Small branches scratched her arms and face as she ran through the woods, heart racing, nearly out of breath. The moonlight filtering down through the tall trees barely lit her way, but she was afraid to slow down. Despite the sound of her own ragged breathing, she could still hear the crackle of the forest growth in front of her, and she followed the sound.
Her eyes searched the darkness ahead for anything moving. In the blue glow of the moonlight, she could see enough to dodge the trees, but couldn’t make out the round beneath her. More than once, she tumbled and nearly fell.
A thicker branch scraped against her face, and she instantly felt blood begin to drip down her cheek.
She bit back a curse. Even though she couldn’t be completely silent in her chase—the dried leaves on the ground made that nearly impossible—she still hoped her prey could not hear her.
But suddenly, the sounds in front of her ceased. Just as quickly, she stopped. She searched the darkness and listened. Before she could react, something massive struck her right in the solar plexus.
She crumpled onto the forest floor in pain, unable to breathe. She felt the whir of the large object swinging right above her, right where her head had been.
Without thinking, she rolled and swept her legs out. She made contact, taking her attacker’s legs out completely. She heard a loud thud nearby.
Rolling away again, she put some distance between her and her attacker before she sprang to her feet. She was still out of breath from having the wind knocked out of her but was able to see a dark silhouette rising from the path in front of her. They were far enough apart that Rose felt safe holding her ground.
Rose reached for her gun, taking it out of the holster at the small of her back.
“You will pay for what you have done.”
Rose pointed the gun with a steady arm. There was a strangled laugh, and the black silhouette shifted, taking a step toward her.
“Don’t move!” Rose said.
The forest around them had grown silent. Birds and in sects seemed to be holding their breath, waiting to see what would happen next.
There was the crunch of leaves as her attacker took another step. The distance between them was shrinking.
In response, Rose released the safety. The dark figure lunged and Rose saw the gun flash in the moonlight. The blast sent a flurry of birds and other night creatures screaming away into the night leaving the forest deathly quiet.
Rose felt her face growing hot as the people she loved most in the world turned their attention to her and sang “Happy Birthday.” Their faces shone with joy and the neon glow from the six-foot-high flashing letters on the wall behind them that spelled out MANGIA.
The remnants of a feast sat on the table before them: wide, shallow bowls still slick with sauce from the pasta Bolognese; smaller plates containing the remains of a green salad; water carafes everywhere; wine glasses still full; hunks of bread still on the white tablecloth, surrounded by crumbs.
It was her favorite restaurant and not just for the food, although it was one of the most renowned Italian restaurants in Barcelona.
The décor was simple and homey. Dozens of tables draped in simple white tablecloths with small glass cruets atop them were spaced evenly throughout the room and lit by the massive flashing letters on the back wall. A bank of windows opened up to a small sidewalk area outside.
There was always a steady stream of Italian arias and folk songs filtering through hidden speakers, loud enough to hear, but not so loud that it drowned out the vibrant conversation that always filled the place.
It wasn’t the food, the atmosphere, or the ambience—which Rose thought were all utter perfection—that made it her favorite place.
No, it was because her best friend’s father owned it.
The restaurant was located in the middle of Las Ramblas, the wide, pedestrian-only street that ran through the heart of the city. The tree-lined boulevard stretched nearly a mile from the Christopher Columbus statue at the Port Vell marina to Catalonia Square (Plaça de Catalunya). On one side of the Ramblas, the Gothic Quarter neighborhood stretched to the east. On the west side was El Raval, the former China Town and part of the city closet to the port.
The Ramblas, and in turn the restaurant located in its heart, were central to everything in the city.
Rose and Timothy had spent much of the past four years making Mangia their second home. Timothy worked in the kitchen with his father, and Rose waited tables, charming the tourists and locals.
But even when they weren’t working, the two would often come to the restaurant just to hang out, ordering espressos and sitting at a corner table for hours, either playing chess or just talking. Sometimes friends joined them. It was one of those places where teenagers congregated because they felt welcomed and accepted.
And when he’d been alive, Rose would bring Django. The dog would sit at her feet or lay out in front of the restaurant keeping an eye on those who walked by. He became such a fixture that a famous photographer who was a regular at the restaurant always took pictures of him. One black and white photograph had been blown up and took up the entire wall of the restaurant’s unisex bathroom. Rose usually fought back tears when she used the bathroom and saw her beloved pet’s sweet face.
Tonight, however, her only tears were those of joy.
She was surrounded by the people she loved most in the world.
When she’d walked in earlier, thinking she was just meeting Gia for a birthday dinner, she’d burst into tears when she’d seen all the people sitting at the large table in the back.
The first person she had seen was the woman who had trained her to be a warrior so many years ago. Eva.
Rose considered the woman to be her great aunt.
Dressed in her signature black—long sleeves and pants despite the Barcelona heat—along with her dark mane of hair, onyx eyes, and powerful presence, Eva was impossible to miss.
Her boyfriend, Alex, a graying, sophisticated Englishman sat beside her, and across from them was the redheaded Francesca, Eva’s best friend. Francesca, a slim, tall woman in her 70s, wore a white flowing gown with a gold, twisting bracelet that snaked up her upper arm like she was Cleopatra.
Scanning the table, Rose found Gia, whom she considered the closest thing she had to a mother, even though she wasn’t old enough to be that. Her eyes lit on Gia’s compact frame. She wore a backless black halter dress, and her signature motorcycle jacket was slung over the back of a chair. Her dark hair was pulled back from her face in a messy half ponytail that was effortlessly chic. She was talking animatedly to the rest of the table, but as if sensing that Rose had arrived, she looked up. Her face lit up in a smile when she saw Rose.
But there was a sadness there too.
Rose smiled back, but as always, her heart sank every time she saw Gia alone in public.
No matter how long her father, Nico, had been in memory care, it always was like a knife to the heart to see Gia without him.
Her sadness was quickly forgotten when she saw who Gia was talking to. Gia’s best friend, Dante, had flown in from California with his husband, Wayne.
That’s when the happy tears began.
She turned to Timothy, who hadn’t left her side since they walked in.
“You knew? All of this?”
Francesca, who had made her way to the front of the restaurant, overheard her question and said, “Knew? It was his idea.” She winked at Rose.
Rose turned to Timothy with one eyebrow raised. “Is that true? You did all of this?” She stretched out her arms to indicate the room full of people she loved from around the world.
He gave a shy smile.
Acting on impulse, she stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek.
“Thank you,” she said softly.
When she pulled back to meet his eyes, she saw something there that took her aback. It was a look that she’d been trying to hide from for the past year.
Heart racing, she let go of his hand and turned away, rushing to greet everyone.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...