerged, he wasn’t surprised to find that Klaus’ party was still in full-swing. Many loyal soldiers from both organizations had attended the private bash out of respect. Everyone knew that Klaus would soon be running his own crew. Elijah had reserved the largest and highest grossing territory for his little brother. However, Damon and Alaric were two of a handful of people that knew the entire story. Klaus would take on the role of Elijah’s consigliere in a matter of months.

Vincent had been looking to reduce his role in the organization for a while because of his mother’s poor health. However, he had been too loyal to leave Elijah shorthanded. Trust was a fragile thing in their business. Such an important position couldn’t be bestowed onto just anyone. Klaus’ release from prison had come at a particularly fortuitous time. Elijah had always wanted his younger brother to be his second in command.

Many people would question the wisdom of letting someone with Klaus’ reputation act as an advisor. However, the move made perfect sense to Damon. Elijah was the levelheaded leader but he needed a consigliere that understood the value of getting bloody. Damon would have a similar dynamic with Zacharias once they killed Giuseppe. No one would question Damon’s bona fides when it came to striking fear into the hearts of their enemies. He was an accomplished killer and wasn’t known for showing mercy to those that crossed him. Meanwhile, Zacharias’ milder temperament made him a valued advisor and strategist. Both personalities would be necessary in the coming months. Surely, their enemies would think them weak after the death of Giuseppe.

Damon walked up the stairs to the VIP section where he had left Alaric over an hour ago. He was glad that he took his uncle’s advice. The last thing Damon wanted to do was upset Bonnie more. She had been through enough trauma because him and his family. Damon felt clear headed and more in control than he did earlier. He would be able to react rationally to whatever was happening.

The younger man’s lips curled into a smirk when he saw that his uncle was falling asleep on the leather couch. He asked, “Are you ready to get out of here, old man? It has to be your bedtime.”

Ric cracked open one eye to look at Damon. He was glad to see that his nephew looked relaxed now. He stood up and stretched his stiff muscles with audible pops and clicks. “It was past my bedtime when I got here.”

Damon chuckled. “You sound like you’re about to fall apart, Zio.”

“Laugh all you want. If you are lucky, you will get to be my age. Trust me when I say that all of this shit is genetic. My old man had a bum ticker and arthritis, too,” he commented.

Damon could see the irony in how everything played out between his father and grandfather. Domenico probably would have dropped dead from a massive heart attack if Giuseppe had been a little more patient. The same was probably true of his father. Giuseppe had suffered what the doctors called a cardiac event just a few months ago. However, Damon couldn’t wait for the maniac to die of natural causes. The man was either becoming more unhinged in his old age or he had attacked Bonnie to provoke his son. Ultimately, Giuseppe’s reasoning didn’t matter. He would be dead before the New Year even if Damon had to rip Milazzo apart brick by brick to find him.

He smirked and said, “The difference is that I take care of myself. I work out. I eat healthy. I might end up with cirrhosis but getting a black market liver shouldn’t be too difficult.”

Ric chuckled and shook his head. “Let’s get out of here, kid. A warm bed is calling my name. Did you drive yourself?”

He shook his head. “Nah. I rode over here with Zio and Stefan. I figured I wouldn’t be in any condition to drive when I left.”

Ric nodded in understanding. He was glad that Damon was well past the stage of driving drunk. Fortunately, nearly dying in his early twenties had served as enough of a warning. He said, “Well, I guess it’s a good thing that I brought my car.”

Damon followed Alaric out of the club while checking his phone for messages and missed calls. He didn’t know why he had hoped to see something from Bonnie.

Ric unlocked the car and climbed inside. He was tempted to call Abby. However, he knew that she would just tell him to stay away. He figured that it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission in this situation. Damon needed to sort out his issues with Bonnie before they left for Milazzo.

He frowned as he climbed into the nondescript SUV. “Would it kill you to drive one of our cars? This is embarrassing.”

Ric started the car and rolled his eyes. “I am a father of five, Damon. In what world would I drive a sports car that their booster seats wouldn't fit into?”

“I am a father, too. You could at least get one of our sports coupes, Zio.”

Ric chuckled. “Coop puked all over the backseat a few weeks ago after eating six churros. I think I will wait to get something nice until my younger children are much older.”

Damon peered over the headrest in horror.

Ric laughed harder at his reaction. “Don't worry, Damon. I had the car professionally detailed while Abby chewed me out for letting him eat so many churros at one time.”

He snorted. “You are really trying to do this two family thing, huh? I can barely take care of the one that I have. I thought I was doing okay and then…”

“Is that why you decided to use your younger brother as a punching bag?” Ric asked with a raised eyebrow.

He could count on one hand the number of fistfights his nephews had gotten into over the years. They were always fueled by insane amounts of alcohol but something had been different tonight. Ric wasn’t concerned that the boys had used their fists to settle the beef—they were men after all. However, the venomous insults they had hurled at one another worried him. Damon and Stefan had both been aiming for maximum damage as they traded honest insults. Ric was concerned that their fight underscored some underlying discord between the brothers. He would have to consult with Zach first thing in the morning. His younger brother would have certainly grilled Stefan on his behavior.

“No. We got into a fight because Stefan is an asshole when he’s drunk,” he complained.

However, both men knew that was untrue. Stefan was just as fun loving and peaceable when he was drunk as he was sober. In the past, Damon had always instigated the fights because of his notorious temper. Something about tonight had been different. Stefan kept needling his older brother despite the obvious signs that he was at the boiling point. In fact, Damon had even warned Stefan to back off but the younger man had barreled past the warning without care.

“Well, you are an asshole 365 days of the year. I think that we can allow Stefan one night. It is also okay for you to admit that he struck a chord, Damon. I know that what Gio did to Bonnie has been weighing on you. I think it has taken a toll on all of us. We all feel as if let her down because we did. Somehow she slipped through the cracks…it should have never happened.”

Damon frowned. “I guess that Stefan did get under my skin with some of the shit that he was saying. I didn’t realize that Bonnie was depressed. I mean she always seems fine when I am around but maybe she is just pretending. I’m beginning to think she does that a lot around me.”

“What are you talking about?” Ric asked.  

“I don’t know. I keep seeing flashes of this person that I don’t recognize. Bonnie has been making me feel off balance lately. She has known about Katherine since before we were married. However, she never said a word about it until after Giuseppe attacked her. Then she casually mentions that I was at the penthouse at the time. I had Enzo grill Katherine. She swears that she never mentioned the penthouse at the Rischard to Bonnie.”

Ric frowned as he considered everything. There was a chance that Katherine was lying. After all, she had been contacting Bonnie behind Damon’s back for years. However, revealing the location of the penthouse seemed like overplaying her hand. Having the wife turn up at your love nest was bad news for everyone.

Damon continued, “I keep wondering how Bonnie came to know about the penthouse. Did she hire a private investigator to gather evidence for a divorce? Has someone in our organization been talking out of school?”

“I don’t think that Bonnie is looking to divorce you, Damon. Gio attacking her is ample ammunition. Sheila made sure that prenuptial agreement was iron clad. It’s almost like she was expecting this to happen. Although, I guess it wasn’t much of a stretch considering Sheila had firsthand experience with the kinds of violent acts that Giuseppe is capable of committing against women.”

“That’s another thing that bothers me. Bonnie never mentioned the recordings that Sheila left her until it was beneficial for her. She hasn’t offered to tell me about the other information she has in her possession. Apparently, the recording was just the opening salvo. What else is my sweet wife hiding from me? For the first time since we’ve been married...I feel like I don’t know Bonnie.”

Ric lifted an eyebrow when Damon mentioned that Bonnie had more information on Giuseppe. However, it occurred to him that Sheila might have gathered dirt on all of them. While he didn’t think that Bonnie was a threat to them, he also couldn’t just dismiss his nephew’s concerns. Abby was proof that Benedetto women were complicated creatures. The love of his life forced him to eat healthy foods so that he didn’t drop dead from a heart attack. However, there was no doubt in Ric’s mind that she would kill him the moment he raised a hand to her the way that Rudy had. Abby was dangerous in a way that most people would never see. She was the type of danger that even he didn’t see coming until he woke up with the barrel of a .45 wedged against forehead. Ric could concede that the same might be true of Bonnie.

He said, “I think that those are all valid concerns, Damon. However, there is a simple solution to your problems. You need to sit down and have an honest conversation with your wife. Women are perceptive creatures. Abby thinks that Jo knows about us. I have been bending over backwards for years to make sure that never happened...and yet here we are. Who knows how Jo figured it all out?”

“I can’t interrogate Bonnie until after I have taken care of Giuseppe. I owe her that much. She is my wife and my responsibility. I left her in the warpath of a psycho and she paid the price for it. Once that debt is settled, I can talk to her about my concerns. I just want to find a delicate way to do it. I don’t want to upset her. I do enough of that already.”

“You will figure it out when the time comes. Just focus on the fact that she’s still with you. In the meantime, you need to get your head out of your ass. We are going to Milazzo to prove to our people that you are ready to take over for Giuseppe. Your best quality is that you are not a mercurial bastard. They have already served someone like that for 30 years. They might as well stick with Gio if you are going to behave the same way. It is better to serve the devil you know after all.”

Damon groaned and scrubbed at his face in annoyance. He could feel the stubble growing on his jaw. “I’ll have my head on straight before we touchdown in Milazzo, Zio. I know what is at stake for all of us.”

“Good. I also talked to Big John earlier. We are going to have dinner with him on our second night in town. He knows that something is up. It would be better if he finds out about the approaching change of leadership from you.”

He nodded in agreement. “We’re still not telling him about Giuseppe attacking Bonnie, right?”

“No. That stays within the family until we take care of Gio. We need his death to be a mea culpa to the Benedettos. Hopefully, they won’t insist on some other type of compensation,” he replied.

“And you are sure that Abby won’t say anything to Big John?”

Alaric said, “Abby gave me her word. But it’s only good for a limited time. She will take matters into her own hands if we don’t find Gio soon.”

“Can’t you put a muzzle on her?” he muttered.

“Have you met Abby? No, I can’t put a muzzle on her, Damon. Your father beat her daughter black and blue. She showed a surprising amount of restraint by not getting Big John involved from the beginning. She already blames me for what happened and for not telling her. We argued about it again before she kicked me out tonight.”

Damon immediately felt guilty because he had been the one that asked Ric to keep quiet. He was only trying to contain the fallout. He hadn’t expected to cause strife between Ric and Abby. He said, “I didn’t know that the two of you fought because of that. I’m…”

“It was the right decision for the family,” Ric interjected.

“The family always comes first,” Damon murmured. It was a lesson that Giuseppe had beaten into him as a child.

Ric pulled into the driveway and turned off the engine. He said, “I meant what I said about keeping your cool in there. I won’t have you waking up my kids.”

“I hear you. I am not going to be an asshole. I just want to make sure that Bonnie is feeling okay,” he replied.

Tyler was sitting outside smoking a cigarette. He stood up when the men approached the house. He had received a call from Stefan an hour ago. His best friend had warned him about Damon’s volatile mood. “Good party?” he asked.

Damon eyed him but nodded. “Yeah. Bonnie and I will be leaving soon.”

Tyler nodded and put out his cigarette. “I’ll get the car.”

Ric unlocked the front door and walked into the quiet house. Only Nina Simone’s soft crooning could be heard filtering out of the living room. That was where they found Bonnie sleeping with her head on Abby’s lap.

The older woman was carding her fingers through the sleeping girl’s hair and humming along to the song. She frowned, “What are you doing here, Alaric? I said that I would call you after Bonnie left.”

His jaw clenched as he said, “I do live here, Abigail. Besides, Damon was worried about Bonnie.”

Damon walked into the room. “Is she okay?”

Abby wanted to slap Damon’s face but she calmed herself. She said, “Bonnie is fine.”

“Then why did she come here tonight?” he asked.

She saw the genuine concern but it did little to tame the fury roiling in her gut. She was angry with so many people that had hurt her precious little girl. Unfortunately, Abby was at the top of her own list.

She took a deep breath and smoothly relayed the lie she and Bonnie had agreed on earlier. “Bonnie is just having a hard time with the pregnancy. The morning sickness seems to be getting worse. Her insomnia certainly isn’t helping matters either. She keeps dreaming about Giuseppe popping up like some killer from a slasher flick. But I think most of all she is just missing the comfort of my mama. She always made Bonnie feel safe and secure. I’m doing my best to cure some of the loneliness she’s been feeling out here in California. But I’m no substitute for her grams.” 

Damon nodded in understanding. He had asked Bonnie about her insomnia but she had told him she was only restless. 

“I am going to see if Aunt Geneva will come for a visit after Christmas. My aunt is where I go when I am missing Mama. They are so much alike sometimes. They even sound similar over the phone. It’s not a replacement of course but God does it help during the harder moments.”

It was second time that week that Damon had been reminded how little contact Bonnie had with her own family. He knew most of that was down to his father’s machinations. However, Damon hadn’t done anything to stop Giuseppe from isolating Bonnie from the people that loved her. He supposed that estrangement could be another reason that his wife was so often depressed if he could believe Stefan’s assertion. He asked, “How long has she been asleep?”

Abby said, “Bonnie has slept off and on since she’s been here.”

“Other than that is she okay?” he asked.

“She was a bit sick to her stomach but I think the ginger tea helped her. Morning sickness hasn’t been very kind to my poor baby,” she murmured affectionately.

He sat on the coffee table so that he could be close to his wife without disturbing her rest. “You must hate me. I know you were never in favor of this marriage.”

“I could never hate you, Damon. However, I did think that you were too old to marry my daughter. You’re not the man that I would have picked for her,” she confessed.

He nodded in understanding. He wouldn’t have picked himself for Bonnie either. Damon wasn’t blind to his own flaws. However, he hadn't been able to stomach the thought of Bonnie marrying some distant relative from Milazzo.

She continued, “But Bonnie loves you and that is all that matters to me. She has always loved you.”

Damon smiled tiredly but his eyes never left his wife’s face. “That’s a lot to live up to. She fell in love with her crush—not the real me. I keep getting this feeling that I will fall short no matter what I do.”

Abby huffed out a laugh. “If you think my daughter doesn’t know exactly who she married then you have severely underestimated her. Youth and naiveté are not always synonymous, Damon.”

Something about Abby’s words tickled the back of his consciousness. However, he was too tired and too drunk to examine it now. He said, “I should take her home. It is late and Sarah will be looking for her in the morning.”

Damon was too prideful to admit that he slept better when Bonnie was curled up against him. Everything from her soft curves to the familiarity of her scent was like home to him.

She turned her nose up at that idea. “You aren’t driving my daughter home. You are drunk.”

He frowned in response. “I don’t even have my car with me, Abby. I wasn’t planning on driving drunk. I figured Tyler could drive us home.”

Abby wasn’t in love with that idea either. She had this urge to take her family, including Bonnie and Sarah, and run away from the Salvatores for good. They were poison. However, Bonnie wasn’t a little girl anymore. Abby knew her daughter was planning something. The only thing she could do was support her and make sure that she wasn’t getting in over her head. Abby’s connections to the Old Country ran deep. She had spent a lot of time in Milazzo after she left Rudy. She knew that side of her family well. If Damon wouldn’t pull the trigger on Giuseppe, she knew people on the other side of the ocean that would gladly do it.

Damon stood up and gently lifted Bonnie into his arms. “I’ll get her home safely, Abby. I promise.”

The older woman nodded slowly and picked up Bonnie’s purse. “I’ll walk you out.”

Ric and Abby followed Damon out to the car.

Tyler hopped out to open the back door as soon as he saw Damon emerge with Bonnie in his arms.

Abby handed him Bonnie’s purse and gave the young man a loaded look.

His dark eyes acknowledged her warning as he waited for Damon to get Bonnie settled in the car.

“Tell Bonnie to call me in the morning,” Abby said. 

“I will,” Damon replied.

Ric put his arm around Abby’s waist and walked back into the house with her.

Abby slipped out of his embrace and returned to the living room.

Ric locked the door and then waited until Tyler drove away from their house. Afterwards he walked into the living room and watched Abby for a moment. He asked, “What’s really going on, Abigail?”

“Are you calling me a liar, Alaric?” she asked. Abby was collecting the teacups from the coffee table.

“I saw the way you were looking at Damon. You were never in love with the idea of their marriage but this is different. Something has changed. What’s going on?”

She smiled. “I love you, Alaric, but you must know that we are on opposing sides here.”

He followed her into the kitchen. “There is only one side now, Abby. We are part of the same family.”

“That is where you are wrong. Bonnie is my daughter. I know that I have not been the best mother but I have always wanted her to be happy and safe. Right now she is neither and it is because of your family.”

“Damon…”

She snapped, “Damon is still the selfish manchild that he has always been. You know that I love your nephew. I watched him grow up. He might as well have been my little brother. If it were someone else’s daughter that he was jerking around I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. But it’s my little girl that he’s hurting and I can’t even say anything because she loves him.”

Ric walked up behind Abby and rested his hands on her hips. “Damon loves her, Abby.”

“It’s not enough and you know that. Imagine Josie or Lizzie in the same position. You wouldn’t be quite so understanding about any of this.”

He tensed because she was right. The same went for his behavior with Jo and Abby. “They are adults, baby. They are going to have to figure it out on their own. Marriages have their ups and downs but you can’t protect her from that.” 

Abby sighed. “I know but it doesn’t mean that I can’t wish for a better life for Bonnie. It doesn’t mean that every day I don’t wish that I had done more to protect her from all of this.”

“Protect Bonnie from whom? Giuseppe or Damon?” he asked.

“I want to protect her from all of you, Alaric. You know that I love you but your family is a curse to mine. The worst thing we ever did was get into business with the Salvatores. Do you know the things Giuseppe did to my mother? He broke her and growing up around that broke me, too.”

Alaric studied her expression. “No, I don’t know because it’s not something you have ever shared with me. Is it something that you wanted to talk about now?”

Abby shook her head. “You can guess what your brother did to my mother. You know the type of man he is—the type of man he has always been. I let Rudy abuse me for years because I thought it was….”

“Normal?” he asked. Alaric had to overcome similar beliefs once he was an adult.

“I didn’t think that it was normal but I also didn’t think that Rudy was abusing me. I thought as long as I fought back that I wasn’t a battered woman. My mother always fought back against Giuseppe. It took three years of being married to Rudy to realize that fighting back to survive didn’t make me any less of a battered woman. There was still a man twice my size beating the shit out of me. My daughter grew up seeing the same things that I did because I neglected my responsibilities when I left her with Mama. Now I am terrified that she learned the same lessons that I did as child. Maybe she learned that men can do anything to hurt us and we just have to be strong enough to weather it. I don’t want that for Bonnie,” she replied softly.

Alaric winced involuntarily. “Is that what you think Bonnie is doing with Damon? He would never hurt her.”

Abby sighed and said, “You are being willfully obtuse. I am tired and I just want to go to bed. The kids will be up in a few hours.”

Ric watched as she walked out of the kitchen. “Abby…”

She looked over her shoulder. “Like I said, we’re on opposing sides of this, Ric. You want the best for your nephew. And I want the best for my daughter. I suppose one of us will get our wish. I just pray to God that it’s me.”

Ric stood there as he watched Abby walk away from him. He realized that his relationship wasn’t the only one that was in trouble.

Chapter Text

 

Elijah drummed his fingers against his desk as he studied a proposal that Freya had left with him last night. While his older sister had an Ivy League education, she had never shown an interest in any of the family’s legitimate business ventures. Instead, Freya served on the boards of several charitable foundations. Now she was in the planning stage of forming a non-profit organization. She wanted to provide housing and job training for teenagers that aged out of the state’s foster care system. Freya would need a lot of startup capital in order to get the project off the ground. She already had several donors lined up. However, she was angling for a splashy donation from her younger brother.

He really shouldn’t have been surprised that she would attempt such an ambitious endeavor. Kol often teased their sister about turning into the old woman who lived in a shoe. She had never married. Nor did she have any biological children. However, Freya had adopted five children and had acted as a foster mother for a dozen more over the years. People often spread rumors claiming that she was either infertile or a lesbian. Those people were wrong on both accounts. Freya chose not to have any biological children because she refused to pass on her family’s tainted genes. Unfortunately, his sister failed to consider just how large a role the environment played in shaping young minds. Despite Freya’s best efforts, her eldest son, Andrew, was gravitating toward the Mikaelson organization. Elijah was bringing his nephew along slowly to give him time to change his mind. However, he saw the determination that burned deep in the boy’s soul. He would one day become the thing Freya had tried so hard to avoid.

There was limitless irony in the fact that the two eldest children of a ruthless mobster had dedicated their lives to the service of others. Freya lived off her trust fund while she worked for charitable organizations. In addition, she often embarked on mission trips to some of the most impoverished corners of the world. Similarly, Finn had rejected his birthright as the eldest son. After high school, he attended seminary college and later became a Roman Catholic priest. Elijah was certain that the paths taken by Freya and Finn had everything to do with the mob war 30 years ago. No one had walked away from that two-year period of bloodshed completely unscathed.

During the war, bitter rivals attacked the Salvatores and Mikaelsons on all sides. The rival organizations were trying to break the stranglehold the two families had on California, Arizona, and Oregon at the time. The Salvatores and Mikaelsons were already allies but the mob war transformed their relationship into something more permanent. Giuseppe and Mikael had ruthlessly defended their territory for months before the first cracks begin to appear. First, they started losing ground in the distant reaches of their territories. Then they found traitors amongst their ranks. These were men that had been unhappy and saw their golden opportunity to stage a coup. Mikael and Giuseppe beat back those attacks successfully.

However, a failed hit on Mikael changed everything for both men. The assassins tried to kill the mob boss while his family was out to dinner. They were celebrating Freya’s eighteenth birthday. The teenager nearly bled out after a stray bullet struck her neck. Freya certainly would have died that day if not for the quick thinking of Mikael’s second in command, Ansel. Instead of waiting for an ambulance, he loaded Freya into a car and rushed her to a hospital that was only a few blocks away. The bullet left behind a nasty scar. However, Freya would forever be haunted by the blood her father shed to avenge the attack on his family.

After the failed hit, Giuseppe and Mikael decided to send their families to the compound in Milazzo for safety. The two families remained in hiding for nearly 18 months while Mikael and Giuseppe laid waste to everyone that challenged them. During that time, Elijah and Alaric became best friends. They were very close in age and had a thirst for mischief. They were the “men” of the house while Giuseppe, Mikael, and Finn were stateside. However, they also shared a unique bond because of the birth orders in their respective families. Elijah and Alaric were the second born sons. Both boys understood that they were spares just in case something happened to the rightful successor in their families.

At the time, Elijah never could have imagined that his older brother would reject the keys to the kingdom. However, Finn was noticeably different after they won the war. He often lamented that the cost had been too high. He withdrew from his family by spending the majority of his time studying religious literature. Finn started attending church several times a week. He also spent hours talking about theology with Father Kieran whenever he had free time. In the beginning, Mikael and Esther had hoped the changes in their son were little more than a phase. As months turned into a year, it became apparent that Finn no longer wanted to succeed his father as boss. However, the final nail in the coffin was when he announced his plans to attend seminary college.

Mikael had reluctantly turned to his second born son to one-day lead their family. Fortunately, Mikael had raised Elijah as the backup option. He was well versed in how his father had maintained his iron grip on their territory for so many years. However, their territory had more than doubled in size after the war. Giuseppe and Mikael had confiscated and then equitably divided the territories of their fallen enemies. Despite being the only viable heir, Elijah had done unspeakable things to prove himself worthy of succeeding his father. One of those things had been marrying the girl that his younger brother was madly in love with at the time. Elijah knew that there were other ways to settle the dispute with the Labonir family. However, Mikael had wanted to crush Niklaus and Elijah had willingly done his bidding.

After Elijah married Hayley, he permitted her affair with Niklaus to continue. It wasn’t as if he was in love with the young woman. Moreover, the move helped alleviate some of his guilt. Unfortunately, the young lovers were careless and Hayley became pregnant. There was the slimmest of chances that Elijah was the father. A DNA test via amniocentesis proved that he was not. However, he and Mikael decided that it was best to lie to Niklaus. Afterwards, he sat Hayley and Niklaus down and explained why the relationship had to end. The family couldn’t weather the scandal that would come if there was ever confirmation of the affair. Elijah had then purchased a beach house in Malibu for Niklaus to soften the blow. However, the younger man understood that his brother was subtly telling him to move out of their family home.

It took some time but Niklaus eventually forgave Elijah. He understood that the relationship with Hayley had been courting trouble that they did not need. In hindsight, Elijah knew that he should have been honest with his younger brother about Hope’s paternity from the beginning. Despite rumors to the contrary, Niklaus could be reasonable. However, Elijah had listened to his father’s dubious advice. The same father that exposed his lies to Niklaus in the heat of an argument a few years later. Niklaus had never felt as betrayed as he did when he learned that Hope was his daughter. Elijah had watched helplessly as the information sent his brother spiraling out of control. Niklaus’ five-month descent into madness culminated with him nearly beating a rival to death. The incident just happened to have been captured on camera. Elijah took some ownership over the incident. Therefore, he had burned several favors and threatened a district attorney’s family to ensure his brother would receive a relatively light sentence.

When Niklaus first went to prison, he refused to speak with Elijah, Esther, and Hayley. He hated them all for lying to him and for keeping Hope away from him. Fortunately, Rebekah knew the way to her brother’s heart and encouraged Elijah to send Niklaus pictures of Hope. The olive branch had worked exactly as planned. The two brothers began building a fragile bridge of trust that had greatly improved over the last five years. Now Elijah and Niklaus were as close as they had been as children. He was the only person that Elijah would trust to be his second in command once Vincent stepped down. He was certain that Mikael was turning in his grave. He had never wanted his bastard stepson to be more than an assassin for the organization.

Niklaus walked into his brother’s office after knocking on the door. He hadn’t stepped foot in this office since he was a young man. It didn’t seem quite as imposing now that it no longer belonged to Mikael. He cleared his throat and asked, “Might I have a word with you, Elijah?”

The older man looked up and lifted an eyebrow. He had assumed that his brother would be preparing for another night of debauchery. He knew that Niklaus wasn’t looking forward to the image makeover he was about to undergo. Elijah couldn’t exactly blame him for being reluctant. He had just spent five years having his every move controlled in prison. Unfortunately, maintaining the persona of a law-abiding citizen was imperative for the continued success of their legitimate business ventures. Elijah routinely socialized with high-ranking political figures in America and the United Kingdom. Those connections were only possible because of the façade that he had carefully constructed.

“Come in. Did you enjoy yourself last night? I found Kol passed out in the foyer this morning. Hope had helpfully painted his fingernails and was about to start on his toe nails by that point,” he explained with a smirk.

He pushed the door closed and then walked over to Elijah’s desk. He smiled at the mention of his daughter. Niklaus had soaked up every available minute of her time since his release from prison. He hated being merely ‘Uncle Nik’ to her. However, it was better than being barred from her life the way that Mikael originally wanted. One day, Hope would be old enough to learn the truth. He only hoped that she wouldn’t hate him as much as he hated his own biological father.

He replied, “I can’t say that I enjoyed myself as much as I had hoped that I would. Something unexpected happened to me last night. I was hoping that I might be able to pick your brain about it.”

Elijah motioned to the chair across from his desk and closed Freya’s proposal. It didn’t need any further consideration. His sister had done her due diligence as always. Elijah would definitely make a sizable donation to her fledgling non-profit organization. It was a worthy cause and it would be good publicity for the family.

He was curious about Niklaus’ peculiar mood. His younger brother had always been infuriatingly stubborn. He rarely sought counsel from anyone. “What seems to be the matter, Niklaus?” he asked.

Klaus sat in the chair and struggled to organize his thoughts. He had been stewing over this all day. He had thought of calling Bonnie several times but couldn’t bring himself to do it. The pain he had heard in her voice last night haunted him. He said, “A young woman that I care for very deeply accused me of raping her.”

Elijah had come to expect just about anything from his siblings. Yet somehow, Klaus had managed to catch him off guard. His brother was a talented assassin but he had never known him to be a sexual predator. He struggled to maintain his composure. However, he wanted to give Niklaus a good smack to the back of the head.

“Niklaus, tell me that you did not force yourself on a woman less than a week after being released from prison. I understand that a man has certain needs but surely you could have paid a young woman for her services. Kol frequently uses an escort service in which he has invested his money. Perhaps one of your employees would have been willing to accommodate you.”

He held up a hand to silence the righteous indignation that was surely brewing. Klaus needed to get his thoughts out before Elijah muddied everything with one of his long winded lectures.

Elijah frowned but acquiesced to his brother’s silent request. He sat back in his chair and waited patiently for Niklaus to explain the situation.

“This girl is accusing me of having raped her before I went to prison. She is very special to me. I…I never viewed our relationship in that light. However, she sounded so certain on the phone last night. She seemed so heartbroken about the ways that I had hurt her. It gave me pause. I started to wonder if perhaps I had violated her in some egregious way.”

Elijah’s eyebrows furrowed in concern. He could tell that the situation was truly distressing to Niklaus. The older man stood from his desk and walked around to sit beside his brother. “What have you done, Niklaus? Tell me and we will fix it together.”

He gave humorless laugh. “I do not believe that this is something that even you can fix, Elijah. I care for this woman. I had hoped that we might renew the romance we once shared. Now I have learned that the romance between us never existed at all. I find myself flummoxed and disgusted. I was intimate with this woman several times during the summer before I went to prison. I was never violent with her. Perhaps there were some instances where I was a little rough but she never complained or asked me to stop. Because I would have stopped….”

Elijah struggled to remember that summer. However, it had been such a tumultuous time for his family. Their father had died when he overshot the curve in a winding road. Mikael was killed instantly when the car plummeted twenty feet into a ravine. The police had determined that his blood alcohol level had been twice the legal limit at the time of the crash.

“Who is this woman? I don’t remember you being involved with anyone, Niklaus.”

Niklaus was tempted to point out that Elijah had exiled him to the beach house in Malibu for two years at the time. However, he had agreed to leave the past where it belonged when Elijah offered him the opportunity to be his second in command.

“Well, that is because I kept it a secret. She was much younger than I was and it was an ill-advised relationship because of her pedigree. Her family wasn’t likely to approve of our courtship even if she had been of age at the time.”

Elijah felt his blood run cold as he considered the possibilities. Was this girl the daughter of an associate? Or worse could she be the daughter of a rival? “How old was the girl, Niklaus?”

He sighed. “She was 16 years old at the time.”

Elijah slapped the back of Klaus’s head. “Bloody hell, Niklaus. What were you thinking?”

The younger man scowled at his brother. “I was thinking that I had everything that mattered taken away from me! I lost the woman that I loved, my daughter, and my family--save for Rebekah. She was the only one that took my side when you and Father cast me out. This girl stumbled into my life when I was at my lowest.”

Elijah’s guilt reared its ugly head. He could have and should have done more to stop Niklaus from spiraling out of control. He shared in the guilt for the violence his brother had doled out to the unlucky souls that had crossed his path that summer. Was he supposed to share a portion of the guilt for this crime, too?

“She was a minor. Any relationship you had with her was statutory rape because she wasn’t legally old enough to consent. By the letter of the law, you raped her, Niklaus. You are lucky that this girl didn’t come forward or you might have been in prison for a very long time. Who is she?”

The legal ramifications of their age difference had never occurred to him. To his horror, Rebekah had been quite sexually active when she was Bonnie’s age. Bonnie had been sixteen years old. It wasn’t as if he had wandered into a playground with a packet of sweets hanging from his pocket.

“I will not violate her privacy that way. I have violated her too much already. I can only say that I have been acquainted with the young woman and her family for many years. However, because of our age difference we were not friends. She attended my birthday party that summer and things changed between us. I thought that I had found a kindred spirit in her. The people that by all rights should have loved us discarded us both. She was so smart and well read for her age. We shared a love of prose and poetry. She was positively angelic and compassionate. That night it felt as if the universe had given her to me as a gift.”

Elijah tensed because he saw the brokenness that lived inside his brother. Niklaus was a teenager when he learned that Mikael wasn’t his biological father. However, Mikael had never been subtle in the way he treated the boy. He punished Niklaus more harshly than he did the other children. Mikael would berate his stepson for even the smallest infraction. However, his treatment grew more vicious when he no longer had to pretend that Niklaus was his son. They had all just stood by and watched it.

“What did you do to this girl?” Elijah asked. He needed to know the damage so he wouldn’t be blindsided if it came out later.  

“Do I really need to spell it out for you, Elijah? I know that you’ve been married for a long time now but…”

“No, you don’t get to make a joke of this, Niklaus. You carried on a sexual relationship with a girl too young to consent. I am trying to figure out if I should be throttling you because I certainly feel like it. I have tolerated your eccentricities and your tendency towards violence. They are useful skills but I will not shelter a sexual predator under my roof. Speak plainly, brother mine,” he hissed.

Klaus swallowed thickly and lowered his gaze. He wasn’t used to Elijah getting this furious. It only served to highlight the severity of this situation.

“We fooled around, Elijah. It was mostly oral sex and I fingered her a few times. It never went any further than that. I didn’t think that she was ready for more than that. And I promise brother, she never once objected. I assumed that she enjoyed what we were doing.”

He sighed, “I know that Father didn’t do a very good job of teaching us to respect women but I didn’t realize that I had failed you, too. It matters not if this girl didn’t object. Consent only comes in the form of a vigorous yes. She might not have felt comfortable saying no to you, Niklaus. You were much older than she was and you have a reputation for being volatile. She might have feared your reaction.”

It felt as if a bucket of cold water had been dumped over his head. He sat there and stared at a spot on the wall as he replayed their moments together. The one that stuck out the most was the night of Mikael’s funeral. Klaus had been distraught and furious all at once. He hated Mikael and yet he was the only father he had ever known. Klaus had waited patiently to get Bonnie alone. He just wanted to fuck away all the pain he was feeling. His memory of the night was hazy because he had swallowed a handful of Ativan that he washed down with vodka. However, he vaguely remembered Bonnie crying as he forced her to kneel in front of him. When he sobered up the following day, Klaus knew that he had gone too far. He had gone out of his way to apologize to her with original poems that featured hand drawn illustrations. She had forgiven him…or at least Klaus thought that she had at the time.

He shook his head, “It was never my intention to hurt her…”

“And yet here we are. You need to take responsibility for this, Klaus. Make your apologies and then stay away from this woman. Whatever you hoped would happen between the two of you is obviously off the table now.”

He nodded in agreement. As much as Klaus wanted Bonnie, pursuing her would invite trouble he didn’t need. Something about her was different now. He would even classify that change as being dangerous. That sort of danger would scare away most men but it only turned him on more. However, he understood what was at stake if Bonnie made good on her threat. He wasn’t so selfish as to endanger his family’s safety for a woman that despised him now.

Elijah stood up and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Know this, if I learn that you have violated another girl I will not hesitate to put a bullet in your head myself. Now get out of my office.”

Klaus slowly rose from the chair and walked out of the room. He had no doubt that his brother was speaking earnestly.

Elijah walked around his desk and picked up the phone. He snapped, “Bring the car around.”

He pulled on his suit jacket after he hung up the phone. Elijah nearly ran into Hayley as he walked out of his office.

Hayley’s smile faltered when she saw Elijah’s expression. She had just passed Niklaus in the hallway. Hayley hoped that he hadn’t done something reckless. “I was just coming to tell you that dinner is ready. Is something wrong?”

He pecked her lips lovingly and shook his head. “No, I just have to go out for a bit. I am afraid that I will have to miss dinner.”

She wanted to press him for answers. However, Hayley knew that Elijah would come to her in time. She straightened his tie and said, “I will wait up for you.”

“Thank you,” he replied. He walked outside and waited impatiently for the SUV to stop in front of the house.

The driver prepared to get out of the car to open Elijah’s door.

“That won’t be necessary,” he said in a brusque tone. He climbed into the backseat and motioned for his driver to go.

“Where would you like to go, sir?”

“The rectory,” he replied.

The man nodded in understanding and quickly pulled away from the mansion.

He was grateful for the solitude that the ride provided. His driver understood that speaking now would be unwise. Elijah needed to sit with the information that Niklaus shared with him. He felt that there was something vital about what his brother was leaving out of his tale. He was worried that this girl’s identity and her pedigree would come back to bite them all in the arse. However, something about the timeline troubled him deeply as well. He hoped beyond hope that he was wrong.

Elijah stepped out of his chauffeured SUV and buttoned his suit jacket. He walked up the stairs to the modest rectory that his older brother called home. Finn’s simple existence was so far removed from the opulence they enjoyed as children.

Normally, Elijah only saw his brother on Wednesday nights after his family attended evening Mass. However, he often sought Finn’s counsel when it came to dealing with their misguided younger brother. They all made certain allowances for Niklaus’ behavior because of the way Mikael mistreated the boy when he was a child. Unfortunately, his confession this evening left Elijah in a moral and professional quandary.

Finn was shocked to find Elijah standing on his doorstep. He had spent the entirety of the previous day with his family after performing little Erik’s christening. On rare occasions, Elijah would stop by to socialize over a glass of brandy. However, the tense expression on his brother’s face meant that this was no social call. He stepped back and beckoned Elijah into the house. “Come in, Eli. I was just about to sit down to dinner. You can join me, brother.”

Elijah closed the door after he walked into the rectory. “I’m afraid that I am not in the mood to eat anything, brother. However, I will not prevent you from indulging. I am sure you have had scarcely any time to eat today. I know that your schedule can be quite unforgiving.”

Finn wanted to object and give Elijah his full attention. Unfortunately, his stomach chose that precise moment to announce his hunger audibly. His brother was right. On Sundays, he didn’t have a moment to himself. He performed three Mass services on Sundays—two in English and one in Spanish. He also met with two couples that afternoon for counseling. He hadn’t eaten more than a slice of toast with his morning cup of tea. “Come through to the kitchen.”

The younger man followed his brother into the kitchen. He took off his suit jacket and had a seat at the antique table in the kitchen. He had to admit the stew simmering in the crock-pot smelled divine.

Finn ladled a healthy portion of beef stew into two bowls. Then he cut two hunks of freshly baked sourdough bread and carried the bowls to the table. He placed one bowl in front of Elijah before taking his seat. “Eat. Whatever has brought you here has you in quite the state. I doubt that you have eaten dinner.”

Elijah breathed in the earthy aroma. His brother had obviously used their mother’s recipe. His mother rarely cooked these days. Esther spent most of her time traveling the world and enjoying her life. Mikael’s death had freed them all. “Thank you.”

Finn bowed his head and said, “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Elijah did the sign of the cross and said, “Amen.”

“What troubles you, Elijah? You were in good spirits just yesterday,” Finn said.

“Niklaus,” he replied. He tore a hunk of the sourdough bread and dipped it into the stew. “He came to me this evening distressed. He has feelings for a young woman but she has rejected his advances.”

The priest slowly chewed his meal while wearing a thoughtful expression. “While I am sorry to hear that Niklaus is unhappy, the travails of his love life hardly seem worthy of your attention, brother. He is young still. He will fall in love with someone else when the time is right.”

“On any other day you would be right. However, Nik came to me with a genuine query. This young woman not only spurned his advances but accused him of raping her.”

The elder Mikaelson brother nearly choked on his dinner. He quickly washed it down with a glass of water. His mind raced. “When did this occur?”

Elijah thought that was a curious question. However, it only added credence to the theory that brought him to his older brother’s door. He wasn’t there merely to get counsel on how to handle Niklaus. There was a plot afoot and Elijah couldn’t believe that he hadn’t recognized it before now.

“According to Niklaus, he was intimate with this young woman before his time in prison. He hoped to rekindle their romance now that he is a free man. However, she informed him that there had not been a romance between them. In fact, she informed Niklaus that their previous interactions were tantamount to rape. When he described the situation to me in detail…I was inclined to agree with the girl. She was not of age to consent to a sexual relationship with Niklaus.”

Finn abruptly stood up from the table. “Has Niklaus learned nothing after five years of incarceration? I had hoped that he would mature in his time away. Yet he is still the same selfish boy he was back then.”

Seeing Finn upset was a rare occurrence. He had been the mellowest of all the Mikaelson children even before he joined the priesthood. “You already knew of Niklaus’ transgressions against this girl?” he asked.

Finn rested his hands on the back of his chair. He nodded slowly “Yes.”

“Niklaus told you about this?” he asked.

Finn shook his head.

Elijah’s mind raced as he tried to piece together this puzzle. “Then the young woman came to you for help?”

“I cannot violate the seal of confession, Elijah,” he answered. His eyebrows were knitted together in concern.

The younger man sighed deeply in realization. “Niklaus raped one of your parishioners and you heard her confession on the matter. The poor thing probably didn’t realize that she was confessing to his older brother.”

Finn didn’t respond to Elijah either way. He had already said too much. His grip on the chair tightened as he stared at the floor.

“It was you,” he said.

The priest lifted his eyebrows in question. “What are you talking about, Eli?”

“It was you that turned the surveillance video over to the police. I was never able to understand who would have even known about the incident in the church’s parking lot. I should have known it was you but I couldn’t imagine a situation where you would send our little brother to prison,” Elijah said.

He had bribed the family of the man that Niklaus had nearly beaten to death. The man refused to cooperate with the police’s investigation and the State’s case fell apart. However, a few weeks later someone broke into the church and stole the surveillance footage showing Klaus savagely beating the man. Days later, someone leaked the footage to the media after turning it over to the police.

The public outcry had been swift. The police arrested Niklaus as soon as the forensic lab was able to authenticate the video. Elijah had called in a mountain of favors to get his little brother a favorable plea deal.

“We could have sent Niklaus away to protect this girl. I believe his behavior was deplorable but he is no predator. He has never behaved this way with another woman to my knowledge. I can’t believe you sent our brother to prison, Finn!”

“Do you think I wanted to send my brother to prison? I worried for him every day. I prayed for him every night. However, I was trying to save his life and the lives of many others. His reckless behavior could have proven costly. I waited anxiously for weeks and then months for his crimes to be revealed. Yet this girl, this sweet angel, hid her pain from everyone except for God and me.”

Elijah said, “Stop speaking in riddles, Finnegan! Explain your betrayal, brother.”

“I cannot. You know that I cannot. I have already said too much. I will not violate my vows,” he exclaimed.

“We are your family! You owe…”

He cut off Elijah’s rant. “You do not get to sit there and lecture me about family. I have blackened my soul for this family. No matter the good I do for the rest of my life I know that I am condemned. The throne you sit upon was paid for through blood that I helped spill.”

Elijah’s mouth snapped shut as he studied his brother’s furious expression.

“If you want the full story then get it from our brother. He knows what he has done. Make him tell you the identity of his victim. Then you will understand that my actions were necessary! Niklaus put us all in terrible danger. You must make him leave that girl alone or you will find yourself in the middle of a war that you will not win.”

“Was there truly no other way?” He asked.

Finn merely sighed and sat down in his chair heavily. “I have said all that I can, Elijah. Anything more will have to come from Niklaus.”



Chapter Text

Bonnie had a litany of complaints about the character of the man she married. However, she never doubted his dedication to their daughter. Damon loved Sarah with his whole heart and made sure that she knew it at all times. Sure, he lavished Sarah with gifts because she was his little princess. However, he proved his love by doing the simple things like reading to her at night and checking her closet for monsters. Moreover, Damon went out of his way to spend time with Sarah whenever possible. Therefore, Bonnie wasn’t terribly surprised when Damon revealed that he had rented out their favorite mini golf course for the evening.

Sunday afternoon had been a trying time for the entire Salvatore family. The men had sat their families down for a difficult conversation. They had explained that the children weren’t to go anywhere with Giuseppe if he approached them. Furthermore, their families would all have round the clock security until further notice. No one thought that Giuseppe would actually harm one of the children. However, his back was up against the wall. No one could predict his next move. The younger children didn’t really understand what was happening. However, they promised not to go anywhere with Giuseppe if he approached them. The older children were a different story. Josie, Lizzie, Lucien, and Jamie were old enough to read between the lines. They had more questions about what to do if they saw or heard from Giuseppe.

Bonnie hated that any of the children had to deal with this ugliness. She could vividly recall the first time she realized that danger could take the shape of someone familiar. In the beginning, parents spend so much time warning their children about the danger strangers posed to them. However, when your grandmother runs a criminal organization you quickly learn that there are different rules. There was every chance that someone that was once trustworthy would turn around and shoot you in the face. Sheila taught Bonnie how important it was never to trust anyone completely. Even the most loyal soldier could one day become your greatest enemy. The Lockwood and Donovan families had proven that.

She was anxious about Damon’s trip to Milazzo. Bonnie wasn’t afraid of Giuseppe suddenly appearing. She would kill the old bastard with her own two hands if necessary. The drunkard had caught her off guard once but it would never happen again. Bonnie kept a blade of some sort on her at all times now. No, she was concerned about Damon’s ability to convince the old guard of his dedication to Milazzo. Her husband could be incredibly persuasive. Frankly, he was twice the man and leader than Giuseppe had ever been. However, Damon had not spent enough time in Milazzo. Bonnie had hoped that it wouldn’t be a point of contention. Unfortunately, Mason was concerned because of chatter picked up by the Loiacono family. It seemed as if Bonnie would have to intervene on her husband’s behalf.

Bonnie planned to speak with Big John once Damon was in Milazzo. He needed the Benedetto family’s unwavering support now more than ever. The captains were smart. They all knew the importance of the alliance between the Benedetto and Salvatore families. The capos would make the right choice once they knew that Giuseppe had lost Big John’s support. However, it was more than just support that mattered. Bonnie needed the capos to understand that siding with Giuseppe meant death. If the Benedettos and Salvatores were not allies then they were enemies. Enemies could not share a city the size of Milazzo. She would lobby her uncle to wipe them all out if it became necessary.

Bonnie watched as Damon chased Sarah and Bella around in circles. The girls were squealing at the top of their lungs as he pretended to catch them. All of the children, including, Josie and Lizzie, were having a good time. It was primarily a mini golf course, but there were arcade games and a playground for the kids to enjoy as well. Damon had succeeded in distracting everyone from the black cloud that was hovering over the family. However, Bonnie knew that it was only temporary. In a few hours, those fears would return in full force when the Salvatore men left for the airport.

Tyler walked over to the metal table where Bonnie had been sitting for the last hour. He placed a cardboard container filled with food and a bottle of apple juice in front of her. “You need to eat, Bon.”

Her lips curved into a small smile at his stern voice. She inspected the variety of concession stand food that Tyler had procured for her. The onions rings actually tempted Bonnie a little and the chicken tenders didn’t look half bad either. However, she was worried about becoming nauseous—again. The young mother was vomiting so much lately that it made her reluctant to eat anything. However, she knew that Tyler would not give up until she ate something.

Bonnie said, “I am not going to be able to eat all of this, Ty.”

He shrugged. “Eat as much or as little as you like. I just want to make sure that you eat something. You haven’t eaten anything since you took Sarah to brunch.”

Tyler had attended Mass with Bonnie and Sarah that morning. He could have waited for them in the car but he never would have heard then end of it from his mother. Tyler’s family had attended that church since he was a boy. Unfortunately, something about the situation had attracted his father’s attention. Tyler received a curt text message from his father as soon as the service ended. Richard had demanded to speak with him in person tomorrow morning. Now Tyler wished that he had taken Mason’s advice and talked to his father days ago.

He wasn’t looking forward to having this conversation with his father. Tyler knew that Richard was going to warn him away from Bonnie. However, he wasn’t a teenager anymore. He would respectfully listen to his father’s opinion and then promptly dismiss it. Tyler was already dealing with a mountain of guilt and anger. He was in Milazzo the summer that Klaus raped Bonnie. Tyler kept wondering if he could have prevented it somehow. If Tyler had been in town, he certainly would have been hanging out with her at the party that night. The young man knew that his father wasn’t to blame but he couldn’t shake the bitterness he felt.

She picked up an onion ring and bit into it. “Are you happy now?

“Very,” he replied with a grin. “How do they taste? I made sure the guy made a fresh batch for you.”

Bonnie smiled. “They’re good. You know that I can’t resist onion rings.”

“I know,” he replied with a grin.

She sampled all of the food Tyler had brought over to her. Bonnie was being cautious but it seemed, for the moment, that she might be able to keep it down.

Tyler studied her in silence for a few minutes.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he replied.

Bonnie lifted an eyebrow. “Seriously, why are you looking at me like that? Do I have something on my face?”

He chuckled. “No, you don’t have anything on your face, Bon. I was just thinking that you look beautiful.”

She rolled her eyes playfully. “I look like I am dying. I feel like it, too.”

“I’m serious. I never thought it was a real thing before now but you are glowing,” he insisted. “Besides, the color blue looks good on you.”

Bonnie immediately thought about the moment they shared at the beach house. She hadn’t worn the blue and white striped sweater dress on purpose today. It was just one of the warmer options in her closet. Los Angeles didn’t get very cold even in December. However, sitting outside for hours in 50 degree weather required a little preparation. That was especially true after sunset.

She tried to hide her smile from Tyler. However, the cocky grin on his face proved that she had been unsuccessful. “You look pretty good, too.”

Tyler was wearing a black long sleeved Henley that clung to his toned arms and chest. He winked at her and stole a curly fry that she had largely ignored in favor of the onion rings.

She said, “It was nice seeing your mom this morning. I might have to take her advice on trying those nutritional shakes. Can you get the name of them for me?”

“Sure. I hope that you don’t mind that I told her about your morning sickness. I guess that I was just looking for her to reassure me that this was normal,” he confessed.

Bonnie shook her head. “I don’t mind at all. I am flying without a net here. I can use all the advice that I can get. Besides, it’s nice to knowing that you care.”

“Always,” he promised.

She tried to ignore the way her heart sped up at his simple reply. “Have you bought a Christmas gift for your mom yet? I hope you learned your lesson from last year’s debacle.”

He laughed. “Yes, I learned my lesson about giving my mother a gift card for Christmas. I don’t know what to get for her yet. You know that my mom is old school. What she really wants from me are grandchildren—several of them. Anything I buy for her will be a massive disappointment. I’ll figure something out between now and the 25 th .”

Bonnie huffed out a laugh. “Well, you are 23-years-old. You should at the very least be married by now.”

He rolled his eyes. “You sound just like her. She keeps asking me if Elena will be spending Christmas with our family this year.”

She was practically inhaling the onion rings now that she wasn’t feeling queasy. Bonnie was intent on enjoying the feeling while it lasted. “What did you tell her?”

“I stuffed a blueberry muffin in my mouth and got the fuck out of there. I am sure that she will ask me again when I drop by the house tomorrow morning.”

Bonnie laughed and shook her head.

“What is so funny?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“You are a coward.”

“When it comes to my mom…definitely. The woman is terrifying,” he admitted. “I don’t know why I am stressing over it. It’s not like my mom actually likes Elena. But I think that has more to do with Miranda than it does with Elena.”

Bonnie bit her lip as she considered what to say. The selfish part of the young woman wanted Tyler to break up with Elena. She wanted him for herself. However, the sensible part of Bonnie understood that she was tied to Damon whether she liked it or not. Going down this road would be dangerous and unfair to Tyler. She would never forgive herself if Damon hurt him or worse.

Finally, she said, “Maybe the two of you will work it out. I mean you have been together off and on for a few years now. You always seem to find your way back to one another.”

Tyler didn’t need to be inside Bonnie’s head to know what she was thinking. She had been worried about him since Stefan’s text last night. However, Tyler wasn’t nearly as concerned about Damon as they were.

He smiled wryly. “I think she’s cheating on me. Which, I guess is kind of fair considering what I have been up to lately.”

Bonnie’s eyes went wide. “Are you serious right now? Since when do you think Elena is cheating on you? You’ve been holding out on me a lot lately.”

He shrugged. “I don’t have any proof yet. It is just a feeling I have been getting for awhile now. I think something is going on with Elena and her study buddy, Aaron. They have been spending a lot of time together at his apartment.”

“I’m sorry, Ty,” Bonnie murmured.

He chuckled. “No, you aren’t.”

“No, I am really sorry. Despite everything that is happening right now, I know that you love her. You planned a future where she was going to be your wife. It can’t feel good to have her betray you.”

Tyler chuckled. “Thanks for the concern but I am okay. I do love Elena but I haven’t been in love with her for awhile. I think if she were honest with me, she would say the same thing. Elena and I have been headed in opposite directions for a long time. She wants to distance herself from the life and I am neck deep in it. I think some part of her thought I might give it all up one day. That just proves that she doesn’t know me at all.”

Bonnie hummed in agreement. She could understand Elena’s desire to get away from mob life. It was a difficult way to live. It was even worse for women. Many of the men believed that a woman’s only worthwhile roles were as a wife and a mother. That sort of ideology could be suffocating and soul crushing. Giuseppe had effortlessly bullied Bonnie into assuming that role in her marriage to Damon. Giuseppe hadn’t wanted Bonnie to attend college, make friends, pursue any hobbies, or even spend time with her own family.

“What are you going to do? I mean are you going to confront her with your suspicions?”

He said, “No. I am planning to break up with her. I won’t be doing either of us any favors by dragging out the inevitable. If she isn’t cheating on me with Aaron, then she certainly wants to. I mean I get it. They have a hell of a lot more in common than Elena and I do these days.”

“Oh,” Bonnie replied.

She stuffed an onion ring into her mouth so that she didn’t say anything else. Bonnie desperately wanted to know if she was part of the reason Tyler wanted to break up with Elena. However, asking that question would be presumptuous of her. Moreover, there were too many ears around for them to have that conversation safely.

“I am going to wait until Elena finishes her finals. Not to be conceited but I don’t want to distract her from that. Medical school is so important to Elena. She’s determined to become a doctor like her parents.”

She nodded. “That’s really considerate of you, Tyler.”

“I heard that your cousin is going to be in town for Christmas,” Tyler said. He really wanted to change the subject. The less Bonnie thought about his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend the better.

“Who Lucy?” she asked.

“No. Cesare and my sister are bringing the kids out here for Christmas. Lexi told my mom yesterday,” he replied.

Bonnie tensed at his answer. She wondered if this was an innocent visit or was Big John sending his grandson for a reason. Bonnie loved her uncle and she trusted him. However, she wanted him in the dark for as long as possible. She couldn’t risk Big John interfering with her plans. It seemed her conversation with him would be even more important now. The old man wasn’t stupid. He had to realize that something big was on the horizon.

“I hope I get to see Lexi and the kids while they are here,” Bonnie said with a smile.

“I’ll make sure to bring them by the manor. Besides, I wouldn’t think that Cesare would come to Los Angeles without seeing you,” he replied.

She nodded in agreement. She was pretty close to Cesare despite the age difference. Sheila and John made sure that the two cousins spent time together as children. They wanted their grandchildren to share a bond like the one they had shared. The bond was one of the reasons that the Benedetto organization remained so strong despite being split in half. They behaved as family instead of business associates or allies.

“Definitely not,” she laughed. “The last time we talked Cesare mentioned wanting to attend my graduation in May. I got the feeling that he wasn’t the only one that would make the trip.”

“There’s no way that Big John would miss your graduation. He will be there to cheer for you since Miss Sheila can’t be there. How are your classes coming along, anyway?” he asked curiously.

“Everything is great. I have almost finished writing my final research paper for Strategic Management. I just hope these next two weeks go by quickly. I am ready for this semester to end.”

Tyler asked, “Are you taking a full course load next semester?”

She shook her head. “No, next semester I will only have two business admin electives and my internship at Velocita.”

He grinned. “We’ll be working in the same building. This of course means that we will have to grab lunch together every once in awhile to share office gossip.”

“Really?” she asked with an unimpressed look.

“I’m serious. There is tons of juicy gossip at Velocita. I hear all of it because I work in security. The IT department is the only department that knows more gossip than we do. They see everything because they have access to people’s company issued phones, tablets, and e-mail accounts.”

“What kind of gossip do you know?” Bonnie asked.

“Zach’s secretary is screwing the VP of marketing. Everyone in the security department knows because they got caught in the back of his car.”

Her eyes went wide. “Where were they parked?”

“They were in the parking garage at like 10 o’clock at night. I guess they thought everyone was gone for the evening. They were going at it butt naked,” Tyler explained.

Bonnie snorted loudly as she laughed but her expression became more guarded when she noticed Damon walking towards them.

Tyler didn’t need to look behind him to know that Damon was approaching. He remained seated and stole another curly fry. Last night Tyler and Bonnie decided that pretending they weren't friends was no longer sustainable. It was better to act as if it were no big deal. Damon would like a controlling asshole if he said anything.

Damon walked around to Bonnie’s side of the table and sat beside her. He draped his arm over her shoulders. “What are the two of you talking about over here?”

“We’re talking about my internship at Velocita,” Bonnie replied.

Damon wasn’t sure what answer he had expected but it wasn’t that. He asked, “Are you excited?”

She nodded. “Yes, I am. Zach e-mailed the internship packet it to me a few days ago. I didn’t realize that I would be working directly under him.”

He said, “Well, Zach handles the majority of the company’s day-to-day responsibilities. I figured that you would be interested in learning what that all entails. Besides, I am the only other person I would want you working with at Velocita. However, I am sure that your school wouldn’t approve of you being an intern for your husband.”

Bonnie laughed. “That’s a really good point.”

He kissed Bonnie softly and asked, “How are you feeling, bunny?”

The younger man was glad that his hands were beneath the table because they had clenched into fists involuntarily. Tyler knew that he was walking a tightrope right now. Stefan knew Damon better than anyone else did. If his childhood friend was concerned, then Tyler knew that he should be, too. However, it was difficult pretending that he didn’t want to murder Damon.

For her part, Bonnie acted as if she didn’t notice the tension between the two men. Damon wouldn’t dare confront Tyler in such a public setting. For now, he was just asserting his dominance. She tried not to roll her eyes at his audacity. He was mere hours away from flying halfway around the world to fuck his mistress.

She said, “I am okay. I am just hoping that I will be able to keep this food down. I didn’t have much luck earlier today.”

Damon’s eyebrows furrowed in concern for his wife. “Maybe you should make an appointment to see Dr. Huerta again. There has to be something that he can do.”

She said, “I plan to call his office first thing tomorrow morning. My mom mentioned that he might be able to prescribe something to ease my nausea.”

He pressed a kiss to her temple. Damon was regretting his decision to leave early. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much that he could do for Bonnie even if he stayed. “I want you to call me if you need anything while I am away.”

“I will.”

“I’m serious, Bonnie.”

“I promise,” she replied.

Stefan walked over and clapped his friend on the back. “Come play pop-a-shot with me.”

Tyler snapped out of his brooding when Stefan walked up to the table. He asked, “They have pop-a-shot here?”

“Yeah. Come play so that I can kick your ass.”

He huffed out a laugh. “In your dreams, Salvatore. We both know who has the better jump shot.”

Stefan feigned confusion and asked, “Who played varsity basketball in high school?”

Tyler rolled his eyes and said, “I’m sorry. I can’t hear you over the two state championships I won in baseball.”

Bonnie laughed at the two of them.

Damon rolled his eyes. Stefan had made a concerted effort not to speak to his older brother all day.

Stefan said, “Hey! I was a two sport athlete.”

“That just means that you are a jack of all trades, but master of none,” Tyler joked.

“Fine. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is, Lockwood. How much cash do you have on you?”

Tyler stood up and took out his wallet. He said, “Not much but they have an ATM here. Let’s say $500 that I get the highest score.”

“That’s a bet.”

Bonnie smirked and said, “I’ll put $500 on Stefan.”

Tyler’s brown eyes went wide in amusement. He feigned offense. “Et tu, Bon-Bon?”

She shrugged and said, “Stefan does have a better jump shot than you do. Besides, he is my big brother. I kinda have to take his side.”

Stefan leaned over the table and kissed the top of Bonnie’s head. “And that’s why I love her so much.”

Tyler said, “But I bought you food! I made them fry fresh onion rings and chicken tenders for you!”

Bonnie scrunched up her nose. “He does have a point there. And these onion rings are really yummy.”

“Wait a minute. You can’t change your bet now,” Stefan exclaimed.

She giggled. “Okay, I’ll stick with my original bet. I’m good for the money.”

Stefan laughed and said, “Let’s go, Ty. Pop-a-shot is calling our names.”

Tyler chuckled and followed Stefan. “We both need to hit the ATM first. I’m not taking an I.O.U. when you lose. You have a history of being a welsher on bets.”

Bonnie glanced at her husband. “Is everything okay with you and Stefan?”

He shifted uncomfortably. “Why do you ask?”

She lifted an eyebrow and replied, “Maybe because he didn’t say one word to you. It also might have to do with the fact that Stefan has a black eye and a busted lip. Did you two get into a fight last night?”

“We did but it’s not a big deal. We were both drunk and said some things that we didn’t mean,” he replied.

Bonnie nodded but knew that it was more to it than that. She knew both Salvatore brothers very well. They didn’t get into drunken fights that left behind bruises for no reason.

Her gaze shifted to their daughter. “It looks like Sarah is having a blast.”

“She is but I have learned that our daughter is a cheater,” he declared. He couldn’t suppress the grin on his face.

Damon hadn’t known whether to be proud of Sarah’s attempts at cheating or if he should have chastised her. Ultimately, he decided not to be a hypocrite by telling her to play fair. Damon hated losing, too. Everyone knew the story of the time he put a man in the hospital during a drunken brawl. The fight had started over a contentious game of pool.

Bonnie huffed out a laugh and said, “Yes, she is. She also happens to be a sore loser and an ungracious winner.”

He smirked and said, “That’s my girl. I was beginning to wonder if she took after me at all.”

“Oh, she’s definitely your daughter. Sarah is a little angel most of the time but she has her moments.”

Damon said, “She doesn’t just get that from me. I remember you unplugging Stefan’s video games whenever he was beating you. At least she hasn’t picked up on our violent streaks.”

“I was never violent,” Bonnie said with wide eyes.

“I watched you throw a controller at my brother’s head, Bunny!”

Damon laughed heartily. He would never forget the look on eight-year-old Bonnie’s face after the controller missed Stefan’s head by an inch. She hadn’t been even remotely remorseful at the time.

Bonnie had enough self-awareness to look a little chagrinned by her past behavior. She folded her arms and complained, “Stefan kept choosing games that he knew I couldn’t play.”

Damon pecked her lips. “It was completely justified I’m sure.”

“It was,” she mumbled.

“I hope you are okay with me giving Sarah a phone. I know that I should have talked to you about it first.”

She shook her head. “No, I get it, Damon. Sarah is scared about you leaving. I think having a way to call you at all times will make her feel more secure.”

He carded his fingers through Bonnie’s hair. “You know that I wouldn’t leave if I didn’t have to.”

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I understand that it’s business. I will think of something fun to do with Sarah to keep her busy. She has been asking about ballet lessons. Maybe I can take her to check out a few classes. Hayley loves the dance instructor at the studio where Hope takes lessons.”

He was taken aback by that. Damon could still remember Bonnie prancing around in her tutu as a kid. Ballet was another thing she had given up when she became his wife. “Sarah wants to take ballet? Since when?”

Bonnie nodded. “She found my old Swan Lake costume. I showed her the video and she has been talking about it ever since. I think she even has Nico and Bella interested in ballet. Maybe I can convince Care to bring the twins along, too. They love doing everything together anyway.”

Damon winced. He was glad that Giuseppe was out of the country because he would lose his shit if he thought his grandson was going to be prancing around in tights. He wouldn’t even let Stefan audition for school plays when he was in high school. Damon didn’t have the same type of hang ups that Giuseppe did. He didn’t see anything wrong with his nephew wanting to dance.

“I mean if she’s really interested in ballet, we can hire someone to teach her at the manor,” he suggested.

“She’s already homeschooled. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with her taking a few ballet classes with other kids around her age. She needs to make friends outside of her family.”

Bonnie wanted to give Sarah as normal life as she could manage. Bonnie had been homeschooled since Sheila traveled frequently. Her grandmother was old school and didn’t believe in having staff raise her granddaughter. However, it meant that Bonnie didn’t have very many friends while growing up.

Damon knew that his wife had a point. Sarah’s social circle consisted of her cousins and the children of men that worked for their family. There was an entire world with which he wasn’t letting her interact. Damon just knew the cruelty of the world around them. Everyone assumed that Damon was a legitimate businessman but that wouldn’t hold once he took out Giuseppe.

He nodded, “I’ll let Ric know. He’ll assign another guard to go with you.”

She asked, “Is that really necessary, Damon? Either Tyler or Matt would be capable of protecting us. It will be weird for two grown men without children to stand around watching the class. We will just end up drawing attention to ourselves.”

“It is better to be safe than sorry. Things are a little uncertain right now. Just trust me…”

She nodded dutifully. “Okay.”

Damon studied the frown on his wife’s face. He relented, “The second guard can just stand outside.”

She smiled and kissed his cheek. “Thank you.”

He wrapped his arms around Bonnie and captured her lips with his. The kiss was tender and over much too quickly for his liking. “I love you, Bunny. I know things are…strained right now but they will get better. You and me, we’re forever.”

“I love you, too. Honestly, I don’t know how not to love you.” Sometimes she wished that she did. This would be so much easier if she could just turn off her emotions.

“Well, I am a very lucky man for that reason.” He leaned his forehead down against hers. Damon moved his hands onto her stomach. “What do you think we are going to have? Boys? Girls? A boy and a girl?”

Bonne shrugged. “I don’t know. We will only have to wait a few weeks to find out if they are in the right position. I hope that we have at least one boy.”

Damon heard Zach’s voice in the back of his head saying that Bonnie wouldn’t need him anymore if she gave birth to a son.

Ric walked over and cleared his throat. “Sorry to interrupt. Can I speak to you, Damon?”

The younger man frowned but nodded. “I’ll be right back, bunny.”

“Okay.”

Damon followed Ric to a secluded area. “What’s up?”

“I just heard from Luke. He has eyes on Giuseppe. He is staying with Sabine and her kid,” Ric said.

He frowned. “Since when does Sabine have a kid?”

He shrugged. “Luke said the little boy looks a few years old. He might be three or four years old.”

“Do you think he’s Giuseppe’s kid?”

Ric laughed and said, “I doubt it. I would know if my older brother had any illegitimate children. Trust me on that. We had that conversation years ago when I started dating Abby.”

Damon chuckled and asked, “Had to make sure that you weren’t unwittingly fucking your niece? You better hope that he was telling you the truth.”

“I wouldn’t be the only one fucked by that particular lie. It would make Abby your sister and Bonnie your niece.”

He groaned and shoved his uncle. “I didn’t need to be reminded about that. When we head home I was going to see if my wife was remotely interested in giving me one for the road.”

Ric laughed and clapped Damon on the back. He said, “Good luck with that. Be ready to leave at 10 o’clock. Your little detour in Tenerife is going to make our schedule tight.”

“Yeah, I know but it would be better if I had a grip on at least of one my situations before we go to Milazzo.”

Ric nodded in understanding because he had taken the same tactic. He was on solid ground with Abby. However, he was going to have to do some damage control with Jo when they returned. Alaric hadn’t figured out how to broach the topic of his affair yet. “Alright, just make sure that you are ready to leave on time.”

Damon grumbled, “I heard you the first time.”

He smirked. “You ain’t the boss yet.”

Chapter Text

Damon groaned as he watched his little brother from across the aisle. They had been in the air for well over eleven hours now. However, Stefan hadn’t spoken a single word to Damon. As soon as they boarded the private jet, the younger Salvatore took a seat in the back. Stefan had put on noise cancelling headphones so that he could get some sleep. He managed to get eight and a half hours of uninterrupted rest before he woke up to eat breakfast. Damon had been tempted to wake Stefan up just to irritate him. He hated that his brother seemed so unaffected by their fight while it was eating him up inside.

Unfortunately, Stefan wasn’t exactly more talkative once he was awake. After eating breakfast, he had put in ear buds so that he could listen to music as he worked on his laptop. Occasionally, he spoke to Zach or Ric if they stopped by his seat to ask him something. The little bastard even had a lengthy conversation with Mason Lockwood about something that Damon couldn’t hear from his seat. All he knew was that Stefan and Mason kept laughing about something and it grated on his nerves. However, as soon as Mason returned to his seat, Stefan put his ear buds in again.

Damon wasn’t good at apologizing to the people that he hurt. Generally, if he wronged someone important in his life, he gave the person expensive gifts as a gesture of goodwill. However, that sort of move never worked with his baby brother because it was too reminiscent of Giuseppe’s old tricks. The man would terrorize his family in unspeakable ways while he was drunk. Days later, he would leave terribly expensive gifts in their bedrooms as an apology. Giuseppe would never verbally acknowledge how badly he had hurt his younger brothers and sons. For example, Damon had received his first dirt bike after Giuseppe broke his arm during one of his drunken rampages.

Alaric shook his head as he watched Damon glare in Stefan’s direction for what felt like the thousandth time. He walked over and sat down beside his nephew. “We are going to be landing in less than an hour. Go talk to your brother.”

“I have nothing to say to the asshole. He has been acting as if I am invisible. He can come to me when he wants to talk. I am not about to kiss his ass,” Damon replied in a sour tone.

The older man shook his head in exasperation. Sometimes dealing with his nephews was like dealing with children. He said, “He’s the one sporting a black eye, Damon. You should be the one extending an olive branch to him. More than that, you are the older brother. It is your job to make this right. Your brother is always going to be your greatest ally. Stefan will never admit it but he still looks up to you. You hurt him Saturday night—not just with your fists but with your words.”

Damon glared at his uncle. He didn’t feel like being the bigger man right now. He felt as if all of his personal relationships were going to shit. Damon knew that he was at fault for that. He had been so focused on securing his base of power that he had neglected everything else in his life. He raked a frustrated hand through his hair. He barked out, “Okay! I will talk to him if that will make you stop lecturing me. You are worse than Zach is.”

Ric smirked as he stood up. He squeezed Damon’s shoulder. “Where do you think he learned it?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah,” he muttered darkly.

Ric chuckled and returned to his seat. He was confident that Damon would do the right thing. He wanted his nephews to be on speaking terms because it made his life easier. However, he was more concerned with making sure that Damon was in a good headspace when they made it to Milazzo. He couldn’t be dragging around that surly attitude while dealing with the old guard. They had seen enough of Giuseppe’s volatility to spot it a mile away. His nephew was more like his father than he would ever willingly admit. But Ric didn’t judge him harshly for it because he was in a similar boat. Sometimes Ric saw Giuseppe staring back at him when he looked into a mirror.

Damon opened his carry-on bag and retrieved a bag of Hershey’s candies. It was no secret that he liked chocolate almost as much as he liked bourbon. However, his love for chocolate grew exponentially when he quit using cocaine regularly. Damon knew that it was exchanging one vice for another but it was the lesser of two evils.

He stood and walked back to where Stefan was sitting. He plopped down in the seat beside his brother and tossed the bag of candy onto his laptop.

Stefan looked down at the bag of candy and then looked up at his brother with a raised eyebrow.

Damon rolled his eyes and pulled out one of Stefan’s ear buds. He said, “It’s meant to be a peace offering. Don’t be an asshole.”

He removed the other ear bud and picked up the bag of candy. He said, “If you are going to bribe me there is a Patek Philippe watch I have had my eye on for awhile.”

The older man huffed out a laugh. His younger brother had an ostentatious collection of watches. He pinched Stefan’s cheek and said, “Maybe if you are a good boy Santa will bring it for Christmas.”

Stefan laughed despite himself. He shoved Damon’s shoulder. “Fuck you.”

Damon’s expression sobered. He said, “I’m sorry for hitting you, Stefan. I was drunk and angry but I never should have let it get that far. Most of all I am sorry for what I said to you. I am happy that you have never had to fight Giuseppe. I never wanted that life for you. It doesn’t make you any less of a man.”

He closed the laptop and slid it into his bag. If Damon was willing to apologize, then Stefan was willing to participate in the conversation. “Yes, it does make me less of a man...at least it does in your eyes.”

“I was just angry and spouting off bullshit to get under your skin. I didn’t mean it. I know that I don’t say it but I am proud of you Stefan. You’re a good kid.”

Stefan gave an exasperated sigh and complained, “That’s the thing, I am not a kid anymore, Damon. You would have at least listened to our uncles because you respect them. You don’t respect me because you’ve been protecting me since we were kids. You didn’t even want me to come on this trip with you. I am a grown man and I don’t need to be protected anymore. Not from our father and certainly not from our business.”

Damon sighed and scratched at the stubble on his face. “Maybe I do still treat you like a kid. You are always going to be my baby brother, Stefan. I am always going to try to protect you from all the awful shit in the world. That’s my job. I know what I am. I am a fucking monster because of the things I do for this family. I don’t want that for you. Do you think any of us want you to turn out like we did?”

The younger man was quiet for a beat. He asked, “How exactly did you think I would turn out with a man like Giuseppe as my father? I still grew up in that house. I escaped most of the beatings that you all suffered but I didn’t escape the violence of this life. I’m just as fucked up as the rest of you. I am just better at hiding it. I make better decisions than the rest of you do but it is only because I put forth the effort. I can do more than just be the numbers guy, Damon.”

Damon’s eyes went to his brother’s side like a heat-seeking missile. Even while Stefan was wearing a shirt, Damon knew where the scar was located. A bullet had grazed Stefan’s side when he was all of six years old. He and Bonnie narrowly escaped being killed by automatic gunfire. They both probably would have died if not for Paul Bennett and Alonzo Lockwood’s quick reaction time. The two men realized the drive by was about to happen just as the first shots interrupted the jubilance outside the church. Alonzo and Paul pushed the two children to the ground and shielded them from the hail of gunfire.

Damon had been behind the church when the drive by shooting happened. He had been drinking with some of his cousins. Damon had hit the ground on instinct and stayed there until he heard tires squealing away from the church. When it was safe he had ran around the building to check on his family. Stefan and Bonnie were lying on the ground covered in blood. At first, Damon thought they might have been dead because of how still they were. Of course, they both survived, and most of the blood belonged to Paul and Alonzo. A bullet had only grazed Stefan. Meanwhile, Bonnie had a gash on the back of her head where she had hit it against the pavement.

“Is that why you kept pushing me at the club? Were you trying to prove that you weren’t a little kid anymore?” Damon asked. He genuinely wanted to understand what was going in in his brother’s head. Something was definitely off kilter with Stefan.

Stefan shook his head. “No. I saw that you were angry and frustrated. I know this thing with Giuseppe has had you in a weird emotional place. I was worried that you would take that frustration out on Tyler. He is my best friend, Damon. I couldn’t stand by and let you hurt him. I trusted that you wouldn’t go too far if I was the target for your rage.”

He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Do you know how stupid that was? I could have hurt you, fratellino.”

“I know but you might have killed him,” Stefan replied.

Damon felt as if his little brother had just stabbed him in the chest. Did he truly think Damon was the type of animal that would beat a man to death without provocation? He could admit to being suspicious of Bonnie and Tyler’s friendship. However, he wouldn’t kill the kid simply because he was suspicious. Damon also wasn’t stupid enough to think that Richard would just accept his youngest son being whacked over a woman.

He glanced toward the front of the plane to ensure that Mason wasn’t paying them any attention. He lowered his voice and said, “I will admit that I am a jealous fuck but I am not going to kill Tyler. I don’t actually think that anything is going on between Bonnie and Tyler. I was just irritated to learn that they are closer than I knew. I don’t like that she kept that a secret from me. I don’t appreciate that you kept it from me, too.”

Stefan grimaced. “I didn’t say anything because I thought that you would make a big deal out of nothing. Bonnie had to give up so much when she married into our family. I didn’t want her to give up one of her only friends.”

Damon huffed. “Bonnie has friends.”

He lifted an eyebrow at his older brother. “Name three of her friends.”

“Caroline.”

“I suppose that you can count her sister-in-law as a friend,” Stefan replied.

“Hayley,” he suggested.

The younger man glared at Damon. He knew his brother wasn’t dense. Hayley was Elijah’s wife. Therefore, there was only so much that Bonnie could share about her life. She had to project a certain image of her relationship with Damon to the outside world. Afterall, they were supposed to be a fairytale romance. How else could they have sold a man marrying a girl ten years his junior to the public?

“She has you, too,” Damon added.

He nodded. “Right. Bonnie’s only friends are her brother and sister-in-law. You allowed Giuseppe to turn her into a prisoner in the same way he turned our mother into a prisoner. Don’t be like him. Be confident enough in your marriage to know that Tyler isn’t a threat. Bonnie loves you. She’s been in love with you for years.”

Unfortunately, Damon didn’t feel very confident in his marriage. He loved Bonnie but something was off in their relationship. Damon couldn’t tell if this was a new occurrence or if he was only now recognizing it. For the first time in for years, Damon was truly concerned that he might lose his wife. The idea scared him more than almost anything else did. It was easier for Damon to place the blame on a possible interloper instead of owning the ways in which he had broken her trust and her heart.

Damon said, “Alright, I’ll back off the issue. You’re right that it’s unfair to dictate Bonnie’s friends.”

Stefan relaxed a little. He hoped that Damon truly meant what he said. No one would be overly shocked to learn that Damon didn’t pay enough attention to his wife. However, Stefan was more detail oriented than his older brother was. Furthermore, he just spent more time with Bonnie than Damon did. Therefore, the sudden appearance of the Saint Christopher’s medal around Bonnie’s neck did not go unnoticed by him. Normally, Bonnie wore a white gold crucifix unless she was attending a formal affair. Since Shadow Hills, she had been wearing the crucifix and the medal.

Stefan had hoped that he was drawing the wrong conclusions when he saw the medal. However, when they made it back to Los Angeles Stefan realized that Tyler was no longer wearing his Saint Christopher’s medal. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Bonnie was now wearing it. Stefan wasn’t sure exactly what it meant but he knew that Damon would go ballistic if he knew.

Stefan found himself in an impossible situation. He loved his older brother. He would never be able to repay Damon for literally stepping in front of Giuseppe’s fists for him. However, Bonnie and Tyler were like his brother and sister, too. They had grown up together and he loved them both. He also knew how much Damon’s actions hurt Bonnie on a regular basis. He tried to encourage his brother to be a better husband but Damon usually responded by taunting Stefan for being whipped.

“Are we good now?” Damon asked.

“Yes, I forgive you for being a drunken asshole.”

The older man chuckled and grabbed his bag of candy.

Stefan said, “Hey! I thought that was meant to be a peace offering.”

“You said that you wanted a watch. I’ll get you the watch instead.”

He mocked his older brother, “Thanks, Santa. At least give me a few pieces of candy.”

Damon rolled his eyes and tore open the bag. He dumped half of the bag onto Stefan’s lap. He stood up and asked, “Happy?”

Stefan scrambled to keep the candy from tumbling onto the floor. He glared at Damon. “You are such an asshole.”

He unwrapped a piece of chocolate and popped it into his mouth. “You’re just figuring that out?”

Stefan shook his head and put in his ear buds again. He looked toward the front of the plane and stared at the back of Ric’s head. The situation with Damon wasn’t the only thing weighing on his mind. He looked down at his phone and pulled up Lilly’s contact information. Stefan couldn’t get the conversation with Lilly out of his head.

Damon returned to his seat feeling much better now that he had settled things with Stefan. Now if he could just square things away with Katherine he would be 2 for 2. His biggest challenge would be fixing whatever was broken in his relationship with Bonnie. However, that situation would have to wait until Giuseppe was dead. Then he would be able to give Bonnie his undivided attention.

Soon the plane landed at a private airstrip near the capital city. They had departed from Los Angeles at 11 o’clock on Sunday night. Currently, it was just shy of 9 o’clock Monday evening in Tenerife. Their small contingent deplaned and then climbed into the two SUVs waiting for them on the tarmac.

Stefan frowned as he stared at his phone.

Damon looked over at him. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m just trying to figure out what to say to Caroline,” he admitted.

“About what?”

“I don’t like lying to my wife about where I am, Damon,” he deadpanned.

The older man frowned because he hadn’t considered that their pit stop would present a problem for anyone. “Just tell her that you made it. I doubt that Blondie is going to ask for details.”

Stefan said, “I guess that you are right about that. Caroline wasn’t really thrilled about me coming on this trip in the first place.”

Damon decided to send a similarly vague text to Bonnie. Afterwards he put away his phone and relaxed against the heated leather seat. It had been a long time since Damon had last visited the island. However, he had spent many vacations there as a child. The villa in Tenerife had been a favorite destination for his father because of its close proximity to Milazzo. Giuseppe would fly back and forth conducting business while they were on vacation.

He lifted a surprised eyebrow as the SUVs pulled up to the two-story villa. There were several cars parked on the street. Furthermore, he could hear the persistent thump of a bass heavy song. Damon tried not to be irritated with Katherine for throwing a party. He had called in advance to tell her when they would arrive.

The chauffeured SUVs parked in the vacant driveway.

Damon climbed out of the car and headed up to the house. The door opened before he even had a chance to take out his keys.

Katherine stood there holding a glass of bourbon. She was wearing a halter dress made of red lace and a pair of stilettos. The dress barely brushed the tops of her thighs. However, the piece de resistance was that dress didn’t have lining underneath the lace. Therefore, the dress was completely see-through.

The mobster’s cerulean eyes were drawn to the La Perla bra and panty set that was visible through the sheer material of the dress.

She smirked seeing the way Damon hungrily drank in her appearance. She handed him the glass of bourbon and said, “Welcome home, Damon. I hope you don’t mind that I invited over a few of my friends. I just figured you wouldn’t want your uncles and brother to be bored senseless.”

Damon grinned as he kissed Katherine. “You always think of everything.”

“Well, I have been a very bad girl. I had to make it up to you somehow,” Katherine said. She moved aside to let them into the villa.

Damon took a sip of the bourbon and followed Katherine into the living room where seven young women were currently dancing and drinking. He also noticed the rather large quantity of drugs on the coffee table. “This is a nice start…”

“Oh, I fully expect to be punished for my bad behavior,” she replied seductively. Katherine turned her attention to the other four men. “These are my friends and they are here to make sure you all have a great time tonight. They are all very discreet and I have instituted a no cell phone policy for the night. Go wild…”

Zach frowned when he saw the way Damon’s eyes seem drawn to the cocaine. His nephew no longer had a problem, but that didn’t mean there weren’t small relapses periodically. Zach could tell that tonight was going to get out of hand quickly. He decided to go put his bag down in one of the bedrooms. He would be turning in soon. Unlike Stefan, Zach hadn’t slept a wink in an attempt to adjust to the time difference.

Enzo walked into the room with a leggy brunette woman at his side. He finished zipping his pants and then grinned at Damon. “I am glad that you made it!”

Damon chuckled. He could tell by Enzo’s over exuberance that he was already drunk. The two men hugged. “Having fun?”

“Yes! My goal is to sample all of the beauties here tonight. Two down…six to go,” he replied.

Katherine sauntered over to Stefan while Damon greeted Enzo. She stroked a hand up his arm. “I didn’t expect to see you here tonight, Stefan. Did you finally decide to join the big boys?”

Stefan glared at Katherine and easily brushed her hand off him. “I see that you are as classy as always, Katherine.”

“It’s not my fault that your brother likes me when I’m dirty. Why don’t you loosen up a little bit? I have the perfect girl for you. You prefer blondes, right?”

Stefan watched as she called over a blonde woman with bronze skin. She was wearing what could only be described as a t-shirt. However, he could admit that the woman was stunning.

“This is Damon’s brother, Stefan. He’s a bit of a stuff shirt but I am sure that you can bring him out of his shell.”

The woman extended her hand to Stefan and smiled. In an accented voice, she said, “Hi. My name is, Noa. It’s nice to meet you, Stefan.”

Stefan shook her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, too. Noa is a very pretty name. Unfortunately, I won’t be staying.”

The other female guests quickly swarmed Alaric and Mason.

Katherine rolled her eyes and said, “Come on, Saint Stefan…live a little.”

Stefan had never been fond of Katherine. He thought the woman brought out his brother’s worst qualities. Moreover, she had come onto him numerous times when she first started seeing Damon. He had rejected every one of her advances much to Katherine’s utter humiliation. “No, thank you.”

He turned around and walked right back out of the house.

Alaric followed his nephew outside. “Where are you going?”

“I am going to check into a hotel for the night. This isn’t the reason I came on this trip. Damon and I have already settled our differences. There is no good reason for me to stay here tonight,” Stefan replied.

He said, “You can just crash in one of the bedrooms upstairs.”

Stefan looked at his uncle seriously. “How do you look Abby in the eye knowing that Damon treats her daughter like shit? Because I have a difficult time being around Bonnie and pretending I don’t know that my brother is a cheating asshole.”

The older man frowned because of the direct nature of the question. Stefan didn’t usually approach situations in that way. “It’s not my place, or yours, to get involved in Damon’s marriage.”

He huffed out a laugh. “Look who I am asking. Of course, you don’t see anything wrong with what Damon is doing. How many years have you been cheating on Jo with Abby?”

Stefan had only recently learned that Ric was the father of Abby’s three younger children. He couldn’t believe that his uncle had started another family while still married to Jo. Even Giuseppe hadn’t been so careless or callous. However, infidelity was just sort of par for the course for Salvatore men. Stefan’s grandfather had been an unrepentant philanderer that ended up fathering two illegitimate children: Alaric and Zacharias. However, there had been rumors of others.

“What the fuck is going on with you? First, you provoke Damon into fighting you. Are you trying to provoke me now?” Alaric asked.

“I am not trying to provoke you. I am really just trying to figure out how you hid an entire family for twelve years. What kind of person does that?”

He ground out, “My personal affairs aren’t your concern.”

Stefan asked, “I have three cousins that I didn’t know about until last week. I’ve known these kids since they were born and never knew that I had a connection to them. In what world would that not be my business?”

“What do you want me to say, Stefan? I’m not perfect.”

“None of us are. It’s just sometimes I forget that you are my father’s brother in every way.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Ric’s voice had dropped to a near growl.

He shook his head and walked toward the car. “Forget it.”

Alaric grabbed his nephew’s shoulder and turned him around. “Don’t walk away from me when I am talking to you. What the hell was that little jab supposed to mean?”

Stefan stared at his uncle completely unafraid. “I’ve had this recurring nightmare for years. I just chalked it up to my fucked up childhood corrupting my dreams. I had it again while Caroline and I were in Paris with the kids. Only this time my mother was there when I was wide awake in the middle of the night and unable to fall asleep. She asked what was keeping me awake and for some reason…I told her about my nightmare. She called me Sunday morning and told me that my nightmare was real.”

Ric slowly released Stefan’s shoulder as an unsettling feeling washed over him. Something about the look in the younger man’s eyes unnerved him. Moreover, he wasn’t aware that his nephew still had nightmares. He thought that Stefan had grown out of those in his teens. Before then he used to climb into Damon’s bed whenever he had a nightmare.

“What nightmare? What are you talking about?”

Stefan just stared at Alaric in silence for a moment. “This thing that has been haunting my dreams since I was a little kid is real. Mom thinks that since I was so young when it happened that my subconscious repressed what I saw.”

“She is crazy, Stefan. That woman is certifiably crazy. You have to take anything Lilly says with a grain of salt.”

He chuckled darkly. “Mom said that you would say that.”

Zach walked out of the house and frowned at the tension between his older brother and nephew. “What’s going on out here?”

Alaric slowly stepped away from Stefan. “I can say with complete certainty that I do not know.”

Stefan smiled at Zach as if nothing were amiss. He said, “Nothing, Zio. I am just headed to a hotel for the night. Caroline was cool with the strip club but this is something different.”

Ric gave his younger brother a pointed look.

“I think I will come with you. That party isn’t exactly my scene either. Just let me run in the house to get my overnight bag,” he said.

They had left the rest of their luggage on the jet since they would be leaving the next day.

Stefan nodded as he climbed into the car. “Okay.”

Ric and Zach walked back into the house. They went to the guest room where Zach had put down his bag. “What the fuck did I just walk into?”

“I don’t know. I thought that you said that he was okay,” Ric said.

“He was when I talked to him yesterday morning. He was only trying to protect Tyler from Damon’s mood swings. What beef does he have with you?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “He started going on about my affair with Abby. Then he started talking about some nightmares he had as a kid. He said that Lilly called yesterday to tell him the incident from his nightmare actually happened when he was younger. He’s obviously accusing me of something but I genuinely don’t know what he is talking about.”

Zach frowned at his older brother. He said, “Damon is the one who always helped him through the nightmares. I don’t know what they were about but I can ask Stefan.”

“You need to figure out if he’s cracking up before we take him to Milazzo.”

Zach nodded. “I’m on it. You keep an eye on Damon. Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid and keep him away from the coke.”

Ric said, “I’ll kick his ass to Milazzo if he even looks at it.”

Zach chuckled and clapped his brother on the back. “I guess I’ll see you in the morning.”

Ric sat on the side of the bed as Zach left the room. He wondered what Lilly had put into the boy’s head. She had been waiting years for an opportunity to turn Stefan against the family. Lilly had wanted to take Stefan when she left Giuseppe but he wouldn’t allow it. Her contact with Stefan had been limited to phone calls and gifts until he turned 18-years-old. However, even then Stefan was too beholden to Giuseppe to visit Lilly. That changed a few weeks ago when he went to see his mother without telling anyone. Ric wondered if he should have examined his nephew’s reasons for visiting Lilly more closely before now.

He took a deep breath and decided to put it out of his mind for now. Zach was more than capable of getting through to Stefan. While he wouldn’t call it favoritism, Ric was closer to Damon than he was to Stefan. Meanwhile, Zach was closer to Stefan than he was to Damon. He wasn’t sure if it was the age difference. Ric was nine years older than Damon compared to being 17 years older than Stefan was. He also had a similar temperament to Damon’s while Zach and Stefan had always been more even-keeled.

Ric stood up and headed back out to the living room. He needed a drink and maybe a line or two of coke.

He rolled his eyes at seeing Katherine straddling Damon on the couch. The way the two of them were going at it they might as well have been screwing right there.

Ric plopped down at the other end of the sofa and pulled out his wallet. He took out a credit card and separated a small portion of the cocaine from the larger pile.

Damon pulled back from Katherine’s reddened lips to look at his uncle. He lifted an eyebrow at him.

“Do as I say and not as I do,” he muttered in response to the silent question. “Also, get a room. I’m not interested in watching you fuck her on the couch.”

“What crawled up your ass?” Damon asked.

“Your little brother.”

Damon chuckled. “I told you he’s been a little asshole lately. What did he do now?”

“I don’t know. Your crazy ass mother put some bullshit in his head.”

Damon’s amusement faded. “That bitch isn’t my mother. What the fuck did she say to him?”

Katherine rolled her eyes. She grabbed Damon’s face and ground against his erection enticingly. “Damon…”

“In a minute,” he snapped.

Katherine knew when to shut her mouth. She huffed but remained silent.

“I don’t know. He brought up some shit about a nightmare. He said Lilly told him it was real.”

Damon’s body tensed when Ric mentioned Stefan’s recurring nightmare. He shoved at Katherine. “Move.”

She balked at being treated so callously but quickly moved when she realized that Damon planned to stand whether she moved or not.

“Where is he, Zio?”

Ric said, “Zach left with him to go to a hotel for the night. Stefan didn’t want to be around all of this anyway. Zach will figure out what’s wrong with him. He always does.”

Damon dug his phone from his pocket and called Stefan’s phone. He scowled when the call went to voicemail. “He’s ignoring my calls.”

“You’ll see him in the morning,” Ric commented. He rolled up a twenty-dollar bill and snorted a line of coke.

Damon shook his head. He wanted to fly to Paris and choke the life out of Lilly for playing head games with Stefan. “You don’t get it. I can’t believe that crazy bitch would tell him that nightmare was real. I need to talk to Stefan.”

Katherine pressed her lips together in annoyance as Damon walked out of the living room.

Ric chuckled at her expression and then tilted the makeshift straw in her direction.

The brunette glared at his apparent amusement with her predicament. However, she plucked the rolled bill from his fingers swiftly. She was going to need a little something extra if she was going to put up with the Salvatore family’s bullshit. She snorted two lines of cocaine before returning the bill to him. “Thanks,” she muttered.

Ric studied Katherine for a moment before he stood up and walked away. He already had one nephew hurling veiled accusations at him. He didn’t need problems with Damon, too.

Katherine sat there sulking for a few minutes before grabbing a bottle of tequila and disappearing to the master bedroom. She stopped in the doorway when she heard Damon on the phone.

“Call me when you get this, Stefan,” Damon demanded.

Katherine lightly knocked on the bedroom door. “Can I come in?”

He placed his phone on the nightstand as he looked up at her. He said, “Yeah. Close the door behind you.”

Katherine closed the door and placed the bottle of tequila on a dresser. She was determined to get Damon’s attention solely on her. Katherine unpinned her darks curls and allowed them to fall over her shoulders. She flashed a coquettish smile and asked, “Are you going to pay attention to me now? I thought you said that you missed me.”

His cerulean eyes followed Katherine’s every move. Damon chuckled lowly. “I did. Take off your clothes and I’ll show you how much.”

“Are you sure? Stefan might call you back,” she replied in a petulant voice. “Besides, you’ve been very mean to me lately. You sent Enzo to threaten my life.”

“You deserved it for bothering Bonnie with your bullshit. You are lucky that all I did was send him to warn you,” the mobster replied in a serious tone. “Now take the dress off or I’ll rip it off you,” he ordered.

A delicious chill went up her spine at Damon’s threat. She turned on some music and then slowly walked toward the bed. However, she stopped a few tantalizing feet away.

Damon licked his lips in anticipation. “I wasn’t joking about ripping that dress off you.”

Katherine pouted prettily at him as she slowly allowed the lace dress to slide down the length of her body. Once the material pooled at her feet, she said, “I’m sorry for what I did. I was just jealous. You haven’t been spending very much time with me lately. I thought...maybe you were getting tired of me.”

Damon watched the serpentine way her body moved to the music. “Never,” was his simple reply.

She flashed a devious grin as she took off her bra and threw it at Damon’s face. In a quiet voice, she suggested, “Maybe you want someone younger.”

He easily caught the delicate scrap of material and tossed it aside. “You know that isn’t true, Katherine.”

She hooked her thumbs into the sides of her panties and slowly dragged them down her legs. Afterwards, the brown-eyed temptress looked at Damon from underneath her eyelashes as she slowly kneeled on the soft wool rug.

Damon's smile grew more lecherous.

Katherine crawled the short distance until she was kneeling between Damon’s legs. She unbuckled his belt and unzipped his pants. Katherine asked, “Are you sure? Maybe you want someone younger and more wholesome like your pretty little Bonnie .”

Damon’s expression hardened at the mention of his wife. He grabbed her face in a vice like grip and practically snarled, “Maybe you should put your mouth to better use before you get yourself into trouble.”

A mischievous glint shone in her dark eyes as she licked her lips. “Yes, sir.”

Chapter Text

Bonnie barely heard the rest of Dr. Huerta’s pep talk. The pamphlets, prescriptions, and sonograms in her trembling hands had her full attention. She felt like a complete failure as a mother. Her one job was to give her babies a healthy place to grow for 40 weeks. Yet her pathetic need to be desirable to Damon meant that she had been underweight even before learning that she was pregnant. To make matters worse, her blood pressure was practically through the roof. Dr. Huerta had decided to prescribe a medication to help regulate her blood pressure. He promised Bonnie that the medication would be safe for her babies as long as she took the prescribed dosage.

The overarching theme of Bonnie’s doctor visit was that she needed to take better care of herself. Dr. Huerta believed that reducing stress in her life should be at the very top of her to-do list. His recommendation just made Bonnie feel even guiltier. She had been livid that morning after learning that Damon had postponed his trip to Milazzo for an additional two days. Apparently, her loving husband wanted to spend more time with Katherine. The news from Mason had cut through her like a hot knife. He swore that Damon was delaying his trip to Milazzo because he was concerned about Stefan but she didn’t believe him. She thought that he was trying to spare her feelings.

Bonnie was furious because she was bending over backwards to smooth Damon’s path to becoming the head of the Salvatore organization. The previous night, she had practically begged Big John to back her husband over Giuseppe. It had been a hard sell considering Bonnie still refused to tell him about the attack. Nevertheless, Big John promised to support Damon’s rise to power because Bonnie and her children would greatly benefit from that move. However, his support did not come without a price. He wanted to install several of their people in the U.S. side of the smuggling operation. Big John smelled the blood in the water and wanted to make sure Bonnie had adequate support for her next move.

Rationally, the young mother understood that Damon wasn’t jeopardizing his trip by staying in Tenerife for a few days. He wasn’t officially scheduled to meet with the capos until Friday. He would be hosting a big dinner at the Salvatore compound in Milazzo. Damon planned to meet not only the captains but also their sons and in some cases grandsons. He wanted to ingratiate himself to the future generations that would serve the Salvatore organization. Bonnie admired the brilliance of Damon’s plan. His first few days in Milazzo were supposed to be spent meeting with the Salvatores that never immigrated to the United States. Instead, he chose to fly them to Tenerife for a few days. Having the capos on his side was all well and good but Damon needed his blood to side with him as well.

The gray-haired physician said, “I know that this may all sound discouraging but I still believe that you can have a healthy pregnancy. You will just have to put in more effort than some other expectant mothers do. However, I think that we have a solid plan going forward.”

Bonnie nodded numbly and slipped everything she had been given into her designer handbag. She shook his hand as she stood up. “Thank you for your help, Dr. Huerta.”

He placed a comforting hand on Bonnie’s shoulder. He said, “You are welcome, Bonnie. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call me.”

She gave a distracted nod. “I will. Have a good day, Dr. Huerta.”

The doctor walked with Bonnie out of his office. “I will see you back here in two weeks.”

Tyler shot out of his chair as soon as Bonnie walked into the waiting room. He had been sitting anxiously because her appointment had lasted an hour longer than it should have. His chest tightened at the haunted expression on her face. His first instinct was to pull Bonnie into his arms. However, he couldn’t do that in such a public place.

Instead, he put on a stoic expression and met her in the middle of the waiting room. The two friends walked to the elevator and took it to the ground floor of the massive medical complex.

“Do you want to wait here while I go get the car?”

She shook her head and put on her sunglasses. “I’m fine to walk. The cool air actually feels nice.”

Tyler and Bonnie walked across the street to the parking garage. He stayed quiet until they made it to the car. He opened Bonnie’s door and asked, “Where would you like to go next?”

She climbed into the back of the car and placed her purse on the other seat. “We need to stop by the pharmacy to drop off my prescriptions. Then I’d like to go to the beach house for a little while.”

To the outside listener the conversation would sound innocent. However, Tyler understood that Bonnie wanted some time alone with him. He nodded and said, “Okay. What pharmacy would you like to use today?”

“There is a pharmacy near the beach house. I have used it in the past. I think it is on Golden Valley,” she explained.

“I’ll find it,” he replied. Tyler closed her door and then climbed into the car. He searched for the pharmacy’s address on his phone before he started the engine. “Would you like to stop somewhere for lunch, too?”

Bonnie shook her head. She didn’t have the energy to keep up her façade in public. The girl just wanted to be alone with her best friend for a bit. She smiled tiredly. “I was thinking that we might just get something delivered for lunch.”

Tyler nodded as he pulled out of the parking space. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

She smiled at him in the rearview mirror and then tried to relax. Getting worked up was the opposite of what she needed right now. Bonnie took out of the nutrition plan she had been given and began to read it. She had only skimmed the information while sitting in Dr. Huerta’s office.

Bonnie knew that the right thing to do would be to call her husband. It would be 9 o’clock local time in Tenerife. However, she just couldn’t bring herself to pretend right now. She didn’t feel like being an actress for his benefit. She was a 21-year-old young woman terrified that her body couldn’t support the two little lives in her womb. Bonnie couldn’t guarantee that she would not curse out Damon if they spoke now. More than exposing her knowledge of his current location, it would also make her blood pressure rise. Frankly, Damon and his whore weren’t worth the lives of her babies. Nothing, not even the family business, was more important than her children were.

At a traffic light, Tyler asked, “Do you want to listen to some music?”

She smiled softly and said, “That would be nice, Ty.”

He fiddled with his phone while the light was red.

Bonnie huffed out a startled laugh when she heard Beyonce reciting poetry over the car’s speakers. “Seriously?”

Tyler smiled sheepishly as the light turned green. “In my defense, I bought the album when Nikki stayed the weekend with my parents. She is a card-carrying member of the Beyhive. Anyway, Lemonade is actually a pretty good album.”

Nikki was Mason and Vicki’s oldest daughter. She was 13-years-old and so much like her mother that the two fought constantly. She frequently stayed the weekend with Richard and Carol. They were like her de facto grandparents because of the age difference between the two brothers. Tyler usually ended up staying at his parents’ house to keep Nikki occupied.  

Bonnie laughed softly as she rested her hands on her stomach. She closed her eyes and tried to relax.

Periodically, he glanced in the rearview mirror to check on Bonnie. He hated feeling as if he were unable to help her. He had been tempted to take her to the hospital last night. Matt had called him shortly after midnight to say that Bonnie had fainted. It had taken every shred of his willpower not to rush over to the Salvatore Manor.

Bonnie had refused to go to the hospital since she had an appointment with Dr. Huerta later in the day. Moreover, Meredith had given the all clear. She believed that Bonnie’s fainting spell was caused by dehydration.

Tyler pulled into a parking space at the pharmacy. He lowered the volume of the music and looked over the seat. “Bonnie, we’re here.”

She pried open her eyes and stifled a yawn. Bonnie dug through her purse and pulled out the four prescriptions and her insurance card. “They should have all of my information on file here but take this just in case.”

“Okay. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said.

Once Bonnie was alone, she picked up her phone. She typed out a quick message to Lucy asking her to meet them at the beach house. Bonnie had come to a decision on how to handle Damon and Katherine. She would need her older cousin’s help to get everything done.

Tyler returned a few minutes later and climbed into the car.  He returned Bonnie’s insurance card and said, “Your prescriptions will be ready in two hours. We can pick them up when we’re on our way back to the manor.”

She nodded. “Thanks.”

The drive to the beach house was quick since the pharmacy was in the neighborhood. He parked the car in the driveway when they arrived.

He asked, “Any idea what you want to order for lunch?”

Bonnie picked up her purse as she got out of the SUV. She said, “I could really go for a grilled chicken salad and maybe some type of soup.”

Tyler considered the local options as he followed her up to the door. He knew the delivery options out there better than Bonnie did. His parents’ house was ten minutes away. “I know a place that has a great Italian wedding soup. That’s still your favorite, right?”

Her expression brightened. “That sounds so good right now. I think I might want to order two of those with my salad. Oh, and I want Thousand Island dressing and Romano if they have it.”

“I’ll take care of ordering lunch. Do you want anything else?”

She unlocked the front door and let them into the house. Bonnie stopped by the security panel and entered her code. “No, the salad and soup should be fine. Order something for Lucy, too. I sent her a text while you were inside the pharmacy. She will be here in a bit.”

Tyler pulled up the app on his phone and ordered lunch for the three of them. He locked the front door and followed Bonnie into the living room.

She kicked off her shoes and plopped down on the soft couch.

He put away his phone and said, “Lunch will be here in about 35 minutes.”

“That’s good because I am starving. I didn’t eat very much for breakfast.”

Tyler had noticed that but didn’t say anything. That morning he could tell that she had been throwing up again. He sat on the couch and pulled Bonnie’s feet into his lap. “Are you going to tell me how your appointment went?”

She smiled a little as Tyler began massaging her sore feet. “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

He said, “Give me the bad news first.”

“My blood pressure is elevated. It is high enough that Dr. Huerta prescribed a blood pressure medicine for me. He thinks the spike in my blood pressure along with mild dehydration is what caused me to faint last night. He is also worried because I only put on two pounds in my first trimester. He prescribed something for the nausea and green lit the nutritional shakes that your mom recommended to me. He had me meet with the on-site nutritionist, too. She gave me a list of do’s and don’ts to help manage the high blood pressure and to help with the weight gain. I have to go back in two weeks so that Dr. Huerta can check my progress.”

Tyler had been expecting everything but the high blood pressure. His hands stopped massaging Bonnie’s feet and he slid closer to her on the couch. He pulled Bonnie into a fierce hug. “Fuck, Bon. Is there anything that I can do?”

“You are already doing so much for me. Just being here for me means everything, Ty,” she whispered. She didn’t want cry but could feel the tears forming in her eyes.

He promised, “You couldn’t get rid of me if you tried. I’m here whenever and however you need me.”

She sniffled softly and burrowed deeper into his warm embrace.

Tyler held his friend in silence. He was in no rush to let her go. He kissed the top of her head and asked, “What was the good news?”

“The babies are healthy despite everything going on with me. I’m doing just enough to keep them healthy for now. Dr. Huerta was also able to get really good pictures of the babies today. Do you want to see them?”

“Of course, I do. Let’s see em,” he said.

Bonnie pulled back from the hug reluctantly and reached into her purse. She pulled out the sonograms and passed them to Tyler. Then she watched his face as he scrutinized the pictures.

He smiled as he looked at the pictures. He couldn’t believe that Bonnie was far enough along for the twins to look like actual babies but she was. “Wow. They are amazing, Bon.”

“They are amazing and I’ve got to protect them, Ty.”

Tyler looked up when he heard her voice crack. He cupped her cheek. “Protect them from what, Bon?”

“I have to protect them and Sarah from all the shit that left me this broken.”

“You are not broken,” he swore.

She shook her head as tears slipped down her cheeks. “But I am. You don’t know. You don’t know what I did.”

Tyler put the sonograms on the coffee table and turned to face Bonnie. He took both of her delicate hands into his and said, “You know that you can tell me anything. I always have your back. We will figure it out together.”

Bonnie tore her eyes away from Tyler’s because his deep concern was too much to bear. She looked down at their hands. “It’s my fault that I’m not gaining enough weight.”

“You can’t help that you are nauseous all the time, Bonnie.”

“No. You have to listen to me. Please...don’t interrupt because I will just chicken out of telling you the truth.”

He kissed both of her hands and said, “Okay. Go ahead.”

“I was underweight before I was pregnant. I wasn’t just underweight. I was 10 pounds lighter than I should be for my height. During the summer, I started dieting and exercising.” She shook her head as more tears fell. “No, that’s not the truth. I cut back to eating one meal a day and drinking a protein shake for breakfast. Then I started doing Crossfit. The pounds came off so quickly.  I thought that if I were thinner that Damon would be attracted to me. It was so stupid and I stopped as soon as I suspected that I might be pregnant. What if I can’t carry this pregnancy full term? I was so pathetic that I tried to starve myself to get Damon’s attention. That won’t be his fault. It will be all on me and my stupidity.”

Tyler tried not to tense because all he could think about was killing Damon slowly. He kissed Bonnie’s hands again. “You are not stupid or pathetic. You made a mistake but you can turn this around. If Dr. Huerta really thought you were in danger of losing the babies, he would have admitted you into the hospital. In the hospital, they would have been able to give you a feeding tube and an IV to pump you full of fluids and nutrients.”

Bonnie blinked back the tears and looked at him with a puzzled expression. “How do you know that?”

He cleared his throat. “I might have called my cousin in the middle of the night to ask him a few questions. He is a doctor. I needed him to stop me from throwing you over my shoulder and taking you to the hospital.”

She huffed out a shocked laugh. Bonnie sniffled. “Well, he’s not wrong. Dr. Huerta told me that I would have to be admitted into hospital if the anti-nausea medication doesn’t help me.”

“I guess Cole really is a doctor,” Tyler teased.

“I can’t believe anyone actually let Cole become a doctor. He was always such an idiot.”

He smirked. “Oh, he’s still an idiot. He is just a well-paid idiot now. He’s raking in the money as a concierge doctor.”

Bonnie asked, “Can I get his number from you?”

“Yeah. I will text it to you. Are you looking for a new doctor?” he asked. Tyler picked up his phone and sent Bonnie his cousin’s number.

“Maybe. I just want to explore all of my options. I won’t see Dr. Huerta again for two weeks. I would really like someone on-call whenever I need them.”

He nodded. “Like when you fainted last night.”

Bonnie said, “Yes. I also want someone that I am paying. The Salvatores have a private physician on the payroll but he answers to them. I think it’s time to put some distance between myself and the Salvatores. I have to think of my children now. All three of them need me to be my very best. Our world is about to get very dangerous.”

He gently smoothed a curl behind Bonnie’s ear. “You are going to be okay—all four of you. I’m here for whatever you need.”

He hoped that if he reassured Bonnie enough that she would believe him. He knew how difficult it was for her to trust people. Everyone that was supposed to love her had hurt or abandoned her. Even Miss Sheila had sold her off like chattel. He knew that she was just waiting for the other shoe to drop with him.

Bonnie looked into Tyler’s eyes and asked, “What if what I need is you?”

“You have always had me, Bon. That will never change,” he promised.

The girl squeezed her best friend’s hand and said, “I hope you mean that because I have had an epiphany today.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I mean it. What sort of epiphany did you have?”

“I think it is high time that I stop behaving as if I am a lovesick teenager. Damon married me because of a business arrangement struck between our families. The possibility of him falling in love with me was more of a bonus, not a guarantee. We have been married for four years. If he is not in love with me now, it is safe to assume that it will never happen.”

Tyler felt conflicted after Bonnie’s confession. He didn’t like that she was hurting because of Damon. However, he was also glad that Bonnie had finally tired of his bullshit. She deserved better than the likes of Damon Salvatore and his equally shitty family. However, he wondered what had inspired this epiphany in Bonnie. If resounding proof of Damon’s infidelity were all it took then Bonnie would have stopped trying to gain his affection years ago. It was open knowledge within the family that he hadn’t been faithful to her during the entirety of their marriage.

He cleared his throat. “Can I ask what brought on this change of course?”

Bonnie looked down at her horribly expensive wedding ring and smiled wryly. “I am turning into a person that I don’t recognize, Ty. I spent the better part of my doctor’s appointment plotting how to kill Katherine in the most brutal and inhumane ways possible. I thought of butchering this woman and sending Damon little pieces of her body until he had a life-sized Katherine puzzle to put back together. I don’t just want her dead. I want Damon to suffer, too. I want him in prison for a murder that he didn’t commit because only then will he truly understand what the fuck he has done to me.”

Tyler chuckled quietly because that was a seriously fucked up revenge fantasy even for someone in his line of work. It was most certainly in line with some of Brady’s more horrific kills. However, Tyler understood that everyone had a breaking point and Bonnie had reached hers.

She continued, “This is how warped I have become while being married to Damon. I considered torturing and killing a woman whose only crime is screwing my whorish husband. Then I realized that Damon would simply move on to the next warm body. Am I supposed to kill every woman that he decides to screw? Everything I feel for him is too intense. I love him as deeply as I hate him now. I want to rip his heart out the way that he rips mine out every single day. Unfortunately, I can’t hurt him that way because I don’t mean that much to him. Instead, I imagine of all the ways I could physically hurt him and he lies next to me none the wiser. It’s sick and I don’t want to be that person. As Lucy would say, I have reached the rat poison phase of my marriage.”

Tyler asked, “What?”

“You know that my mother tried to kill my father by lacing his food with rat poison.”

He nodded. “Yes, I have heard the story.”

Bonnie said, “It is better if I put space between myself and Damon before I lose control in that way. I’m too stressed and it is hurting my babies. I don’t know what I would do to him if I miscarried.”

Every bone in Tyler’s body said that Bonnie knew exactly what she would do and it would be hell to clean up. He cupped her cheek and said, “It won’t come to that. What can I do to help you?”

Relief rippled through the young woman’s body. She had been expecting shock or recrimination from Tyler. However, he had once again proven that he was always on Bonnie’s side. She needed that more than anything else now. “I need you to pack a bag. We’ll be making a trip to Tenerife just as soon as Damon is safely in Milazzo.”

“Should I be calling Uncle Brady to join us on this trip? He’s the best at corpse disposal.”

She smiled a little. “No, that won’t be necessary. I am not going there to kill Katherine. I just think it is time that the two of us have a chat...woman to woman. We need to establish some ground rules on how things will work from now on. She might not fear Damon but she had better fear me.”

Tyler almost felt bad for Damon because Bonnie was about to rain hellfire onto his life. Then he remembered that his best friend was literally sick because of Damon’s bullshit and that sympathy quickly evaporated.

“The bottom line is I am going to separate from Damon. I can’t do it legally without the press catching wind of it but I am going to make him understand the situation. I know that’s not the same thing as leaving him, but I can’t go on like this.”

He said, “I am proud of you for putting yourself first, Bon.”

“Really? You aren’t upset that I am not divorcing him?” she asked.

Tyler shook his head. “Why would I be upset?”

She said, “Because if I am still married to Damon then we can’t be together openly.”

“If we are being honest, I wouldn’t be able to be with you publicly even if you did divorce him. Damon doesn’t seem like the type to accept his ex-wife moving on with one of his underlings. We would have to hide our relationship whether you are married to him or not.”

Her green eyes brightened. “Then you still want me?”

Tyler gently took Bonnie’s face in his hands and kissed her tenderly.

Bonnie didn’t pull away until she was breathless. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“I have wanted you since we were teenagers, Bon. I tried to get you out of my system but I couldn’t. I know that I am not out of yours either. The night you turned up on my doorstep bruised and battered made me realize that I could have lost you. I could have lost you without ever really having you. I could have married Elena years ago. You are the reason I could never go through with it. I knew deep in my heart that I would always love you more. That’s not the way to build a life with someone.”

Bonnie’s eyes darkened with lust as she grabbed onto the lapels of Tyler’s shirt. She pulled him into a crushing kiss as she leaned back against the couch’s arm.

Tyler moved more fully onto the couch and settled his weight between Bonnie’s outstretched legs. A little voice in the back of his head whispered that he fit perfectly because she was made for him. Everyone else was just too stupid to see that. He devoured Bonnie’s lips with the hunger of a starving man.

It felt as if all of Bonnie’s senses were tingling. The young woman was consumed by the feeling of his hard body pressed against hers. The smell of his Tom Ford cologne and the cigarette smoke he was so desperately trying to mask intoxicated her. Bonnie could practically taste the whiskey from his flask on his tongue.

Tyler broke the kiss and rested his forehead against hers as he tried to catch his breath. “Fuck,” he muttered in exasperation.

Bonnie rolled her hips forward teasingly. A thrill went up her spine when his eyes sprang open. Desire clouded the dark brown eyes that she knew so well. However, she also saw the warning in those eyes.

Tyler shuddered as his hands moved up to Bonnie’s hips to stop her from moving again. “If you keep that up, you’re going to make me cum in my pants like a teenager.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” she replied breathlessly.

He smirked. “The last time that happened, I was actually a teenager.”

Bonnie laughed softly. It was so lighthearted and genuine that she almost wondered if it had come from her. She stared up at Tyler in silence. She didn’t know how to put what she was feeling into words. It was as if a weight had been lifted off Bonnie’s shoulders now that she had made a decision.

The doorbell interrupted their heated staring contest.

Tyler groaned and pecked her lips softly before getting up. “That’ll be our lunch.”

She rolled her eyes as she sat up on the couch. “This has to be the first time in history that a delivery service actually arrived on time.”

He chuckled and smoothed down his clothes. He couldn’t go to the door looking rumpled. Rumors had been started with less incriminating circumstances. “You need to eat…”

“I know.” Bonnie stood up. “I am going to pop upstairs to freshen up.”

Tyler watched Bonnie head upstairs. He took a deep breath and decided that he was in trouble. However, it was trouble that he had been waiting a very long time to have.

Chapter Text

After such a difficult day, all Bonnie really wanted to do was crawl into her bed and sleep. However, she had promised to take Sarah to her first ballet class. The little girl was so excited and had been talking about it non-stop since Sunday night. Yesterday, she had even taken the tiny dancer shopping for all the dancing essentials. Sarah now had several leotards, tights, leggings, tracksuits, tutus, and ballet slippers. There was no way that Bonnie could disappoint her sweet angel by rescheduling for another day. Therefore, she took a three-hour nap at the beach house before going home to pick up Sarah.

Madame Clarice’s studio featured four massive rooms where the classes took place. Each room boasted ceiling to floor tinted windows so that parents could watch the classes without distracting the students. The waiting area was equipped with comfortable seating and a smoothie/juice bar. Everything about the studio was meant to appeal to an insanely wealthy clientele. Caroline stood close to the glass so that she could record part of the class for Stefan. Bella, Sarah, and Nico all seemed to be having a great time. Nico was probably the best dancer out of the three thus far. However, the twins and their cousin were competitive so it was amusing to see them try to outdo each other.

Bonnie watched with a bright smile on her face as Sarah practiced with the other children in the beginners’ class. The girl’s raven eyebrows were furrowed in concentration as she tried to replicate what the instructor was doing. Bonnie thought that Sarah looked so much like Stefan with such a serious expression on her young face. She was such a bubbly little girl that her moments of seriousness were a striking contrast. However, Bonnie could tell how important this was to her daughter. She couldn’t help but feel a little pride that Sarah was following in her footsteps by taking ballet. She hoped that it was something that they would be able to share for years to come.

A mutual love of dance was one of the few things that Bonnie had in common with her own mother. As a child, Bonnie would show Abby videos of her dance recitals whenever she visited. Her mother would offer praise and correction that the little girl soaked up like a sponge. She even had a collection of programs for the ballets performed by Abby’s former ballet company. There was a time when Bonnie had dreamed of becoming a professional dancer as her mother had. However, Sheila’s cancer diagnosis had ground those dreams into dust. Sheila allowed her granddaughter to perform in Swan Lake before she married Damon. Abby had actually showed up to watch her oldest child perform the role of Odette in the ballet. It was perhaps the happiest night of her life.

Abby sat beside her daughter while they watched the children dance. “She looks like a little doll out there. I can’t wait until Savannah is old enough to start taking ballet lessons. I have thought about signing her up for tumbling classes. I did that with you when you were Savannah’s age.”

She smiled wistfully. “I know. Grams saved some of the videos for me. She would dig them out every once in awhile when I really needed it. You should do those tumbling classes with Savannah. You have the time with the boys being in school now.”

The older woman didn’t miss the tinge of bitterness in her daughter’s voice. Their relationship was improving but there was still two decades of trauma that would probably never heal. “I just might.”

“Any leads on work?” Bonnie asked.

Abby struggled to be a mother but she was a top-notch dancer and choreographer. For years, she had traveled the world as part of a renowned ballet company. She left the ballet company about nine years ago and focused on being a choreographer. She began touring with various recording artists and quickly made a name for herself in the industry. Abby’s last pregnancy forced her to put her career on the backburner for awhile. She experienced a number of complications while carrying Savannah due to being in her late 30’s at the time. Alaric wanted Abby’s ‘break’ to be permanent. However, she was concerned that her life would turn into a type of prison without work as an outlet.

“Actually, I had a working lunch this afternoon with Ignacio and a pretty big name recording artist. I thought it was just an informal meeting. But he ended up offering me the job on the spot. He is going to be shooting a pair of videos in Southern California in late January. He wants me to do the choreography for both videos. The artist is giving me a week to get back to him with an answer.”

Bonnie smiled. “That is great news. Why don’t you look happier about it?”

“I just don’t know if Alaric will be okay with me taking the job. He has made it clear that he would prefer for me to do this.”

“Do what?” she asked in confusion.

Abby explained, “He wants me to open my own dance studio. However, it isn’t as if he is particularly interested in my happiness. He just wants something to tether me to Southern California. It was easier when I didn’t need to consult another person about my job prospects. I am trying to make it work this time around for the sake of your siblings. I am trying to be a better mother but it doesn’t come naturally to me. If you can believe it, I am much better at being a mother than I am at being a wife or girlfriend,” she said honestly.

The girl looked at her mother with genuine sympathy. She knew from personal experience how difficult it was pretending to be something you weren’t on a daily basis. It was a tiresome farce but the alternative was showing your true self and risking rejection. She knew with certainty that Damon would never accept her true self. He wanted a naïve doe-eyed girl that swooned under his gaze. Damon would never be able to handle the fact that he had married a killer and that she was a better strategist than he was.

“For what it’s worth, I think you are doing a good job with them. You are there every day. I would have given anything for that when I was a kid.”

“I’m sorry,” she said earnestly.

Bonnie shook her head. “I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad, Mom. I was just saying that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. Your constant presence in their lives means more than you know.”

It was hard for Abby to look at the emotional scars that she had left behind on her daughter. She couldn’t help but think that Bonnie’s obsession with Damon stemmed from her abandonment as a child. She had latched onto the raven-haired boy at a young age and never let go. Sheila certainly had not dissuaded the infatuation because she had planned for this merging of the families.

“What about you? You are going to be graduating from college in May. Are you going to join the workforce?”

“I hope so. I have been thinking that I might take a position at Velocita. On the other hand, I have been thinking about getting my MBA, too. I might actually be able to attend school on campus like a traditional student would.”

Abby understood that Bonnie meant that it wouldn’t be a fight once Giuseppe was dead. She was proud of how determined her daughter was to carve out a life for herself despite the hand she had been dealt.

“Both are great options. Have you thought about taking a part-time position while working on your MBA? Maybe you could work under Zacharias. He is very good at his job. You know he helped smooth all the wrinkles when BTS and Velocita merged.”

She smiled, “Well, I will be working under his direction during my internship. I want to see what sort of boss he is before thinking about a more permanent position under his purview. In the meantime, I managed to submit all of my applications to the MBA programs before their respective deadlines.”

“To how many programs did you apply?” she asked curiously as she took a sip of her smoothie.

She said, “Three. I decided to keep my options open. All three programs admit very few candidates each year. There’s a chance that I might get waitlisted because they value business experience.”

Abby lifted an eyebrow. “I doubt that will happen. Your grades and GMAT score are impeccable. You will have completed an internship at a Fortune 500 company. And let’s be honest, your last name will edge out some of the competition.”

“You have a point. I guess that I just wanted to be admitted to the MBA program on my own merits. You know?”

The older woman squeezed her hand. “It doesn’t matter how you get in, it only matters what you do once you are there. I have no doubt that you will prove yourself worthy of admission once you are through the door. You are so driven. Do you know how many people in your position would be content to rest on their laurels? Your grams would be proud of you….for many reasons. You are the very best this family has to offer and don’t you ever forget it.”

Bonnie was taken aback by her mother’s strong defense of her capabilities. She smiled. “Thank you for saying that, Mom.”

“It’s the truth,” she replied.

Bonnie went back to watching the ballet class. However, a few minutes later a wave of nausea washed over her. She stood and said, “I’ll be right back.”

She swiftly walked to the restroom without drawing too much attention. She made it into a stall just as the floodgates opened. Bonnie was seriously regretting the decision to eat half of Tyler’s turkey club after waking up from her nap. However, she had been so hungry at the time and the bacon on the sandwich had smelled delicious.

She silently cursed morning sickness as she finished emptying the contents of her stomach. Bonnie flushed the toilet and then walked over to the sink. She washed her hands and then retrieved a travel-sized bottle of mouthwash from her purse. The young mother was glad that she came prepared. She rinsed her mouth and then gargled with mouthwash. She could only hope that the anti-nausea medication would work once she started taking it.

Bonnie took a deep breath and prepared to leave the restroom when her phone vibrated inside her purse. She pulled out the phone and realized that it was her burner. She looked at the coded text message from Brady and smiled. He had found a way to end John Gilbert quietly. The better news was that he could accomplish it before Christmas. They needed to meet up tomorrow for him to relay the details.

She tapped out a quick reply and then walked out of the restroom. Bonnie’s steps slowed to a stop when she saw Niklaus approaching her. She could hear Dr. Huerta’s voice warning her about unnecessary stress in her life. The last thing she needed was to get into a fight with Klaus right now. He seemed reasonable when they last spoke but Bonnie knew well his unpredictable mood swings. The green-eyed girl quickly turned around and walked back toward the bathroom. She would just wait him out for a few minutes. If necessary, she could call her mother to run interference for her.

Klaus quickened his steps to catch up with Bonnie before she entered the bathroom. He said, “I promise that I am not stalking you, love. This is just a happy coincidence.”

She spun around and looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Then why are you here? You are a little old for a children’s ballet class, Niklaus. Or has your preference in victims skewed younger?”

Niklaus despised the hateful glare directed at him. He wanted nothing more than to kiss the ugly sneer from her beautiful face. Despite his actions, he truly loved Bonnie. He still didn’t understand how he could have misread their relationship so egregiously. Had he truly been so blind to her fear of him? Perhaps he had been too impaired to notice or care about her feelings. That fateful summer he had spent the majority of his time using alcohol, prescription pills, and cocaine to numb his pain. Now Niklaus had learned that he had only heaped his pain onto another.

“I assure you that I have not suddenly turned into a pedophile. My rather demanding niece is in Madame Clarice’s next class. Hope insisted that I watch her rehearse for the Nutcracker . I could hardly argue when she reminded me that I have missed several years of birthday and Christmas celebrations. I even missed her confirmation earlier this year.”

Bonnie felt foolish for accusing Klaus of stalking her. She knew that Hope and Helena were both Madame Clarice’s students. Hayley was the one that recommended this dance studio to Bonnie.

She nodded and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed. It is good that you are spending time with Hope.”

“There is no need to apologize. I understand why you would be wary of my sudden appearance after all that has transpired between us.” He paused for a beat and then asked, “You are here for your little girl. Sarah?”

This civil version of Niklaus knocked Bonnie off-kilter. She felt uneasy not knowing what to expect from this man. She knew from experience how quickly Klaus could vacillate between conciliatory and violent. However, she was willing to feign civility in order to avoid antagonizing him. She had her switchblade close at hand but slicing Niklaus open in a dance studio was hardly a favorable solution.

She smiled a little. “Yes, she has been asking me about ballet for awhile. I thought I might bring her to the beginner’s class to see if she truly likes it.”

Niklaus was pleased that Bonnie seemed willing to continue the conversation. “She wants to be a ballerina like her mother?” he asked.

Bonnie shook her head. “I was hardly a ballerina.”

“Oh, that’s not true at all. I remember Giuseppe speaking highly of your prowess. He is not a man known to be careless with praise,” he replied.

“It feels like a lifetime ago now,” she said with a wistful tone of voice.

He asked, “Do you miss it?”

Bonnie’s green eyes bored into him for a moment. At first, she thought that he was taunting her. However, she realized that his question was an honest inquiry. She evaded, “I miss many things, but life means embracing change.”

“Perhaps that is true, but relinquishing one's passion is not so easy. I might have gone mad in prison if I were not afforded the opportunity to continue drawing.”

“I am glad that you were able to keep drawing. I have always liked your work.”

He was mildly surprised by Bonnie’s compliment. “Thank you.”

“I should get back out there. My mother will come looking for me if I am gone for much longer,” she said.

His voice dropped an octave as he said, “Before you go, there is something that I wanted to give you, petal.”

She tensed when Niklaus called her ‘petal’. She hated that stupid pet name with a burning passion. Bonnie cleared her throat. “You said that this meeting was merely a happy coincidence.”

“That might not have been exactly true. Hope did insist that I watch her rehearse. I find myself unable to deny her anything,” he replied. He showed her his painted blue fingernails.

Bonnie eyed his fingernails. “Nice color.”

“I overheard Hayley telling Rebekah that you would be here today with your daughter.” He held up a leather portfolio and said, “I brought this along on the off chance that I would see you.”

“I don’t want anything from you, Niklaus. I just want you to leave me alone,” she said.

Klaus didn’t know how to begin making amends for what he did to Bonnie. He wasn’t even sure if that was possible. However, he had to start somewhere. He couldn’t allow Bonnie to continue thinking that he had been playing some sort of sick game with her. The sad truth was that Bonnie’s sadness had drawn him in like a moth to a flame. She used to don a mask around her family and friends but he saw through it. Klaus had realized that Bonnie was just as lonely and forgotten as he was. After watching her Saturday, Klaus knew that not much had changed for the girl. She was still as miserable as she was five years ago. Perhaps the only difference was that she was even more alone now that Sheila had died.

Klaus stepped forward to stop Bonnie from walking away but rocked back onto his heels when she shied away from his touch. He said, “I have been trying to work my way up to apologizing to you…for everything. I know that I am doing a poor job of it. I don’t even know where to begin.”

The young woman felt rooted to that spot despite wanting to get as far away from Niklaus as possible. She didn’t want another of his half-assed apologies. However, he seemed to be genuinely contrite. Bonnie didn’t know what to do with this unexpected turn of events.

“I know that you asked me to leave you alone and I will after this. You will never have to see my face again if that is what you truly want. I never meant to hurt you, Bonnie. I thought…” He ran a hand over his curly hair. He said, “It doesn’t matter what I thought. What matters is that I hurt you more than once and in ways that are unforgivable. I am sorry. I would do anything to make it up to you, but only if you decide to give me a chance. I want you to have this,” he said. He handed Bonnie the leather portfolio.

Bonnie looked down at the portfolio and then looked up into Klaus’s blue eyes. She noted that he looked so sincere. It was so unlike the crazed individual that cornered her Saturday night. Bonnie knew that she didn’t owe him anything. However, she would take the portfolio if Niklaus truly meant to leave her alone. It seemed a simple price to pay. She opened the leather cover and smiled involuntarily at a hand drawn portrait of herself. Bonnie realized that there were perhaps a dozen drawings tucked into the portfolio along with several pages of a handwritten letter.

“This is beautiful, Niklaus. I think that you captured me perfectly, it looks as if I modeled for you.”

“In a way you did…you were constantly on my mind while I was in prison,” he confessed.

Bonnie said, “Nik…”

He shook his head and stepped out of the way so that she could pass. “I am not asking you for anything, Bonnie. I know that I do not have that right. I just…can’t bear the thought of you believing that I am a monster. I never meant to hurt you. I am sorry that I did.”

Bonnie quickly walked around him and nearly froze when she saw Lucy at the end of the corridor. She shook off the surprise and continued walking forward. “Has class ended?”

“It just ended.” Lucy turned to walk with Bonnie. She whispered, “What were you and Klaus talking about, Bonnie? It looked serious.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about, Lucy. I was just talking to Niklaus about his niece’s upcoming performance. Hope is going to be a sugarplum fairy in this year’s production of the Nutcracker,” she lied easily .  

Lucy stared after her cousin in disbelief. She said, “Don’t lie to me, girl. You know damn well that isn’t what I just saw.”

Bonnie turned and glared at Lucy. “Lower your voice and mind your own damn business, Lucy Marie. See I can put bass in my voice, too.”

She stopped walking as her jaw dropped. Bonnie had never spoken to her that way. However, she was more worried about her cousin than she was offended by what she said. Lucy was hoping that Niklaus hadn’t set his sights on her little cousin. Nothing good could come from an entanglement with a Mikaelson.

Bonnie walked to where Sarah was animatedly chatting with Abby. She smiled and said, “You were great, bambolina. Did you have fun?”

Sarah whirled around and hugged Bonnie’s waist. “I had so much fun, Mama. Can we come back tomorrow?”

Bonnie’s smiled brightened when she heard Sarah’s enthusiasm. “Well, the class for your age doesn’t meet again until next week. But we can come here next week if that’s what you want.”

She nodded excitedly and said, “I want Papa to come with us next time.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, bambolina. I don’t know if Papa will be back from his trip yet. We should send him the video that I recorded of you today. I bet that he will like it so much that he’ll call us when he has time.”

Sarah’s excitement dimmed a little but she nodded. “Okay.”

Bonnie hated seeing the sad expression on her daughter’s face. She decided to distract Sarah from thinking about her father. She asked, “Do you know what we’re doing tonight after dinner?”

She shook her head. “What?”

“We’re decorating the Christmas tree.”

Sarah’s eyes grew as big as saucers. “Really?”

Bonnie nodded. “We are going to decorate the Christmas tree while drinking hot cocoa and eating double chocolate chip cookies. Doesn’t that sound fun?”

“I’m gonna go tell Bella and Nico,” she exclaimed and took off across the room. The twins were near Caroline who happened to be talking to Hayley and Rebekah.

Abby smiled at Bonnie. “You really made her day by bringing her here, Bonnie. You know I wouldn’t mind working with her tomorrow if she really wants to learn more.”

Bonnie was taken aback by her mother’s offer. “Really?”

“Well, it would be a shame not to share my years of expertise with my granddaughter.”

Bonnie thought her heart might burst from happiness. It was a small gesture for some but it was monumental when considering her relationship with Abby. “I’d like that, Mama. I bet Sarah would, too.”

Abby looked up and noticed Niklaus staring in their direction. She glared at him until he had the good sense to look away. “We should go. I promised Seline that I wouldn’t be late getting home. She has a date later tonight.”

Bonnie said, “Okay. I am going to get Sarah and then we’ll drop you off at home.”

“I will meet you outside, sweetheart.” Abby walked out to the parking lot.

The non-verbal exchange between Abby and Klaus didn’t go unnoticed by Lucy. She silently cursed in her head and vowed to get to the bottom of this before it became a problem. Lucy followed Abby outside.

She asked, “Do you mind if I come back to your place, Abby? I was hoping to raid your closet. I am going to dinner with Brady tonight. He’s taking me somewhere swanky and I didn’t exactly pack anything that fits the bill.”

“You know that you are always welcome at my place, Lucy. You can have at whatever you find in my closet. I am sure you will find something to wear. I see that you and Brady haven’t killed each other yet.”

Lucy laughed and said, “Not yet...”

Abby said, “Not bad. You should have seen Dickie when he was younger. The man was solid muscle and loved walking around shirtless. He had a temper on him but all the Lockwood boys are that way. You and Brady…how did that happen?”

She smiled and said, “I mentioned in passing to Tyler that I was interested and that he could give his uncle my number. He called me that night.”

“Of course he did,” Abby said with a smirk.

Bonnie walked out of the studio while holding Sarah’s hand. “Ty is about the bring the car around, Mom.”

Lucy said, “I was thinking that I could just drive Abby home. I am going over there anyway to find something to wear for the night. You can get the munchkin home and ready for tree decorating.”

Sarah looked up at Lucy with big blue eyes. “Are you gonna come help us?”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” she promised.

Bonnie said, “Oh, okay.” She hugged her mother. “Thank you for hanging out with us today. I’ll call you tonight to see when you are free tomorrow.”

Abby returned the hug. “It was my pleasure, baby girl. I’ll talk to you later.” She hugged Sarah and said, “Be good for your Mama.”

“I will, Nonna.” Sarah nodded and waved goodbye.

Tyler pulled up in front of the women and got out to open the back door.

Bonnie helped Sarah into the car and climbed in beside her. “Thanks, Ty. It’s just us. Lucy is going to take my mom home.”

He closed the door and nodded at the two older women.

“I’m parked just over here.” Lucy dug her car keys from her purse and walked over to the rental car.

Abby followed Lucy over to her car while sending Seline a text message. She climbed into the passenger side and put on her seatbelt. “Did Brady tell you where he’s taking you tonight? I might be able to help you narrow down your search in my closet.”

The younger woman started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. “I don’t really need to raid your closet. I am just going to buy something. I wanted to talk to you privately.”

Abby put away her phone and gave Lucy a confused look. “Why did you need to lie about something so unimportant?”

“What the hell is going on with Bonnie and Klaus?” Lucy asked bluntly.

Abby asked, “Niklaus Mikaelson? I doubt Bonnie even knows him other than in passing. Why do you ask?”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “Cut the shit, cugine. I saw Bonnie and him talking outside the restrooms. Tyler has already hit Brady up for information about Klaus. It wasn’t hard to put one and two together.”

“I don’t know what you are getting at, Lucy. If you have questions then you need to pose them to Bonnie.”

She huffed. “I tried and the little heifer told me to mind my own damn business.”

“Well, then I would suggest that you heed her warning and stay out of it.”

“I know that you are enjoying playing Mommy to Bonnie but you are out of your depth here, Abby. You don’t understand everything that is happening behind the scenes. I am doing everything I can to protect her but I can’t do that if I am flying blind. Is Klaus threatening her or blackmailing her? Is the alliance in trouble?”

Abby sat up straight in her seat and narrowed her hazel eyes at her younger cousin. “First, don’t talk to me like a child or some clueless bitch off the street. Because I am neither. Second, just because I chose not to be involved in the shadier side of the family’s business doesn’t mean that I don’t know it better than you do any day of the week. I had my first kill while you were still in elementary school and I have spent more time in Milazzo than you ever have. Lastly, and this is most important so listen up, child . I knew exactly what was going on once Bonnie summoned me to the beach house. She’s decided to utilize the assets my mother and our grandmother planted in Giuseppe’s organization. My ability to be a good mother notwithstanding, I know what the hell I am doing. I know how to keep my daughter safe without your help, Lucy. So stay in your lane.”

The younger woman just blinked in shock. She stared at the road and said, “Well, I guess you told me.”

“You’re damn right that I did. I’ll take care of Klaus Mikaelson. You just worry about doing what my daughter needs you to do,” Abby ordered

The drive out to Huntington Beach was decidedly quiet after that. Abby was practically fuming and Lucy was worried. She would have to try talking to Bonnie again. She didn’t like having a blind spot.

When they arrived, Abby climbed out of the car. “Thanks for the ride.”

Lucy climbed out of the car and walked up to Abby. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come at you sideways like that.”

She nodded. “I know. I also know that you are just worried about Bonnie. But after everything I’ve done to my little girl…I’m not about to break my promise to her. When she is ready to tell you the truth, she will. You need to trust Bonnie to be smart enough to know when she needs your help.”

“You’re right.” She hugged Abby. “I am going to get out of your hair. I do actually need to hit up a couple of stores to find something for tonight.”

Abby smiled. “Have fun tonight.”

Lucy climbed into her car and gave a wave as she drove away.

The older woman sighed deeply as she went into the house. Lucy was right to be concerned for Bonnie. It looked as if Abby would have to speed up her plans.

Seline walked into the living room carrying Savannah. “She has been looking for you.”

Abby took the toddler from the nanny’s arms with a broad smile. “Come here, pretty girl. Did you miss Mama?”

Savannah rested her head on Abby’s shoulder.

Seline said, “Awww, look at her.”

“How were the boys this evening?” Abby asked as she rubbed Savannah’s back.

She said, “They were good. Cooper needed a little extra help with his homework but we finished it. He’s watching television in the family room now. And Jamie is upstairs in his room playing video games. He finished his homework, too.”

“Thank you for all the help. Do you need to leave right away?”

Seline shook her head. “No, I’m on the clock for another 30 minutes. Is something wrong?”

“No, there’s nothing wrong. I just have a business call that I need to make. But it shouldn’t take me very long.”

Seline nodded. “Okay. Well, take your time. I will finish getting Savannah ready for bed.”

She handed her daughter back to the nanny. “Thank you, Seline. You are a lifesaver.”

Abby took a deep breath and headed into Ric’s office. He had made sure that the room was soundproof just in case he needed to conduct business from home. She sat behind the desk and stared at the phone for a minute. She wasn’t looking forward to this conversation but it was time that she stepped up for Bonnie.

She had failed her daughter in so many ways. However, she had always been comforted by the knowledge that Sheila had given Bonnie a good life. She had believed in her heart that her daughter had been safe and loved. Now she wondered how many more invisible scars her daughter was hiding. Abby would never be able to make up for neglecting Bonnie. She couldn’t undo the horrors that Niklaus had committed against her daughter. However, she could help keep her safe now. Giuseppe would be dead eventually. His death would come either by Damon’s hands or by a bullet from a Benedetto sniper’s rifle. Unfortunately, Niklaus was a more delicate situation.

The idea of watching Niklaus bleed out in a dirty alley had a certain appeal. However, Abby understood the importance of the alliance. Moreover, death would be too easy for Niklaus. Abby wanted him to suffer for what he did to Bonnie. Sending Niklaus to prison would leave him vulnerable. There was only so much protection his family could provide while he was on the inside. It wouldn’t take much effort from Abby to ensure that some very big men schooled Klaus on what it meant to be violated repeatedly. When she was done with him, Niklaus would never lay a finger on another helpless girl.

Abby hummed Guantanamera quietly as she dialed a telephone number.  

“Hello?” a man greeted in a sleep roughened voice after three rings.

“Hiya, sweets,” Abby replied in a melodic tone.

“Abigail?”

“I am flattered that you still recognize my voice. Do you have time to talk?”

“How did you even get this number?” he complained. The sheets rustled as he sat up in the bed.

She smirked. “Oh, I have my ways. I like to keep tabs on the people I’ve tried to kill in the past. You know, just in case I ever get the urge to finish the job.”

“It’s been 18 years. I stopped waiting for a bullet to the head ten years ago.”

She tsked and then playfully admonished him, “You were expecting a bullet to the head? That would be terribly impersonal after everything we have shared. We were married for three long years. No, when I take your life I want to feel the warmth of your blood on my hands, sweets. Only something up close and personal will do.”

Rudy chuckled deeply. “Are you trying to seduce me into having phone sex with you? If you are, you should start by sending me a picture of you topless.”

Abby gently drummed her nails against the desk. “Phone sex could be interesting. However, I’m certain you have a barely legal one-night stand sprawled out in your bed right now.”

“Well, you aren’t calling to threaten my life or to have phone sex. What other reason could you have for calling me at this God forsaken hour, Abigail?”

Rudy had moved to London after their divorce. Sheila had paid off  Rudy and then told him to leave the country if he wanted to live. The Bennett matriarch didn’t have a good relationship with her only child. However, she was livid after learning that Rudy had been physically abusing Abby for well over a year.

“Friday morning you are going to get on a plane and fly out here to Los Angeles. I will book a flight for you, sweets. I will even be generous enough to make it first class.”

He huffed out a laugh. “Why in God’s name would I do a thing like that? There’s a reason why I still live in London.”

“Yes, I am well aware of your disdain for the state of California. Unfortunately, this isn’t really a request. This is more of a do what your ex-wife says or there will be consequences.”

“It sounds like we’re back to you killing me,” he quipped. “What do you want, Abigail?”

“What I want is for you to get on the plane in three days and fly your ass across the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t care what mental math you need to do to make that happen. You can fly out here because our pregnant daughter is in danger or because your vindictive ex-wife can torpedo your business with one anonymous tip to the Interpol.”

The line went silent for a moment. “Is Bonnie okay?”

Abby took a deep breath and said, “No, she’s not. She is recovering from some very serious injuries. Her face...you should have seen her face a week ago.”

“Is it her husband? Did that son of a bitch put his hands on my daughter?” he asked in a dangerous tone.

She huffed out a humorless laugh. “That’s the first thing I asked when I saw her face. But no. Damon hasn’t started abusing her. I’ll tell you everything that you need to know when you get here.”

“What makes you think that I will agree to your demands?”

“Because you know that I really would report you to Interpol without a second thought. Also, because I know that you do love our daughter. She needs us, Rudy. I wouldn’t be calling you if it wasn’t important.”

Rudy asked, “If Bonnie needs my help then why isn’t she the one calling me?”

“Because she got her stubbornness from you,” she replied. “Our daughter has the weight of the world on her shoulders, sweets. She is so strong and so brave but at the end of the day she’s still 21-years-old. She needs her parents.”

“What exactly do you need from me?” he asked.

“Do you still have your connections in NorCal?”

Rudy said, “Yes. Although, now I am curious as to why you aren’t reaching out to someone in your own family. Am I really flying across an ocean to help you score?”

“I need major weight. Enough to get someone sent up for life. My name opens a lot doors but this can’t be traced back to me.”

“Last I heard you were playing happy families with Alaric Salvatore. Why not ask him for help since you hate me so much?”

Abby realized that she wasn’t the only one keeping an eye on her ex. It seemed that Rudy was keeping tabs on her as well.

“Because he isn’t her father. You are, Rudolph. We owe her and you know it. We both abandoned our daughter. She was just a little girl and she needed us, Rudy. She needed us more than you will ever know. We can’t change the past but we can try to be here for her now. Bonnie doesn’t call you because she thinks that you don’t love her. You are the one that gave her that impression. Do something to change that.”

Rudy said, “I’ll be there but this better not be some sort of game.

“It’s not.”

“You said that Bonnie’s pregnant?” he asked.

Abby smiled as she thought of her unborn grandchildren. “Yes, she is. Bonnie is pregnant with twins.”

“Twins…” he repeated.

“Be sure to bring a gift for our granddaughter when you come. Sarah likes dolls, books, and remote control cars.”

Rudy huffed at his ex’s presumptuousness. “I will bring a nice gift. Don’t worry.”

“Well, I will let you go. Men of your age need their sleep.”

“Wait…”

“What?” she asked.

“What are you wearing?” he asked.

Abby rolled her eyes in exasperation. She said, “Good night, Rudy.”

Chapter Text

It had taken four years for Bonnie to reach her breaking point. Truthfully, she probably would have tolerated Damon’s disrespectful and neglectful behavior for another couple of years until he cemented his role as boss of the Salvatore organization. However, the well-being of her children trumped everything else in her life. She was determined to do everything in her power to carry her twins as close to term as humanly possible. Bonnie needed to clear all the unnecessary stress out of her life to have even a remote chance of doing that. Therefore, she moved swiftly getting her ducks in a row to force Damon into a separation he would likely oppose. While her loving husband didn’t want her, he also couldn’t stomach the idea of someone else having her. Bonnie had to make Damon understand that he was no longer in control of their relationship.

The young mother’s first move had been to call Big John—again. She gave her uncle just enough of the truth for him to grant her request with few questions. Bonnie didn’t just want a few loyal Benedetto men inside the smuggling operation as he had planned. She asked Big John to send her cousins: Cesare, Cristian, Gemma, and Remy to the States for an indefinite period. He could bill the move as assistance for Damon. After all, the vultures would start to circle as soon as Giuseppe was out of the picture. Damon would have his hands full protecting the Salvatores’ territory. The smuggling operation could slip through the cracks.

Another outfit had made a move on the operation five years ago when the news of Sheila’s impending death began to spread like wildfire through the criminal underworld. Fortunately, Giuseppe had been able to give the situation his full attention. He had viciously squashed the move but they would try again. This would be Bonnie’s opening gamut to wrestle control of the smuggling operation out of Damon’s hands.

Bonnie’s second move had been to retain the services of Los Angeles’ top family law firm. The firm was discreet and met with Bonnie at the beach house under the cover of darkness. They often handled contentious high-profiled divorces and understood her need for secrecy. They had spent hours working on a strategy in the event that Damon refused to agree to the separation. Filing for divorce would be a last resort but she needed to be prepared for every possible scenario. Bonnie intended to seek physical custody of Sarah and the twins in this hypothetical divorce. Damon was a loving father but he was often too busy to be involved regularly. If they weren’t together it just made sense for their children to spend the majority of their time with her.

Bonnie’s third move took her half way across the world to have a long overdue conversation with Katherine. It had taken a couple of days to put the trip together because of her entourage’s size. Sarah, Lucy, Tyler, Matt, Jesse, a doctor, a nurse, and a personal chef joined her in Tenerife. She rented an 18 th century sugar farm turned vacation home for the duration of their stay. The state-of the art mansion featured ocean views, an Olympic sized swimming pool, and enough rooms to accommodate her large party. Furthermore, the rented mansion was less than twenty minutes away from the Salvatore villa where Katherine was making herself at home.

Prior to arriving, Bonnie had given her daughter a list of activities they could do on any of the seven larger islands. Bonnie scheduled their entire trip around Sarah’s choices. She couldn’t help but feel guilty for the chaos that she was about to rain down on the little girl’s life. Anyone with eyes could see that she adored her father. Sarah would be confused and devastated when she learned that they were moving out of the Salvatore Manor. Bonnie just wanted to give her a week of fun before everything changed. The first day in Tenerife, they spent the majority of their time at a theme park. Afterwards, they had dinner aboard a boat while whale watching.  

The second day had a slightly different tone. Bonnie, Lucy, and Sarah had spent the morning in the swimming pool. After eating lunch prepared by the personal chef, they headed over to the Salvatore villa. Bonnie had promised Sarah that as soon they finished visiting her ‘friend’ that they would go to the exotic bird sanctuary.

Later, Lucy and Matt would take her on a wildlife tour. Bonnie’s personal physician, Cole, had shot down the idea of her accompanying them. He was concerned about the amount of walking and the hot temperatures. She would do enough walking at the exotic bird sanctuary.

Tyler pulled into the driveway and turned off the car. He didn’t like the idea of Bonnie confronting Katherine alone. He was worried about her blood pressure. However, he trusted his friend to be smart. Bonnie wouldn’t let Katherine goad her into a reaction because she knew what was at stake. He climbed out of the car and opened the door for her.

“Thanks, Ty.”

Bonnie looked like a goddess when she stepped down from the SUV. She was wearing a knee-length summer dress made of a white eyelet fabric. The top of the spaghetti strap dress accentuated Bonnie’s ample bosom. Her normally straight hair now hung over her shoulders in natural ringlet curls. The simple ballet flats she wore drew attention to her diminutive stature.

Sarah hopped out of the car wearing a blue summer dress that matched her eyes perfectly. Her curly jet-black hair had been styled in a thick crown braid that went around her entire head. Blue and white ribbons had been woven into the hairstyle. She immediately sought out her mother’s hand as she looked up at the house in front of them. “Who lives here, Mama?”

“My friend and her little girl are staying here right now,” Bonnie explained with a cheerful smile.

Lucy let down her window and said, “We will be out here if you need us, Bon.”

“It won’t come to that. I have faith that she is a smart woman,” Bonnie explained simply.

Lucy hummed in agreement.

Bonnie wasn't one for dramatic shows of force. Sheila taught her that it was a sign of weakness. True power didn't need to be waved about like a flag. She kept that gem in mind as she walked up to the front door of the Salvatore family’s villa. Bonnie knocked on the door to show Katherine a modicum of respect. She could have just used her key but there was no need to put the older woman on the defensive from the outset. Bonnie wasn’t there for a fight or to antagonize Damon’s mistress.

Katherine’s jaw dropped as she opened the door. She couldn't believe that Bonnie and Sarah were standing in front of her. Katherine’s entire body tensed in fear of what Damon would do to her if he knew about this. He had been quite clear about his intentions if Katherine meddled with his marriage again. She didn’t believe for a moment that Enzo had misconstrued Damon’s message. Katherine knew that his precious wife certainly wouldn’t get the blame.  

She cleared her throat and said, “Hello, Mrs. Salvatore…”

Bonnie pushed her sunglasses atop her head to hold back her curly hair. She smiled primly at the tendril of fear that Katherine quickly masked with a polite greeting. However, Bonnie was certain that was fear of Damon’s reaction. Katherine hadn’t begun to understand that Bonnie was the one she should fear.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Petrova. I was hoping that we could have a chat. Perhaps the girls could play together. I understand that Nadia and Sarah are about the same age,” Bonnie suggested in a cordial tone.

The older woman felt her blood run cold at the mention of Nadia. She didn’t understand how this girl even knew about her daughter. She was even more concerned that Bonnie knew that Nadia was currently in Tenerife. Dozens of questions flooded her brain as she tried to work out what was happening.

She forced a smile that most would believe was genuine. “Of course, please, come inside.”

Bonnie felt none of the warmth she had in previous visits to the home. She had vacationed there with the Salvatore family many times in her childhood. Her grandmother enjoyed island life and often talked of one day retiring somewhere like Tenerife. However, Bonnie hadn't visited since being married to Damon. Lucy had learned that the villa was Katherine’s preferred retreat. She now understood Damon’s reluctance to vacation here. He really did try to keep them separate much like his uncle who purchased Abby’s home less than an hour away from the one he shared with Jo and their twins. The Salvatore men were as clever as they were audacious when it came to hiding their affairs.

Katherine closed the door and then led them into the living room. She held out her hand for Nadia. “Come here, sunshine. Come meet my friends.”

Nadia was playing with a huge dollhouse in the middle of the living room. The seven-year-old girl had olive colored skin and pin straight dark brown hair. Her amber colored eyes studied their guests with curiosity.

The girl stood and rushed over to her mother. “Hi. I’m Nadia.”

Bonnie smiled. “Hi. My name is Bonnie and this is my little girl, Sarah. Say hi, Sarah.”

Sarah gave a little wave. “Hi.”

Katherine turned to look at her daughter. “I bet Sarah would love to see your new dollhouse. Why don’t you show her while I talk to her mommy?”

Nadia said, “Okay.” She smiled at Sarah and said, “It's right over here. Come on. I'll show you.”

Sarah looked up at Bonnie and ran after Nadia when she got the nod of approval.

Katherine asked, “Would you like to have a seat in the kitchen? We can see the girls playing from there.”

Bonnie nodded, “Sure.”

“Would you like something to drink?”

She followed Katherine into the open plan kitchen. Her eyes fell onto several freshly painted terracotta flowerpots drying on the counter. The haphazard designs on each of the flowerpots suggested that Nadia was the artist.

“I’ll take a sparkling water if you have it,” Bonnie replied as she sat in the breakfast nook.

The older woman opened the refrigerator and grabbed two bottles of sparkling water. Katherine pulled down two glasses from the cabinet and then took a steadying breath. She walked across the room and sat across from Bonnie. “I hope this is okay.”

The younger woman put her phone on silent. She didn’t want to be disturbed during this conversation with Katherine. Everyone that mattered knew where she was and what she was doing right now. Anyone else trying to reach Bonnie could damn well wait until after she was finished.

“It is fine. Thank you,” she replied. Bonnie opened the bottle and filled her glass.

Katherine’s greatest quality was her ability to read people. She could divine someone’s true intention by reading body language and facial expressions. Furthermore, her skilled ears could easily identify a person’s changing inflection and speech pattern. Katherine could tell when someone was speaking half-truths and she simply read between the lies. She had honed these skills during her hardscrabble upbringing. Katherine’s skill set had allowed her to con wealthy men out of hundreds of thousands of dollars before she met Damon.

As she sat across from Damon’s child bride, all of her instincts were telling her to run. The girl wore a serene smile as she daintily sipped her sparkling water. However, Katherine saw something dark and dangerous lurking in Bonnie’s emerald green eyes. Suddenly, she had the unshakable feeling that she was in the presence of a predator. Katherine wondered how Damon had been married to this girl for four years and still believed her to be his innocent little ‘bunny’. She found herself concerned about why Bonnie would choose to drop the act now.

Katherine tried to seem nonchalant when she said, “I have to say I am surprised to see you here. However, I rather think that was the point of your sudden appearance.”

Bonnie could practically feel the unease rippling in the air around them. It took every shred of her willpower to suppress a maniacal grin. Instead, she idly dragged her manicured nails over the etched glass.

“I suppose that I could have called you but I thought it would be better if we spoke in person. Besides, I thought it was high time I took my little girl on a vacation. Damon is so often occupied with…other things when he has time off work.”

Katherine noted the not so subtle jab from Bonnie. “If this is about those messages that I sent you, I'm…”

Bonnie cut Katherine off with a sharp bark of laughter. She smiled, “You're not sorry so you can save the fake apology. I am not here for that anyway.”

Katherine grew more uncomfortable by the minute. Her mind raced as she tried to understand the purpose of Bonnie’s visit. “Then to what do I owe this visit, Mrs. Salvatore.”

“Please, call me Bonnie. There really is no need to be quite so formal. We are connected after all,” she said. “Do you prefer to be called Katherine or Katerina?”

Suddenly, Katherine remembered that Bonnie had addressed her as ‘Ms. Petrova’ instead of ‘Ms. Pierce’. At the time, Katherine had been so shocked by the young woman’s sudden arrival that she had missed a crucial clue. This served as more evidence that Bonnie knew a great deal about her life.

“Either is fine with me,” she answered smoothly.

“I am here because I thought it was time that you and I came to an understanding. I realize now that you are a very important part of Damon’s life. My husband obviously loves you a great deal. He put off a very important business trip to spend two extra days with you this week.”

Katherine stiffened in her chair. It was the first outward sign of her discomfort.

Bonnie held up her hand to silence whatever lie was about to fall from the woman’s lips. “I am not here for denials or false claims that you will end the affair.”

“Then why are you here?” she asked.

She said, “I don’t know if Damon has mentioned it but I am 16 weeks pregnant with twins. Unfortunately, I am having some stress related complications with this pregnancy—namely unreasonably high blood pressure. My doctor insisted that I reduce the stress in my life. Damon happens to be the only consistent source of stress in my life. He is a liar, a betrayer, an adulterer, and a fool. Therefore, I have decided to remove him from life.”

Katherine was stunned to say the least. “I am not sure what this has to do with me.”

“I have wasted four years of my life on Damon. I refuse to waste a single moment more on him. He seems to love you. I have decided that he can have you but only you.”

“What are you saying?” she asked carefully.

Bonnie refilled her glass and smiled. “Well, of course you aren’t the only woman my dear husband sleeps with behind my back. You are just the one that has been around the longest. Lately, he’s been slipping away to see Andie Starr.”

“The slut that does the weather?” she asked in an incredulous voice.

Bonnie laughed softly at Katherine’s reaction. The look of betrayal warmed her greatly. “I am offering you something that Damon never would…exclusivity. I can make sure that you are the only woman in his bed from now until you grow tired of him or he dies—whichever comes first.”

Katherine was practically seething with anger. Now she understood why Damon had been spending less time with her. “I don't see how aligning will do us any good. My position is precarious. He could easily replace me with someone younger and more docile.”

Bonnie huffed out a laugh. “Don't sell yourself short, Katherine. I have known Damon my whole life. His bed has had a revolving door from the moment he started having sex. Your longevity as his mistress speaks to his affection for you. He would not replace you as easily as you might think. Besides, Nadia is his child, isn't she?”

For a moment, it felt as if the world had frozen in place. Katherine wondered how this girl knew what Damon didn’t. She had taken measures to keep her daughter off the Salvatore family’s radar. She was under the impression that Enzo was the only one who knew the truth about Nadia. Katherine knew that he would never reveal the truth to Bonnie or even Damon. “You have your facts a little mixed up. Nadia is my younger sister. My mother had a change of life baby. I just help care for her.”

The girl lifted an eyebrow. “Yes, that is what her birth certificate says. However, we both know that was just a little creative paperwork on your part. I managed to find the midwife that signed Nadia’s birth certificate. She was very helpful after I paid her a tidy sum. Claire explained that you gave birth to Nadia in your mother’s living room. Apparently, you were very afraid of the father’s family learning of her existence.”

Katherine began to panic as she tried to find a way to protect Nadia. She thought back to Enzo’s veiled words and decided to take a gamble.

“There is a chance that Damon isn’t Nadia’s father,” she answered quietly. “But she may well still be related to him. I can't allow Giuseppe into my daughter's life. You know what he is capable of doing.”

Bonnie wasn't surprised by the woman’s revelation. After Giuseppe raped Katherine, he had dispatched Richard Lockwood to buy her silence. His account of what happened was part of the files Sheila had left with her granddaughter. Bonnie had never used the information because she couldn't justify endangering another child by bringing Nadia into Giuseppe’s sphere of influence. However, the old man was on his way out.

“It's nothing that a quick DNA test can't resolve. It would be great if Damon were Nadia’s father. However, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the results came back saying that he was her brother. I can easily have the lab falsify the results for our purposes. Damon will be over the moon to learn that he has another child. Surely, he will make sure that Nadia and her mother want for nothing. You can say goodbye to the penthouse at the Rischard and hello to a two-story home in an upscale gated community,” she explained cheerfully.

She chuckled thinking that Bonnie was joking. However, her expression quickly sobered. “You are serious about this.”

“I am as serious as a heart attack. I have given this a great deal of thought. I cannot continue on this way. I deserve better from my husband. However, I am not foolish enough to think that I can stop him from cheating. Men seem to be allergic to fidelity while requiring it from us. Damon obviously has some affection for you or he would have already replaced you with a younger model.”

Katherine asked, “Why not just divorce him? It’s my understanding that you have a favorable prenuptial agreement.”

The girl shrugged and took another sip of the sparkling water. “My marriage is very beneficial to me. Merging BTS and Velocita made millions of dollars for my family. A nasty divorce and an acrimonious reorganization of the corporation could send our stock prices into the toilet. Neither of you are worth the loss of my money. Besides, he wouldn't and couldn't marry you. No offense.”

Katherine huffed. “A little taken but I get your point. We are both fairly set in our roles. We can only hope to improve our conditions—not change them.”

“Exactly. Do we have a deal?”

She nodded. “Damon won't be happy.”

Bonnie said, “He will get over it. I have never been happy. Perhaps it is time that Damon and I switch roles.”

“What’s the catch?”

Bonnie’s smile widened at Katherine’s perceptiveness. “I want something very simple. You will show discretion that you have often lacked as his mistress. No one will know of your involvement with Damon. There will be no more coked out parties with your slutty friends. You will never send me another picture of you in bed with my husband. You will show me the respect I am due as his wife or you will just disappear one day. It wouldn’t be the first time that one of Damon’s baby mama’s just went missing.”

The silence in the kitchen was deafening as Katherine processed Bonnie’s threat. She swallowed thickly. “Damon wouldn’t allow you to hurt me.”

“I don’t plan to hurt you. I will kill you…very slowly and very painfully. I have four years of repressed rage just simmering under the surface. You don’t want to test the limits of my generosity. I am gift-wrapping my husband for you. All I am asking in return is that you behave respectfully. Besides, Damon would never believe that I had anything to do with your death. I am sweet, innocent, and naïve. Furthermore, there isn’t a thing he could do about it even if he ever became suspicious. Damon wouldn’t start a mob war over one dead whore. However, I don’t want it to come to that. You are smart...a survivor. You pulled yourself and your family out of squalor by sheer will. This petty squabbling over Damon is beneath you. It is beneath both of us.”

Katherine considered her options for a few moments. However, there didn’t seem to be a way to wiggle out of this predicament. “What do I have to do?”

“Well, the first step is getting a DNA test to prove that Damon is Nadia’s father. I know a lab that can fast track the results. We would have them before Damon returns from his trip.”

She laughed quietly. “He really doesn't know you at all.”

Bonnie laughed with her. “Damon is arrogant. He likes to ignore what doesn't interest him. Perhaps one day he will learn how foolish that is.”

Katherine said, “I’m taking a risk here. He was none too pleased the last time I contacted you. I am under strict orders never to speak to you again. Some fairly dire circumstances were threatened.”

“You have my word that I will make sure Damon understands that I am the one that initiated this. I sought you out and requested a conversation. You couldn’t very well turn me away from a house that I own.”  Bonnie idly watched the girls playing together. “Why have never told Damon about her?”

There was no doubt in her mind that Damon didn’t know Nadia could be his daughter. He was a degenerate in many ways but family mattered to him.

The older woman followed her gaze and said, “The idea of my daughter living under the same roof with Giuseppe is the thing of nightmares. I had no doubt that Giuseppe would take Nadia from me if it turned out he was her father instead of Damon.”

Bonnie nodded in understanding. She had those same nightmares for her own daughter.

“Would you mind flying back to California with me? We have many things to accomplish before Damon returns from his business trip. Most of those things would be easier if we were in the same city.”

Katherine said, “My mother is here with me.”

Bonnie smiled. “I know. I have my jet with me. We can drop your mother off in San Francisco if you like. There is plenty of room on the plane.”

“How soon would we need to leave?”

“I will be staying here until the middle of next week. I meant what I said about this being a vacation for my little girl,” she explained.

Katherine said, “We will be ready to leave then.”

Bonnie nodded. “Well, it appears that we have a plan. Thank you for talking to me, Katherine. I think this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

“I hope so,” she replied.

She stood up and collected her purse. “I should get out of here. I promised Sarah that we would spend the day sightseeing. The exotic bird sanctuary is our first stop. She’s been in love with exotic birds since seeing the movie Rio .”

Katherine stood as well. “Nadia loves going there, too. Are the botanical gardens on your itinerary, too?”

“Yes, we plan to visit them tomorrow.” Bonnie walked into the living room. “It’s time to go, bambolina.”

Sarah pouted but obediently walked over to Bonnie and took her hand.

Bonnie smiled. “You will see your new friend again soon. Say goodbye.”

“Thank you for letting me play with your dollies.” She waved to Nadia. “Bye.”

“You’re welcome.” Nadia walked over to her mother and waved as well.

“I hope the two of you have a good day. Good bye,” Bonnie said. Afterwards, she walked outside with Sarah.

Tyler climbed out of the car and opened the backdoor.

Sarah scrambled into the car first and climbed into her booster seat.

Bonnie settled into the seat beside her daughter as Tyler closed the door.

Lucy looked over the seat at Bonnie. “How did it go?”

“She wisely agreed to my compromise.”

The older woman rolled her eyes. “I still say this is insanity.”

“I will not be my mother or Jo. You saw that ridiculous display during Thanksgiving. She is miserable and so is Jo. I won’t allow him to continue playing me for a fool. I’m not built for it.”

Lucy scowled but had to agree with the last part. Bonnie wasn’t built for it. Like most Benedetto women, her sadness usually turned into uncontrollable rage. She had been waiting for Abby to snap on Ric all week. However, she assumed her older cousin was trying to make the best of a bad situation for her young children. “What about the girl?”

Bonnie nodded. “Probably. We’ll do a test to see.”

“You could always just put an end to this,” Lucy suggested. It was hard talking in front of Sarah. She was old enough to understand certain things.

“I’ve already told you that wasn’t happening. We can explore other options if he decides to object.”

Lucy rolled her eyes and turned around in her seat. “Fine.”  

Bonnie looked at Tyler from the rearview mirror. “No comments from you? I’m surprised. I was sure you would have an opinion.”

He smirked. “I have one but I don’t see that it would be welcomed by you. I figured that I would keep it to myself.”

She laughed and motioned in his direction. “See that’s the way it’s done, Lucy.”

Lucy huffed. “I am your older cousin. It is my right to give you unsolicited advice.”

“Is it? I didn’t see that any of the brochures.”

“It was in the fine print,” she retorted.

Bonnie felt her phone vibrate in her purse. She pulled it out and frowned seeing Damon's picture. She doubted that Katherine would call Damon. She had much more to lose than Bonnie did. However, there was the chance that someone could have been watching the villa.

She answered the phone. “Hello.”

“Hi, bunny. How are you feeling?”

“I'm fine. How is your trip going?”

“It's business so it is boring. Caroline told Stefan that you left for a vacation…”

Bonnie had been prepared for that eventuality. She knew that Caroline wouldn’t be able to lie to Stefan if he asked about her. He hadn't been able to lie to Caroline about being in Tenerife. Bonnie admired the foundation of honesty and trust on which their marriage had been built.

“Yes, I just wanted to get away for a few days. I won't be gone long and I am making sure that Sarah is keeping up with her lessons.”

“I am not concerned about that. You always make sure that Sarah’s education is progressing as scheduled. I am more concerned about you. Where are you?”

Bonnie felt wickedness take over her. “I am in Tenerife.”

The line went deathly silent for a beat. “Are you going to the villa?”

“No, I rented a place. It's closer to all of the tourist attractions. I am taking Sarah to the exotic bird sanctuary right now. She's so excited.”

“How long will you be staying there?”

Bonnie said, “We got here yesterday. We will probably leave sometime next week. Is everything okay? You sound funny.”

Lucy stifled a laugh.

“I'm fine. I am just surprised. Do you remember the last time we were in Tenerife?”

Her jaw tightened in response. “I do. The whole family spent a month here for your 23th birthday. It was nice.”

“Maybe we could go there together sometime.”

“Maybe. Do you want to speak to Sarah?”

“Oh, sure. Put her on.”

Bonnie passed the phone to their daughter. “It’s Papa.”

Sarah said, “Hi, Papa! Guess what? We swam in the pool today. Mama let me go snorkeling with Aunt Lucy. It was so much fun!”

Lucy looked over the seat at her cousin as Sarah chattered on the phone to Damon. “You good?”

“Never better,” she replied.

The older woman studied her younger cousin’s expression and realized that she meant it. Lucy never thought she would see the day when Bonnie would be done with Damon.

A few minutes later, Sarah held the phone out to Bonnie. “Papa wants to talk to you.”

She took the phone. “Yeah?”

“I was thinking that you could stopover in Milazzo on the way home. I would like to see you, baby. I miss you and Sarah.”

Her voice remained soft and sweet. “I can’t, Damon. I have a doctor’s appointment next week that I just can’t miss. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize. It is more important for you to make it to all of the appointments with Dr. Huerta. Is Tyler with you?”

She gave a soft laugh. “You worry too much. Tyler, Matt, and Lucy are with us. We are safe. I have to go, Damon. I love you.”

“I love you, too. I will call later to say goodnight to Sarah.”

Bonnie ended the call and dropped the phone in her purse.

Just then, Tyler pulled into a parking space at the bird sanctuary.

Lucy said, “I can take Sarah to go buy our tickets.”

Bonnie nodded. “Yes, please. I need a moment.”

Lucy climbed out of the car and helped Sarah out. “Come on, munchkin.”

Tyler turned around once they were alone. “Matt called while you were talking to Katherine. The hit on Shane goes down later today. Robbie is going to hit him in the yard during a fight. If we are lucky Robbie gets away clean. If not they have a history of bad blood that should obscure the fact that it is a planned assassination.”

She smiled. “Everything is coming along well. Once Giuseppe’s sniveling godson is out of the way only John Gilbert will be left to oppose Damon.”

Tyler frowned at the mention of John. He said, “I know his impromptu trip to meet with Giuseppe in France delayed our plans but he will come back stateside soon. We will take care of him then.”

Bonnie squeezed his hand. “I know. We should head inside. Sarah has been chomping at the bit to see the birds.”

 

Chapter Text

After twelve days in Milazzo, Damon was happy to be home again. He was grateful to his great-uncles, Bruno and Giacomo. They had gone above and beyond the call of duty by selling him as the future of the Salvatore organization. He didn’t have to do much more than glad-handing the higher ranking members of the family once they touched down in the city. Giuseppe had failed to turn them in his favor despite months of his best efforts. The simple truth was that he was getting older, more violent, and more unpredictable. They could have tolerated his advancing age because wisdom was to be respected. However, his unpredictability and violent tendencies made him a liability. From one day to the next, they never knew which version of Giuseppe they would encounter.

Damon had spent his days meeting with men that had known him since he was a boy. He found himself grateful that Giuseppe used to drag them all to Milazzo frequently. It was easier to inspire confidence in people that already knew him. Damon had his issues and those were public knowledge thanks to the tabloids. However, these men had seen him grow up. They knew how seriously he had always taken their business. These men knew the role he had played in their organization for years. Damon might have gone to college but he had done wetwork for the family until he took over as CEO of Velocita. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty but he was also capable of maintaining a legitimate persona.

Unfortunately, his trip to Milazzo had not been all good news. His meeting with Big John Benedetto had not gone the way he had expected. The older man had readily agreed to support Damon as he took control of the organization. However, his support came with strings, as most things did in their business. John insisted in having a more active role in the U.S. side of the smuggling operation. He presented the power play as a way to assist Damon during what would be an arduous transition of power. John had hand picked two of his grandsons, his granddaughter Gemma, and his great-nephew Remy. Damon had begrudgingly agreed to John’s stipulations. It was better to agree than to have the move forced upon him. However, a sense of foreboding had plagued him for the rest of the trip. Did John sense some discord in Bonnie and Damon’s marriage?

Damon and Zach walked into the Salvatore Manor together. Alaric had gone to his own home and Stefan was meeting his family in Beverly Hills for some Christmas shopping. In their absence, the house had been decorated for Christmas. There wasn’t a single surface that didn’t pay homage to the holiday season in some way. Damon was glad that he had missed the chaos that came along with the design crew descending on his home. He was certain that the house looked like a warzone before it was transformed into this winter wonderland. He left his suitcases in the foyer. One of the maids could take the luggage up to his bedroom. Right now, he wanted to find his wife and daughter. Bonnie had been distant with him while he was in Milazzo. He had believed that they were on decent enough terms. Damon had even convinced Bonnie to have sex with him before he left. However, every time they talked on the phone she found a reason to end the conversation early or she would pass the phone off to Sarah.

One of their longest tenured maids walked into the room. “Welcome home, sirs.”

“Hi, Dinah. I see the house is still standing,” Zach said in greeting.

“Always, sir.” She asked, “How was your trip?”

Damon smiled. “Boring and I am glad to be home. Where are my wife and daughter?”

“Mrs. Salvatore and Miss Sarah are entertaining guests in the conservatory,” the older woman replied with an odd smile.

Damon smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Zach said, “Kiss Bonnie and my niece for me. I am going to change clothes and drop by the office for a few hours.”

He shook his head and chuckled. “Meredith is going to kill you for going into work without getting any rest, Zio. The jetlag is going to catch up with you eventually.”

“Meredith should be in surgery for a few more hours and the boys are at her parents’ house. She won’t mind if I squeeze in a little work. I can catch a nap on the couch in my office if I start getting tired.”

“Workaholic,” the younger man complained.

He smirked, “Someone has to pull their weight around here.”

Damon flipped off his uncle.

Zach chuckled and said, I’ll see you later, Damon.”

Damon picked up two gift bags and walked to the conservatory. When Damon entered the room, he felt as if he was having a stroke. He set the bags on a side table so that he didn't accidentally break the fragile gifts.

Bonnie and Katherine were sitting together on the sofa talking amiably. The two women were drinking tea and watching as Sarah and Nadia tried to construct a Lego Architecture replica of what looked like the Trevi Fountain. Meanwhile, the Radio Disney station was playing loudly over the house’s integrated sound system.

He kept his voice low so that he didn’t attract the children’s attention and he growled, “What are you doing here, Katherine?”

Katherine remained quiet and deferred to Bonnie. She understood that she was merely a pawn in the young woman’s game.

Bonnie smiled brightly at her husband. “I invited Katherine and her daughter, Nadia, here for lunch.”

Damon looked as if he might strangle Katherine with his bare hands. “Was I not clear about what would happen the next time you insinuated yourself in my marriage?”

The green-eyed girl continued, “Before you start making threats, she didn’t contact me. I reached out to Katherine while I was in Tenerife. It seemed silly not to speak with her when I was literally 20 minutes away from the villa.”

All of the suspicions he had tried to ignore over the last week came rushing back with a vengeance. Bonnie had repeatedly lied to him about the nature of her trip to Tenerife. Suddenly, he felt unsteady and utterly exposed as he looked between the two women. He tried to work out what the unnerving smiles on their faces meant.

He said, “You told me that you were in Tenerife for a vacation.”

Katherine silently studied the array of emotions playing over Damon’s normally stoic face. His child bride had caught him as completely off guard as she had been just a week ago when Bonnie had turned up on the villa’s doorstep.

“I did,” she assured him. “You never have time to take us on a real vacation. You are ever so busy with work and sleeping with other women. I figured that Sarah and I deserved a proper vacation. I spent nearly a week in Tenerife and perhaps less than two hours with Katherine over that timeframe. She is such a large part of your life. I thought it was criminal that I didn’t know more about her. I mean she is your better half, Damon. She is the woman in your life that knows you best, right? She understands you in ways that I never have…”

Damon’s posture stiffened as Bonnie’s cold tone sliced through him like a knife. He could tell that Katherine had been talking out of school. His hands would be around her slender throat if it weren’t for the two little girls sitting across the room.

The girls had their backs to the adults. Fortunately, the music playing overhead was muffling the conversation not meant for their little ears.

“We need to talk, Bonnie.” He snapped, “In private!”

Bonnie was amused by Damon’s belief that he could order her to do anything at that moment. His mistress was literally sitting beside her. Yet somehow, Damon thought he was still in control of the situation. She couldn’t decide if that was supreme confidence or utter stupidity on his part. She picked up a remote and lowered the volume of the music.

“Sarah, I bet that Sophie has finished baking those cookies. Why don’t you and Nadia go to the kitchen and ask for some cookies and milk?”

Sarah got to her feet. “Okay, Mama.” She ran over to Damon and hugged his tense body. “Hi, Papa! I’m so happy that you are home.”

He leaned down and kissed her forehead. “Hi, bambolina. I missed you.”

“I missed you, too. This is my friend Nadia,” she said motioning to the other girl. “I met her when me and Mama were on vacation.”

Damon had known about Nadia since Katherine disappeared from his life for nearly six months. He had his people find her and learned that she was pregnant. Damon had assumed that the child belonged to one of the other men that she was seeing. At the time, he didn’t require her to be faithful to him. When Katherine had reinitiated their relationship months later, he pretended to believe the story about her mother having a complicated menopausal pregnancy.

Damon waved hesitantly. “Hello.”

The girl waved back timidly. “Hi.”

“Go on to the kitchen with your friend, bambolina. You can see Papa later,” Bonnie said in a soft voice.

Suddenly, Damon didn’t want his daughter to leave. He had the sickening feeling that Sarah was the only thing protecting him from some danger he didn’t yet understand.

Sarah said, “Okay. Come on, Nadia. Sophie makes the best cookies ever!”

The girls held hands as they ran from the conservatory. They had spent a lot time together in the days since returning from Tenerife.

Damon pushed the door closed. “What is the meaning of this, Bonnie?”

She played coy and said, “I don’t know what you mean, Damon. I just decided to make a friend. Katherine is incredibly interesting. Did you know that she speaks two languages fluently?”

He decided the best strategy was to take control of the situation. He had to remind Bonnie of their respective roles. “I am not in the mood for jokes, Bonnie. Explain yourself now!”

Katherine winced at his poor choice. While Bonnie played up being amused, she saw through the girl’s carefully constructed mask. She could see the predator inside Bonnie begging to be unleashed on poor unsuspecting Damon.

Bonnie’s eyes flashed dangerously as she stood from the couch. She walked up to her husband and stared at him for a long moment. “You make me sick, Damon. I mean that literally. My blood pressure went through the roof and I had trouble sleeping at night. I could barely hold down food. The stress of being your wife is killing me. Worse, it is putting my pregnancy at risk. While you were away, I finally came to the conclusion that you are not worth all of this pain and stress. Two weeks away from you was just what the doctor ordered. I feel so much better. I am sure some of that is down to the medication for my high blood pressure and the nausea. However, it is also because I have peace of mind now. I don’t need you, Damon—not anymore. And I damn sure don’t want you.”

Damon felt as if his entire world was coming down around him. He struggled to piece together coherent thoughts as Bonnie’s words reverberated in his head as if it were an echo chamber. Damon had known for a while that something was off in their marriage. However, he thought that there would be time to fix it once Giuseppe was out of the way.  He was completely blindsided by this sudden implosion. The most shocking part was that Bonnie had obviously planned it this way. She wanted him off-kilter. That was the only way to explain having Katherine waiting for his arrival.

Slowly Bonnie’s words began to make more sense as they settled into his bourbon soaked brain. Damon realized that Bonnie mentioned being physically sick, too. It was obviously information she had learned during her appointment with Dr. Huerta. Once again, his wife had opted not to seek him out with her problems. However, Damon now understood that Bonnie believed that he was one of her problems. If he was honest with himself, he knew that she was probably right. He was no good for her. Damon had known that from the moment he agreed to marry Bonnie. However, she belonged to him now and he was much too selfish to let her go.

He said, “You are obviously upset…overwrought. Maybe we should wait until later to have this conversation. You wouldn’t want to say anything that you might regret, Bunny.”

Bonnie might have hated that nickname if not for the fact that it started with Stefan. As a toddler, he would routinely mispronounce her name. Whenever she visited the Salvatore manor as a baby, Stefan would demand to see his bunny. He would throw a fit if they didn’t let him hold her despite the fact that he was only two years older than Bonnie was. The nickname just sort stuck around long after Stefan could pronounce her name properly.

She said, “Waiting until later is not going to change anything that I have to say, Damon. Time isn’t going to change how I feel about you.”

“How do you feel about me?”

“I love you more than my heart can take. I was in love with you before you ever made me your wife. My grandmother warned me that I should always remember that this relationship was a business arrangement. Youthful naiveté and puppy love blinded me to the truth in Grams’ words. You have made me hate myself, Damon. Because I kept thinking that, something had to be wrong with me. Am I not pretty enough? Am I not smart enough? Am I not good enough in bed? Am I too fat? What is Katherine doing that makes him continue going back to her? It was all a mystery to me until very recently. I figured out that you love her. Then suddenly it all made perfect sense. I am the other woman and I have been from the very beginning.”

Damon felt as if he were frozen in place as he listened to Bonnie explain how insignificant he had made her feel. His first instinct was to pull the girl into his arms and pledge his undying love to her because that was the truth. If he had to choose between Bonnie and Katherine, he would choose his wife without a second thought. Until this moment, he just didn’t believe that he had to choose. He went to touch Bonnie but she flinched away from his touch violently.

He swallowed thickly and said, “I have made some mistakes. I am sorry, Bunny. I love you even if it doesn’t seem that way sometimes. Please…”

Bonnie shook her head and took a step back to prevent Damon from trying to touch her again. She couldn’t predict what she would do to him if he actually touched her. Her fingers itched to hold the switchblade tucked into her bra.

“This whole time I have been a fool. I have bent over backwards trying to make you love me. I have tried to be the perfect wife and mother. I don’t complain about anything. I never ask you for more than you are willing to give me. I smile when I want to cry. I laugh when I want to scream. I have sex with you when I can’t stand to see your face. I pretend that I don’t know that you are sneaking into the city to see Katherine. I allowed you and your father to turn me into a prisoner in this house. I vowed to stick by your side even after your psycho father attacked me. I even gave you the keys to get the one thing you want most in life but none of it is enough. I am not enough for you and I was too stupid to see it before now.”

For years, Katherine thought she would enjoy seeing the implosion of Damon’s marriage. However, reality was much more heartbreaking and uncomfortable than she had anticipated. He looked more gutted by the situation than Bonnie did. Suddenly, she wondered if this girl she had aligned with understood the Pandora’s Box she was opening. Damon could be truly dangerous when he felt bereft.

He licked his lips and replied,  “You’re not stupid. I am the one that has been stupid and blind. You are enough for me. You have always been enough for me. I’m just gluttonous and thoughtless. It was never about what you couldn’t give me. You give me everything that I need. You keep me sane. You know that, right?”

She shook her head with a wry smile and said, “Stefan is the one that keeps you sane. I am glad that you are going to have him now because I need space from you. I need to put some distance between us before I do something that I can’t take back, Damon. Our marriage was meant to be a business arrangement. I think that we need to go back to that. I will be your wife in name only. I will pretend in front of everyone else but you and I will both know that it isn’t real. I need to figure out how to fix what is broken inside of me. I need to be better for myself and for our children. I don’t want Sarah to grow up to be as pathetic as I have been. She deserves a better mother than I have been to her. I have taught her, by example, that it is fine to let a man walk all over her.”

At that moment, the bottom fell out for Damon. He thought back to John’s insistence on placing members of his family in the U.S. smuggling operation. Either the old man had seen the writing on the wall or Bonnie had given him a head’s up. The end result was that his wife had planned this out in a way that he never knew she was capable of.

Damon tried to get through the walls that he could see Bonnie building around her. He said, “You are not pathetic. You have done nothing wrong and there is certainly nothing wrong with you. You are amazing, Bunny. You are such a good mother and Sarah is lucky to have you. I couldn’t have asked for a better wife or mother for my daughter. I don’t want space or distance between us. You are my family and you were that before we were married. We can work this out, Bonnie. You just have to give me a chance.”

She wiped away her tears, as her voice cracked, “It’s not about what you want anymore, Damon. This is about what I need. You married a child and now it is time for me to grow up. This probably would have always happened, just maybe not as drastically as it is now.”

He said, “I will stop seeing Katherine for good. I will get rid of the penthouse. We will go away for a few weeks…just two of us. I’ll do anything.”

Bonnie was incensed that Damon was lying to her again about getting rid of Katherine. He had done this song and dance weeks ago and still decided to stay a few days in Tenerife to fuck her. Bonnie wasn’t falling for it this time. There wasn’t even a small part of her that wanted to believe him. He had chosen Katherine over her and now he would have to live with that choice.

Bonnie flashed a vicious smile through her tears. “I want you to continue seeing Katherine. In fact, she is the only woman that you will be seeing. I learned a valuable lesson from Jo and my mother. It was sad watching two intelligent women struggle to make one man love them. I will not waste my life in that way. You can be with Katherine as much as you like and I will not object. However, if I find out that you have started a relationship with another woman I will divorce you. No questions asked. I will drag you and Velocita through court until the shares aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. And if you think that I will be satisfied seeing my daughter on weekends then you are sadly mistaken. I will excise you from my life like the cancer you are and burn all of this shit to the ground. Think of this as my gift to you. Merry Christmas, Damon.”

He realized too late that he had put his foot into his mouth. Offering to cut Katherine loose only infuriated Bonnie. He had never seen her like this before. It was disorienting trying to reconcile this hardened person in front of him with his little bunny. Once again, his mind floated to all those little signs that Bonnie was hiding things from him. Damon realized now that she was hiding this. She was hiding that she was a woman that was made of stone when he believed that she was made of clay. She was not the moldable impressionable little girl that he had believed her to be. However, more striking was the fury she carried inside her. Damon knew without a shadow of doubt that Bonnie would make good on her threat if he pushed her.

He knew then that his usual bag of tricks wouldn’t work with Bonnie. He needed to pull out the big guns. “Let’s see a marriage counselor. I can be better. I want to be better for you, Sarah, and the twins. You all deserve better from me. Please….”

Bonnie was shocked by his offer for counseling. Damon was old school and didn’t believe in telling strangers his problems. However, she would not be deterred by his last ditch effort. She walked over to a table and retrieved an envelope.

“You don’t mean that and I am no mood to be appeased by empty promises. Anyway, you might want to consider family counseling first. It seems that you are a daddy again. Congratulations, you have two daughters.”

His eyebrows furrowed in confusion as he opened the envelope. He quickly skimmed the lab report because he thought that perhaps Dr. Huerta had been able to determine the gender of the twins. Suddenly, Damon’s eyes shot to Katherine’s face. “You can’t be serious.”

Bonnie gave a smug smile of satisfaction at the look on his face. She said, “Well, I am taking Sarah and going over to my mother’s house for a few hours. We will be back in time for dinner. I think you and Katherine have tons to talk about. We can discuss our separation later when you are more…clearheaded. I wouldn’t want you to say something that you will regret.”

Damon’s jaw clenched as she threw his words back into his face. He growled, “You can’t think that I am going to let you leave after all of this shit.”

Bonnie’s red-rimmed eyes hardened. She said, “You can’t think that you have the power to make me stay after all of your bullshit. There is an easy way and a hard way of doing this, Damon. Take the easy way. I have given you the whore you seem to love so much. I even proved that you have another daughter. Take the win while I still feel this generous.”

He stood there in shock as he watched Bonnie walk out of the conservatory. Bonnie had said that she would be back for dinner but it felt as if she was walking away from him for good. Damon slowly sat down on the sofa and tried to make sense of what had just happened to him. Bonnie had laid waste to his life and he didn’t know what to do. However, his eyes kept going back to the DNA test. He didn’t even bother looking at Katherine. He asked, “Why?”

“Why didn’t I tell you about Nadia?”

He didn’t bother responding because she knew very well what he was asking of her. Damon couldn’t believe his life had unraveled to this degree. It explained the unsettled feeling he had since Shadow Hills. He was right to be concerned about Bonnie but he could have never predicted this. This wasn’t the sweet girl that he had married. She was bitter and angry but Damon knew that he had nurtured those traits in her. Whatever she was now, he had made her that way.

Katherine braced herself for Damon’s reaction. She regarded him coolly and said, “Because I wasn’t certain that she was your daughter. There was always a chance that Giuseppe was her father.”

Damon’s head whipped in her direction at the mention of his father. His eyes burned with hatred and betrayal. “You’ve been fucking my father?”

She spat out, “No!”

He growled, “Explain quickly and remember that I am low on patience right now. I am no mood for your fucking games, Katherine.”

Katherine loved stirring the pot but she knew when to be serious. Damon’s nerves were shot. Bonnie might not think that she was important to him but Katherine knew better. The only reason Damon hadn’t chased after Bonnie was because she had dropped the bombshell about Nadia onto his lap.

“One night your father just showed up at my apartment, this was before I started living at penthouse. I came home from the club and he was just in my apartment waiting for me. He bribed the building manager to let him into the apartment. At first, it was just an interrogation of my intentions with you. He let me know that I was completely unsuitable to be your wife and that I could never be more than your whore. Then he moved onto how I made my living before I met you.”

Damon’s fists clenched because he could tell where this story was headed. Giuseppe had caused Bree to overdose on heroin while she was in recovery. He had attacked and nearly raped Bonnie. Now he was certain that the bastard had actually succeeded in raping Katherine. It was as if Giuseppe actively tried to ruin anything good in Damon’s life.

“He made drinks for us and asked about my childhood. He wanted to know everything about me despite having already hired a private detective to investigate me. He must have slipped something into my drink because the next thing I remembered was waking up in my bed in the morning. I was naked, sore, and alone. Then I saw an envelope with $10,000 inside it sitting on my nightstand. He had also left behind a note thanking me for a good time. Later that day one of his goons showed up with a suitcase filled with money to buy my silence. I didn’t know what to do and I thought you might break up with me if you knew the truth. I decided not to say anything but about a month later I realized that my period was late.”

Damon’s brain was on overload. Bonnie and Katherine had dumped too much on him at one time. He didn’t know what situation he was supposed to deal with first. He didn’t even know what he was supposed to be doing. He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “I’m sorry that Giuseppe raped you because you were involved with me. I didn’t even know you were on his radar at the time. I should have protected you from him.”

She shrugged her shoulders and stared out the window for a moment. Katherine didn’t like thinking about Giuseppe. Being unable to remember that night was the worst part of the ordeal. Katherine’s brain thought up nightmare scenarios of what he must have done to her while she was unconscious. She could tell that Damon’s apology was genuine but it didn’t make her feel any better.

Katherine muttered, “It’s all in the past now…”

“Was it just a one-time occurrence?” he asked. “Did he ever hurt you again?”

“No. Whenever I have had the misfortune of crossing paths with your father, he always acts as if he doesn’t know who I am.”

He nodded and took a moment to organize the cyclone of thoughts in his mind. “Why didn’t you tell me the truth after she was born, Katherine? I could have helped you out more whether she was my sister or my daughter.”

She considered her words carefully. She said, “I didn’t want your father near my daughter in either case. Besides, I was scared that he would try to take her from me. It was easier passing her off as my little sister. When your wife turned up on my doorstep in Tenerife, I knew it was only a matter of time before she told you about Nadia. I agreed to the paternity test to get it out of the way. I figured that if Giuseppe was Nadia’s father I could just…disappear with her.”

Damon couldn’t blame Katherine from wanting to protect their daughter from Giuseppe. He wished more than anything that he had been able to shield Sarah from him. “Does she know? Does Nadia know that I am her father?” he asked.

Katherine shook her head.

“I want to be in her life, Katherine.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “I am not trying to stop you, Damon. I could have disappeared after Bonnie showed up. I didn’t. I flew home with her had a DNA test performed on Nadia. You can be as involved as you want to be in her life. But you she will never be in the same room with Giuseppe. That is where I draw the line.”

Damon growled and ran a hand through his raven hair. His father was more trouble than he had ever been worth. “Fucking Giuseppe. Yeah, fine. He isn’t here now but he will be back before Christmas. After he comes back, I’ll visit with her at the penthouse.”

The truth was Giuseppe wouldn’t live past the New Year but that wasn’t for Katherine or anyone else to know.

“I can live with that…”

“Does this mean she won’t be staying with your mother anymore?” Damon asked.

Katherine shook her head. “There isn’t a reason to hide Nadia anymore. Would it be okay if I moved Nadia into the penthouse?”

Damon frowned. “That’s not really a place I want my daughter living. There isn’t anywhere for her to play and I don’t know what the schools are like in that area. I will put Rose to work on finding something suitable for you and Nadia. She will call you to get your input.”

His reaction surprised Katherine. She realized that Bonnie knew Damon better than she thought. She nodded. “That would be fine with me. Do you want to meet Nadia today?”

He stood up and walked over to windows that faced the garden. His eyes lingered on the inflatable snow globe. The entire property had been decorated for Christmas. He nodded. “Yes, I would like to meet her today. How old is she?”

Katherine stood up. “Nadia is seven years old.”

Damon took a breath and followed her out of the conservatory. They walked into the kitchen were Sophie and Nadia were eating cookies and watching The Year Without Santa Claus.

Sophie straightened up when Damon entered the kitchen. “Good afternoon, Mr. Salvatore.”

He nodded. “Good afternoon, Sophie. Leave us, please.’’

“Of course, sir.” Sophie smiled at Nadia and then quickly left the kitchen. She didn’t know what was going on but she knew better than to snoop in the Salvatore home.

Katherine held her hand out for Nadia. “There is someone I want you to meet, sunshine.”

Nadia hopped down from the barstool and walked over to her mother. She took Katherine’s hand and stood beside her. Nadia looked up at Damon with curiosity.

Damon said, “We should take this conversation into the living room where we can be comfortable.”

Katherine nodded in agreement and followed him out of the kitchen.

Damon and Katherine settled down on the couch with Nadia seated between them.

The brunette woman asked, “Do you remember how I said that sometimes parents can’t always be with their little ones despite how much they love them.”

Nadia nodded. It was the way Katherine explained her frequent absences from the girl’s life.

Damon felt genuinely nervous. There was no way of knowing how she would take the news.

“Well, for a long time your daddy wasn’t able to be with you but you were always in his heart. Things are different now and he wanted very much to meet you. This is my friend, Damon Salvatore, and he is your daddy.”

Nadia stared at Damon hard for a moment. “ Tu es sûre maman?

Katherine nodded and squeezed her hand reassuringly.

Mais c'est le papa de Sarah.

Damon said, “Oui, je suis le père de Sarah, mais je suis aussi ton père, petit.

Nadia’s eyes went as wide as saucers. She asked, “Tu parles français aussi?

"Oui, je parle français. Ma mère m'a appris quand j'avais votre âge. Qui vous a enseigné?"

“Ma grand-mère,” she replied in a quiet voice. Her voice went lower as she asked,  “Est-ce que Sarah est ma soeur? J'ai toujours voulu une sœur.”

Katherine was taken aback by Nadia’s admission. She had never mentioned the idea of having siblings before now.

Damon’s lips curved into a smile. He nodded. “Yes, Sarah is your sister. She is two years younger than you are. I can already tell that you are going to be a great big sister.”

Nadia gave a wide smile.

Chapter Text

 

Nearly two hours ago, Bonnie had walked out of the Salvatore Manor with her head held high. She knew with certainty that separating from Damon was the right decision. However, she would not deceive herself by pretending that she was not heartbroken. Bonnie loved Damon and probably always would. The girl had fallen for the mobster before she was old enough to understand the true price. Unfortunately, her love for him had morphed into something dark and twisted. The toxicity of their relationship was on full display while they argued in the conservatory. Bonnie had struggled to ignore the overwhelming urge to slash Damon’s handsome face with her switchblade. Her words, while brutal, did not even begin to rival the pain he had inflicted on her for four years. She would never receive true recompense from him.

Ultimately, Bonnie made the decision to focus on having a good life. Revenge was sweet but it took so much energy. Bonnie recognized that vengeance had the ability to become all-consuming and rarely did it ever bring satisfaction. Ruining Damon’s life would not give her back four wasted years of her life. It would not give her back a single tear that she had cried over him. It would not knit together the tattered pieces of her self-esteem. The only outcome would be delving deeper into the violent madness that the Salvatore Family equated with love. Bonnie knew that it was better to focus all of her energy on the things that truly mattered—her children. She had the ability to save them from the poison that had infected her husband’s very soul.

Bonnie was not naïve enough to believe that Damon would simply allow her to walk away from him without a fight. His male pride wouldn’t allow him to stomach such a brutal rejection. Somehow, he had deluded himself into believing that he owned Bonnie because she was his wife. She would just have to disabuse him of that notion firmly. The young mother was prepared for the intense conversation she would have with Damon after dinner. Bonnie planned to inform her husband that she and Sarah would be moving into the beach house soon. Before she left for Tenerife, Bonnie had paid through the nose to get an interior decorator to overhaul the house in three weeks. The project was moving on schedule and would be ready by next weekend. Fortunately, the changes were limited to new furniture, fresh paint on the walls, and upgraded kitchen appliances. The five bedroom and 6.5 bathroom beach house was the perfect landing spot for Bonnie’s little family.

Bonnie wasn’t looking forward to breaking news of the separation to Sarah. That little girl loved her daddy with all of her heart. Moreover, it wasn’t just Damon that they would be leaving. Sarah had grown up in a house filled with cousins, uncles, and aunts. Even some of the long-time staff members were like extended relatives in some ways. Bonnie hated that she would have to break her daughter’s heart. However, she knew from experience just how resilient children could be in the face of adversity. Sarah would be sad for a time but she would acclimate to the changes eventually. Bonnie planned to do everything in her power to ensure that happened.

After leaving the Salvatore manor, mother and daughter had gone to a spa. Bonnie treated them to manicures, pedicures, and facials. She had even allowed Sarah to get her ears pierced. Caroline had taken Sarah and Bella to get their ears pierced as babies. Unfortunately, Sarah’s ears had become infected after a week. Damon had removed the tiny stud earrings and allowed the piercings to close naturally. Recently, Sarah had been asking to have her ears pierced like Bella. Bonnie and Damon had discussed the matter and decided that it would be okay to try again now that Sarah was older. She was well aware that this afternoon with her daughter could be considered a bribe. However, her grams had always done something special when there was going to be a major change in Bonnie’s life. Sheila wanted to reinforce that despite changes in Bonnie’s life she would always be a constant. Bonnie wanted to do the same thing for Sarah.

Tyler pulled up in front of Abby’s house and turned off the engine. He climbed out of the car and opened Bonnie’s door. Tyler hadn’t been able to stop smiling since overhearing her cut Damon down to size. He had been standing outside the conservatory just in case Damon had reacted violently. Fortunately, his intervention hadn’t been necessary.

The green-eyed girl climbed out of the town car and asked, “Could you get our bags from the trunk?”

He nodded. Tyler was glad that Bonnie intended to stay with Abby until the beach house was ready. He didn’t trust Damon’s ability to restrain himself once he realized that this situation wouldn’t simply blow over. “Sure. I will bring them inside for you.”

“Thanks, Ty.” She lightly squeezed his arm as she walked by him.

Sarah asked, “Can I ring the bell, Mama?”

Bonnie smiled and said, “Go ahead.”

The girl raced to the front door and pushed the doorbell. Sarah grinned when she heard the chimes playing a cheerful melody.

Bonnie’s smile faltered when Ric opened the door. She hadn’t anticipated him being there. Bonnie had assumed that Ric would want to go home to his wife and daughters after being away for so long.

Sarah beamed up at him and launched herself into his arms. “Hi, Zio.”

He smiled and hugged his great-niece before setting her down. “Hi, sweetheart. It is good seeing both of you. I was planning to stop by the manor later to check in with everyone.”

Bonnie said, “I seem to have really awful timing. I am sorry for intruding, Ric. We can leave.”

Ric was surprised to see Bonnie and Sarah at the front door. He knew that Damon had been excited about getting home to see his wife and daughter. He could only assume that his idiot nephew had done or said something to upset the girl. However, Ric couldn’t imagine what Damon could have done after being home for only a few hours. “You don’t have to leave. You aren’t interrupting anything. I was just helping Abby cook dinner. Come inside.”

Sarah ran by him and shouted, “Cooper? Where are you?”

Bonnie smiled tentatively and walked into the house. “I guess we’re staying.”

Tyler walked into the house carrying a couple of suitcases.

Ric eyed the bags suspiciously. He hoped that Bonnie wasn’t attempting to leave Damon. He knew that his nephew would never go for that.

Abby walked out of the kitchen. “Is that Sarah Alessandra that I hear?”

Sarah nodded excitedly and hugged Abby’s waist. “Hi, Nonna! Look at my nails. Mama took me to a spa.”

The older woman examined the blush pink polish on the girl’s fingernails. “Oh, they look beautiful. Did you have fun with your mama?”

She nodded and said, “The lady painted my toe nails, too. See.”

Abby chuckled as Sarah tried to stand on foot so that she could take off her shoe. She kissed the top of the girl’s head. “You can show me your toes later. I am going to want to hear all about your trip to the spa.”

“Okay, Nonna. Where is Cooper?”

“He’s in the backyard with Jamie and Seline. Why don’t you go out there and see what they are doing? They just might be playing on the trampoline.”

Sarah beamed up at her. “Okay!”

Abby and Bonnie chuckled as they watched Sarah tear out of the living room in search of her young uncles.

Bonnie lifted an amused eyebrow at her mother’s apron. The black apron depicted Marlon Brando as The Godfather . “Interesting choice in aprons.”

Abby took off the apron as she walked over to her daughter. She laughed softly. “It was meant to be a gag gift from Gianni. Of course the joke is on him because I love it.”

She shook her head with a small smile. “I was telling Ric that I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“You aren’t intruding, baby girl. I am glad that you are here. Is everything okay?”

“I, uh, I did what I said that I was going to do,” Bonnie answered in a quiet voice.

Abby was frozen in place for a beat. She knew that Bonnie planned to separate from Damon. However, she had worried that her daughter’s love for the man would ultimately win out. Abby had never been so happy to be wrong. She pulled Bonnie into her arms without warning and hugged her fiercely.

Bonnie sagged into the embrace without thought. Until now, she hadn’t realized how much she needed a hug from her mother. She was wiped out from all of the emotions that had spilled out of her earlier. However, she had kept it together because that was what Sarah needed from her.

Abby stepped back and cradled the girl’s face in her hands. “Oh, look at my brave girl. I am so proud of you. Do you hear me?”

She nodded.

“How did it go?” she asked tentatively. Abby’s eyes carefully studied her daughter’s appearance for even a hint of violence.

She shook her head. “I told Damon the truth about how I feel. I gave him my terms and explained what would happen if he violated them. We didn’t get to talk much after I gave him the test results. I am sure he’s still at the manor with Katherine.”

The older woman huffed out a laugh. She said, “You did it without rat poison. Kudos.”

Ric hoped that he had heard the girl wrong. He couldn’t imagine a scenario where his nephew would disrespect Bonnie by inviting Katherine into their home. Some lines just couldn’t be crossed. Ric tried his best to keep Jo and Abby separate as much as possible. However, it was difficult because of how the Salvatore and Benedettos families were intertwined. Unfortunately, all of his hard work had been for naught because he was certain now that Jo knew about his affair. He was avoiding going home for that reason. Alaric was stalling the inevitable conversation he needed to have with Jo.

“Is it still okay if Sarah and I stay here for awhile?” she asked.

“It is more than okay, baby girl. You and Sarah are welcome here at anytime. I had Seline make a copy of the keys so that you can come and go as you please. I cleaned out that closet in the first floor guest suite for your things. You and Sarah can share the suite. Or Sarah could stay in the guest room on the second floor if you want a little privacy.”

Ric cleared his throat. “Would anyone mind cluing me into what is going on here? Bonnie and Sarah can’t be seriously moving in here.”

Bonnie tensed at his tone. She looked up at her mother. “Maybe this was a bad idea, Mama. I don’t want to cause trouble between you and Ric. I can go somewhere else.”

However, both women knew that Bonnie didn’t have anywhere else to go. Abby was the only family member that lived in the area and the girl didn’t exactly have any close friends outside of Caroline and Hayley. She couldn’t stay with either of them. Abby also knew that Bonnie would not feel safe at the beach house while tradespersons came in and out to do their jobs.

“You are not causing any trouble here, baby girl. Ric might have bought this house but he was dumb enough to put the deed in my name. Therefore, this here is my house. If he doesn’t like the idea of you and Sarah being here then he can fuck off back to Jo’s house.”

“I just got home. Do you really want to start this shit with me?” he snapped.

Abby smiled prettily at Ric but her eyes warned him of the danger. “I am not starting anything, Alaric. I am simply saying that my daughter and granddaughter are always welcome in my home. If that is a problem then you can remove yourself from my home. I don’t really care either way.”

An awkward silence filled the room as the couple glared daggers at one another.

Ric was the first to break. He muttered, “I need a drink.”

The older Bennett woman looked at Tyler and said, “Take those bags to the guest suite, sweetheart. It is around the corner and at the end of the hall. The door is open so you can’t miss it.”

Tyler tried hard to hide his amusement at Alaric’s predicament. He said, “Yes, Ma’am. I am sure that I will find it.”

Ric growled, “We need to talk, Abigail. Now.”

Abby smiled at Bonnie. “You should go unpack your things. You can get a feel for if the guest suite is big enough to share with Sarah. I will come find you once I finish speaking to Ric. Then the two of us will talk about how everything went down with Damon. Are you hungry? I can bring a snack, too.”

“Mama…” Bonnie tried.

“Hush now. Go on to the guest room, baby girl,” Abby said. There was no way she was going to let Ric run her daughter out of a house that she owned.

Bonnie gave up on arguing with her mother. It was pointless to belabor the point when Abby was being obstinate. She had to admit it was nice knowing that Abby was choosing her. Bonnie had worried that her mother might change her mind once she was face to face with Alaric. She wouldn’t have blamed Abby for doing what caused the least friction in her already strained relationship. Bonnie had put up with plenty of bullshit in order to keep the peace with Damon—until now.

Ric waited until Bonnie disappeared from sight. “What the hell is going on?”

She said, “Bonnie and Sarah need a place to stay for awhile. She is separating from Damon. Your nephew has been quite the busy boy but then you know that because you were in Tenerife with him a couple weeks ago. Do I even want to know what you were doing while Damon was screwing around with his mistress? I hope you know that we won’t be having sex until you’ve undergone an STD test.”

His jaw dropped as he silently cursed his idiot nephew for putting him in this position. “How do you know that we were in Tenerife?”

Abby’s hazel eyes flashed dangerously. “I realize that you both think that my daughter is young and naïve but I sincerely hope that you don’t think me to be old and dumb. I still talk to my family back home. When you didn’t arrive on time I made some inquiries to find out where the plane had landed.”

“I would never think that about you, Abby. We stopped in Tenerife for a few days so that Damon could see Katherine. I didn’t sleep with anyone while we were there. I spent most of my time drunk or arguing with Stefan.”

The woman’s unimpressed expression spoke to her level of skepticism. She said, “Well, Bonnie flew to Tenerife once you all were in Milazzo so that she could confront Damon’s mistress. If you want more details then perhaps you should speak to your nephew. Meanwhile, I will worry about tending to my daughter. But don’t begin to think that you can dictate what I do in my house with my child.”

Ric sighed and said, “Now you are angry with me again. I said that I didn’t fuck anyone while I was in Tenerife.”

“I am not angry with you, Alaric. I don’t actually care what you did right now. I am more concerned about my daughter and granddaughter. This is not your mess…it is mine. I should have taken Bonnie far away from my mother and your family when I had the chance. Instead, I have to watch my daughter suffer through a loveless marriage with no chance of escape. I did this to her and I am going to do my best to help her through it. Your family is a curse…it is a poison. Even if you will never admit it to me, you know this to be true.”

Ric groaned as he watched Abby walk out of the room. This was the last thing they needed when Damon had just secured Big John’s support. Bonnie talking about a separation instead of a divorce was a small miracle. However, he saw clearly that Big John had played them from the outset. He obviously knew what was coming down the pike when he insisted on having blood members of the Benedetto family assist Damon with managing the smuggling operation.

He walked into the kitchen and poured himself a large glass of scotch. Alaric finished the drink in three hurried gulps.

Tyler entered the kitchen. “Uh, Abby sent me in here to get something for Bonnie to eat.”

Ric nodded and motioned for Tyler to get on with it.

He opened the refrigerator and pulled out the plastic container that Abby had described. Tyler grabbed a bottle of water as well before leaving the kitchen.

Alaric took out his phone and called Damon. He waited impatiently for the little bastard to answer his call as he poured a second drink. As soon as Damon answered, he asked, “What the fuck did you do?”

“It’s always nice to hear from you, Zio. We have such a warm and fuzzy relationship. Can I take this to mean that my wife and daughter are at your house?”

He walked into the living room and began pacing as his anxiety levels continued to rise. Alaric ranted, “Yes, they’re here with suitcases, Damon. Now Abby is giving me grief because of your insistence on stopping in Tenerife. And please, tell me that Katherine wasn’t really at the fucking manor.”

Damon groaned. “Bonnie is the one that invited Katherine to the house. They ambushed me! It’s all fucked up, Zio. I’m down the block from your house now. I was already on my way when you called. I tried calling Bonnie but she hasn’t been answering my calls.”

“I don’t want any fighting here, Damon. My kids and your daughter are in this house,” he warned.

“I’m not going to fight with Bonnie. If she wants to stay a few nights with Abby…I won’t put up a fight.”

Ric frowned because he knew it had to be a dire situation if Damon was trying to be reasonable. “Is it truly that bad?”

“Worse. I’ll fill you in when I get there,” he replied.

The older man ended the call and stuffed the phone back into his pocket.

Tyler walked into the room. “I’m going to be out in the car if anyone needs me.”

Ric hoped the kid would stay in the car and avoid Damon at all costs. Tyler would be a convenient target for his nephew’s rage. Ric wasn’t interested in breaking up a fight right now. Frankly, he was ready to wring Damon’s neck for bringing his marital drama to his doorstep. He didn’t need Damon’s bullshit to upset the balance in his relationship with Abby. The love of his life was obviously ready for a fight but Ric wasn’t about to fall into that trap. He couldn’t win in a fight with Abby.

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the front door.

He glanced out the peephole to confirm it was his nephew before opening the door. “Hurry up and get in here,” he muttered.

“Where are they?” Damon asked without preamble.

“Abby is helping Bonnie get settled into the guest suite. Sarah is outside with my kids and Seline.”

He walked into the house and closed the door. “I have another daughter,” he blurted out.

Ric plopped down onto the couch and lifted an eyebrow at that. “Come again.”

“I have a daughter with Katherine. Her name is Nadia and she is seven years old. She speaks French fluently. She’s amazing, Zio,” Damon explained.

Alaric’s spine straightened at this new information. “You told me that Nadia was some other guy’s kid.”

He sat down across from his uncle and said, “At the time, I assumed that was the situation. I couldn’t understand why Katherine would hide the truth from me if it meant a bigger payday. A mistress is one thing, but the mother of my child is a completely different tax bracket.”

Alaric couldn’t argue with his nephew’s logic there. However, he couldn’t believe that Damon hadn’t thought to get a paternity test to be safe. He hardly needed Katherine’s permission for that. It was as simple as having someone break into the mother’s house to steal a toothbrush or a hairbrush that belonged to the little girl. “Did Katherine explain why she lied to you for this long?”

He nodded as his jaw clenched in anger. “She didn’t tell me the truth because of Giuseppe. He raped her and then had one of our guys pay Katherine for her silence. She was scared that Nadia was his daughter and that he would take her.”

The older man stilled when he learned that his older brother had raped another woman. He ran a hand through his hair. “Fuck…”

“Yeah, tell me about it. I had to promise Katherine that Giuseppe would never be in the same room with Nadia. She’s scared…”

It wasn’t lost on Alaric that all of the women in their lives feared Giuseppe. They saw him for the monster that he was. These women saw the sexual predator that Alaric tried so hard to ignore. However, he supposed it was easy for him to ignore such a thing when he would never be the target of that sort of violence from his brother. Abby had accused him of cowardice when she first learned of Giuseppe’s attack on Bonnie. She was right.

Ric put down his empty glass and asked, “How did all of this happen?”

“Bonnie tracked Katherine down in Tenerife and convinced her to get a DNA test to prove that I was Nadia’s father. Then she invited her to the manor after I told her that I was coming home today. She laid into me about being a shit husband and then said that we are married in name only now. She wants space….whatever the fuck that means. Bonnie said that I could keep seeing Katherine but threatened me with a messy divorce if she finds out that I’ve picked up another mistress along the way.”

Ric just stared at Damon in shock because that didn’t sound like the Bonnie he had watched grow up. She wasn’t duplicitous or vicious. It just wasn’t in her nature. He lowered his voice. “Do you have another mistress?”

Damon looked a bit guilty. “I wouldn’t call her a mistress but I do see this woman on occasion. Andie helps me relax. I don’t know if Bonnie knows about her or not but…”

“You don’t think her threat of a messy divorce was idle,” he finished

He shook his head and groaned. “No, she definitely meant it. I’ll put an end to things with Andie tonight. As far as, what I am going to do about Bonnie…I have no idea.”

Ric said, “Separate rooms.”

Damon looked up. “What?”

“She’s probably going to want separate rooms. My mother did when she finally grew tired of my dad running around on her with Zach’s mother. They got separate rooms and basically lived separate lives until he and Cecilia were killed in that plane crash.”

He scoffed. “That’s not happening with me and Bonnie. She is my wife. She is angry right now but there is no way I am agreeing to this space bullshit for a prolonged time. I’ll give her a few days to calm down but no more than that.”

Ric shook his head at the younger man’s denseness. He said, “You need to be careful how you handle this, Damon. Bonnie is pregnant she doesn’t need to be stressed out by your bullshit. Also, this isn’t just your marriage we are talking about here. A nasty divorce could gut Velocita. Not to mention you saw how fond Big John is of Bonnie and Abby. We would lose our relationship with the Benedetto family if this all goes to shit.”

“I know! You don’t think that I know all of that, Zio? I don’t want to screw up our business situation but I am more concerned with keeping my wife. She is mine. Bonnie belongs with me and I am not letting her leave me. We’ll work this out,” he swore with unearned confidence.

He shook his head but knew it was useless to talk the boy out of anything. Damon would have to learn his lessons the hard way.

Damon said, “I want to see Bonnie. I need to talk to her. Hopefully, she’s had a couple of hours to cool down so that we can both behave rationally.”

“Go at your own peril. Abby is in rare form. She isn’t happy with our whole family right now. She called us a curse and a poison. They are in the guest suite. It’s down the hall on the left.”

Damon huffed but thought that Abby might be right. Salvatore men tended to destroy the women that had the misfortune of entering their orbit.  “Thanks, Zio.”

He walked down the hall but stopped just outside of the bedroom door. It was slightly ajar so he could hear the voices inside.

Abby said, “I am proud of you, Bonnie. I know what you did today wasn’t easy.”

“I have to stop loving Damon because he will destroy me if I don’t. I wanted to have Katherine killed in front of him to hurt him, Mama. That’s not who I am. It’s not even who I want to be. I have been thinking a lot about the moment I fell in love with him. I mean…I have always thought he was hot and he was always sweet to me. Nevertheless, there was a moment where I fell in love with Damon and I can remember it as clear as day. I was 13 years old and Giuseppe decided to take us all to Tenerife for a month that summer.”

Abby smiled. “I remember that. Jamie and I joined all of you for the last two weeks of the trip.”

Bonnie nodded and said, “Giuseppe told Damon that he could host a party on the yacht for his birthday. His only condition was that he had to take me and Stefan with him.”

She rolled her eyes. “He probably just wanted some time alone with your grams. The villa in Tenerife was a little tight on space when we were all there at the same time.”

“Exactly. Anyway, Damon begrudgingly agreed because he knew that Giuseppe wasn’t going to change his mind. It was a great party and I was having so much fun. Damon was too busy whoring it up with the local talent to notice that Stefan and I were drinking champagne and liquor. I was dancing with some older girls when I heard laughing coming from behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw this group of guys around Damon’s age. He had gone to college with a couple of them. I didn’t know what they were laughing at until I overhead one of them ask who had let the nigger on board. He said that someone should tell me that the yacht wasn’t a slave ship.”

Abby tensed as she heard the venom that had been directed at her daughter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly shocking. In her travels, she had encountered racism both overt and covert. Sometimes it came from the most surprising places and people. Other times it was exactly what she expected.

“I had never been called that before. I was shocked, angry, and embarrassed. I ran below deck to one of the staterooms and accidentally walked in on Damon getting a blowjob from some girl. He barked at me for barging in without knocking until he saw that I was crying. I tried apologizing while backing out of the room but he told me to stop. Damon zipped up and kicked the girl out of the room. Then he asked me what was wrong. He thought that Stefan and I had gotten into another one of our childish fights but then I told him what happened. His face...he looked like the devil. He grabbed my arm and pulled me back up on deck. He ordered them to shut off the music and then made me point out the man who had called me that word. Once I did, it was as if a switch was flipped.”

Abby knew exactly what she meant about a switch being flipped. She had witnessed it in all of the Salvatore boys except for Stefan. They could be sweet and loving one moment and remorseless killers in the next. The Benedettos were similar in that way. Sheila had been a devout Catholic that had no problem slaughtering her enemies with her own two hands and then going to Mass to pray. She never prayed for forgiveness because that would have been disingenuous.

Bonnie said, “Damon beat the poor bastard bloody while everyone just watched in horror—except for me. I loved every minute of it. I didn’t close my eyes or shy away from the violence. I wanted him to kill the bastard. Well, he didn’t because there was a party full of witnesses but he came close enough. Then he made this grown man get on his knees in front of me. Damon told him that I was worth more than every single person in his family. If he wanted them to continue living, he would need to beg for my forgiveness. So, this man that he beat half to death is bleeding at my feet and blubbering for mercy and forgiveness. I looked into Damon’s eyes and I saw that he meant it. He would have wiped out this poor fuck’s entire family to avenge me. I let him plead for his life for a few minutes before finally accepting his apology. But Damon wasn’t done. He forced that guy to kneel on the deck for three hours until the party ended. Everyone just ignored him as if he wasn’t even there once the music was turned on again. The rest of the night Damon kept me tucked against his side and I was in love because he was my knight in shining armor. No one except for grams had ever showed me that kind of love before. No one else had ever made me a priority. Now I am not sure that he even likes me all the time.”

Abby said, “I am so sorry, baby.”

She shook her head. “I am okay, Mama. Leaving Damon won’t be easy but I am going to be okay.”

“You are strong. You are so much stronger than I have ever been,” Abby replied.

Bonnie said, “You are strong, too.”

She laughed softly. “I doubt anyone would agree with you.”

“I can’t imagine the guts it took to say no to Grams. You stood up to her and took control of your own life. You weathered years of her disapproval and disdain. I know that she cut you off financially for years, too. I couldn’t have done what you did.”

Abby said, “I should have taken you with me. It wouldn’t have been an easy life but you would have known without a doubt that you were loved.”

“I know now and I appreciate the way you have had my back, Mama. I am going to do better for Sarah and the twins. I am going to surround them with love and positive role models. I am so ashamed that I allowed Sarah to be around Giuseppe for this long. I knew what he was. I knew it was only a matter of time.”

“You have no reason to feel ashamed. You are getting her out of that house now and that is what matters. You are going to break the sick cycle in our family.”

Bonnie went quiet for a moment. A question had been on her mind for a while. However, there had never been anyone to ask. “Did Giuseppe abuse Grams when you were little? We he always like this?”

Abby’s heart dropped at her daughter’s question. She knew that Bonnie had probably witnessed the same level of violence as she had as a child. The guilt of her poor decisions hung around her neck like an albatross.

She nodded. “I just didn’t understand that it was abuse at the time. Your grams was fierce. She didn’t take shit from anyone. She couldn’t because she was a woman running a criminal organization. She loved that bastard despite his many faults. This one time Giuseppe came to visit us in Shadow Hills. He was drunk and angry about something. I couldn’t have been more than eight years old at the time. He freaked out, broke a plate, and threw it in Mama’s face. It sliced her good and there was blood everywhere. I was screaming…I was scared for her. But your grams, she didn’t shed a single tear. She grabbed a half-empty wine bottle and busted that asshole across the face. It broke his fucking nose.”

The girl nodded because it had been much of the same when she was a child. Giuseppe would become extremely angry about something that was seemingly innocuous. He would lash out at Sheila and hurt her in some brutal way. Then Sheila would pick up something heavy to knock fire out of him. Afterwards, they would pretend as if it never happened. It was a sick pattern that Bonnie had watched play out too many times to count.

Abby said, “I need to tell you something.”

“Is something wrong?”

She smiled a little. “No, there isn’t anything wrong. I just wanted to let you know that Rudy is coming into town. He’s been up North for a about a week and change. But he’ll be coming down this way in a few days.”

Bonnie blinked. “Why?”

“He just wants to visit.”

The girl leveled a skeptical look at her mother.

Abby smiled. “I might have told him that you were pregnant and in need of your parents.”

“Mama…”

She said, “No, you listen to me. Your father is a stubborn man. He is prideful to a fault. He made a mistake when you were a teenager. He should have been the adult instead of returning the anger you unleashed of him. He realized the foolishness of his actions almost immediately but Rudy felt that he couldn’t take it back. Your father has his flaws but he would gladly skin anyone alive and turn them into a three piece luggage set if it meant keeping you safe.”

Bonnie stifled a laugh and asked, “A three piece luggage set? Is there enough skin on a human body for that?”

The older woman huffed out a laugh. “I never said how large the luggage pieces had to be. The point is that there isn’t anything Rudy wouldn’t do to keep you safe. I’m not suggesting that you run into his arms but give him a chance.”

Chapter Text

Damon didn’t know for how long he had eavesdropped on Bonnie and Abby’s conversation. However, it was long enough to learn that his wife planned to move into the beach house with their daughter. It wasn’t until that moment that he finally understood what was happening. Bonnie spoke of distance and space but she was essentially divorcing Damon without the paperwork. That stunning revelation shook the mobster to his very core. He wasn’t ashamed to admit that he had fled Ric and Abby’s house as if he were on fire. Damon knew that he could not face Bonnie when he was this close to the edge. He didn’t want his temper to push her further away from him—if that was even possible.

He struggled to understand how his marriage had devolved to this point. The simple answer was that he had neglected his wife since the day they exchanged their vows. Foolishly, Damon had believed that he was successfully hiding his extracurricular activities from her. However, it seemed more likely that Bonnie had given Damon enough rope to hang himself. He could only assume that his actions after Giuseppe’s attack on Bonnie had sealed his fate. In retrospect, he saw that Bonnie had given him an opportunity to get himself right. While they were in Shadow Hills, she admitted to knowing about his affair with Katherine. Furthermore, Bonnie had confessed that she had fallen in love with him against all odds. A good man, or even a marginally better man, would have heeded his wife’s words. However, he had been too stubborn and arrogant to recognize the warning signs.

Damon had been shocked to learn when and how Bonnie had fallen in love with him. He had wrongly assumed that the girl’s crush had started a few years later. The memories from his 23 rd birthday were more than a little hazy. He was practically mainlining cocaine and bourbon that entire trip. He had been blitzed out of his skull that night. It was the only logical way to explain why he had thought it wise to beat a man nearly to death in front of an impressionable 13-year-old girl. He could have emotionally scarred her for life. Although, it seemed more likely that Bonnie had been desensitized to violence long before that fateful night.

He did not have to imagine the violent acts the girl had witnessed his father committing against Sheila. He knew from experience that challenging the abusive alcoholic only enraged him more. However, the alternative was curling up in a ball and allowing Giuseppe to wail on them until he grew tired. Damon had abandoned that strategy by the time he was a teenager. He had preferred to go down swinging rather than to take a beating like a good little punching bag. The sickest part of it all was that Giuseppe respected him more for fighting back. Damon wondered if that was why his father had loved Sheila and despised Lilly.

Damon drove around aimlessly after leaving Ric and Abby’s house. He couldn’t go home. The manor would be too much of a reminder of what he was losing. Furthermore, he ran the risk of Bonnie returning to discuss the details of their separation. He realized that the move was cowardly. He was only delaying the inevitable. However, he needed a plan before speaking to Bonnie. He couldn’t let her catch him off guard again. Moreover, he needed to be in complete control of his emotions. He had never hit a woman and didn’t have any plans to start now. However, getting into a screaming match with his pregnant wife wasn’t wise. Damon had no doubt that he would blow his brains out if he caused Bonnie to miscarry their twins.

He knew that convincing Bonnie to give him another chance was going to be next to impossible in the immediate future. She was not only moving out of the manor but she was building a familial support system around herself. She had Abby and Lucy that would certainly support her decision to kick him to the curb. Furthermore, Damon figured that her Benedetto cousins from Milazzo would be of the same mindset. However, Rudy coming into town was perhaps the biggest wildcard of all. The older man had the appearance of a mild mannered accountant but he was as lethal as they came in their business. He had rightfully earned the moniker ‘The Butcher’. It spoke to just how terrifying Sheila had to be in order to force a man of his caliber to abandon his daughter and his country without as much as a token fight.

Ultimately, Damon decided that he was not going to think of a brilliant solution on his own. His way of thinking was what had landed him in this position. He needed help from people that could be more rational than he was being right now. His best idea was throwing Bonnie over his shoulder and carrying her as far away from everyone else as possible. However, he knew that it was naive to pretend as if outside forces were responsible for their marital problems. Reluctantly, he sent texts to Zach, Ric, and Stefan asking them to meet him at the Claiborne Hotel. He wasn’t looking forward to his uncles and brother’s self-righteous lectures but he was desperate. He also sent several texts to Rose giving her a heads up about the situation. Damon was certain that Rose would bitch at him, too. They had all warned him but he had ignored them. Damon had believed that he knew best because Bonnie never complained.

He made a beeline for the bar when he arrived at the Claiborne. He needed a drink or ten before he had to face his disapproving brother and uncles. Fortunately, the bartender knew him well and immediately dug out the best bottle of bourbon they had on the premises. She was walking towards Damon before he had even motioned for her.

“Good evening, Mr. Salvatore,” the young woman said. She placed a glass in front of him and filled it almost to the brim.

He pulled out his wallet and dropped his credit card on the bar. He said, “Leave the bottle.”

“Yes, sir. Will you be staying with us this evening?” she asked.

Damon looked down at his wedding band before downing the glass of bourbon in three large gulps. He took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes, I believe that I will, sweetheart. I’d like my usual suite and a properly stocked bar.”

She nodded in understanding. “I will be sure to stock your bar personally, Mr. Salvatore. I’ll go notify Mr. Lawrence of your arrival now.”

“Thank you,” he muttered and refilled his glass.

The bartender motioned to someone else to cover her place behind the bar before she scurried off to find the general manager.

Damon finished his second glass of bourbon as quickly as he had finished the first. He hoped that the liquor would do something to soothe the pain in his chest. At the very least, he hoped that it would numb him somewhat. Damon didn’t know what he would do if he continued to feel this broken while left to his own devices. His wife didn’t believe that he loved her but she couldn’t have been more wrong. Bonnie was the air in his lungs. She was the very blood pumping through his veins. Bonnie had said earlier that Stefan kept Damon sane and she was right about that. However, Bonnie and Sarah were equally important. His wife and daughter made him happy. Damon had never felt true happiness before them. He used to confuse his hedonistic life of drugs, booze, and women for happiness. He knew better now.

A gray-haired Black man walked up to the bar. “Good evening, Mr. Salvatore. We are happy to have you staying with us this evening. Your preferred suite will be ready in approximately thirty minutes. I am sorry for the delay.”

He reached out and took the keycard that the older man was extending to him. He smiled wryly. “It’s not as if I gave you any advance warning. I am not sure how long I will be staying here. I may stay for a few days or it may be more than that. You have my card on file, right?”

“Yes, we do. We will be delighted to have you here for as long as you would like, Mr. Salvatore. Do you have any special requests?” He added, “Aside from the upgrade to the suite’s selection of spirits?”

Damon shook his head. “No, that will be all.”

Mr. Lawrence said, “I will notify you when the suite is ready. In the meantime, I will be at the front desk if you have any questions or requests.”

“Thank you,” Damon replied.

The older man nodded in acknowledgement and returned to his post at the front desk.

Damon refilled his glass again and then eyed the barrel aged liquid. It looked as if he was contemplating not drinking it. However, he quickly dispelled the idea and emptied the contents of the glass down his gullet. Damon replayed the day’s events in his mind on a loop. He was thunderstruck by how meticulously Bonnie had planned this ambush. She had not left a single detail to chance. It was conniving, calculating, manipulative, and somewhat sexy. Damon didn’t know if Bonnie had always been this way or if this was a new development. He was reminded of the many times Zacharias had implored him to get to know Bonnie. If he had taken his uncle’s advice perhaps, he wouldn’t have been blindsided by this. Better yet, maybe they would have never gotten to this point. However, he had hurt Bonnie too much and far too often.

The blue-eyed mobster refilled his glass and put it to his lips. However, he stopped short of drinking when he felt someone’s hand resting on his shoulder. Damon looked up and saw that it was Zach. There was something steadying about the older man’s presence. “Thanks for coming, Zio.”

Zach sat down beside his nephew and placed an overnight bag on the barstool beside him. He had planned to spend the evening with his family. However, the possibility of Damon spiraling out of control took precedence. Fortunately, Meredith understood that his nephew was a ticking time bomb. Zach needed to be there to defuse him.

He said, “You need your family at a time like this. Rose is worried about you. I am, too.”

“You spoke to Rose?” he asked curiously.

The older man nodded as he motioned for the bartender to bring over another glass. “She called me after receiving your flurry of text messages.”

She placed the glass in front of Zach and asked, “Can I get anything else for you, sir?”

Zach looked at his nephew and asked, “When is the last time you’ve eaten?”

Damon shrugged. “On the plane, I guess…”

He refrained from rolling his eyes. Instead, he asked, “Do you happen to have a room service menu handy, hon?”

She nodded, “Yes, sir.” She grabbed two menus from a stack and handed them to Zach.

“I’m not hungry,” Damon muttered once the bartender had moved away from them.

“I didn’t ask if you were hungry,” was Zach’s stern retort. “You are guzzling bourbon as if it were water. You need something to soak up some of the booze. I don’t plan to spend my night watching you die from alcohol poisoning.”

He snapped, “I didn’t ask you here to play mother hen.”

Zach didn’t bother commenting on his nephew’s petulant attitude. Damon could be an annoying little asshole even when he wasn’t on the brink of an emotional breakdown. He said, “Pour a glass for me. I’ll be back.”

Damon watched as his uncle took the menu and left the bar area. He filled the empty glass and then refreshed his own drink. He would pass out after finishing most of the bottle if he was lucky. Maybe tomorrow he would feel more equipped to deal with the shit show that was his life.

Zach returned a few minutes later and sat down. “Ric will be here soon.”

He asked, “Have you heard from Stef?”

The older man took a sip of his drink. “No, I haven’t heard from him but Ric has. Stefan stopped over there to check on Bonnie first but he will be here.”

Damon scoffed. “Of course Saint Stefan would go see Bonnie first.”

“Don’t be a child, Damon. You know the two of them have always been close. Besides, he is concerned about how Bonnie is coping since she’s pregnant.”

“She has high blood pressure,” he muttered.

Zach lowered his glass slowly. “Really?”

He nodded. “If I remember correctly, she has nausea, high blood pressure, and insomnia. I am at fault for at least a couple of those.”

“Is she okay? What did Dr. Huerta have to say?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t tell me any of that until this afternoon. Bonnie said that she was feeling a little better because of time away from me. I guess that’s good, right?”

Zach winced in sympathy. He was sure that Bonnie was right about time away from Damon being good for her. Nevertheless, it was still a cold thing to say to him. Zach was too mature to point out that he had repeatedly warned his nephew of this eventuality. Moreover, Damon didn’t need to be chastised right now. He needed support even if this was a hell of his own making.

“I’ll text Meri and see what she can get out of Dr. Huerta. When we were on the way to Shadow Hills, Bonnie gave Dr. Huerta authorization to share her medical information with Meredith and Jo. Hopefully, she hasn’t rescinded that authorization.”

“Thank you,” he replied.

He quickly composed a text for his wife. He hoped that Meredith would be able to give them some information to reassure Damon of Bonnie’s health. Afterwards, he put away his phone and ran a hand over his hair. It felt as if all the wheels were coming off at once. Stefan still wasn’t himself but Ric and Damon didn’t take the younger boy seriously. However, Zach was truly worried that Stefan might whack Ric because of his childhood nightmares. Perhaps the most unsettling part was that Zach suspected Lilly was telling the truth. Now Damon required his attention, too. Zach knew that he felt more responsible for his nephews than he should. He wasn’t their father but it wasn’t as if Giuseppe would have been helpful in a situation of this nature even if he wasn’t persona non grata.

The hotel’s general manager walked over to them. “Mr. Salvatore, your suite is ready now.”

Damon slowly stood up and grabbed the bottle of bourbon. “Thank you.”

He turned to look at Zach and handed him a keycard. “Your suite is across the hall and it will be ready in about twenty minutes.”

Zach said, “Thanks.” He waited until Mr. Lawrence walked away before looking at his nephew. He lowered his voice and said, “You will not walk through this hotel drinking from a bottle of bourbon as if you were Axl Rose.”

Damon rolled his eyes but he knew that Zach was right. There was too great a chance that another guest might snap a photo and sell it to a tabloid. Velocita’s board would have a field day with that. He put the cap on the bottle and handed it to Zach. “Happy?”

Zach stuffed the bottle in his overnight bag and said, “Yes, I am elated. Let’s go.”

The two men walked out of the bar and headed to the bank of elevators.

“Wait up,” a voice called out from behind them.

Zach looked over his shoulder because he recognized the voice as belonging to his older brother.

The younger men patiently waited for Alaric to catch up with them.

Damon said, “I figured that you would be at home with Abby.”

He chuckled as he pressed the call button for the elevator. “Where else would I be when my nephew is in need?”

The younger man raised an eyebrow to indicate his skepticism.

They all stepped onto the elevator when the doors opened.

Zach pressed the button for their floor.

Alaric chuckled, “She kicked me out of my house—again. I will not be welcome in my house until Bonnie moves into the beach house. Oh, I also have to get a STD test before Abby will come within 50 feet of my cock because of your little detour to Tenerife. Thanks for that by the way.”

Damon shook his head. “How the hell did they know we stopped in Tenerife? Not that it matters in the scheme of things.”

“Abby said that she looked into where the jet landed after we didn’t arrive in Milazzo on schedule,” he explained.

Damon muttered, “Can’t you do more to control your girlfriend?”

Zach chuckled. “Abby has his balls in a velvet bag. You think your 21-year-old wife is fucking up your life right now…imagine what Abby could do to Ric.”

Damon and Alaric scowled at Zach simultaneously as the elevator doors slid open. Neither found their predicaments to be the least bit entertaining. All three men exited the elevator and walked down the hall to Damon’s suite.

Once inside the younger man went straight for the wet bar. He was pleased with the selection of liquors he found. Damon would have to be sure to tip the bartender before he checked out of the hotel. He grabbed a bottle of his favorite bourbon and then plopped down into a leather club chair.

Zach took off his suit jacket and dug a RF signal detector from his bag. He did a slow sweep of the entire suite to ensure there weren’t any listening devices. They had never had a problem with the Claiborne. However, now was not the time to become sloppy. He said, “We’re clean.”

Damon said, “Good.”

He sat down on the couch and kicked off his shoes. “What exactly do we know about this situation? What’s the damage?”

Damon was mid gulp. He quickly swallowed the liquid down and said, “I already told you everything that I knew. Bonnie wants a separation. She is planning to move into the beach house with Sarah to get away from me. She is going to allow me to continue seeing Katherine. She may or may not know that I have been seeing Andie Starr. However, she obviously knows that Katherine is not the only person that I have been seeing. She threatened me with a messy divorce if she finds out that I am still seeing anyone else. Oh, and she probably told Big John what was about to go down since he’s sending four blood relatives to help me run the Benedettos’ operation after the old man is gone. That is looking more like a subtle takeover rather than any sort of assistance.”

Zach hummed and said, “Well, we suspected that Big John wasn’t simply offering his assistance to be helpful. We just have a fuller picture now.”

“I almost forgot.” He turned to look at Alaric at the wet bar. “Did Abby mention that her ex-husband is in California right now?”

Ric’s shoulders tensed at the mention of Rudy. “Why the fuck is he in California? Abby and Bonnie hate him.”

Damon chuckled wryly. “Apparently, Abby hates me more than she hates Rudy. I overheard her tell Bonnie that she had reached out to him. He’s up north right now but he’ll be in Los Angeles soon.”

“Did Bonnie seem receptive to that?” Zach asked.

He nodded.

“That’s a complication that we don’t fucking need. Rudy hates our family,” Ric complained as he sat down.

“I can’t imagine why, Zio,” Damon replied drolly.

“What else do we know?” Zach asked. He didn’t want his brother and nephew to start arguing. Both men were too similar for their own good. It wouldn’t take much to spark a fistfight.

Damon’s eyebrows furrowed with concern. He said, “Bonnie is sick.”

“I’ve got Meri working to find out the details on that situation. She’ll call when she knows something.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know anything else. We were supposed to talk after dinner but I came here instead.”

Zach said, “You did the right thing, Damon. The worst thing you can do is react poorly to this situation. You don’t need to give Bonnie more ammunition. You’ll talk to her when you are calm.”

“And have a strategy. She caught you with your pants around your ankles this afternoon. You can’t let her get the best of you again,” Alaric added.

Zach rolled his eyes. “That’s your advice to him? Don’t be helpful.”

Ric said, “I hate to be the practical one but there is more at stake here than just Damon’s marriage. We need the alliance with the Benedetto family. Moreover, we can’t afford the hit our reputation would take if they essentially repossess the operation from us! We will appear weakened and will have to fight twice as hard to fend off all comers.”

Damon’s jaw tightened as he glared at his uncle. “Do you really think that I give a fuck about any of that right now? My wife is leaving me! She plans to take our daughter, too. There is a chance that when our babies are born they will be going to the beach house instead of the manor. Do you understand what I am losing right now?”

“It’s fucked up. I understand that, Damon. Nevertheless, you want to be the boss, right? That is what the fuck we have all been working towards for months. I barely see my kids because I have been pulling double duty. The same goes for Zacharias. We have made a lot sacrifices to put you in this position. You don’t get to throw your hands up now because of difficulties in your personal life.”

The younger man ground his teeth in anger and he threw his empty glass against the wall. “Fuck you!”

Alaric chuckled. “You are still a spoiled child sometimes.”

Zach said, “That’s enough out of both of you. You’re both right.”

Damon lifted an eyebrow at his uncle. “What?”

“Alaric has a point, Damon. We can’t afford to appear weak to our enemies or to the soldiers in our own organization. John Gilbert would love to swoop in as a dark horse candidate to succeed Giuseppe. Your marital problems causing us to lose the smuggling operation would be used as evidence of your inability to lead this family. People will say that if you can’t manage your own marriage then you can’t be trusted to manage the business. It is bullshit but it makes for a compelling argument when the organization will be hemorrhaging millions of dollars if we lose our cut of the operation.”

Damon opened his mouth to argue with Zach.

The older man cut him off with a sharp look. “However, the success of our business and the wellbeing of your marriage are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I would suggest that there are intertwined. We could avoid all of the doomsday scenarios if Damon is able to repair the damage in his marriage. I think he should be focusing on that right now. You and I will concentrate our efforts on the business. Top of the list has to be getting rid of Giuseppe. We don’t need any outside agitation in the situation.”

Damon asked, “Do you think that we will be able to convince the old man to come back home willingly? I’d rather whack him here in the States where we can control everything.”

Alaric frowned. “He has to know that his number is up. He is not stupid. There is no way he will walk into a trap that we set for him. He wouldn’t even stick his neck into the trap that the uncles set for him in Milazzo. Zach is right. We need to take care of Giuseppe now. He won’t stay holed up at Sabine’s place forever. The last thing we want is to lose track of him again.”

“Then we need to send more guys over to help Kai and Luke kidnap him. It wouldn’t be too difficult to smuggle him back into the country,” Damon decided.

Ric nodded. “I’ll have Mason get into it tonight. He can put a team together in less than a day.”

Zach said, “Now onto how to handle Bonnie. My advice is to acquiesce to her demands.”

“What?” Damon asked. His face showed his disbelief. “You can’t be serious right now.”

Even Ric looked skeptical of his brother’s suggestion.

“Hear me out, kid. I know that you want to fight Bonnie tooth and nail on this. But antagonizing her will only make the situation worse. If she is anything like her mother, she will put up even more of a fight. Sometimes there is wisdom in losing a battle to win the war. A separation is always better than a divorce.”

Damon frowned but took a minute to consider what Zach was saying. “What stops her from divorcing me the moment she gives birth to the twins? You said yourself that Bonnie won’t need me once she gives birth to a healthy heir. You were right.”

“First, you don’t know that Bonnie is pregnant with a boy yet. She could be having two girls, which means the two of you would need to try again for a boy. Second, she is about 17 or 18 weeks pregnant. That gives you at least twenty weeks to make some headway with her. Show Bonnie that you aren’t a heartless asshole. Prove to her that you can change for her.”

He said sulkily, “I did change and it wasn’t enough.”

Zach said, “You stopped doing coke every day and you scaled back your drinking.  You are still a shitty husband and you can do better as a father. I know that you are hurting right now. I hate it for you because you are my nephew. I love ya, kid. I think Bonnie has been a positive force in your life. If she means as much to you as you claim then you need to show her. The time for talk has passed. It’s all going to sound like bullshit to her.”

Damon scrubbed his hands over his five o’clock shadow. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“Go to counseling.”

Alaric laughed.

Zach knew that would be his brother’s reaction but he pushed forward anyway. “I went to counseling a few years into my marriage to Meredith. One night, we got into this huge argument about living at the manor. I was already frustrated with Giuseppe. He was riding my ass about something—as usual. Then Meri threatened to leave me and I snapped.”

Damon’s eyes widened. He couldn’t picture his uncle being a wife batterer.

“Every instinct was telling me to punch my wife in the face. It was a split second decision. I ended up punching a hole into the wall beside her head. I can still hear the way she screamed because she thought I was going to punch her, too. I dropped to the floor and cried like a baby. Meredith should have taken Lucian and run back home to her parents. Instead, she sat on the floor next to me and held me while I cried. The next day I found a counselor and made an appointment. I was in therapy for about 16 months because I had dark shit in my past that I needed to confront. You need to deal with some things, too. Family history isn’t on your side, kid. The men in our family haven’t met an addiction that we didn’t like: booze, drugs, women, and gambling. Of course, your father is some brand of psychotic that I won’t even begin to diagnosis. Lilly is bipolar. Then there are the years of soul crushing child abuse. We’re lucky that you didn’t turn into fucking Hannibal Lecter. Maybe you will never get to the point where you are a split second away from hitting your wife. But there is more than one way to victimize a woman, Damon. Emotional abuse is a real thing.”

Damon swallowed thickly and asked, “Do you think that I’ve been emotionally abusing Bonnie?”

Zach said, “I can’t speak for Bonnie. I don’t know what’s in her heart. I do know that you don’t treat her very well. I know that if she were my daughter that I would kick your ass. I probably should have kicked your ass for treating Bonnie the way that you have anyway. She is a good kid and doesn’t deserve all the shit you’ve put her through.”

“Okay. I’ll do it. How do I even start looking for a counselor or whatever?”

“The woman I went to ten years ago is still working in the area. I actually talked to her a few days ago about setting something up for Stefan.”

Alaric frowned because that was news to him. Usually, he and Zach discussed anything big that was happening with their nephews. However, Zach had been keeping things close to the vest since Stefan’s little breakdown in Tenerife. He asked, “What for?”

Zach said, “I think our nephew should get a psychological evaluation. You can inherit bipolar disorder. I can’t be the only one that has noticed a change in Stefan lately.”

The older man had to concede his brother’s point. Stefan was different. However, he blamed all of that on Lilly. Stefan was fine before he went to Paris to visit her. She had filled the boy’s head with nonsense because she was a vindictive bitch.

Damon groaned and scrubbed at his face. “What the hell would I even talk about with a counselor?”

Zach lifted and eyebrow as he looked at his nephew. He said, “I don’t know...maybe you can talk to Dr. Correa about the hole in your chest that you’ve been trying to fill with liquor and women since you were a tennager. I am sure that she would love to hear about how you distrust women because Lilly abdicated her role as your protector. You can tell her how Giuseppe abused you emotionally and physically for years. On the other hand, maybe you would want to tell Dr. Correa how Alaric and I abandoned you the moment we were old enough to go to college. Whereas, when your time came to escape you stuck around to keep Stefan safe. However, I think probably the most important thing you should tell the doc is how you have used Katherine as a shield your entire marriage because you are terrified of letting Bonnie get too close.”

The younger man scowled because apparently it was Everyone-Be-Brutally-Honest-With-Damon-Day. However, he would swallow it all if it meant convincing Bonnie to give him another chance.

Chapter Text

It took four days for Damon to call Bonnie. Honestly, the radio silence made her feel uneasy. Bonnie would have almost preferred to deal with her husband while he was seething with anger. She knew how to handle a man while he was in the throes of what amounted to a temper tantrum. However, as the days rolled on, Bonnie began to worry that Damon was planning a devastating counter-strike. The girl knew that his disinterest in her was the only reason that she had been able to pull off such a stunning power move. As she told Katherine, her husband ignored what he did not find interesting. It was safe to assume that she had his full attention now and that was dangerous.

People had the tendency to underestimate Damon. She wasn’t sure if it was his relative youth, his good looks, or his checkered past with drugs and alcohol. However, those people were either ignorant or just shortsighted. Damon was a predator that used people’s perceptions of him as camouflage. Even Giuseppe had underestimated his eldest son. The older man did not realize that Damon was a force to reckon with until it was too late. Damon had successfully gained the support of the American faction of their organization right under Giuseppe’s nose. Bonnie suspected that her father-in-law’s attack was in part because the older man knew that he was living on borrowed time. Giuseppe’s story was only ever going to end one way. Bonnie had only hastened that ending by manipulating Damon.

Bonnie had never made the mistake of underestimating her husband. Stefan was perhaps the one person on Earth that knew Damon better than she did. Bonnie had been observing the future mob boss since she was a little girl. It was shocking how easily men in their line of work ignored women and girls. However, their dismissive attitudes had benefitted Bonnie greatly over the years. Sheila had encouraged her granddaughter to study the men around her as if they were little more than animals in the wild. Information was the best counter for the inherent advantages men held over women. Information was how she had brought Damon to his knees without striking a single blow. Yet she had not used all of her ammo on the first shot. Bonnie still had a few tricks up her sleeve in anticipation of Damon’s response.

His opening salvo had arrived earlier that morning. Damon had called shortly after 8 o’clock to ask if he and Bonnie could meet for lunch. He offered to pick up something for them to eat on his way over to Abby’s house. Bonnie was surprised by the cordial offer but she wasn’t willing to lower her guard just yet. Damon was a snake. She loved that quality in her husband but it also meant that she needed to be cautious around him. Bonnie agreed to have lunch with Damon around 1 o’clock. He had even inquired about any dietary restrictions she might have in light of her high blood pressure. Bonnie liked that he was concerned about her health. Nevertheless, his gesture did not sway her. Damon’s concern for her well-being had come too little and far too late.

While she waited for Damon to arrive, Bonnie curled up on the couch and read a book on pregnancy. She was incredibly anxious about carrying twins. She feared her body wasn’t equipped to handle the stress. Her recent diagnosis of hypertension only compounded her fears and anxieties. Bonnie had made the mistake of researching possible complications on the internet. She literally had a nightmare about preeclampsia last night. The young mother hoped that educating herself with the information in the books would alleviate some of her worries. Abby also suggested compiling a list of questions to pose to her doctor on the next visit.

Bonnie was genuinely enjoying her stay at Abby’s house. Her mother was doting on her the way that Sheila once had. The obvious care and concern warmed Bonnie greatly. She didn’t know if her mother would return to type with time. However, for now she planned to enjoy Abby’s maternal side. Bonnie placed her book on the coffee table and picked up a plate containing several fruit-filled pastries. She didn’t know what had possessed Abby to bake last night but she was happy to enjoy the results. Bonnie hadn’t enjoyed hamentashen since she was a little girl.

Abby walked into the living room dressed to kill. She was wearing a red off the shoulder dress and a pair of thigh high leather boots. Abby placed a plate covered with aluminum foil on the console table. “I just got off the phone with Lucy. She should be here in about twenty minutes. Damon had better be on his best behavior if he doesn’t want Lucy on his ass. She’s been waiting for an opportunity to curse him out.”

Bonnie laughed because Lucy had wanted to go off on Damon for weeks. Lucy had only held her tongue to keep the peace in Bonnie’s marriage. Her eyes widened when she looked up and saw her mother. “Wow. You look amazing, Mama. Where are you going again?”

She laughed softly as she put on a pair of gold hoop earrings. “Thank you, baby girl. I am going to lunch but you can call if you need me to come home.”

Bonnie studied her mother’s appearance. That definitely wasn’t an outfit meant for lunch with a friend or a business associate. She said, “I’ll be fine, Mama. I don’t actually expect Damon to do anything stupid but Lucy and Tyler will be here if he gets out of line.”

Tyler was camped out in the family room while he talked to Mason on the phone. Damon’s decision to change the timetable for killing Giuseppe had thrown a wrench into their plans. John Gilbert had to die before Giuseppe did to ensure that he did not spill Bonnie’s secrets. Moreover, Bonnie wasn’t willing to risk the possibility of John trying to take the Salvatore organization for himself. Damon was an asshole but the organization belonged to Bonnie’s future son and no one would get in the way of that. She planned to do whatever necessary to make ensure that Damon was the boss of the family—for now.

Abby stopped in front of the mirror positioned over the console table. She inspected the pin straight jet-black ponytail that hung down her back. Her hairstylist had stopped by that morning to give her a new look. Abby was always playing with different styles, colors, lengths, and textures when it came to her hair. “That’s not what I meant. I know that you can handle Damon. I just meant that if you were upset or if you need to talk that I will come home.”

“Oh, okay,” she replied. “Who are you having lunch with anyway?”

The older woman stopped fussing with her hair and turned to look at her daughter. Abby smirked as she said, “I am meeting Rudy.”

Bonnie was definitely intrigued now. “Does Ric know that you are meeting with him?”

Abby chuckled as she picked up the covered plate and walked over to the couch. She dropped a kiss on Bonnie’s forehead. “My business isn’t Alaric’s business unless I want it to be. And right now, I don’t want it to be. Besides, I am still waiting for the results from his STD test.”

The girl wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Do you really think that he cheated on you while he was in Tenerife?”

“Damon isn’t the only Salvatore that has a penchant for coke and whores. I can just imagine what Alaric got up to in Tenerife and Milazzo. I am sure he used all the recent stress as a way to justify his infidelity.”

“Can I ask you something?” Bonnie asked.

“You can ask me anything,” Abby replied. She sat on the arm of the couch to be closer to Bonnie. “What’s on your mind?”

“How can you stand to be around my dad after what he did to you? Have you forgiven him?”

Bonnie truly wondered if she would ever be able to forgive Damon. Right now, she couldn’t imagine a point where her heart would soften towards him. However, Rudy had done much worse to Abby and somehow her mother was willing to be in the same room with him.

The older woman laughed heartily. “I don’t believe in forgiveness. However, I believe in using the tools available to me. You have wolves coming at you from all sides. I intend to do my part to protect you. If protecting you means making a deal with the devil…then that is what I will do.”

“Mom, I never meant to put you in this position. You don’t have to do this for me. I have people looking out for me…you know that.”

Abby cupped Bonnie’s cheek and said, “I am the one that put you in this position. My bad decisions led you to this point. I should have been there for you but I wasn’t. Now you are trying to contend with Damon and Niklaus at the same time. Dickie and the boys can handle Damon and the Salvatore organization. However, Niklaus is all mines. That pervert had the nerve to approach you in public.”

“He was apologizing, Mama,” she tried to explain. Bonnie recognized that dangerous glint in her mother’s eye. Her grams used to get the same look.

She nodded. “I am sure that he was but I know his type, Bonnie. Niklaus is trying to be charming right now but he will change tactics when you don’t return his affections. That man spent five years in prison obsessing over you. He won’t simply get over it now. I understand why killing him is out of the question but there are other ways to make him a non-factor.”

Bonnie had similar concerns about Niklaus. She knew from experience how quickly he could go from charming to violent. Bonnie had been waiting for the other shoe to drop since that afternoon at the dance studio. She asked, “What do you have in mind?”

“You know what your father does for a living, right?” she asked. Bonnie knew far too much to be in the dark about something so crucial.

The green-eyed girl nodded. She had found out about Rudy’s profession as a teenager. She wasn’t exactly shocked to learn that her father was a major player in the drug trafficking business. It would have been strange for Sheila Bennett’s only daughter to marry a law-abiding citizen.

Abby said, “Niklaus has spent his entire life trying to prove that he is worthy. That deep seeded desire isn’t going to disappear now just because Mikael is dead. He is going to be looking for a splashy way to mark his reentry to the business. He might even be stupid enough to take possession of an obscene amount of drugs. Even if he proves to be smarter than I think he is…it wouldn’t be too difficult to plant the drugs in a place where he can’t deny ownership. I called your daddy here to help me make that happen. He has some expendable connections in Norcal.”

She had to admire the simplicity of her mother’s plan. Niklaus was brash and known for making ill-advised decisions. This certainly wouldn’t be his first foray into selling drugs. Using a supplier that could be killed without consequence was even better. However, Bonnie was concerned about one aspect of this plan. She swallowed thickly and asked, “Did you tell him about what Niklaus did to me?”

Abby shook her head. “No. I kept your secret and I will continue to do so. I merely told Rudy that you were in serious trouble and needed our help. He will surely push for more details but I know how to handle your father. Let me worry about him.”

Bonnie relaxed a little and nodded. “Thank you.”

“I love you, baby girl. I am not going to tell you how to handle your trauma. Everyone handles it differently. However, holding all of that pain inside of you isn’t good. I hope that you will at least confide in Tyler now that he knows the truth.”

She smiled a little and shook her head. “It’s all in the past, Mama.”

Abby smiled sadly and brushed a hand over her daughter’s back. “I think we both know that isn’t true. You buried all that pain as deep as you could but it all came bubbling to the surface once Niklaus was released from prison. Tyler wants to help you…let him. That boy loves you.”

Bonnie opened her mouth to object.

Abby laughed softly as she stood up. “Don’t waste your time denying it. I have seen the way the two of you look at each other.”

She bit her lip. “What do you think about that?”

“I think that Tyler is a good boy. He is your best friend. He loves you. He is also a Loiacono. Uncle Johnny would be in favor of a Benedetto/Loiacono union.”

Bonnie chuckled quietly. She wasn’t ready to think about marrying anyone else. She was still married to Damon and would be for quite some time. “You should go to lunch. You wouldn’t want to be late.”

Abby smirked and said, “Rudy will wait for me. I am bringing dessert.”

The girl’s eyes went as wide as saucers. “I didn’t need to know that!”

She chuckled, “I was talking about the hamentashen. Your daddy was always a sucker for my baking.”

Bonnie bit her lip for a moment and asked, “Can you tell him that I said hi?”

“I will. I hope that you have a good lunch with Damon,” Abby said as she headed for the door.

“I hope that you have a good lunch with Dad, too.” Bonnie thought about it for a moment and then called out, “But not too good!”

Tyler walked into the room as he heard the front door close. “Where is she going?”

“She’s having lunch with my dad.”

He looked at her with a dubious expression.

She laughed, “I’ll fill you in later. How did your conversation with Mason go?”

He plopped down beside Bonnie on the couch and groaned.

She popped the last pastry into her mouth and lifted an eyebrow at Tyler. “How bad is it?”

“We have a time and place for when we can take out John. I don’t like it and neither will you. He has planned a birthday celebration for himself at nightclub this upcoming weekend. The only problem is that the party will be at one of Klaus’ nightclubs.”

“Shit,” Bonnie muttered. “Killing John there is a risk. If anyone in the Salvatore organization suspects his death is anything but natural, we could trigger a war with the Mikaelsons. Damon might hate John but he would feel compelled to retaliate to save face.”

He said, “Well, we might have a work around to make sure that doesn’t happen. Do you remember hearing about those college students that died after taking that tainted synthetic party drug?”

She nodded. “Yeah. Something like 30 students were hospitalized and about twelve of them eventually died.”

“Matt knows one of the dealers. The dumbass is just sitting on his stash because it is too hot to sell right now. The plan is for Matt to kill the dealer and steal the tainted drugs. Everyone knows how much John loves doing party drugs when he is out at the clubs. No one will bat an eyelash if he dies from taking tainted drugs.”

Bonnie hummed in agreement. “And no one will look too closely at the death of a low-level dealer peddling killer drugs to college students. You are right that I don’t like this going down at Klaus’ club but we don’t have another choice. At this point, we have to take the angle that is available to us. Frankly, we’re doing a freaking public service getting the rest of those drugs off the street.”

Tyler laughed and kissed her cheek. “Yes, you are quite the upstanding citizen.”

Bonnie felt butterflies in her stomach after the brief peck on the cheek. Her fingers sought out the Saint Christopher’s medal that still hung around her neck. “We’re going to need Lucy for this plan to work. I don’t want any collateral damage with this. John is the only one that dies this weekend.”

He nodded. “I am sure that we can get Lucy on board with that.”

Bonnie heard a car door close from the driveway. “That might be her now.”

Tyler stood up and said, “I’ll go see who it is.”

“Thanks.”

He returned a few seconds later. “It’s Damon.”

Bonnie nodded and sat up straight on the couch. She hadn’t bothered dressing up for him. Bonnie was wearing a pair of purple velour shorts, a matching zip up jacket, and a tank top. Her dark hair had been pulled into a messy top knot. “Let him in…”

“I’ll head into the family room once I do. Just yell if you need me,” he replied. Tyler walked to the door and opened it.

Damon was just about to knock when the door opened. He tensed at seeing Tyler standing there. He was glad that Bonnie was still accepting protection despite their separation. However, having Tyler there felt a little like letting the fox protect the hen house.

Tyler said, “Hey, Damon. Bonnie is waiting for you in the living room.”

The older man nodded and walked into the house. He had forgone his normal tailored suit. Instead, he was dressed in dark denim jeans and an expensive blue cashmere sweater. Damon carried two take out bags into the living room. “Hey.”

“Hi,” she replied.

Damon set the bags on the coffee table and sat down on the couch with Bonnie. “How are you feeling…health wise?”

“I’m okay. The anti-nausea medicine is working. I have been able to keep down my food and that is good news. I am hoping that I will have gained a pound or two when I go to my next doctor’s appointment. Dr. Huerta thinks he might be able to determine the twins’ gender by then.”

Normally, Damon would be overjoyed at the prospect of learning the babies’ genders. However, it was just a reminder that the clock on his marriage would begin counting down if one of the babies was a boy.

“When is your next appointment? I would really like to go with you…if that is okay with you.”

Bonnie blinked in surprise but nodded in agreement. “That would be fine with me. My appointment is next Wednesday at 9 o’clock.”

He nodded. “I’ll be there.” Damon noticed the plate on the table. He chuckled and asked, “Did you already eat lunch?”

She laughed a little and said, “It was just a little snack. My mom baked hamentashen last night. I couldn’t resist eating a few.”

“Hamentashen?” he asked.

“Oh, they’re little fruit-filled pastries. Normally, they are made during Purim but I guess my mom was just in the mood to bake last night. She made Jamie’s favorite cake, too.”

Damon had been raised Roman Catholic. However, he knew the names of some Jewish holidays. “Did Abby convert to Judaism?”

Bonnie knew that she couldn’t tell him about Abby’s lunch date with Rudy. Damon would surely report to his uncle. She lied, “No, she made the hamentashen as a peace offering for my dad. I am going to take them over to his hotel later today.”

Damon realized how little he knew about his father-in-law as an actual person. His knowledge was limited to Rudy’s reputation in the criminal underworld and what little information Ric could provide. However, all of his uncle’s information was tainted by his extreme hatred for the man.

“Your dad is in town?” Damon feigned surprise as he unpacked their lunches.

She nodded. “He’s going to stick around for a couple of weeks on vacation.”

Damon mentally cursed. However, he had a plan and he would stick to it. “That’s nice. I know that you haven’t seen him in a few years.”

“Since our wedding,” she replied. Bonnie accepted the takeout containers and plastic cutlery from Damon. She inspected the salads and grinned at the obscene amount of grilled chicken on top. “Thank you.”

“I made sure that your salads were made to your exact specifications,” he said.

She looked a little embarrassed. “I’m sorry about that. I just really don’t like hardboiled eggs on my salad. I also can’t have bacon or ham because of the hypertension. Adjusting my diet has been…difficult. It has been great staying here. Mom has practice making healthy meals because of Alaric. Somehow she makes sure the food doesn’t taste like cardboard.”

Damon settled back on the couch and took a bite out of his club sandwich. He had cut back on his drinking the last few days so he had an actual appetite. He said, “I am glad that Abby has been so helpful.”

Bonnie nodded as she poured dressing onto her first salad. She whispered a quick prayer and made the sign of the cross before she started eating. Bonnie was glad that she had the foresight to ask for two salads. She was going to demolish this one in no time. Bonnie had been ravenous since the anti-nausea medication began working. She waited on Damon to start talking since he was the one that asked to meet.

Silence filled the two-story living room for several minutes as husband and wife ate. Damon was in no rush to start this awkward conversation with Bonnie. He finished half of his sandwich before deciding to speak. Damon said, “I am sorry for not calling you sooner, bunny. I needed some time…”

“I understand that. I’m sure that you felt as if all this came out of the blue,” she acknowledged.

He nodded. “Yes, you could say that. I just want to let you know that I am sorry for hurting you, Bonnie. I didn’t think that you knew about Katherine until recently. I know that doesn’t make what I was doing better but I would have never flaunted my infidelity in your face that way. You didn’t deserve that or for her to taunt you about the affair.”

Bonnie tensed because his apology was bullshit. Damon had gone to Tenerife after finding out that she had known about Katherine for years. Bonnie had even shown him the disgusting messages and pictures that the older woman had sent to taunt her.

“I’m not really interested in apologies, Damon. All of that is in the past and I just want to figure out how to move forward. I want this transition to be mature and healthy for Sarah’s sake. She deserves that from us.”

“I know that an apology won’t fix us. Honestly, I don’t know what would fix our relationship at this point. However, I felt as if I needed to apologize to you…whether you feel like accepting it or not.” He looked into Bonnie’s green eyes for a moment. He had missed her these last few days. Damon hated being this close to his wife and unable to touch her. He continued, “You are right. We need to make this easy for Sarah.”

She hadn’t expected Damon to be so levelheaded about this. Bonnie had figured that he would show up spoiling for a fight. However, she refused to allow Damon to throw her off track.

“I think it is best if Sarah and I move into the beach house. She is your daughter biologically and I would never consider trying to take her away from you. You are just really busy with other things in your life. I think it would be best if Sarah stays with me three weeks out of the month. You can have her at the manor one week and as many weekends as you would like. If you have more time to spend with Sarah then I am certainly willing to cede some of my time. I know how much you love her and she adores you.”

Damon had been expecting this but hearing the words still made his chest tighten. He kept reminding himself that this wasn’t permanent—yet. He could still win her back. “I think that is reasonable. I will probably get Sarah on all the weekends if my schedule permits.”

“That’s fine with me. I will still drop her off every morning at the manor for school. I think homeschooling Sarah is the best thing for her. Besides, I don’t want to disrupt everything in her life. She loves having school lessons with her cousins. Oh, she is also taking ballet lessons every Tuesday afternoon. It is okay if you can’t take her during your week. Bella and Nico are in the same class. I am sure that you can ask Caroline to take her. My mom is working with them on Wednesdays, too.”

He nodded. “I’ll make it work.”

“I also think that we need to choose a time to talk with Sarah about the changes that will be happening. She hasn’t asked very many questions while we have been staying here. She is having too much fun playing with Cooper. Jamie has even been letting her play some of his video games.” She cleared her throat and said, “I think we also need to explain the situation with Nadia in a way that a five-year-old can understand.”

Damon placed his food on the coffee table. He had definitely lost his appetite. He was bothered by how casually Bonnie spoke of the dissolution of their marriage. However, he figured that she had much longer to get used to the idea.

“I actually got some advice on how to handle talking to Sarah about both situations. I, um, I saw this counselor the other day. Zach set me up with someone that he worked with in the past. Dr. Correa suggested bringing Sarah to her office so that she could help us explain everything.”

Bonnie’s jaw literally dropped. She stared at her husband as if he had suddenly grown a second head. She tried to picture the scenario in her head but couldn’t. “You went to see a counselor and it wasn’t even court ordered?”

Damon hated that Bonnie was so surprised by his actions. Did she truly believe that he wouldn’t try to fight for her? He nodded. “I am not going to sit here and make excuses for how I have treated you. At best, I am an inconsiderate asshole. At worst, I emotionally abused one of the few people I would never try to hurt intentionally. You said that you needed space to get better and I think that I do, too. I have some things I need to work through and I need professional help to do that.”

Bonnie shook her head in disbelief. “That is surprisingly mature of you, Damon.”

“Well, I can honestly say that I would have never done this if not for you. I never realized how my actions made you feel. I guess I never really paid attention. A couple weeks ago, Stefan told me that you were depressed and I didn’t believe him. I thought that he was being dramatic. Now I have realized that he just paid more attention to you than I did. Is the depression a recent development?”

The conversation made Bonnie feel off balance. She guessed it was Damon’s turn to ambush her. However, instead of venomous barbs crafted to cause maximum pain, he spoke honestly of his failures as a husband.  She shook her head. “I was depressed most of the time. I muddled through because Sarah needed me and I had to keep up appearances outside the house. It was a hard act to keep up but it was what I was raised to do. I just kept looking for ways to be better for you.”

As if Damon didn’t already feel like an asshole. “You are amazing Bonnie. You are everything I could have asked for in a wife. I am the one with the problem.”

She shook her head. “It’s not just you. There is something broken in me, Damon. The way I twisted myself into knots to please you is sick. You don’t even know half the things that I did. I decided to see a counselor, too.”

“Then tell me,” he said in a voice thick with emotion. “Please…”

She shook her head. “I’m not at a place where I feel comfortable sharing the deepest darkest parts of myself with you. I don’t know that I will ever get to a place where that is possible.”

Damon reached out to take Bonnie’s hand but stopped short when he noticed that she was no longer wearing her wedding band and engagement ring. In a bitter voice, he said, “That was quick.”

Bonnie was confused by the comment. However, she followed his gaze down to her hand. She pulled a necklace out of her tank top to show him the rings. “My fingers are swollen in part because of the hypertension. Part of it is just normal swelling that comes with being pregnant. I promised that I would continue pretending to be your wife in public and I meant it.”

He really took a moment to look at her swollen fingers. Damon shook his head in surprise. “Bunny…”

She heard the sincerity of the concern in his voice. “I’m okay. My blood pressure is coming down nicely. I hired a private physician to monitor my condition more closely than Dr. Huerta can. Cole’s nurse practitioner drops by every day to check my blood pressure and glucose levels.”

“Do you need me to do anything? Pay for anything?”

She smiled faintly. “I can more than afford to pay for whatever I need.”

“I know that, Bunny. I just feel as if I should be doing something,” he said in exasperation. He felt useless.

“I will let you know if I need anything,” she promised.

The doorbell rang.

“I should get that. It is probably Lucy.” Bonnie was glad for the reprieve. She hadn’t been prepared for Damon to come in being reasonable. Where the hell did he get off pretending to be a sensible adult? She checked to make sure it was Lucy before opening the door.

Lucy’s arms were weighed down by a dozen shopping bags. She kissed Bonnie’s cheek. “I am sorry that I am late. Something came up at the last moment. I see jackass is here.”

Bonnie closed the door and said, “Damon can hear you from the living room.”

Lucy flashed a simpering smile and said, “I know. Don’t care.”

“What is all of this?” Bonnie asked.

“I did a little Christmas shopping.”

She eyed the bags with a grin and asked, “Did you get anything for me?”

“I bought your gifts a couple weeks ago. These are for the cousins.”

“Oh! I didn’t even think about that,” Bonnie said. Her eyebrows pulled together in concern. “Looks like I will be doing some shopping in the next couple of days.”

“We can go together. I still need to pick up a few things. Well, I am going to let you get back to your lunch. Where’s Ty?”

“He’s in the family room.”

Lucy nodded and disappeared down the hall.

Bonnie returned to her place on the couch. “Sorry about that…”

“The interruption or Lucy calling me a jackass?” he asked in amusement.

“Both?” she suggested. “She’s just being a protective older cousin.”

Damon thought back to Bonnie’s accusation that the manor had turned into a prison for her. “I get it. I am glad that you have her here. I know you haven’t had very much contact with your family since we’ve been married.”

She nodded and went back to eating her lunch. “It’s been nice reconnecting. I can’t wait to see my cousins over the holiday. My mom is planning a Christmas Eve party so that we can all get together before going to Midnight Mass.”

“Do you know why your cousins are coming stateside for Christmas?”

Damon couldn’t help himself. He needed to know how much Bonnie knew about what was happening. He didn’t want to believe that his sweet bunny would betray him. However, something had been nagging at him since Big John offered his assistance.

Bonnie studied him closely for a moment. She had known this question would come up at some point. She had been considering her options for quite some time. Bonnie had come to the decision that she was tired of pretending to be something she was not. It was time to pull back the curtain a little for Damon.

She said, “Well, Cesare was going to be in town for Christmas because Lexi wanted to see her family. The rest are joining the trip to make some living arrangements. Uncle Johnny wants them out here to help you with the business.”

He nodded but the words sounded like a half-truth to his ears. It was surprising what Damon could pick up when he actually paid attention to his wife. “Is Big John the only one that wanted them here?”

The green-eyed girl was quiet for a long moment. “No. I wanted them here, too. I understand if that makes you angry. We haven’t been on the same page in a long time, Damon. I just needed to make sure that there was someone protecting my interests.”

Damon’s entire body tensed and he ground his teeth in frustration. “You shouldn’t have done that, Bonnie. I will always make sure that you and our children are taken care of but involving other people in our marital issues is way out of line.”

“I didn’t involve other people. I involved my family. Also, this has nothing to do with our marriage, Damon. The smuggling operation is and always will be business—my business.” Bonnie tapped a hand against her chest for emphasis.

He stared at his wife for a beat. He refused to say something that would start a fight. They had been getting along well enough until now. He decided to appeal to Bonnie’s sense of duty. Perhaps she could call off Big John if she understood the predicament Damon was in now. “Do you know how this makes me look? Do you understand how weak this makes me look to my own people? To my enemies? They will smell blood in the water.”

Bonnie was unmoved. She said, “I know this might come as a surprise, but you weren’t really my concern. I needed to do what was best for my family.”

“I am your family, Bonnie. We’re married,” he insisted. “This is not what is best for us. This is not what is best for the organization.”

“I am a Benedetto. You are a Salvatore. We are family by marriage…a very dysfunctional marriage. When the chips were down, I put my faith in my blood. Blood means everything and you know this. My cousins will help run the smuggling operation until I am ready to take over.”

Damon barked out a harsh laugh. Bonnie taking over the smuggling business was the most absurd thing he had ever heard. “You can’t be serious. When have you ever had an interest in the operation? What do you even know about the business?”

She looked at him dispassionately. “Big John has never had a hand in the North American side of my family’s business, Damon. All those reports you have given him over the years mean nothing to him. That is why he has always passed them along to me. I know all the routes, merchandise, bribes, buyers, and sellers like the back of my hand. Grams made sure that I knew every detail of the operation before she died. She was worried that Giuseppe would try to screw me out of my cut.”

Once again, Damon felt as if Bonnie had pulled the rug out from under him. He found himself wondering whom he had been sleeping beside for the last four years. His sweet bunny was supposed to be naïve to the details of their business. However, he continued to learn that Bonnie had hidden depths that he couldn’t begin to understand. His initial impulse was to become angry and start a fight with her. He didn’t like feeling as if Bonnie was pulling his strings.

He took a breath to calm himself. He bitterly replied, “It looks as if I wasn’t the only person being dishonest in our marriage. Who are you?”

Bonnie studied his face carefully. She saw Damon’s internal struggle. He was fighting against his instincts. Bonnie knew that he was close to losing control but she wasn’t scared. Bonnie had three knives strategically placed around the couch. She would have him bleeding before Lucy and Tyler ever made it into the room.

The women in her family had always been fond of knives. Guns had their uses but true power came from burying a sharp blade into an unsuspecting man’s soft flesh. The gush of warm blood on their hands was the reward for a job well done. Sheila had schooled Bonnie on that method because she was a woman. Fighting a man head to head was most assuredly a losing prospect. The key was to lull the victim into a false sense of security before striking.

“I tried to be what you wanted, Damon. You liked the fact that I was relatively silent and uncomplicated. You liked me being a warm body for you to slide into on occasion. You wanted someone to be a mother to your children and to look pretty on your arm. You never made an effort to learn anything about me.  You didn’t even know that my father was Jewish. How is that something that you don’t know about your wife of four years? I played the part that you wanted because I hoped that you would love me. Well, you don’t love me…not in any way that works for me. I no longer have an incentive to pretend for your benefit. This is who I am. You can like it or not. I don’t care. I have to find a way to live my life where I can look myself in the mirror every morning.”

He snapped, “You don’t get to tell me how I feel about you, Bonnie! I never asked you to be anyone else! You chose this farce!”

“You are right. I don’t know what goes on in that head of yours because you have never let me in! I can only draw conclusions from how you make me feel.”

“I think it is safe to say that you never let me in either!”

“You never tried to get to know me, Damon. If you had shown even a modicum of interest, I would have told you everything. I had hoped for a partner when we were married. I wanted someone that I could tell all of the terrible shit that keeps me up at night. I wanted someone that would understand the things that make me so ashamed that I can’t dare utter the words aloud. Instead, I got a man that made me feel worthless and let his father isolate me from everyone else that might have given a damn about me. You have no idea how broken I was before you ever married me. Being with you has made it all so much worse. Some days I can’t think of a single thing that I like about myself. I damn near starved myself just to get your attention. I have been dying slowly in front of you for years and you never noticed. Why would I share anything with someone who didn’t make me feel valued, respected, or wanted?”

Damon struggled to make sense of the veiled words Bonnie spoke. He didn’t have context but he could hear the genuine pain and shame leaking out of her like a sieve. He could not fathom what she could possibly be holding inside that hurt her in such a way. Bonnie confused Damon. These last few days had been like looking at his wife’s reflection through a broken fun house mirror. Each shard showed him some distorted image that was part of a larger tableau. She had been fierce when she broke the news of their separation at the Manor. Yet in this moment she looked every bit of a broken little girl that he wanted to protect from whatever ghosts were obviously haunting her. However, she was also shrewd enough to take the smuggling business right from under his nose. None of these three shards meshed with what he had believed about his wife just a week ago.

However, his mind kept going back to one statement. “What do you mean you starved yourself?”

Bonnie blinked back her tears. “It’s the reason that I was underweight at the start of my pregnancy...the reason that I am still underweight. I skipped meals and practically lived in the manor’s gym so that I could be thinner. I thought you weren’t attracted to me because I was too fat. I went back to eating a normal diet and I stopped exercising altogether once I learned that I was pregnant. I was desperate to put on enough weight to make sure my babies would be healthy. I am still underweight because of the weeks of morning sickness where I couldn’t hold anything down. The stress of being with you certainly didn’t help my morning sickness.”

Suddenly, Damon felt sick to his stomach. The sting of betrayal seemingly forgotten as he stared at the woman he loved. He moved closer and pulled Bonnie into his arms. He whispered against her hair, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, bunny. I didn’t know…”

Bonnie shook her head and pushed him away. “I know that you didn’t and that’s the problem. I don’t want your apologies or your comfort. I just want you to leave me alone now. I think we’ve said all that needs to be said for today.”

“Bunny…” he whispered in a broken voice.

Lucy stepped into the room. She had obviously been eavesdropping on their conversation. She quietly said, “It’s time for you to go, Damon.”

He glared at Lucy but his attention was quickly drawn to the sharp sob that left Bonnie. He watched helplessly as she rushed out of the room presumably to get away from him. Damon swallowed thickly and slowly stood up. “I’ll show myself out.”

Chapter Text

Abby didn’t pull into her driveway until shortly after 10 o’clock. She had spent approximately eight hours in her ex-husband’s company. It was the most time the exes had spent together in nearly eighteen years. They had not even seen each other since Bonnie and Damon’s wedding four years ago. Abby and Rudy’s relationship lived at one extreme or the other. Either they couldn’t keep their hands off each other or they were seconds away from committing murder. Long before she arrived at his hotel, Abby could tell which extreme Rudy had in mind. Every time they spoke on the phone, he flirted with her in that deep baritone voice that she loved.

Rudy definitely stepped up his game once he had Abby alone. She had assumed that they would order room service for lunch. However, when she arrived Rudy greeted her in the lobby looking as if he had just stepped off the cover of GQ magazine. Abby had teased him good-naturedly and offered a few genuine compliments to get the meeting off on the right foot. Rudy had soaked up her flattery with a shit-eating grin and offered a few well-targeted compliments of his own. Then he led his ex-wife to the private dining room he had reserved in the hotel’s five-star restaurant. Rudy had ordered several of Abby’s favorite dishes and desserts for the two of them to share. He had even procured a bottle of her favorite wine produced by her family’s vineyard.

The exes had dined for well over an hour as Abby updated Rudy on their daughter’s life. He had even sampled the hamentashen Abby brought from home. She teased him for being brave enough to eat anything she cooked after having been poisoned by her. After lunch, they had retired to Rudy’s suite to get down to business. Unfortunately, it meant something different for both of them. Rudy was ready to take his ex-wife to bed. However, Abby was insistent that they work out the details of their plan. Abby didn’t break her promise to Bonnie, but she did make Rudy understand the gravity of the situation. When he listened to her talk, Rudy realized that Abby would have already killed Esther’s bastard with her bare hands if only Bonnie would permit it.

Abby had a few dozen valid reasons to despise her ex-husband. He had done things to her that were inexcusable but that afternoon Abby had felt a swell of emotion for him that she thought died long ago. The fancy lunch and his sweet-talking ways didn’t woo her. However, she caught a brief glimpse of the man she married when Rudy realized that Niklaus had hurt their daughter. He didn’t even know the details but his first instinct was to track the animal down and slaughter him. Abby knew that she wouldn’t be able to rein Rudy in if he knew the truth. She was barely able to contain her own murderous rage. Seeing Niklaus at the dance studio had set her teeth on edge. She couldn’t believe the pervert had the audacity to approach Bonnie after everything he had done to her.

Abby turned off the car and pulled out her phone. She scowled at the seven missed calls she had from Alaric. He had been calling her incessantly for hours. However, she knew that he only wanted to talk about what happened during Damon and Bonnie’s lunch. She would have paid good money to see the look on Damon’s face when he learned that Bonnie planned to take over the smuggling operation. Abby felt more proud of her daughter each passing day. A parent’s greatest wish was to see their children succeed in ways that they could not. Abby had no doubt that her little girl was going to bring the Salvatore family to heel.

She grabbed her purse and a shopping bag from Christian Louboutin, a gift from Rudy, as she climbed out of the car. Abby headed into the darkened house and locked the door behind her. She followed the excited voices coming from the family room. Her lips hitched into a smile when she saw Jamie sitting on the floor with Matt while they played WWE 2K16. A couple pizza boxes and a variety of snacks were stacked up on the coffee table. It had been awhile since she had heard her son laughing and having a good time. However, he had slowly come out of his shell since Bonnie and Sarah started staying with them. Abby wasn’t sure if that was because of them or because she had banned Alaric from the house. Jamie still refused to speak to his father.

Matt was dressed casually in a t-shirt and jeans. However, the .45  holstered on his hip proved that he was very much on duty. It would have been a strange sight for anyone else but Abby had grown up in a world where everyone was always carrying. Jamie had a similar experience growing up because of the time he spent with her side of the family. Part of Abby hoped that her son wouldn’t be sucked into the life but she knew better. Few had the courage to resist the siren song. Unfortunately, Jamie would have temptation coming from both sides of his family tree.

She walked over and dropped a kiss atop her son’s head. “Having fun?”

Jamie paused the game and smiled up at his mother. He nodded. “I’ve beat Matt like four times already.”

The blond man scoffed as he drank from a bottle of beer. “You are getting me confused with Tyler. I have only lost twice to you.”

He grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “Tyler is really bad at this game.”

“You've got that right.”

Abby chuckled and ruffled Jamie’s hair. “I am glad that you are enjoying yourself.”

“Is it okay if I stay up a little longer?” he asked.

“Sure. It’s not as if you have school tomorrow. You can stay up as late as you want, pumpkin,” she agreed.

Jamie screwed up his face and whined, “You promised to stop calling me that, Mama. I’m almost thirteen.”

She chuckled softly and pinched his cheek. “I promised to stop calling you that in public.”

He rolled his eyes in exasperation.

Abby smirked. “Where is Bonnie?”

“Sissy is trying to put Savannah to sleep,” he winced at the idea.

Savannah was generally an easygoing toddler. However, she turned into a tiny sleep fighting ninja when it was bedtime. Abby was the only one that could get her to sleep without a protracted battle.

Abby chuckled and said, “I had better go save her.”

He nodded in agreement before turning around to face the television once more.

Abby climbed the stairs and stopped by her bedroom first. She dropped her purse and shopping bag on the bed. Then she took a moment to take off her boots and jewelry. Abby wiggled her toes in relief as she walked down the hall to the nursery. She slowly pushed the door open and walked into the room.

Bonnie was sitting in the glider with Savannah in her arms. She was softly singing to the toddler that was nearly asleep against her shoulder.

Meanwhile, Tyler was across the room lying on the daybed with his eyes closed. It looked as if he was well on his way to sleep, too. He was waiting for Mason to call him with an update. Two hours ago, Kai and Luke were gearing up to raid Sabine’s house. They hoped the early morning raid would catch Giuseppe off guard. He was getting on in age but he was more than capable of cutting through a couple of young guns like a hot knife through butter.

Abby wasn’t surprised to find that Tyler was still there after his shift had ended. He usually stayed well beyond midnight to spend time with Bonnie. Their budding romance was adorable if not dangerous. She said, “I hope that Savannah didn’t give you too much trouble.”

The green-eyed girl looked up at the sound of her mother’s voice. She gave a little smile. “I am now convinced that Little Miss Sassy is part banshee. I didn’t know she was capable of screaming that loud. It took twenty minutes for me to settle her down.”

She walked across the room and gently took the pajama-clad toddler. Abby swayed side to side to keep Savannah content. “I am sorry, baby girl. I didn’t realize that I would be out so late.”

Bonnie shook her head. “It’s fine. It was actually good practice. Sarah was incredibly mellow when she was Savannah’s age. I need a little experience with the other end of the spectrum just in case the twins decide to be a challenge.”

Abby chuckled softly as she rubbed Savannah’s back in soothing circles. “You certainly were a handful. You were quite possibly the angriest baby I have met til this very day.”

Bonnie’s eyes widened. “You are joking right? Grams always said that I was a sweet baby.”

“Oh, you could be a little angel at times. However, you turned into a little demon if you were agitated or overtired. Before you were even old enough to roll over you would throw temper tantrums. You would lie on your back while you cried and screamed at the top of your little lungs. I felt like the worst mother in the world because I couldn’t comfort you. Then one day Uncle Johnny was in town and he watched me struggling with you. He plucked you right out of my arms, deposited you into the crib, turned on some music, and pulled me out of your room. You cried for maybe five minutes and then it got quiet. I rushed into the nursery to check on you. You were just sucking on your fist listening to the music. From then on that was my solution once I was certain that there wasn’t anything wrong with you. I used to play the O’Jays and the Isley Brothers to calm you down.”

The girl laughed softly. She adored hearing stories about the early years of her life. She hadn’t lived with her grandmother until she was three years old. Sheila had only seen her granddaughter during holidays and the summer at that time because Abby and Rudy refused to live in Shadow Hills. “You chose the O’Jays and the Isley Brothers? That’s a little old school even for you, Mama.”

She shrugged. “It was the music I found comforting because it was what my mama played around the house when I was a little girl. Besides, Ronald Isley’s voice still does something to me.”

Bonnie balked. “File that under TMI, Mama.”

“Listen to me now and believe me later. Footsteps in the Dark is good lovemaking music,” she argued.

Lucy leaned against the doorway with a hand on her hip. “Is that what you and Rudy were listening to tonight?”

Abby looked over her shoulder at her younger cousin. She laughed a little. “Rudy was always partial to Jodeci. I have very fond memories of Feenin’ .”

Bonnie groaned and said, “I am not old enough to hear this.”

“Well, I am definitely old enough and I want details. Rudy is damn near 50 years old. Can he still lay the pipe like the old days?” Lucy asked with a wiggle of her eyebrows.

Abby chuckled as she placed Savannah in her crib. “Stop it before you traumatize Bonnie with your nasty talk. Rudy and I just had a lot of things to talk about.”

“Uh huh,” Lucy said in a disbelieving voice. “Eight hours is a lot of talking for two people who were only ever good at two things.”

Bonnie raised an eyebrow at her cousin. She didn’t know very much about her parents’ relationship. It wasn’t a subject that Sheila or Abby brought up when Bonnie was growing up.

Lucy answered the silent question. “Fucking and fighting. And I don’t see any bruises.”

Bonnie’s eyes went as wide as saucers. She said, “I hope you didn’t have to do that just to help me out. We could have figured out another way.”

Abby shook her head and walked over to Bonnie. She placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder