Nine Year Gone

Shelly Cruz Books

My first novel is a steamy contemporary romance set in Boston, MA. Get your copy  here . To order a signed copy, please complete this Order Form

Nine Years Gone

What would you sacrifice for the one you love?

When Marialena Lopez flees Boston in secret, she leaves behind everything and everyone. She sacrifices herself, disrupts lives, and damages relationships—all for the man she loves.

While she knows she made the right decision for Massimo DeLorenzo, she recognizes she made the wrong decision for their relationship.

Nine years later she’s back in Boston attempting to repair the destruction she left in her wake. She still loves Massimo, but finding forgiveness means she will have to finally confess her darkest secret to him. Will the truth be enough to mend their broken hearts, and will her sacrifice have been worth it?

Read Chapter One ~ Nine Years Gone

The Last Time—Chapter 1

Marialena—April 2003

“What time are you leaving for Mohegan?” I ask Massimo as I’m stretching my arm into the upper cabinet in search of the coffee beans. His trip to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut with the guys is today—a prequel to his bachelor weekend next month. One of his buddies, Dom, is a car collector, and several of the guys usually drive down for the car show and auction. “At 4:30 p.m. I’m picking Benny up at noon. We’re gonna grab lunch at Umberto’s before driving south,” he responds, yawning while sitting at the kitchen counter. Galleria Umberto’s is a long-time lunch-only place in Boston’s North End best known for its Sicilian-style pizza and arancini. “Mmm, I’m wicked jealous. You know I love their food.” “What about the rest of the guys? They’re not having lunch?” I ask as I’m filling the kettle with water. After placing it on the stovetop, I set the timer to ensure it doesn’t boil. I scoop coffee beans into the grinder, place the lid on but don’t press down as I’m waiting for his response. I glance over the top of my glasses and stare at Massimo. He’s beautiful, especially at this time of day, just woken with sleep in his dark eyes, jet-black hair thick and messy. My heart pangs because this is the last morning he’ll sit across from me as I’m making coffee. Jesus, what I’m about to do is gonna shatter him. But I can’t think about that right now—not with him inches away from me. “They’re both working. We’ll pick up Dom from his office, and the others will meet us at Mohegan later tonight,” he tells me as he’s scrubbing his hands over his sexy morning stubble. I press down on the coffee grinder and pour the grounds into the French press. As I wait for the kettle to finish, I strut over to Massimo. He’s perched on the stool on the other side of the kitchen counter, and I step into him so I can be closer. He welcomes me by widening his legs and wrapping his arms around my thick waist. Gazing up at me, he purses his lips, something he does on the regular. It’s his way of silently asking for a kiss, and no matter how many times he does it, my belly flutters. I smirk, take my glasses off, and drop them on the counter, leaning down to kiss him. His lips are warm and soft. As I do, he squeezes his arms around me and pulls me down into his lap, deepening the kiss. “Intoxicating” is the only way I can describe his kisses, his touch, his scent, everything about him. I break away from our kiss and say, “I’m opening today, so I have to leave by 10:30 a.m.” I hate that I have to work today; I’d rather stay home so I can savor him for our last few hours together. But, if I don’t go to work, he’ll know something is up. My arms tighten around him, taking in his strength—committing it to memory. His fingers draw circles on my lower back. “Okay, now stop talking.” He resumes kissing me, deep and slow, where we spend a few minutes loving on each other. The timer beeps and interrupts our morning make out session. Reluctantly, I pull back and replace my glasses, touching my right hand over my swollen lips while sliding off his lap. He smacks my ass, and with a mischievous grin says, “You know exactly how to get me all worked up, don’t you?” “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I sashay away from him, knowing he’s ogling my big ass because I’m still in my tank and panties. He’s right, though, because I’m as worked up as he is. I remove the kettle from the stove, pour water into the French press, and let the coffee brew as I get our mugs ready for us to have breakfast.

~~~

After I finish the breakfast cleanup, I head to our bedroom to shower and get ready for work. I expect to find Massimo in the shower or packing. Instead, when I step into the bedroom, he’s sitting on the antique trunk at the foot of the bed, naked, reclining back, stroking himself. It stops me in my tracks, although it shouldn’t because this is typical Massimo—always ready for sex, want and need at the forefront of his voracious sexual appetite. Fuck, I’m gonna miss it, in all its thick glory. I lean against the entryway and watch him as I’m licking my lips from the longing he creates in me. “Hard at work?” His eyes, dark and hooded with desire, bore into mine when he says in a low, husky voice, “Come over here. You’re leaving soon, and I won’t get to be inside you until next week.” My heart squeezes because I know this is the last time I’ll see him. The last time I’ll feel him inside of me. The last time he’ll make love to me. I push off the doorjamb and remove my frames, placing them on the dresser to my right. I stride across the room until I’m standing in front of him. He puts his hands on my curvy hips and squeezes before moving them over my buttocks. The pressure of his hands heats me. I peer down at him and lick my lips, my curls cascading around my face. We gaze into each other’s eyes as he’s caressing my rounded cheeks. The love in his eyes burns at their edges, the embers searing me. Can he see right through me? See the sadness seeping from my pores, itching to escape? If he could, he would call me out on it because the significance of what’s about to happen is too great not to. “Take this off,” he commands, tugging at the bottom of my tank top. I do as he asks, tossing it onto the bed. He runs his hands over my belly, cupping one breast in each hand, squeezing, rubbing, tasting. I moan in response and lift my hands to run them through his ink-black hair, tugging at it. With his desire-laden eyes, he watches me and guides my body down to straddle him. I remain up on my knees so he can position himself beneath me. His fingers are hot, scorching me. He runs them along my skin before sliding my panties to the side, allowing him to enter me. As he fills me, my head falls back from the pleasure, and we get lost in each other.

~~~

A couple of hours later, I’m dressed and gathering my things to leave. I work the bar at Massimo’s family restaurant in the Financial District, which he owns with his brother, Rocco, and sister, Stella. Trattoria Lorenzo Restaurant & Bar is located in the heart of the city and is known for its authentic Italian food, with a full bar to complement it. Last year it won the “Best of Boston” award because the chef hails from Italy, and the signature drinks are the best in the city—but maybe I’m a little biased. When the offices start emptying, the bar is full, buzzing with conversation, great music, and flowing drinks. “Call me later,” I tell him as I’m lacing up my boots. I stand and turn toward the door, ready to leave. Massimo rises from his place on the couch and struts across the living room until he’s inches from me. I prop my glasses onto my head, and he embraces me, softly kissing my temples. “I love you,” he whispers, resting his forehead on mine. I lift my eyes to meet his, green to dark brown, his six-foot-three frame towering over my five-foot-eleven one. “I love you too, more than you’ll ever know,” I respond. As I say the words, tears well in my eyes, and a tear trickles down my right cheek. “Hey, what’s the matter? Why the tears?” he asks, lifting his hands to frame my face, his thumb touching the beauty mark that graces my left cheek, drying the tear away. “You know how I get with road trips since Benny’s accident, anxious and nervous,” I say while nodding my head to avoid his eyes as the lie slips from my lips. Fuck, this is so hard. For all the times I thought about this moment, now that it’s here and he’s staring down at me, it’s not like anything I’d imagined. It’s a million times worse. He murmurs, “Lena, look at me.” His fingers force me to look up. “You always get anxious but tears? That’s new,” he adds in a curious tone. “I’m just gonna miss you is all.” My eyes flitter down away from his as I whisper the words. Fuck, he’s gonna notice I’m being evasive. I take a deep breath and lift my eyes, connecting with his again. With more confidence and a smile, I say, “I’ll be fine. You’ll be home before I know it, and then I’ll think back at how stupid I’m being. Call me later?” I ask while snuggling into his arms, pressing my nose to his neck to take in his scent, hiding my eyes from his. He pulls back from me, his hands cupping my face again, and stares at me for a few seconds, his eyes assessing mine. “Okay. I will, babe. Now go, before you’re late.” He swipes his lips to mine. I hug him, squeezing him tight one last time before leaving the apartment. I close the door behind me, tears dripping from my eyes as I descend the stairs.

~~~

As usual, the lunch rush has the bar full, and it keeps me busy. Today, I am thankful for the full house, the loud voices, and the chatty customers because it keeps my mind from thinking about what I am about to do. I’m dragging today, not my usual upbeat self, who’s on the ball while working the bar. Although I wish I had spent the day at home with Massimo, taking in every last minute with him, it’s better that I’m at work. With me here, he doesn’t suspect anything is amiss. There are a few familiar faces I see scattered across the bar and in the dining room. Most men wear suits and ties; women wear their business suits or dresses. The lunch crowd is quite different than the happy hour or dinner crowd. Customers at lunch are usually more formal with each other—negotiating business deals over homemade tagliatelle alla boscaiola. On occasion, you get a couple who wants to sit in a back corner to hide away from prying eyes. Makes you wonder what they’re up to. The patrons that stand out the most are the tourists sprinkled into the business crowd. They often walk over from the Old State House or the Custom House Tower, Boston’s original skyscraper, both a few blocks away. The tourists stick out like sore thumbs. They dress in their comfy sneakers, don backpacks or fanny packs, carry folded-up maps, and usually have a camera hanging from their necks. “Lena, I still need two glasses of Chardonnay and a ginger ale for table six,” Beth, one of the waitresses, calls out from the end of the bar. “Be right there,” I call back. She must be annoyed with me today; it’s the third time I’ve made her wait. I’ve been in a daze all shift, slow getting orders out and in attending to customers. I haven’t been able to focus on anything. The rest of the lunch rush passes in a blur, and once it’s quiet with only two customers remaining, I begin cleaning up when Shannon, the other bartender, arrives. She’s a Southie girl, thick Boston accent, long flaming red hair, and milky white skin. “Hi, Shannon. What’s up, girl?” I ask as she’s tying the apron around her waist. “Same shit, different day, Lena. You know how it is,” she responds in a flat tone with a scrunched nose. “Can you cover my lunch shift tomorrow?” I ask her. “I have to go to the doctor and forgot to take the day off,” I tell her as I’m loading dirty glasses into the dishwasher behind the bar. “Sure, I can use the extra cash. Is everything okay?” “Yes, just my annual checkup with the gynecologist. Exciting, I know. Thanks, Shannon,” I say, grinning at her before I finish cleaning up. The end of the shift drags. I’m anxious to leave, get home, and start packing. I keep glancing at the clock on the computer only to see the minutes crawling. It feels like time has stood still when all I want is to leave. My phone vibrates in my apron pocket, and when I grab it, I see Massimo’s name across the cracked screen. I hurry to the end of the bar to get some privacy when I press the green answer button, placing the phone to my ear. “Hi,” I answer in a hushed voice. “Hey, babe, how’s work?” he asks. “Super busy as usual, you know how Thursdays are.” “Yeah, I feel you. Don’t miss it, not gonna lie.” “I wish you were feeling me; I could use a little of your loving right about now,” I murmur into the phone in a soft voice, closing my eyes to memories of earlier that morning. I hear him grunt and take a deep breath in response. “Lena,” he declares in a stern, raspy tone. I know he’s not alone, which means he won’t say what’s on his mind. “Massimo,” I begin, but his name hangs on the tip of my tongue. There are so many things I want to tell him; my mind races with thoughts. Instead, I swallow the words, and “Have a safe drive” falls from my lips. “Thanks, babe. Listen, we just picked up Dom. I love you. Everything is gonna be okay,” he says, reassuring me. “I know, love you too. Call me later. I don’t care what time it is, okay?” I respond. “You got it. Bye, soon-to-be Mrs. DeLorenzo,” he says in a playful tone. His words sting like a motherfucker—I’ll never be Mrs. DeLorenzo.

~~~

When my shift ends, I hail a cab to take me home because it’s pouring rain. After giving the cabbie my address, I stick my hand inside my pockabook in search of my phone to call my best friend, Luci. Luci is that friend we all have, the one we all need, the one that calls you out on your bullshit when you most need it. We have been friends most of our lives. I remember when she started the school year in the middle of third grade. The desk next to mine was empty, and Ms. Stewart assigned her that seat. The desk fascinated Luci because the top lifted, and she could put her things inside of it. I said hello to her, and when she spoke, she had a thick accent. I later learned she had moved here from Italy with her family. Talking to her now, you’d never know she didn’t speak a lick of English when she moved here. We’ve been best friends ever since. She answers my call on the third ring. “What up, bitch?” “I’m in a cab headed home, just finished my shift. Are you still coming over later?” “Sorry, Lena, I can’t. I’m actually driving into the city right now because I picked up a shift.” “Standing me up, huh?” “Don’t be mad. We can hang out another night.” Little does she know that won’t be happening. I’m going to miss Luci so much. Since we’ve been friends, we’ve seen each other nearly every day of our lives. She’s going to be so upset when she finds out I ghosted, but keeping her out of the loop is the best decision for her. “It’s fine. I was looking forward to hanging out with you, sharing a bottle of wine, but no biggie.” The lies keep coming, and I’m surprised how easy the words spill from my mouth. Maybe it’s better this way. Who knows? She probably would’ve known something was up with me and foiled my plans. “Smooch you,” she says. “Smooch you back.” I hit End and toss the phone back in my purse. Back when we were in college, Luci and I were at a party, both a little buzzed, and instead of saying “love you,” she said “smooch you.” It stuck. Once inside our apartment, I stop and take in the view of the place. We live in an amazing two-bedroom apartment on beautiful Marlborough Street in the Back Bay. Its exposed brick and open space are what I fell in love with the minute I saw it. As a young girl, I always wanted to live in one of these buildings. Now here I am, living in my dream apartment with the man I love, and I am walking away. I am gonna miss it. Miss him. After removing my boots, I stride across the room and sit on the couch, giving myself a few minutes to take in the magnitude of what I’m about to do. I’m overwhelmed by sadness, yet I know it has to be done. I’m leaving behind everything and everyone, and it causes the tears to flow. Deep sobs fall from me as I lay my head back on the couch, my feelings inundating me. When I wake up, it’s dark. I lift my head and rub my eyes. The grogginess of my unexpected nap is heavy, and it takes me a couple of minutes to snap out of it. I rise from the couch and shuffle across the room to turn the light on, the sudden light too bright for my still sleepy eyes. It’s almost 8:00 p.m. I haven’t heard from Massimo yet, which means he’ll probably call me soon. After I finish eating the sandwich I prepared, I grab my suitcases out of the second bedroom closet, rolling them into our bedroom to lay them open on the floor. I spend the next few hours filling them with my clothes, shoes, jackets, and my favorite blanket and pillow—my life in three suitcases full of stuff—what a sad sight. I lose my balance and need to steady myself with the wall, taking a deep breath to calm my nerves. This is all way harder than I’d imagined when concocting the plan. I’m in the bathroom brushing my teeth when my phone rings. Not wanting to miss the call, I scurry into the bedroom to grab the phone off my nightstand. Massimo’s name flashes across the screen. “Hello, hang on,” I say, slightly muffled because I’m brushing my teeth. I rush back to the bathroom to avoid toothpaste falling from my mouth. Once at the sink, I put the phone down to rinse quickly. “Sorry, was brushing my teeth. How was the drive?” I ask as I turn the bathroom light off and pad over to our bed. As I pull back the sheets and climb into bed, Massimo tells me about the drive and their plans for the weekend. I lie on my left side, moving the phone to my right ear, and hug Massimo’s pillow, inhaling his scent as I listen to his voice. “I miss you,” I interrupt him mid-sentence. “Me too,” he responds. We chat for a little while when I hear one of his buddies say, “Hey, let’s go. The casino is waiting for us.” “Hey, babe, we’re going down to the casino. Get some sleep, okay?” “Okay, be safe. Good night,” I say, tears sliding down my cheeks. “Love you,” I mutter, squeezing my eyes shut. “Love you more,” he responds, and the line goes quiet. That’s the last time I would hear his voice for nine years.
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