I don’t want to open my eyes. I like the dark. It protects me. Shields me. Keeps me hidden from things that can hurt me. This is why Mama doesn’t want me to look. This is why she wants me to keep my eyes closed because she knows the light will bring pain. I trust her. She knows what’s best for me.
A sudden chill slithers across my skin, and I shiver as I tighten my arms around my chest, rubbing my palms up and down my arms.
“You’re a big girl now, Mira.” It’s Marco. It’s always him. “When are you going to stop listening to Mom and do what you want to do?”
I scrunch up my nose and turn my face away from the sound of his voice. “I am doing what I want to do.”
“And what’s that?”
“Listening to Mom.”
The sound of his deep-throat chuckle fills my belly with unease. “Are you telling me that you’re not the least bit curious about what it is Mom doesn’t want you to see?”
“I’m not lying, Marco. Just leave me alone.”
“I will, just as soon as you take a look at what’s in front of you.”
“I won’t open my eyes,” I spit out, squeezing my eyelids tighter.
“But you should.” He’s closer now, the chill starting to squeeze around my legs. “If you don’t look, you’ll never know what you did.”
My stomach flips, and my heart is beating in my throat. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Oh, yes, you did. Look.”
“No.” I shake my head.
“No. I won’t look. Go away.”
“Look what you did! Open your fucking eyes and look what you did!”
My eyes open as I jerk awake, sweat beading across my chest, my skin hot and clammy. I suck in a few deep breaths, trying to ground myself in the present. The dream was terrifyingly familiar as if it were calling me back to a past I’d rather forget. It’s always the same; me not wanting to open my eyes. And for some reason, Marco is always there trying to get me to do something I don’t want to do. He wants me to open my eyes. Why? Why would I dream the same thing over and over again?
Nicoli tightens his hold around my waist, pulling me closer to him. It soothes me and calms my racing fear that lingers whenever I have a nightmare. He’s safe, and he loves me. That’s all I need.
All I need is him.
That’s how it’s always been.
How it always will be.
I watch Nicoli slide into a tailored black suit, adjusting the lapel as his intense blue eyes study me. His gaze alone has me shivering in my towel, damp strands of hair clinging to my naked shoulders. It’s one of those moments where I want to bite my thumbnail while gawking at him looking all dapper and hot in Armani. I would’ve been doing that if I didn’t know where he’s going.
“You’re going to Myth.”
“You know I have to.”
“Then let me go with you.”
Nicoli narrows his eyes at me. “We’ve talked about it, Mira. I’m not taking you back there.”
“Because of what happened weeks ago with Nunzio? Seriously, Nicoli. It’s time to get over that.”
He straightens his black silk tie, staring down at me. “Keeping you away from potential situations where shit can hit the fan is something I’ll never get over.”
“Nunzio won’t be going to the club again, so I fail to see why I can’t go.”
Nicoli sighs and shakes his head. “It’s not just about Nunzio, Mira. It’s the danger that comes with being a Del Rossa.”
“I’ve been a part of this family since I was four. I’m pretty sure I know what being a Del Rossa is all about.” I step up to him and lace my hands around his neck, pressing a tender kiss on his lips. “Besides, I trust you’ll keep me safe,” I say as he wraps an arm around my waist.
“That doesn’t mean we should go looking for trouble.”
I purse my lips, weaving my fingers through his hair. “I’m getting the sense that arguing with you about this today won’t help my case.”
“Fine,” I huff, and step away. “I’ll try tomorrow, then.”
Nicoli curses under his breath, and I’m just about to drop my towel when he reaches out and stops me by grabbing my hand. “Remove this towel, and we won’t be leaving this room today.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“As much as I’d like to stay here and fuck my wife, I have too much shit to deal with today. But when I get home, I’ll make sure you’re biting down on this towel so I can fuck you…hard.”
“Promises, promises.” I shoot him a sly grin, and his eyes darken with desire.
“Believe it, baby.” He pulls me closer for a searing kiss before breaking away and turning to the door. “Now, go get dressed so I can deal with my daily shit and still make it home in time to eat your pussy before dinner.”
I chuckle and watch him walk out, already looking forward to the naughty things he has in store for me. There’s never a dull moment living with a Del Rossa – that much I know is true. And although things can get chaotic at times, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I take a deep breath and turn to face the bed, my thumbnail firmly between my teeth. The torrent of excitement and anticipation courses through my veins. I’d been accepted into this family the day I arrived here when I was four, but now that I’m Nicoli’s wife, the name takes on a whole new meaning for me. With it comes power, privilege, influence, but it’s also awakened an insatiable appetite for my husband.
After slipping on my clothes, I head down to the dining room only to discover that either I’m super late, or everyone else decided to get an early start this morning. The kitchen staff is already clearing the table, but I manage to snatch myself a buttered croissant from the tray just as a waiter whisks it away, then head to my office.
I peer up and down the hall as I slide the key into the lock. Last night, I was forced to lock my office since evidence of the white lies I’ve been telling my husband is strewn all over the floor.
I close the door behind me, breathing out a sigh. The room is an absolute disaster, fabric scraps of silk in shades of primrose, champagne blush, and sheer rosebud all over everything. It’s even tucked in between papers and files and draped over the new sage chaise I had bought just last week.
I take a bite from the croissant, swallowing the delicious buttery goodness.
The Carrington-Winslow wedding is my first paying project, and Nicoli will burst an artery if he finds out I took it on after he explicitly told me I can’t.
“I can’t have you protected when you’re floundering around town.”
“It’s too dangerous.
“Imagine the wedding planner having more security detail around her than the bride.”
“Read my lips, Hummingbird. Nnnnnn-oooooo. Now, bend over so I can fuck that syllable into you.”
I can’t believe he bought it when I accepted his refusal so easily. As if he actually believed I would obey his command without zero resistance. And does he really think the pink fabric is for redecorating the dining room? Pink? A dining room?
There’s a knock on the door, and I almost swallow my tongue. “Jesus,” I mutter. “Who is it?”
“It’s me.” Leandra’s voice floats in.
“Um…I’d love to let you in, but you’ll be an accomplice if I do.”
“Oh, no. Mirabella Del Rossa, what are you up to? Does this have to do with the pink fabric that’s been delivered for the dining room renovation?”
“What is it, then? Yes, no, or maybe?”
“Well…that depends.” I shove the rest of my croissant in my mouth, then start grabbing silk samples off the floor.
“Whether you can keep a secret, and if you’ll be able to continue the secret even while your husband tries to choke it out of you with his dick.”
“Okay, fine.” I shove the samples under my arms as I unlock the door, swinging it open and straightening as I pin Leandra with an iron stare. “You have to swear you won’t tell anyone.”
She wrinkles her nose, narrowing her green eyes at me. “You accepted the Carrington-Winslow project, didn’t you?”
“Ugh,” I say, tapping my heel. “How did you know?”
She cocks a brow. “A pink dining room?”
“Yeah.” I open the door wider for her to step in. “I can’t believe the guys fell for it either.”
“Seriously?” She glances at the silk samples under my arms. “How long do you think you can hide this from him? Sooner or later, he’s going to find out.”
“I’m hoping later.”
Leandra frowns, and I can practically feel her disapproval slither down my spine.
“Don’t look at me like that,” I say, stomping across the floor while stepping over rolls of fabric. “I want to do this. For the first time, I can do something that’s just for me, something that doesn’t have the Dark Sovereign crest on it.”
“And you’re sure Abigail Winslow didn’t pick you as her wedding planner because of your last name?”
“What? No.” I drop the samples from under my arm and onto my desk. “Of course not. Why would me being a Del Rossa influence her decision? Oh!”
“Well, shit, I didn’t think of it that way.” I plop down on my chair, leaning back as Leandra takes a seat across from me.
“So, you didn’t once think that the bride-to-be would have been inclined to pick you because there’s no saying no to a Del Rossa in this city?”
“If you put it that way.” I huff.
“Then there’s also the fact that having her wedding tied to the Del Rossa name would give her just that teensy-tiny bit of influence?”
“Okay, stop. Do you want me to walk into oncoming traffic?”
Leandra snickers. “All jokes aside—”
“That was you joking?”
“—you’re a great event planner, Mira. The best. And there’s nothing more I want for you than to dream big and take this venture of yours even higher.”
“There’s a but coming,” I deadpan.
“But…there has to be a better way to do it than sneak behind your husband’s back.”
“He’s adamant, Leandra. And I’m afraid if I tell him, he’ll interfere by threatening the groom or burning down the church.”
“Just be subtle when you’re trying to convince him, and don’t just drop it all out in front of him in one go. Ease him into the idea.”
“There’s no easing Nicoli into anything. He’s a hard egg to crack, so you really have to hammer shit into his head.”
Leandra smiles as she stands, her hair sleeked back into a perfect ponytail. “If you can make him understand how important this is to you, I can promise you that he’ll let you have this. He has to.”
I scrunch up my nose, breathing out heavily as I twirl a stray hair around my finger. “You’re lucky,” I comment.
“You got the predictable one.”
She scoffs. “Alexius is not predictable.”
“At least he’s not as unpredictable as Nicoli. I’m telling you, I never know whether he’s pissing me off on purpose or not. And you might think his smile is just a smile, but it’s not.”
“What is it, then?”
I pin my gaze on her. “It’s the devil’s asshole curving up at the edges of his mouth.”
“Oh, my God.” She bursts out laughing, barely able to breathe, which has me smiling, too.
“I’m serious. Nothing is ever as it seems when it comes to my husband.”
“At least we all know he’s obsessed with you. There’s no doubt about that.” She saunters to the door before turning back to face me. “Talk to Nicoli.”
“Easier said than done. The night I told him about the Carrington-Winslow wedding, there was no room in our conversation for debating. For him, it was a big, fat no right from the start. He went through an entire list of reasons I don’t have to do this and kept sidestepping the one reason I want to do this.”
“Because I want to.” I stand and round my desk. “It’s not about the money. It’s not about networking. It’s about doing something I’m good at. Having that sense of accomplishment over something more than just deciding next week’s menu and delegating it down to the kitchen staff. Ugh!” I lightly kick at one of the fabric rollers. “I want to be more than just a housewife. I want there to be more to my day than lounging around waiting for my husband to come home so I can sit on his lap and bark for attention. Like you,” I say, gesturing toward her. “You have the twins. And even though you have like a gazillion nannies at your disposal, you do it all yourself. You don’t sit around here and look pretty all day, waiting for Alexius. You’re raising your children, taking care of them, loving them, making sure they have a stable home and a happy childhood.”
“I want more, Leandra. I need to have a purpose other than waiting around for my husband all day.”
“Do you want kids?”
I place my palm on my forehead. “Well, yeah. Someday.”
“He mentioned it the other day, saying he wants kids. But I don’t think I’m ready for that. Not yet.” I stomp over to the chaise and take a seat on it, leaning back, not caring that I’m wrinkling all the samples. “I think event planning is enough of a commitment for me right now.” I stare up at the covered ceiling. “I feel like the world’s biggest brat by not being satisfied with my life—a life most would die to have.”
“You’re not a brat,” Leandra says as she shoves my legs to the side so she can take a seat. “Our DNA compels us to have purpose. And right now, your purpose is to give Abigail Winslow the wedding of her dreams.”
“Oh, my God. Don’t say it like that.”
“How did I say it?” She chuckles.
“Compared to your purpose of raising happy children, mine sounds…superficial and stupid.”
“Oh, come on. It’s not stupid. You know what you need?” She takes my hands and pulls me up, and I suddenly turn into a petulant child who doesn’t want to believe that Santa isn’t real. “You need to find a way to tell your husband that you’re doing this. Having his support will only make you enjoy this so much more.”
“And how do you suppose I do that? Make a big, bright, bold sign and hold it up over my head for him to see as he parks his car in the driveway?”
She frowns. “Even though I do love that idea, I think mine is better.”
I straighten, wiping a wisp of hair from my face as I try to pull my shit together. “And what is your idea?”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned while being married to Alexius, it’s that you have to make them see you.”
I purse my lips. “My husband sees me plenty, I can assure you. In fact, last night he really got in there and saw—”
“Please,” Leandra interrupts, shoving her finger against my mouth. “Do not finish that sentence.”
“O…kay,” I say against her finger with my lips all scrunched up.
Leandra glances around my office and grabs the champagne blush silk sample off the chaise. “You are going to put together the best wedding this city has ever seen. You are going to pour your heart and soul into this project, and somehow we will get Nicoli to that wedding so he can see what your life’s passion looks like.”
I’m about to tear up as my best friend stares at me with so much compassion, I can practically feel it soak into my heart.
She pulls me in for a hug, and I’m reminded of how much I appreciate having this woman in my life. Leandra is the strongest person I know, and I’m so lucky to have her in my corner.
“Thank you.” I squeeze her tight.
“We’ll make him understand,” she assures me as she steps back. “I do have one request, though.”
She grabs the champagne blush fabric from the chaise and holds it out to me. “You’re going with this color. It’s beautiful.”
I smile and take it from her and slide the silk through my fingers. “Deal.”
“Now, get started on the wedding of the century.” She winks and saunters out of my office, closing the door behind her. The smile that spreads across my face can’t be stopped after Leandra’s pep talk. She’s right. Maybe telling Nicoli how important it is for me to do my own thing isn’t the way to go. I need to show him. Maybe then he’ll understand. And maybe once I prove to myself I’m capable of doing something on my own, I’ll be ready to take the next step in my life. Become a mother.
I take a seat at my desk and pull my laptop closer. Ever since Nicoli mentioned children the other day, I’ve found my thoughts wandering to my mother, at least what I can remember, which isn’t much. Maybe that’s why I’m hesitating, doubting myself, thinking I don’t have what it takes to be a mother. I didn’t have one growing up. Mrs. Del Rossa has always been there for me, and I love her dearly. But it’s not the same. And with her living in Tuscany now, who will I ask for help if I don’t know how to change my own baby’s diaper? Who will I go to for advice when my baby is crying and I have no idea why? Sure, I have Leandra, and God knows she’s the best mother in the world. It comes so naturally for her. But there’s a part of me that wishes my mom could have been here, be the one I turn to.
I’m staring at the search engine on my laptop as my fingers hover over the keys, then start typing my mother’s name. Natalia Tirelli. It’s not the first time I’ve tried searching her name on the internet. I’ve typed her name into that little search box a million times, but I’ve never been able to get myself to press enter. As much as I want to know more about my parents’ murder, there’s always been a sense of dread that comes with it. It’s impossible to erase something you wish you didn’t know, which is why I chose to…not know, why I never pressed Mr. Del Rossa for answers about that night.
I glance out the window as I take in a deep breath. It’s an overcast day outside, the sky a dull gray color. Our winter is here, and it’s only going to get colder.
Turning my attention back to my laptop, a faint memory of my mother’s face trickles in. But it’s hazy, and I know if I force it, the image will turn into the one I fight to forget every day of my life. Her lifeless eyes.
Natalie Tirelli. It’s right there in the search box and that damn enter key is taunting me. Why now? After all this time, why would I want to dig into the past now?
“Goddammit.” I press enter and shut my eyes, my heart beating impossibly fast. There’s a chill that ripples down my spine, and a voice screaming in my head to not open my eyes.
“Open your eyes, Mira.”
“You know you want to.”
“Open them. Open them now!”
My eyes peel open and I stare at the results, and for a second my mind goes blank, sweat clinging to my top lip.
Nothing. Not a single result.
A wave of sadness washes over me and anger rises in my chest. The wave of grief I’m feeling is much stronger than I had anticipated, and I close my eyes, trying to keep the tears from coming. I take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and try to push away the many thoughts and questions that come rushing to the surface. I know I won’t find the answers here, but I can’t help but feel a deep longing I haven’t felt in years.
Pressing my lips together, I slant my head to the side and slowly type in my father’s name. But again…nothing.
Okay, now this is weird. I know my father was the head of the drug cartel in this city, which is also what got him and my mom killed in the end. But I find it hard to believe there’s not a single article about him or his death. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
It’s like my parents didn’t even exist.
How is that possible?