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Ruined Secrets: Part 1 – Chapter 4

Isabella

Is it possible for the same day to be the happiest and the saddest of my life?
I tilt my head and regard my reflection in the mirror while standing on a small stool as two seamstresses kneel on the floor, adjusting the length of my wedding gown. There wasn’t enough time to order a custom dress, so my mother took me to the most prestigious wedding salon in the city and picked the most expensive dress available. It had to be adjusted to fit my rather impressive behind.
Andrea and I were similarly built when we were younger, but when puberty hit, my sister kept her slender figure and I didn’t. It’s as if my body is made of two halves that don’t really fit together. I love my narrow waist and flat stomach. My breasts are average but firm. Having a petite upper body allows me to purchase the smallest size T-shirts and tops. The bottom half of me, however, is a different story all together. My ass and hips are at least two sizes too big for my torso. Diets never helped much because they only caused my breasts and my already thin arms to get smaller before my ass would get the memo.
Andrea is always telling me I’m crazy and she’d kill for a butt like mine, but I don’t see it. Although I’ve never struggled with any self-esteem problems, I wouldn’t say no to a smaller booty and slimmer thighs. I sigh as I look at my reflection again.
“What do you want to be done with your hair, Miss Isabella?” the hairstylist asks.
“Leave it loose,” my mother suggests from the chair in the corner of the room. She’s been overseeing the preparations since five this morning.
“Loose is okay.” I shrug.
Luca didn’t come to see me. Not on the day my grandfather announced that we’ll be getting married, and not any time during the following weeks. I guess he considered it not necessary since we already knew each other.
I assess my reflection again, noting the long, white, lacy dress and expensive tiara on top of my head. My dream is finally coming true. But, I never thought it would be such a bitter experience. Based on what I overheard the morning I eavesdropped outside of my grandfather’s study, I should have expected it.
What am I going to do with a nineteen-year-old,” Luca said. As if I was a stray dog someone brought in off the street. One he couldn’t throw out, but he didn’t want there either.
I’m glad I only overheard the tail end of the conversation. God knows what else he said before that.
There is a knock on the door and my father’s head peeks inside. “You’re beautiful, Isa.” He smiles and turns to my mother. “Emma, we need to hurry or we’re going to be late.”
“We’ll be down in a minute,” she says, moving somewhere behind me.
The staff leave the room first, my mother following, then Andrea and I exit last.
“Smile, Isa! You’re finally marrying Luca,” she whispers. “It still feels surreal.”
“Yeah.”
“Oh, come on. It’s your wedding day for God’s sake. I expected you to be ecstatic. People will expect you to be happy.”
“I’m just nervous,” I lie. I haven’t told her about what I heard Luca say in Grandfather’s study. “Here, better?” I ask and offer one of my favorite fake smiles.
“Perfect. I love that one, I’ve never really managed to pull off the right mix of happiness with a tiny bit of shyness. You were always Mom’s best student.” She laughs.
Yes, it’s all about appearances in our world.

Luca

My divorce is official as of yesterday afternoon. And now, not even twenty-four hours later, I’m standing in front of an altar, waiting for my new bride. Unbelievable.
The church’s tall door opens, and Isabella, on her father’s arm, steps inside. I take the opportunity to study my future wife as she approaches. Maybe it’s the light, but her face looks different from the last time I saw her for more than a fleeting second. She’s still breathtaking. Still the same long hair, huge eyes, and sharp cheekbones. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, but there’s something amiss. She gives the impression that she’s happy. A small smile is on her lips, and her head is held high—a picture-perfect image of a radiant bride. I move my gaze back to her eyes, and that’s when I see it. Her face might be showing happiness and joy, but the emotion doesn’t reach her eyes. Instead, they seem . . . empty.
She takes the final step to stand beside me, her gaze focused solely on the priest. Of course she doesn’t want this either. What nineteen-year-old would want to be tied to a man almost twice her age? She must be scared about what’s happening. I should have gone to speak with her beforehand, met her properly prior to the wedding. It’s not as if I’m planning on us having a marriage that fits the true sense of the word, but still.
As the priest starts speaking, I reach out to take her hand in mine, and hear her sharp intake of breath. Isabella looks down at our joined hands, then lifts her gaze to stare right at me. Her eyes are not vacant anymore, and as she watches me, I can almost see the fire burning in their dark depths. I like that much better than the dead look.
After the priest finishes and we exchange rings, I lean down and place a quick kiss on her cheek. When I straighten and look at her, I find her watching me with that empty stare again.
* * *
I lift my glass and sip the seltzer without taking my eyes off the corner of the room where my young wife is standing with her sister and mother.
The moment we arrived at the country club, where the wedding lunch is being held, Isabella left my side and went to the opposite end of the room. She hasn’t looked in my direction once. I should be relieved. Instead, I’ve been watching her for more than an hour, noticing every man who gives her a passing glance. It pisses me off. Not only the looks other men are giving her, but also the fact that it’s bothering me.
“What an unexpected turn of events,” Lorenzo Barbini says as he steps up next to me.
“Oh?” I take another sip of my drink. “Do you mean the wedding or the fact that Giuseppe named me his successor?”
“Both, to be honest. I thought the plan was to have Angelo Scardoni marry his granddaughter.”
“Plans change,” I say.
Lorenzo has been Giuseppe’s underboss for almost fifteen years, which is longer than I’ve been a capo. It’s understandable that he was surprised by the don’s decision. Everyone was, including me. Usually, when a don dies or decides to step down, it’s his son or son-in-law who takes over the leadership. If that’s not the case, then the reigns are passed to the underboss. My new grandfather-in-law chose to forge a new path.
“Are you sure you can handle everything your new position will entail?” he asks.
I’ve never aspired to lead the Family. Making arms deals, managing transactions so everything runs smoothly, and bringing in money was my main focus. Presently, the operations I oversee account for more than fifty percent of our earnings.
“Do you think you’d make a better don?” I ask.
“Let’s be real here, Luca. You’re a businessman and you do a great job. But you rarely attend Family events, and I’m pretty sure you have no idea how to handle internal affairs.”
He’s right. I don’t give a damn about their dinners, or who banged whose wife. Assuming the head position of the Chicago Cosa Nostra means resolving a bunch of private matters, meddling in debt issues between high-level members, and arranging marriages within the Family. Other people’s personal drama is not something I enjoy. But how little I care about the social aspect of the job doesn’t mean I’ll allow anyone to question my abilities.
“Yes, I assume you’d be better versed in handling that part, considering that sitting at parties is all you’ve been doing recently. Tell me, Lorenzo, would you run the Family the same way you’re running our casinos? Because from what I know, you’ve been dealing with significant losses for months.” I smile, enjoying the shock that spreads over his face. “Losses, might I add, that were covered with the profits I brought in from the gun deals. Maybe you should focus on taking care of your own shit before you aspire to take on more responsibilities?”
“He who flies high, falls deep,” Lorenzo mumbles into his glass.
I smile and grab the knot of his tie, pulling him up slightly. “I didn’t hear you well.” I bend, getting into his face, “Can you please repeat that?”
Lorenzo’s nostrils flare as the redness starts spreading over his face. He stares at me with bulging eyes for a few moments, then grits his teeth.
“I said, your information is wrong,” he sneers, “There is nothing wrong with the casino business.”
“Oh. My bad, then.” I release his tie and nod toward the corner of the room. “Seems like your wife is looking for you.”
Lorenzo gives me one angry stare, then marches away, and I turn my eyes back to my young wife. Franco Conti, the capo in charge of laundering money, is speaking with Emma, Isabella’s mother. I haven’t collaborated with Franco much, since he only handles money that comes from our casinos. Damian is in charge of laundering what my operations make, and I plan on keeping it that way. Standing next to Franco is Dario D’Angelo, the oldest son of Capo Santino D’Angelo, talking with Isabella. She smiles at something he says, then turns toward her sister, and I notice the way Dario’s gaze passes down her body while she’s not looking. Grinding my teeth, I pivot around and head to the bar. Who she talks to shouldn’t concern me. I’m halfway to my destination when I hear female laughter ring out behind me, so I peer over my shoulder. Isabella and her sister are giggling at something Dario has just said.
It shouldn’t bother me that another man can make her laugh. But it does. It’s like a damn itch in my side. I ignore the urge to walk over and shoo Santino’s son away from Isabella. Instead, I join Orlando Lombardi, another capo who handles the Family’s gambling business, at the bar.
“Did you hear about last week’s shitstorm in New York?” he asks when I take a seat next to him.
“I’m not into gossip.” I motion for the barman to bring me another seltzer. “Too much shit to deal with here.”
“Ajello annihilated two Camorra clans in one night. Forty-seven people. Looks like they tried sticking their fingers in his business.” Orlando leans close to me. “One of my nieces is married to a guy who works as a foot soldier for Ajello. She heard Ajello was shot during the skirmish.”
I take a sip of my drink. What the don of New York does doesn’t concern me in the least, I have no business with him. But I can’t say I’m not a bit curious. That man has always been a mystery. “Is he dead?”
“No. But that’s all I know,” Orlando says. “His ranks are too tightly stitched, and his men are loyal to a point of madness. My niece only overheard the conversation when her husband talked over the phone with someone.”
I’m trying my best to keep my eyes focused on my drink, but can’t fight the compulsion to take another look at Isabella. When I do, I find her watching me. The moment our gazes connect, however, she turns back to Dario.
“You know, I sometimes think that man doesn’t exist,” Orlando continues. “How come no one has ever met him?”
“Giuseppe did,” I say and glance at my wife again. She’s still talking with the idiot. “Last year.”
“No! Why did he never mention it?”
“Because Giuseppe doesn’t need to share what he does with anyone.”
“He told you,” he says with an envious glint in his eyes. “What was the meeting about?”
“One of our soldiers went to New York to visit a girlfriend who was there for work. And he didn’t ask permission to enter Ajello’s territory. Giuseppe met with Ajello to resolve the issue.”
“And did they? Resolve the issue?”
“Yes.” I nod but keep one eye on Isabella.
“Ajello released the guy?”
“In a way,” I say. “He sent back his head via FedEx.”
“Jesus fuck.”
Santino’s kid is still standing with Isabella. I lower my glass to the bar and stand up. “I’m off.”
“Leaving in the middle of your own wedding reception?”
“I have a meeting with Sergei Belov this afternoon.”
He widens his eyes at me. “I didn’t know you were doing business with the Bratva.”
“Well, we already established that you don’t know that many things, Orlando.”
I leave Orlando staring daggers at my back and head to collect my wife.

Isabella

I stare out the window of the limousine, watching the buildings as we pass them by, and try to smother the need to turn and face Luca. He made sure he sat as far away from me as possible, on the other side of the back seat. We’ve been driving for almost an hour, and he hasn’t said a word to me. Instead, he’s been engrossed by typing something on his phone.
My thoughts fly back to the church and our wedding this morning. I was so damn excited when the priest said “You may kiss the bride”. It’s not that I expected Luca to devour me in front of all those people, but I did want a real kiss. And what did I get? A light peck on the cheek. Next, he might as well have taken out candy from his pocket and given it to me. It hurts, the way he’s acting.
I sigh and continue looking outside, wondering what the hell I should do now. Just say who cares and see where this situation leads us? Live with a husband who remains a stranger because we ignore each other? Nope, I won’t allow it. My self-pity party ends here. I finally married a man whom I’ve secretly loved for years, and I’ll be damned if I let him sweep me under the carpet. Luca may not care about me now, but I will make him fall in love with me, or I’ll die trying.
He has a problem with our age difference. I clearly heard him say that. Well, I can’t do anything about how old I am, so it’s one of the obstacles I’ll need to overcome. I guess I’ll have to give him a wake-up call. I may be young, but I know what I want. Him. Loving me. And I’m ready to fight for it.
The limo stops in front of a big white mansion, and Luca exits and comes around to open my door. Gathering my skirt, I take his extended hand, and get out to regard my new home. It’s smaller than my grandfather’s house, where I grew up, but still huge.
“Take Mrs. Rossi’s suitcase upstairs,” he says to the driver and motions for me to follow him inside. “I suppose you’ll want to change and rest, so I’ll take you to your room. Damian will show you around the house before dinner.”
“Your brother?” I ask as we enter the big foyer.
“Yes. I have work to do.”
“Oh?” I might be in love with him, but it doesn’t mean I’ll allow him to treat me like a doormat. “I don’t remember marrying your brother, Luca.”
He stops in his tracks and turns to me. “What does that mean?”
“It means that you will be the one to show me the house and introduce me to your staff,” I say in a cold voice and enjoy the way his eyes widen in disbelief. Didn’t expect me to have a backbone, did he? Well, surprise. “Where’s your daughter?”
“Rosa is at her friend’s house. She’ll be home for dinner.”
“Good. Please take me to my room now.”
Luca cocks his head to the side, eyeing me with interest, then heads to the big stairway as I lag a few paces behind. I always admired the way he walks. His stride is slow, like a wolf on the prowl. Letting my eyes travel up his body, I check out his long legs and broad shoulders, and stop at the top of his head where his hair is gathered in a bun.
So many times, I’ve daydreamed about taking out that hair tie and threading my fingers through those black strands. I wonder how long his hair is now. The only time I saw it loose was after he jumped into the pool to save me all those years ago. His bun must have come undone in the process, spilling his mane free. It was shoulder-length back then.
I remember everything about him. Observing Luca in secret was all I ever could do, so I made sure to catch every single detail and store it in my mental vault, labeled with his name. The way his body changed over the years, becoming brawny, harder. Since I turned sixteen, I imagined that huge body wrapped around mine, holding me tight. Loving me.
I was seventeen the first time I pleasured myself, and I did it by imagining it was his hand between my legs instead of mine. From that day on, I’ve been doing it every single night before going to sleep. Sometimes even during the day. Whenever I’ve felt lonely or sad, I would lock myself in my room, get under the blanket, and imagine Luca lying next to me while I orgasmed. If people knew, they may think I’m silly for being in love with a man without actually knowing him that well. I don’t care.
When we reach the third floor, Luca nods toward the door on the left and opens it. “My room,” he says.
I take a glance, noticing an enormous bed under the window. Most of the furniture is made of dark wood that works well with the pale beige walls and curtains in the same shade.
“This room is not used,” he says, opening the next door. The room seems the same size as his, but the furniture here is mostly white, with curtains and a rug in a soft peach color. There’s a connecting door on the left wall that probably leads to his bedroom. He quickly shuts the door and ushers me down the corridor until we reach the last two rooms.
“Rosa’s room.” He nods to the one on the left with a big “Do Not Disturb” sticker on it, then turns to the door on the right and opens it. “This is you.”
It’s a nice space. Big, with several tall windows and light wood furniture. My suitcase stands in the middle of the carpet next to a big fluffy sofa.
“I’ll come by at six to take you downstairs to have dinner,” he says and leaves.
I look around one more time. So, he placed me as far from him as possible on this floor. It won’t do. I walk to my suitcase and grab the handle. Rolling it in front of me so my dress doesn’t catch within the wheels, I leave the room and head toward the other end of the corridor. Luca is just entering his room when he hears me coming. He takes a step back and watches me approach.
“Something wrong with your room?” he asks.
I stop in front of the room adjacent to his and tilt my chin up. His hooded eyes are peering at me, glaring with expression that I can’t quite read.
“Not at all,” I say, roll my suitcase inside and close the door behind me.

Luca

I look at the door that connects my bedroom to the room Isabella has claimed and listen to the sounds coming from the other side. There is no way she’s staying that close to me. I’ll let it be for now, but first thing in the morning, she’s going back to the room across from Rosa’s. I hear her move around, and then the water turns on in her ensuite bathroom. My teenage wife is taking a shower just a few yards from me, and suddenly, my mind conjures up images of her perfect little body under the spray.
I shake my head. What the fuck is wrong with me? I’m imagining having sex with a teenager. And one that’s probably never slept with a man before. Jesus. I march out of the room and slam the door shut behind me as if it’ll help erase the images of Isabella naked and wet. Or the temptation to pin her body between mine and the tiles of the shower wall while holding her wrists above her head.
* * *
It’s quarter to six when I get back from the meeting with Sergei Belov. One of my weapons suppliers got a hold of several crates of military-issued crossbows, but no one knew how they worked. Belov was the only person who came to mind that might know how to handle that shit. Based on his grinning face when I showed him the sample, he had plenty of experience with them. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised. But he did stun me when he asked if I could get him a tank. Then, he shrugged and said, “Asking for a friend.” They must have more than one lunatic in the Bratva.
I climb the stairs to the third floor and knock on the door of Isabella’s temporary room. She opens and looks me over, focusing on my jeans and black shirt. I notice a glint of astonishment in her eyes.
“No dressing up for dinner here?” she asks as we head toward the stairway.
“I hate suits.”
Isabella’s eyebrows lift in surprise. Wordlessly, she descends the stairs in front of me, giving me an unobstructed view of her behind. A pink sleeveless top that ties around her neck is molded to her torso and narrow waist, and it only emphasizes her perky round ass, clad in tight black trousers. It takes tremendous willpower to move my eyes away from it.
When we get to the ground floor, she stops in front of the staff lined up on the right side of the foyer.
“This is Isabella. My wife,” I say and introduce them one by one, starting with the housekeeper, then the maids, two drivers, the gardener, and finally the kitchen staff.
With that done, I turn to the other side where my security people stand and introduce them, as well. I don’t expect her to remember any of their names because there are more than thirty people that work here.
“This is the second shift,” I tell her. “I’ll introduce you to the first shift when they arrive in the morning.”
“Thank you.” She nods and follows me to the dining room that spans a quarter of the ground floor on the east side.
I remember the first time I brought Simona here after we were married at the city hall. She was overwhelmed with the number of security guards and the size of the house itself, and she jumped and squealed when anyone carrying a firearm passed by her. Isabella, on the contrary, takes all of this in without batting an eye. I guess it’s nothing new to her. She was raised in a house twice the size of mine and with significantly more armed guards.
Damian is already in the dining room, sitting at the table to the left of the head seat. He sees us come in and stands up, extending his hand.
“Finally.” He laughs. “I started wondering if Luca decided to hide you in your room forever.”
“Isabella, this is my brother,” I say and watch closely for her reaction.
My brother is twelve years younger than me and, as women like to call him, “drop-dead gorgeous.” People usually focus on his blue eyes, styled hair, and impeccable clothing, while underestimating him in the process, thinking him as a playboy. He does his best to uphold that impression with his behavior. Not many people know what a genius is hiding under that expensive haircut. Damian has a knack when it comes to numbers and the real estate market. Because of that, he handles the finances of my business dealings. He also launders millions of dollars on a monthly basis.
“Just Isa, please,” my wife says.
“I have to say, I couldn’t think of a name that would fit you better, Isa.” He smiles at her. “Bella.”
I shake my head. He’s already turned on the charm.
“No flirting, Damian. Where’s Rosa?”
“She said she’ll eat in her room.”
I turn to the maid waiting close by. “Get my daughter down here. Right now.”
As we sit at the table waiting for Rosa, I lean back in my chair and observe as Isabella and Damian discuss how she likes the house. They clearly hit it off right from the start, which I expected since they’re close in age. I wonder if she’ll try seducing him like Simona did.
“You weren’t at the wedding,” Isabella says.
Damian smiles. “Yeah, I try to avoid Family gatherings.”
“What he means is he doesn’t want to run into his exes,” I throw in. “Especially since half of them were already married when he slept with them.”
“Makes sense.” Isabella smirks at my brother. “Are you still sleeping with Franco’s daughter?”
Damian swirls his wine and stares at her. “How do you know about that?”
Isabella just smiles and reaches for the carafe with juice.
“I’m not sitting at the same table with that woman!” My daughter’s high voice reaches me.
I turn around in my chair and fix Rosa with my stare, making sure she sees in my eyes what I think about her yelling. “Come here.”
“No. I told you . . .”
“Right this second, piccola.”
She stomps her foot on the floor, juts her chin, and marches over to the table, taking a seat on the other side of Damian.
“Now, apologize to Isabella,” I say.
“No.”
Jesus. Doesn’t puberty hit around twelve or so? Rosa is only seven, but I’m starting to believe she’s going into it prematurely. When I told her that Simona and I were divorcing, her comment was “Good riddance.” The two of them never had any kind of relationship, and Rosa spent more time with our cook than with her own mother. I talked with Rosa last week and explained the situation with Isabella, and she seemed reasonable, but I guess we’ll have to discuss it some more. No matter how or why Isabella ended up here, I will not allow anyone to disrespect her, my daughter included. And I certainly won’t allow yelling in my house.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
“Yes.”
“Okay. You can go back to your room.”
“What?” She bulges her eyes at me. “And dinner?”
“No apology, no dinner.”
“Dad!”
“You are free to go.” I nod toward the door, and motion with my hand to the maid to serve the food.
“Fine,” Rosa snaps, jumps up from the chair, and marches away.
I follow Rosa with my eyes as she leaves and notice Isabella watching me, her mouth pressed into a thin line. I wait to see if she’ll comment, but she doesn’t say anything, just turns away and focuses on her plate. She probably thinks I’ll let my daughter go to sleep without dinner, and I don’t plan on reassuring her.

Isabella

I thought finding the kitchen would pose a problem, but when I get down to the ground floor, one of the maids I met when I arrived is dusting the lamp in the corner.
“Anna, can you show me where the kitchen is?” I ask as I approach her.
She blinks at me with a slightly confused expression on her face, then nods quickly. “Of course, Mrs. Rossi. This way.”
I follow Anna down the corridor on the right until we reach the rear of the house, where she stops in front of a white door. “It’s here.”
“Thank you,” I say and step inside.
The kitchen is spacious. Counters and an island on the left. On the right, there is a long wooden table that can seat at least ten people. That’s probably where the staff eat. I head over to the cabinets, where a willowy woman in her fifties is polishing glasses by the sink.
“Can I help you, Mrs. Rossi?”
“Would you mind making me a sandwich? I’d do it myself, but I have no idea where you store the ingredients.”
“Right away.” She nods and rushes around, taking out a plate and bread, then asks, “Do you want something specific?”
“It’s for Rosa. Just make them how she usually likes them. Thank you.”
The maid busies herself preparing the food, but I notice her throwing looks my way every couple of seconds. When she’s done, she brings over a plate with two sandwiches and a napkin, offering these to me.
“Ham. With extra cheese.”
“Thank you, Grace. Good night.”
Her eyes widen at hearing me say her name, but she quickly composes herself. “Good night, Mrs. Rossi.”
I carry the sandwiches to the third floor, walk down the hallway, and knock on Rosa’s door.
“I’m not here!” comes from the other side.
I roll my eyes. It’s like I’m listening to my sister. Andrea gets extremely cranky when something is not going her way. I grab the knob with my free hand and open the door. Rosa is lying on her stomach across the bed, fully engrossed in whatever’s happening on the phone set in front of her.
When she sees me standing in the doorway, she springs up, staring at me. “What are you doing in my room? Get out or . . .” Her eyes land on the plate in my hands. “No mayo?”
“No mayo.” I approach the bed, place the plate next to her, and turn to leave.
“How did you meet my dad?”
I stop. “He jumped into the pool and saved my life.”
“You’re lying.”
“Nope,” I call over my shoulder. “Ask him yourself if you want.”
“He really saved your life?”
I smile inwardly and turn around. “Want to hear about it?”
“Yes!” she exclaims, her eyes wide. “Tell me.”
I plop down on the small sofa in the corner of the room and lean back. “I was a little bit younger than you. It was my sixth birthday party. All of us kids were running around the garden playing. One of my shoelaces was untied, and when I kneeled to tie it right next to the pool, my friend’s cousin ran by me and pushed me into it.”
“You fell into a pool?”
“Yup.”
“And Dad saved you?”
“Jumped right in, clothes and all. The pool wasn’t deep, but I was little and could have drowned.”
“Wow,” she says, then tilts her head, regarding me. “Is that why you married him? Because he saved your life?”
I laugh. “No. I married him because my grandfather and your father agreed that it would be for the best. It’s how things sometimes work.”
“So, you don’t love him?”
Do I? To truly love someone, I would need to love the person the way they wholly are, the best and the worst about them. I’ve been in love with the idea of Luca since I can remember, and I’ve been obsessing over him for the last few years like a crazy woman. Is that love? Or just a crush? I’ve never felt anything similar for another man, that’s for sure.
“I like him.” I nod.
“I heard Tiyana’s sister say my dad is hot. What does that mean?”
I blink, slightly confused about how to explain. Rosa is only seven, even if her attitude screams preteen at times. “It means he looks nice.”
“Oh. Okay.” She takes a bite of her sandwich, her gaze never leaving me. As she chews, she narrows her eyes as if she’s judging me. “Will you yell at me?”
“No. Why would I do that?”
“Simona always yells at me.” She shrugs. “When Dad’s not around that is. He doesn’t allow yelling.”
She calls her mother by her first name? I’m still trying to process that fact and the implications it carries when the door opens. Luca steps inside, carrying a tray with a sandwich on a plate and a glass of milk. He halts in the doorway, zeroing in on the sandwich in Rosa’s hand.
“Isabella beat you to it,” Rosa says between bites and points her finger at me.
“Okay, I’ll be going now.” I stand up and head toward the door. “Good night, Rosa.”
Luca doesn’t move from the doorway where he’s glaring at me like a hawk. I look up and meet his gaze, and our eyes lock in silence for several long heartbeats until he finally steps aside. Making sure my movements are deliberately slow, I tread down the hallway until I reach my room. Something, call it intuition, tells me he’s still watching me as I slip inside my room without looking back.
The moment the door closes behind me I exhale and lean my back against it. I thought it would be easy to pretend I’m indifferent, but I have a feeling that a single kind act on my part will result in him pulling away even more. I can’t risk it. Not yet.
Being so close to Luca after all these years and knowing he doesn’t want anything to do with me . . . hurts. In a way, it was easier when I knew I didn’t have a chance. I never expected anything. And now, when I finally have him so close, it feels like he’s even farther away than he was before.
I close my eyes and remember the day of my eighteenth birthday when he called me tesoro. Apparently, the word didn’t really carry the affection I imagined. It was just a word said in passing. Yet, I thought about that moment and his light touch on my hair for days after it happened.
Well, I’m not giving up. He better prepare for war, because that’s what I’m going to serve him. I will fight him and his indifference, every step of the way.
“You better be ready, Luca Rossi,” I whisper to the empty room, “because all’s fair in love and war.”

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