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Silent Vows: Chapter 7

Noemi

He wanted to have sex with me. Marriage was one thing; sex was entirely different. Intimacy came with vulnerability and trust—things that would bring emotion into the mix. The last thing I wanted was to develop feelings for Conner Reid. Being married to the man was bad enough. If I cared for him too, my heart would never survive.

Men like him—like my father—didn’t love. Not the way I wanted to be loved.

I wanted a man who put his wife and children first. I wanted devotion and commitment. Conner would never give me that, and falling for him would only make the disappointment more painful.

During the next four days, I concentrated on erecting sturdy walls around my heart and guarding myself against his alluring good looks. I knew he’d use them to chip away at my resolve, but I couldn’t let him succeed.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time debating my outfit for the night and ended up selecting a dress that was sexier than I’d previously worn. I also decided not to examine my reasons for said selection too closely. Sometimes a girl needed to look especially hot. It was a confidence boost.

That was my story, and I was sticking to it.

I curled my hair into soft waves and dipped into my makeup bag a little deeper than my usual daily routine. To top things off, I dug through my mother’s jewelry box and put on her favorite necklace. The small white gold bell had been her mother’s before her. Wearing it made me feel close to her. It was the cherry on my confidence sundae.

When my father saw my choice of jewelry, lightning flashed behind his obsidian eyes, promising retaliation should I step out of line. The rest of my family had a far different reaction. Pippa and her mother instantly teared up and wrapped me in a hug.

Aunt Etta and my mom were fraternal twins and had been incredibly close. When the two had baby girls only weeks apart, it had been natural that Pip and I became like sisters ourselves. She had two younger sisters and a brother, but I was never quite as close with any of them. That was why our separation over the past six months had been extra difficult. I’d only been allowed a few supervised visits, which meant I never had the chance to tell her the truth. Not that I would have. It was almost a blessing that Dad had kept us apart because she was the one person who would have unearthed my secrets. She would have made me talk. Literally.

In the early days, I’d debated endlessly about fessing up to her, but it was too dangerous. She was horrible with secrets. I couldn’t take that chance.

Seeing her now, an avalanche of words careened into my throat, demanding to be released. Not just that, but a swell of emotions overtook me. I’d been so damn lonely at my house. The relief of finally seeing her again after only a couple of visits in months made my chest ache.

I fought back the onslaught. I couldn’t fall apart now.

“You look incredible, Em,” Pip whispered before pulling back and beaming at me with glassy eyes.

“Just like Nora,” Aunt Etta added in an emotion-filled rasp.

I shook my head and hugged them again before motioning to the back room we’d reserved. When we entered, my heart fluttered at the sight of my family. Pip and her dad, my uncle Gino, along with my mother’s brother, Uncle Agostino, boss of the Moretti crime family, and his wife, Aunt Azzurra. This was the first time since Mom’s death that I’d been allowed anywhere near my uncle for fear I’d tell him what I knew.

If I did, my father would be a dead man.

It would be an easy solution if my father hadn’t been holding my brother as collateral, using him against me. Like tonight. Dad had made up an excuse to keep Sante away. I’d seen the surprise in people’s eyes when Dad explained Sante couldn’t join us. They wondered what could possibly have kept him away from such an important evening, but they wouldn’t disrespect my father by asking.

I could have told. It would only take a second to blurt the words that would take down my father. But what about my brother? Would the Donatis be able to save him from my father’s goons? Maybe. Maybe not. I couldn’t take the chance.

An opportunity would come. I just had to be patient.

Everyone greeted me with warm smiles and detectable pity in their eyes. I wasn’t sure what my father had told everyone to explain away my absence at family functions, but it clearly hadn’t been good.

Once I’d made the rounds, I turned toward the Irish half of the room. The two groups had stayed neatly segregated—a business alliance didn’t mean anyone would be vacationing together anytime soon. The second my gaze turned to their group, Conner’s eyes were on me. Like he’d been waiting. And I knew why when I saw memories reflected in his eyes of my lips wrapped around my finger.

Heat blazed across my cheeks.

A small but victorious smile carved through his dark stubble as he closed the distance between us. “You look mouth-watering tonight,” he murmured once he reached me, laying his hand on the small of my back.

Was that a hint of amusement in his tone?

I wasn’t sure, but I also wasn’t going to let him get away with unnerving me. Smiling sweetly, I discreetly slipped my hand beneath his suit jacket and pinched him. Hard.

He didn’t pull away or react in any way except to chuckle lightly. A sound like warm whiskey poured over ice—both able to warm my belly in strange, alluring ways.

“Conner, it’s time you introduce me to your lovely bride-to-be.” An older man joined us with a smile and blue-gray eyes so sharp I felt they could stab into the darkest parts of me and unearth my every secret.

“Of course, Jimmy. This beauty is Noemi Mancini.” Conner looked at me. “Noemi, this is Jimmy Byrne, my uncle and godfather.”

Ah, the infamous head of the Irish mob. It was no wonder he’d elevated himself to a position of such respect. With such keen intelligence brimming in his eyes, I wondered if anything escaped him.

I smiled and bowed my head as it was my only means of communicating the proper display of respect.

He leaned in and kissed one cheek, then the other. “It’s an honor, young lady.” He pulled back and motioned to the silver-haired woman behind him. “And this is my lovely wife, Brenna.”

I shook her hand and smiled softly at her kind but wary eyes.

“My turn!” sang another woman with giddy excitement as she wheedled her way closer. “I’m sorry, Jimmy, but I’ve been waiting for this day for so long.”

Jimmy arched an exasperated brow at her, but she ignored him as only a wife or sibling could have done. This had to be Conner’s mother, the three Byrne brother’s little sister.

“Noemi, it’s an absolute pleasure.” The beautiful older woman clasped my hand. “I’m Mirren Reid, Conner’s mother. And this is my husband, Seamus.” She motioned behind her to an austere man who nodded a demure greeting.

I forced a wide grin, hoping to ingratiate myself to these people who would be my new family.

“Don’t worry about saying a thing. Conner explained everything. We’re just so delighted to see him settling down and to have you become a part of the family.” Surprisingly enough, I got the sense she was being sincere. A glance at her husband told me he wasn’t quite so enthusiastic about the situation, but he thankfully remained silent.

“All right, Ma. No need to smother her just yet,” Conner said with a touch of good-humored annoyance. “Let’s get seated.”

“Of course. There’ll be plenty of time to get to know one another soon enough,” she beamed and retreated to her place at the long table.

Sixteen places—eleven occupied by my Italian contingency, leaving five for Conner and his four guests. Somewhat lopsided but only because Aunt Etta had brought Pip and her other children. I was glad she had. I needed their familiarity while sailing this uncharted course.

Conner directed me to our places at the center of the table, and we all settled into our seats. My father and Jimmy sat next to each other across from us, Umberto beside Dad and Jimmy’s wife seated next to him. Pip had ensured she sat on my other side, which I appreciated, but with Conner’s close presence a constant distraction, it was all I could do to focus on anything anyone said. Fortunately, I wasn’t faced with many attempts to engage me outside of those seated in the immediate vicinity. And for the most part, conversation carried on without any contribution from me. No sweat off my back. I was pleased to use the opportunity to take a breather and escape to the bathroom.

The second I stood, Umberto followed suit. Our sudden movements hooked everyone’s attention, and all conversations ceased.

“The restroom, sweetheart?” my father asked with a manufactured sweetness that made me want to vomit.

I nodded, taking my clutch purse from the table.

Conner rose to his feet. What had been a simple bathroom trip suddenly felt like a scene, and I wished I’d kept my ass in my seat.

“I’m happy to escort her,” Conner offered, eyeing Umberto.

I wasn’t his yet. It wasn’t his place to intervene, which sent a flash flood of panic racing through my veins. My eyes cut back to my father, afraid of his response. But to my relief, he forced a stiff but gracious smile.

“Of course, I’m afraid I’ve been a touch overprotective in recent months. I’m sure you can understand, considering the circumstances. I’ve already lost one precious member of my family; I couldn’t stand to lose another.” His eyes slid briefly back to mine, ensuring I’d caught his oh-so-subtle threat.

I dropped my gaze so no one could see the hatred brimming in my eyes and stepped away from the table. I had more immediate concerns to worry about than my asshole of a father. I’d spent days mentally preparing to hold my own against Conner’s charms, and he’d already made me blush with a single look. I had to be strong because each step I took carried me farther from the safety of witnesses. The restroom was on the basement level. When we reached the bottom of those stairs, we’d be totally alone.


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