Emilia— All I’ve ever wanted was to marry for love. But girls like me don’t have that luxury. We are used as pawns in a game we can’t control. The game? It’s called Mafia. I was foolish enough to try to change the rules… and I lost. Luca— She was promised to me years ago. And he dared to take her from me. Dared to touch what was mine. I put an end to that. I hope he’s enjoying the view from his dirt room. Emilia— My beloved’s killer placed a ruby ring on my finger and called me his queen. But that red gem symbolizes something different for me. It represents the blood shed by those I love most. Hell was empty the day we wed. Because the devil was standing before me and said “I do.” Luca— I saw her as a possession. A shiny toy I didn’t want other boys to play with. But she’s so much more. Beautiful and brave and strong and broken all at once. She tastes like everything I’ve ever wanted. Emilia— Hidden and patient. I wait for the perfect time to seek my revenge. But slowly, I feel him possessing me. His heart is full of darkness… and I still want every inch of him. Hard as I try, I can’t escape loving this beautiful monster. Luca— I’m waiting patiently because I already know that she’s mine. Mine in a way that no one will ever understand. Even if she hasn’t yet realized it. For love, I’d do anything. For her, I’d do everything.
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Chapter 5 Luca Rossini New York, 1978
My father’s consigliere, Arrigo, also known as his right-hand man, comes into our conference room where we’re sitting around the table. He’s one of the few people without the last name Rossini who are allowed into this room. “The Bellini women have arrived. They’re waiting for you in the living room.” My father goes to the wet bar and chuckles as he pours six glasses of whiskey. “They came. You know what this means, don’t you?” “It means they have no allies willing to go to battle for them. They’re out of options,” my brother Stephan says. “Exactly. And that means we’ve won the war. The Bellini assets are ours.” And Emilia Bellini is finally mine. Everyone takes a glass of whiskey, even my youngest brother Enzo who is only sixteen. “You should be the one to lead us in this toast, Luca. This is your victory.” I didn’t do this alone. It began with my grandfather’s foresight so many years ago. “From long ago until now, here’s to all of the decisions that led us to this place.” “But mostly your clever decisions, son. Your bravery,” my father says. We click our glasses together and toss back the whiskey. Enzo coughs and sputters much like I did the first time I had a shot of whiskey. “Such a mamma’s boy.” Dante loves ragging on Enzo. I place my hand on top of my baby brother’s head and muss up his hair. “What’s the matter? Can’t handle your liquor?” “I can handle it. It just went down the wrong way.” “Sure, it did, little bro.” I was younger than Enzo when I had my first shot of whiskey. I still remember the way it burned on the way down. I also remember pretending that I could handle it although I wasn’t certain that someone hadn’t swapped the liquor out with lighter fluid. My father slams his glass on the table. “Come on, boys. Time to collect our spoils of war.” This moment has been a long time coming. As I walk to where the women are waiting, it suddenly doesn’t feel real to me. I’m so accustomed to delays that I find myself wondering what the next one will be. But I remind myself that we’re in charge now, and there’ll be no more excuses. Emilia is going home with me tonight. The six Bellini women are seated when we enter the living room, and my eyes bounce back and forth between the daughters seated on each side of their mother. Both are beauties and very similar, but one is much lovelier than the other. I can’t decide which one is Emilia because it’s been too many years since I’ve seen her. “Welcome to our home,” my mother says as she comes into the room. Sofia smiles, but the hostility in her expression isn’t disguised. I don’t fault her for that, though. We’ve earned her hatred a hundred times over. “Your home is as lovely as I remember it.” Her tone is ice cold. “How long has it been since you were last here?” “Many, many years.” “That’s a shame. Looking back on it now, you and I should have spent more time together and raised the children to know each other. Perhaps things would have gone differently if we had.” “Perhaps.” I focus my attention on the girl sitting to Sofia’s left. The more beautiful one. The older-looking one. The more frightened-looking one with tears pooling in her lower lids. Dark brown hair cascading over her shoulders and down her arms, the ends nuzzling against her bare skin like a frightened child clinging to its mother. Almond-shaped deep-caramel eyes surrounded by lush dark lashes. A few scattered freckles across the bridge of her perfectly shaped nose. Plump, glossy coral lips. In my wildest dreams, my betrothed didn’t grow up to be this beautiful. And it annoys the hell out of me because I don’t want to be attracted to her. I want to make her suffer. Sofia Bellini grips the hand of the girl in question. “Please, Marco. Swear to me on your honor that my daughter will be safe with you.” My father chuckles. “Emilia is going to give us babies, heirs to the Rossini empire. There is no safer place for her than with our family. You know that.” Sofia and the girl beside her, my Emilia, embrace one another and sob. Her grandmother and sisters cluster around her, doing the same. It’s pathetic. I would have expected less of a display from Bellinis. Certainly not this spectacle. My betrothed has weaknesses. Those will need to be eliminated before she influences our sons with that nonsense. “That’s more than enough of that,” I tell them. She lifts her chin, and her eyes meet mine for the first time. Inside those deep-caramel orbs, I see something I like very much: rage. There during one heartbeat and gone the next, it was only a fleeting flash. But I saw it and I don’t mistake it for what it is. This girl is going to be so much fun to break. “Come, Emilia. I’m ready to take you home.” “She won’t be living here?” the grandmother asks. “I have my own home. She’ll live there with me.” “You didn’t mention anything about her living outside of the Rossini compound.” “I don’t think we’re obligated to tell you anything more than we wish to tell you, Sofia. In case you’ve forgotten, we have full control,” my father says. Soft murmurs pass back and forth between Emilia and her mother, and I’m unable to decipher what they’re saying. And it pisses me off. Reaching for her upper arm, I tug. “That’ll be all of that.” When she’s on her feet, I realize just how small she is. A dainty little princess to break. That’ll be fun. “Where’s your suitcase?” “The foyer.” “We’ll pick it up on the way out.” There’s an overlapping of goodbyes and I-love-yous as Emilia and I leave, but her mother’s voice bleeds through the noise. “When will I see her again?” It’s never been my intention to keep Emilia from her family. I see no value in separating them, but that’s something I’ll keep to myself for now. Continuing to walk forward, I don’t look back. “You’ll see her when I decide I want you to see her.” I’m pleased when I manage to get her into the back seat of my car without a bunch of carrying on. “Where to?” Sal asks. “Home.” “Yes, sir.” During the drive to my house, I don’t say a word to Emilia. I want her fear to escalate to the highest level possible. And I believe I’m successful as I listen to the sound of her rapid, unsteady breath filtering through the silence. She takes a final deep breath and blows it out slowly through pursed lips when Sal parks the car inside the garage. I’d love to know what’s going through that mind of hers right now. “Welcome home, Emilia.” No response from her. No surprise from me. I fetch her suitcase from the trunk, and she follows me through the house as I lead her upstairs to the bedroom. Our bedroom. “You’ll get the full tour tomorrow. Right now, you and I have some loose ends to tie up.” “What kind of loose ends?” “You’ll see.” I place her suitcase on the bench at the foot of the bed and point at the door to our left. “That’s the bathroom. There’s a pregnancy test waiting for you on the vanity. When you’ve finished, show me the results.” “I don’t know how to take a pregnancy test.” “You can read, can’t you?” “Of course, I can.” “Follow the directions on the box.” “Why are you making me do this?” “I have to be certain that you aren’t pregnant with Moretti’s bastard.” “I’m not pregnant.” “Then take the test and prove it.” “Fine.” There it is again. That flash of anger in her eyes. That’s it. Come out, angry princess. I want to play with you. She marches into the bathroom and shuts the door with a firm thud. A brave little princess she is to do that under my roof. Several minutes tick by and she emerges from the bathroom. “The directions say it takes two hours for the results to appear.” “I’m aware.” Two hours. What shall we do while we wait? She crosses her arms, looking around my bedroom. Avoiding my eyes. “Come and sit next to me. I won’t bite… unless you’re into that kind of thing.” “I’m fine where I am.” “I’m not asking.” I pat the bed. “Sit beside me.” She does as I tell her, but the scowl on her face lets me know that she isn’t pleased about it. “Happy?” “No.” “You’ve gotten everything you wanted. What do you have to be unhappy about?” “Our union should have been a joyous occasion. A beautiful wedding where our friends and families came together to celebrate our marriage.” “A marriage between us was never going to be a joyous occasion.” “It could have been, but you chose to make things difficult and unpleasant. That means I was forced to do things I would have preferred to avoid.” “I know the specifics of how you murdered Nic. You took pleasure in what you did to him.” “Yes. I rather enjoyed it.” “Only someone evil could admit that.” I expected her to bring up Moretti sooner or later, but hearing his name on her lips pisses me off more than I anticipated. “Would you like to know what his last words were?” She looks at me a moment before answering. “No.” “You really don’t want to know what your beloved boy said to me while he was lying there in a pool of his own blood dying?” “I doubt anything you tell me would be the truth. And I know what Nic’s last words were to me. Those are the ones that I’ll always hold dear inside my heart.” There’s my confirmation. Marrying Moretti wasn’t about not marrying me. She truly loved him. “Suit yourself. If you can live without knowing what he said about you, then I can live without telling you.” “I can live with it. The question is how do you live with yourself after brutally taking the life of an innocent man?” “Moretti wasn’t innocent. He tried to take what belonged to me.” “Contrary to what you may believe, I have never belonged to you.” “We were promised to each other by our grandfathers. Betrothed. I was told my entire life that you were to be my wife.” “It’s 1978. A betrothal between us when we were children should never have happened.” “But it did happen. And you will always belong to me whether you like it or not.” One of her brows lifts. “Unless that pregnancy test proves that I’m carrying Nic’s baby? You won’t have me then, will you?” I had hoped that Emilia’s Catholic faith, or maybe Nicolò’s fear of Alessandro, had persuaded them to not have sex. I see now that any hope I had was in vain. The thought of Moretti putting his filthy, inferior hands on my betrothed enrages me. But what’s even worse is that she let him. She wanted him to touch her and he did. Now, she could be pregnant. I can’t handle it. I’m so pissed off that I don’t trust myself to be in the same room with her right now. I get up with the intentions of leaving, but I stop when I hear Emilia’s low chuckle. Moving to stand in front of her, I lean down until we’re so close that I have to blink a few times to focus on her eyes. She doesn’t blink. She doesn’t cower. She stares right back at me. “I’m going to do you a kindness, which is very out of character for me, and I’m going to leave this room. While I’m gone, I’d suggest that you get on those little Catholic knees of yours and pray very hard that the pregnancy test you just took is negative. Or we’re going to have a huge problem on our hands.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Georgia resides in rural Mississippi with her wonderful husband, Jeff, and their two beautiful daughters. She spent fourteen years as a labor and delivery nurse before she decided to pursue her dream of becoming an author and hasn’t looked back yet. When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing. When she’s being domestic, she’s listening to her music and visualizing scenes for her current work in progress. Every story coming from her always has a song to inspire AUTHOR LINKS Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GeorgiaCatesAuthor Facebook Author Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/GeorgiasGems Twitter: https://twitter.com/GeorgiaCates Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authorgeorgiacates/ Tumblr: http://authorgeorgiacates.tumblr.com/ Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5228869.Georgia_Cates Website: http://georgiacates.com/ Amazon: http://bit.ly/GeorgiaCatesAmazonPage Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/georgia-cates Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/georgiacates1/