Chapter Nine

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Alex's mind slowly ascended to wakefulness. It was a new day, a blank slate, but not for long.

It was almost painful, the rush of last night's events slamming into the forefront of her brain. Scenes from last night played in her head in flashes, the rush of yesterday's emotions.

Salvatore had murdered Laura's uncle Marco, the underboss of the Costa crime family. To make it worse, he had also killed Marco's son, Laura's cousin, Leonardo Costa.

Salvatore had killed Gabe, and had taken credit for killing Adrian, Alex's beloved uncle. Vincenzo had murdered Salvatore, on Val's command. Alex had told Laura the truth, finally, about the Sterlings' connection to Anthony Costa's death. Val had had some kind of mental breakdown.

Laura hates me.

Gabe is dead.

At least Val had stayed with her.

An image of how Val had looked last night—panicked, ghost-like—flitted through Alex's mind. Val had looked like she didn't know what to do in her own body, as if she weren't used to living in it.

And Val had kissed her, hadn't she?

Alex didn't open her eyes. Instead she immediately closed her hand, hoping to find Val's still in it. Her fingers closed around nothing, fingertips feeling only the skin of her empty palm. She clenched her hand into a fist and finally opened her eyes so she could glare at it, the unfairness of it.

A sinking feeling began to eat away at her insides from deep within her chest.

"Val?" Alex called out, but she already knew, somehow, that there was no one else in the house. She cursed under her breath, lifted from her makeshift bed, and eyed her empty bedroom, looking for any clues for where the mob princess could've ran off to.

This is my fault.

She had told herself not to sleep too deeply, had told herself to wake up early, before Val had a chance to escape.

Because she had known, deep down, that Val would abandon her again.

But sleep had taken Alex before she could stop it, had stolen her before she had a chance to peer deeper into Val's eyes, to see what she was hiding in there. Val was always hiding something.

Alex stepped towards her bed and placed her hand flat against the sunken spot where Val's body had been. It was cool to the touch, having lost its warmth hours ago.

Alex slid into her bed, burying her face into the pillow. It smelled faintly of Val now, her hair, her skin. Alex took deep breaths, resisting the flood of emotions that hammered at her mind's door, the familiar feeling in her chest that she had felt all those years ago. It was amazing how it felt, like it had never left. She supposed it hadn't, not really.

How had everything gotten so bad, gone so wrong?

Alex hardly ever cried, and yet she felt as though she had cried more in the past few months than ever in her life.

She lifted her head and peered down, noting how the fabric of the pillow had darkened from her tears.

Useless things. Tears accomplished nothing, her tutor had told her. All crying did was let everyone around you know that you were weak, that you were overwhelmed, that you couldn't handle it.

Maybe Alex couldn't handle it. She couldn't. Not with Laura mad at her, not with Val abandoning her, not with Gabe dead.

Gabe.

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