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Cruel Saints: Chapter 17


Walking into the church, I glance at the people filling the pews.

Intimate, my ass.

Everyone is here to either make sure my father is dead or to pay their last respects.

I lead Aunt Ursula to the front and help her sit down. Leaning over her, I press a kiss to her cheek and whisper, “I’m just going to greet a couple of people, Zia Ursula.”

She nods at me and then holds her hand out to Elena. As I straighten up, I glance at Leo, and he nods at me. I leave the two women in his care, and with Franco and Matteo flanking me, I walk to Peter Stathoulis.

When we spoke, he said he’d attend the funeral to offer his respects, and we could talk then.

When I reach him, his thick eyebrows draw together, making him look like an eagle, his gaze sharp and not missing a thing. We shake hands, and leaning closer to me, he murmurs, “Your father was a worthy opponent.”

I nod.

“You’re looking for a woman who goes by the name of Umbria.”

My eyes snap to Peter’s. “Umbria?”

“The Goddess of shadows, secrets, and darkness who lives in the underworld,” he recites the old Italian myth to me. “Whoever she is, she’s here for revenge. Look at past enemies.”

Christ. There are so many.

But a woman?

“Are you sure it’s a woman?” I ask.

He nods. “As sure as one can be.”

What the fuck?

My mind begins to race through all the enemies I know of, but I can’t figure out who she can be.

“Thank you.”

Peter nods and then tightens his grip on my hand. “Maybe we can put our differences aside. Consider the information a peace offering.”

Our eyes lock, and knowing there was no bad blood between our families, I nod. “An ally is always welcome.”

He lets go of my hand and then takes a seat next to his wife.

I greet a couple of politicians and detectives, and some other prominent families before I take my seat next to Elena.

Just like the day before, I take hold of her left hand and place it on my thigh.

While the priest performs the service, I rub my thumb over the engagement ring, and it offers me the comfort I need to get through today.

When we’re done with Mass, I get up and walk to the open casket. My father looks like he’s just sleeping, and it breaks my heart, knowing he will never wake again.

I lean over him and press a final kiss to his forehead. “Addio, Papà.”

I wait for Aunt Ursula and Elena to say their final farewells, and then we step aside.

The guards know to keep the press away, so at least we’re not inundated with reporters as we leave the church. It’s quiet in the back of the car, and when we reach the cemetery, Aunt Ursula begins to softly weep.

I close my eyes for a moment, tightening my hold on Elena’s hand.

She’s put her anger aside to offer my aunt and me comfort through this challenging time, and it tells me just how big her heart is.

When we climb out of the car, Elena wraps her arm around Aunt Ursula, and the sight offers my heart some warmth.

I link my fingers with Elena’s left hand, and then the three of us walk to the mausoleum where my father will be laid to rest.

Well aware, this is the perfect opportunity for an attack, I’m overly conscious of my surroundings even though I have an army of guards protecting us.

One slip up, and it can cost me dearly. I could lose Elena or my aunt.

My gaze connects with Alexei’s, and when he nods, silently assuring me everything is okay, the worry begins to fade.

My father taught me we don’t have friends, but looking at Alexei, I know with certainty I at least have one.

Thank God for small mercies.

The day proceeds at a somber pace, and by the time we get home, we all sink down on the couches in the living room.

Alexei and Demitri are staying as my guests until we’ve taken care of the threat.

Aunt Ursula only sits for a minute then she gets up again. “Come, Elena.”

I watch as the women head for the stairs and then turn my gaze back to Alexei. “Stathoulis said the threat is a woman who goes by the name of Umbria.”

“Umbria?” Alexei frowns, and leaning forward, he rests his forearms on his thighs. “Is that supposed to mean something?”

“It’s the name of an old Italian mythical goddess,” I explain to him. “Stathoulis thinks it’s an old enemy.”

“Any ideas?” he asks.

I shake my head. “You know how it works. The whole family gets taken out, so there’s no one left to do something like this.”

Alexei thinks for a moment, then he asks, “A scorned mistress?”

I let out a bark of laughter. “Fuck no.”

“Umbria,” Alexei murmurs her name again. “I’ll dig around and see what I can come up with.”

“Thanks.” Getting up, I leave them to work on the problem and go upstairs to check on the women.

I find them in the sitting room, which has a spectacular view of the Mediterranian sea. Leaning my shoulder against the doorjamb, I watch as Aunt Ursula shows Elena pictures of wedding dresses.

“What do you think of this one?” Aunt Ursula asks, tilting her head to Elena.

A funeral and a wedding. It sounds like the start of a bad joke.

Elena stares at the picture then she nods her head. “It’s beautiful.” There’s no excitement in her voice.

“The mermaid style will compliment your figure,” Aunt Ursula says, then she stares at the dress. “So chic.” She sets the picture aside, then spreads a whole bunch of new photos over the coffee table. “Now for flowers. What do you like?”

Elena looks at all of them then she shakes her head. “They’re all pretty.”

My lips curve up, and I slowly walk closer. When I reach the couch, both women glance at me.

“Planning the wedding?” I ask the obvious.

Aunt Ursula gives me a playful scowl. “One week! That’s all I have, so don’t you dare interfere.”

I hold my hands up in a surrendering motion while letting out a chuckle. “Oh, trust me, I won’t.”

I sit down on the arm of the couch, and leaning into Elena, I look at all the photos that have samples of bouquets.

I gesture at the St. Joseph lilies. “Those were Mamma’s favorites.”

My comment makes a sentimental smile form on Aunt Ursula’s face.

“We can go with those,” Elena says.

“The St. Joseph’s?” Aunt Ursula asks to be sure.

“Yes.” Elena gets up. “Excuse me for a moment.”

I rise to my feet, and straightening my jacket, I say, “Thank you for doing this, Zia Ursula.”

“Of course,” she smiles at me.

Walking out of the sitting room, I go to Elena’s room and tap my knuckles on the door. When she doesn’t answer, I knock again and wait a couple of seconds before pushing the door open to see if she’s even inside.

Elena swings around from where she was standing in front of the window. “I just need a moment,” she says, her voice tight.

I step inside and shut the door behind me. Walking to her side, I stare at the landscaped garden below.

“Thank you for the comfort you’ve given my aunt,” I murmur. “And myself.”

“I’m not heartless,” she mutters.

“I know.” I turn to face her, but she keeps staring out the window. Lifting my hand, I take hold of her jaw and turn her face to me. “Why are you against marrying me?”

Elena’s eyes lock with mine, and I see a million thoughts in her golden-brown irises.





“Because it will cost me my freedom,” I answer honestly. “I fought too hard to just give it up.”

Lucian’s eyes drift over my face. “What makes you think you’ll have to give up your freedom?”

“Everything. This whole world you’re in charge of.” I take a breath, and my lungs are filled with his aftershave, which I have to admit, I’m growing really fond of. “Or are you going to tell me things will be different? There might not be a lock on that door now, but what stops you from doing it later? One day you’ll lose your patience with me, and it will start with one slap.”

Lucian moves his hand to the side of my face, and cupping my cheek, the touch feels tender. He steps closer until our bodies are almost touching, and then he says, “I could never hit you. Not even if you drive me up the walls.”

He leans down and presses a kiss to my forehead. His lips linger, and I have to close my eyes against how good it feels. 

“I just want my freedom,” I plead, hoping to appeal to his heart.

He pulls back and captures my eyes. “You’re free to come and go as you please, Elena. You’re free to do anything you want.”

A frown begins to form on my forehead. “You’ll just let me walk out of the house? Right now?”

His eyes narrow slightly. “Yes…” tilting his head, he continues, “but you better come back. Make no mistake, I expect to find you at home when I return from work.”

My eyes dart between his, looking for the truth in his words. “So during the day, I can do what I want?” I ask to make sure.

“As long as you have the guards with you. I also prefer you take my aunt along, especially for shopping trips. She loves those.”

I frown again, and my heart begins to beat a little faster as hope begins to return.

“What happens the day I make you angry?” I ask.

Lucian’s fingers brush down my cheek to the faint bruise on my jaw. “You pissed me off yesterday, and I didn’t hit you.” He shrugs. “We’ll fight. We’ll make up.” Shaking his head, he pins me with a look of warning. “But we’ll never lift a hand against each other.”

I need to know more. I need to know how I’ll pay for disobeying him because there’s always a price to pay.

“So no punishments?” I ask. “We just fight, and that’s it?”

The corner of his mouth lifts into a dangerously sexy grin. He leans forward again, and then he whispers in my ear, “Oh, you’ll pay. Just not the way you think.”

“How?” I ask while I keep perfectly still.

Lucian drops his hands to my hips, and slowly his palms brush over my curves until they reach my bottom. I let out a burst of air from the sharp sensation it causes in my abdomen. He then moves up to my back, and it feels as if I’m being hypnotized – focusing only on him.

My lips part, and when he lets out a breath of air on my ear, my eyes drift shut, and my body quivers.

“Piss me off, and I’ll drive you wild only to leave you aching for my cock,” he murmurs, his voice low and seductive.

A wave of warmth spreads through my body as if he’s set it alight, and my mind clouds over like when he was kissing me.

Lucian’s lips skim along my jaw, and when his mouth touches mine, I exhale sharply. My lips tingle with need for his, but instead of kissing me, he pulls away. The smirk returns to his face. “Do you have any other questions?”

I quickly shake my head.

“Good.” Lucian presses another kiss to my forehead. “Don’t keep my aunt waiting. She’s excited to plan the wedding.” And then he walks out of my room. I take the three steps to my bed and slump down on it, my legs too numb to stand.

My. God.

What was that?

I actually wanted him to kiss me. I’ve never felt that before, not even with Alfonso, and it leaves me staring off into space with amazement.

It takes me a couple of minutes to gather my senses that have been scrambled by Lucian. Then I remember what he said – I can come and go as I please.

Is it the truth, though?

Only time will tell. In six days, we’ll be married, and I know there’s no way I can stop it from happening.

The thought reminds me of Aunt Ursula, and getting up, I rush out of the room. When I walk into the sitting room, I say, “I’m so sorry for keeping you waiting.”

Instead of being angry, she smiles at me. “Not to worry, cara. I understand you and Lucian need time to talk as well. Come sit.”

I take a seat next to her and then look at the new set of photos on display. She points to one where lanterns lend a soft glow to tables decorated with white linen. “If you have the wedding at sunset, this will look gorgeous in the backyard.”

I glance at her. “Will the wedding be held here?”

She nods. “It would be a shame to not use the garden.”

Agreeing with her, I nod. “I like the lanterns. It makes everything look mystical.”

“Good,” she says with a happy chuckle. “We’ll decide on the food and cake tomorrow.” Turning to me, her eyes scan over my hair. “Are you going to wear it up or down?”

I shrug. “I don’t know.”

“Lucian will like it down. I think you’ll look beautiful with curls.”

“It sounds easy enough,” I say, a smile curving my lips.

Aunt Ursula tilts her head as she places her hand on mine. There’s a soft expression in her eyes. “Lucian is all I have left. He’s like a son to me.”

I nod.

“Please be good to him.”

I nod again.

She pulls me into a hug, then says, “I know an arranged marriage is not every girl’s dream, but he’ll be a good husband. Give him a chance.”

I nod again. “I’ll try.”

“That’s all I ask,” she says as she pulls back. She brushes a couple of strands away from my cheek, and her fingers skim over the bruise. “The Cotroni men don’t hit.”

I swallow hard and lower my eyes to the pictures on the table.

“I’m here if you need to talk about anything. I’d like to think we can become good friends.”

My gaze darts back to hers, and when I see the sincerity on her face, my hope grows a little more. “I’d like that too.”


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