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Silent Vows: Chapter 3

Noemi

Present

He took Sante with him when he left town. A part of me had hoped he wouldn’t, and I’d have a chance to talk to Sante alone and finally start the process of escaping with my brother. Dad would never have made things so easy for me. It had been idiotic to even entertain the scenario.

Instead, I used my father’s two-day absence to enjoy a rare reprieve from his watchful eye. Umberto was still a stone’s throw away, but that wasn’t the same as having the man himself breathing down my neck. I watched movies, listened to music, and daydreamed about getting on a boat with Sante and watching the New York skyline disappear in the distance.

Escaping would have been ideal, but two days alone was a close second.

The end of my respite came in the form of a text from my father informing me not to be late for dinner. I wasn’t sure why he felt the need to remind me. Ever since Mom’s death, he’d insisted we eat together each evening at seven sharp. I hadn’t been late once.

Just another flex to remind me of the power he holds over me.

I heaved a heavy sigh and tossed my phone onto the bed.

You’ve got this, Em. The more obedient you are, the more he’ll trust you, and the easier it will be to get far away from here.

Two hours later, I emerged from my room and plodded downstairs. I smiled at Sante when I saw him seated at the table along with our father, who launched to his feet at the sight of me.

“What the hell are you wearing?” He sneered. “You look like a fucking urchin. Go put on something respectable.”

The second he stood, fear cleaved my feet to the ground, holding me motionless. I glanced down at the stretchy pencil skirt and oversized cotton blouse I’d put on for dinner. The look was casual but far from hobo. Dad had never cared in the slightest what I’d worn to dinner, so I had no idea what had gotten into him.

When I lifted my gaze, Sante peered at me apologetically but kept his lips sealed.

“Sante, go check in with Umberto and make sure he keeps a cool head tonight.” His voice dropped to a menacing growl as he crept around the table toward me.

I fought back waves of betrayal as I watched Sante disappear down the hall.

Then it was just my dad and me. Alone.

I wasn’t sure what was going on, but alarm bells were screaming inside my head. A cold, sticky dread clogged my veins and sent my pulse racing.

“There’s been an offer for your hand. An important alliance.”

For my hand? As in … marriage? What the hell is he talking about?

He continued to push closer until he had my back pressed against the wall. “You will not fuck this up for me.” His hand cupped my throat, his thumb coarsely drifting back and forth over my windpipe. “You will agree to this union, but I want you to understand that your departure from this house does not keep you from my reach. If you spread a single word about whatever it is you think you know, there won’t be a rock you can hide under where I won’t find you.” His hand tightened—not hard enough to bruise, just enough to crystalize my blood into ice at the threat of my thinning airway.

I kept as still as possible, pleading with my body to cooperate.

“I’ll know it was you. You don’t have to speak to be a rat,” he growled.

My nostrils flared as spots dotted the edge of my vision. I finally caved and grasped his wrist, unable to overcome the clawing desperation.

His beady black eyes bore deep into my soul a second longer before he finally released me, though he remained rooted to the spot, a malignant invasion of my space. “His name is Conner Reid. He’s Irish, and he’ll be here any minute. Now go up and put on something presentable before you embarrass me.”

I nodded, slipping along the wall and away from my father before rushing back to the safety of my bedroom.

Holy shit, what just happened?

My legs shook more with each step I took.

Closing my bedroom door, I leaned against it and tried to slow my racing heart before it exploded from my chest. I had to think clearly. Dad had agreed to marry me off to someone as part of an alliance. I was going to be married.

Holy shit!

The guy’s name was Conner Reid. The name was vaguely familiar. I’d never concerned myself with my father’s dealings, but it was impossible to ignore bits and pieces.

Think, Em. Think!

This Reid guy had asked to marry me as a part of an alliance. He’s Irish, so the Italians want to form an alliance with the Irish. But why me? Of all the other Italian women available, how the hell had my name even come up?

The desperation in my father’s eyes flashed in my mind.

Of course, this was his fault. Having his daughter at the heart of a critical alliance would be huge for him, and he wouldn’t think twice about selling me off like cattle. So what did that mean for me? Instead of escaping the mafia, I would be permanently married to the Irish mob. Not the fate I’d wanted, but it would get me away from my father. It was a possible solution, at least, in the short term. Though, once I was out of the house, I wasn’t sure how much access I’d get to Sante. And if this guy was just as bad as my father, maybe I’d end up worse than I’d started.

Panic coated my palms in sweat and sent my heart rate clamoring.

I couldn’t tell if this was the chance I’d been hoping for or a total disaster. My thoughts were all over the place, my emotions a mess. Salty despair pooled on my lashes, and each breath I took grew more shallow and stilted.

I had to calm down.

Dad would be furious if I went to dinner blotchy and red-eyed. I forced my lungs to take in a long, deep breath, then slowly released it.

See what you can learn while you get changed. Try not to overreact.

I nodded to myself and grabbed my phone from the bed. Dad monitored the device, but I needed to know what I was getting myself into, and there was one sure way to find out. Pippa was my cousin and best friend. She was also a horrific gossip and busybody. I adored her and missed her dearly. My father had kept us apart, and I’d been forced to play the grieving daughter card to explain my absence. Pip had been understanding, though I could sense her patience was coming to an end.

She would have answers for me, and I didn’t think my father would care if I asked about the Irishman. In the past, he’d never paid me any mind at all. The only thing he cared about now was that I kept my mouth shut about my mother’s accident.

Me: Who is Conner Reid?

Pippa: Hello, random.

Me: Don’t have time. I need details, now!

Pippa: Shit, now you got me worried. I think he’s one of the Irish thugs—runs a gambling club, I think. Let me check. Brb

I threw the phone on my bed and rummaged through my closet.

What was I supposed to wear to meet my potential fiancé? Did I want to look good or scare him away? What would my father do if I chose the latter?

A chill skated down my spine and settled into a solid arctic mass in my gut.

I definitely didn’t want to find out the answer to that question. Anything sexy was off the table. I was already being pimped out; I didn’t want to look any cheaper than I already felt. Options limited, I chose a forest green sheath dress that bordered on professional, then freshened up my hair and makeup just in time for my phone to ding.

Pippa: Remember a while back when a man was found in East Harlem burned alive?

Me: Yeah?

Pippa: Rumor was Reid was behind it. Thought I remembered the name. Why the hell are you asking?

Oh shit.

Newscasters had called it the most grizzly murder in decades. No one had ever been charged with the crime, but it had been all over the television for weeks. I had still been reeling over my own mother’s death and hadn’t paid much attention to what had happened. Now, I wished I had.

Me: He may be my new fiancé.

I knew she would be rabid for more details, but I didn’t have time. The doorbell had already chimed in the distance.

Time to see what my fate held in store.

I took yet another deep breath and forced back a rancid bouquet of nausea from blossoming in my stomach. My heels clicking on the wood floors announced my approach. When I rounded the corner, all three men stood. My father. My brother. And the man from the coffee shop two days earlier.

My lungs seized, frozen with shock, and my legs refused to budge an inch.

Suddenly, the puzzle pieces began to slide into place.

That was how he’d known who I was. Why he didn’t question my silence, and why Umberto had been furious to see him. The man was a deadly rival. A beautiful monster slated to be my new husband.

Dad began to give introductions, spurring me back into motion, but my ears were ringing too loudly to make out his words. I walked mechanically to the chair beside Conner, which he helped me into before seating himself. I stared straight ahead, unable to meet his eyes. Those mesmerizing cobalt eyes that had ensnared me the second I walked into the room.

This was the man I was going to marry.

The man who had beat Umberto into a bloody pulp in a few swift strikes. The man whose dominating persona had clung to me long after he’d left the room and who’d admitted outright that he wasn’t remotely civilized.

What a beautiful disaster.

Him. My life. Our impending marriage.

I couldn’t bear to think about any of it. Fortunately, my brain didn’t seem to function around him anyway. His presence filled the room, pressing on the walls and chasing out the air, making it hard to breathe.

I’d never been more glad that no words were expected of me.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Noemi. Can I get you some wine?” Conner asked coolly, as though this were his house, and I was the guest. I imagined he was at home anywhere he deigned to be because he deemed it so. His presence was so commanding that I wasn’t sure the winds of a hurricane would dare stir a hair on his head for fear of his wrath.

I nodded.

My gaze snagged on the black ink staining the back of his left hand. I hadn’t noticed it at the coffee shop. A rose. It extended up beneath the cuff of his expensive suit, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the body beneath was similarly marked.

I sipped from my wine, suddenly parched.

Conner and my father launched into an easy conversation, leaving me to my thoughts. The difficulty of including me in a conversation made it understandable, especially considering men like these rarely included women in their affairs anyway.

I wondered, if this man knew I didn’t speak, why had he chosen me? Or was that the whole point? He liked the idea of a silent wife. Was I about to fall into the hands of a man even more oppressive than my father? What would happen if he found out after our marriage that I could speak? Would I have to stay silent forever to keep myself safe?

My heart leaped into an Olympic sprint, making my head spin.

Conner was speaking to my father, but I could only hear the hypnotic undertones of his deep voice because my ears were ringing so loudly. Then a firm hand slowly clamped down over my bouncing knee, forcing my body to stillness. My father couldn’t see what was happening beneath the table, and Conner continued to speak as though the rough skin of his palm wasn’t holding me captive, but every fiber of my being was focused on the place where our bodies touched.

Slowly, ever so slowly, his thumb traced back and forth over my knee.

Was he … comforting me? Not exactly. From him, the gesture felt more like he was commanding me to calm—a somewhat authoritarian gesture—but it worked, nonetheless.

My pulse eased back to a normal rate, erasing the threat of cardiac arrest. Finally, I took in a long, steady breath, filling my lungs with much-needed oxygen.

Then just as casually as it had appeared, his hand was gone—as though this type of communication was normal between us. As though I hadn’t just met the man ten minutes before. I got the sense that time and space meant nothing to Conner Reid. He made the rules in his world, and the rest of us were meant to adjust accordingly.

Conner was just as imposing as my father, maybe even more so. What did that mean for me? A life of terror and pain? I wasn’t so certain of that. For some inexplicable reason, his brand of domination didn’t strike fear in me the same way my father did. Was I simply the hopeless romantic he’d accused me of being and letting his beauty blind me to the truth?

The uncertainty of my situation terrified me, but as for Conner, I wasn’t so sure how I felt. He affected me profoundly—that I couldn’t deny. So much so that it was hard to pinpoint exactly how I felt about him.

But he was my new fiancé, so I was bound to find out soon enough.


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