After running away from my mafia family, I finally land in a new city and I find myself lost and lonely. My father is a dreadful Don and if he finds me, I'd be dead for sure. Now that I am starting a new life, I encounter Mr De Rossi. Cold as ice. Wicked as darkness. But for some reasons he gives me some stuffs which I never desired, such as jealousy, and toe–curling lust. He was my boss. Before we could ever get close, a secret is revealed and we shattered again. All I know was, he'd get me. No matter how hard it is. This is a dark romance.
Mamma married one of the most important New York City dons when she was only eighteen. Marriages like that are never easy, but everyone said she was born for the role. Her stoicism in the face of every struggle Papà threw her way gave her a reputation of being reliable, unbreakable, and utterly unflappable. Even her name, Pietra, means stone in Italian.
I was raised to be just like her—the perfect mafia wife—but in my marriage to Lazaro, I’m crumbling. If my mother is granite, I must be soapstone. Every night spent in the basement with my husband chips away at me.
Soon, there will be nothing left.
I tear my gaze off my wedding ring and take in my surroundings. I always thought the private dining room of La Trattoria was ostentatious. The luxury is so in your face it would make most honest people blush, but as it happens, few of those make it past the heavy wooden doors. Blue silk-covered walls, stuccoed ceiling, a three-tier chandelier, and that ridiculous floor. An intricate floral design made of granite, marble, and travertine. The floor alone is worth more than most people’s homes. It belongs in a sitting room of a royal palace. Instead, it decorates what is effectively Papà’s favorite meeting room.
Given how his meetings often go, I wouldn’t be surprised if that floor has seen more dead bodies than a morgue, but today, there are no signs of impending bloodshed.
After all, the women of the Garzolo clan are here for a bridal shower—a joyous occasion. Or what should be one, if Belinda, my cousin and the bride-to-be, would stop crying into her plate.
“Are we going to keep ignoring the fact that she’s bawling her eyes out?” Gemma asks as she plucks a piece of gluten-free bread out of a basket.
I glance at the women sitting around the table—an assortment of aunts, cousins, sisters, and grandmothers. Only Nonna and Belinda’s mother seem to notice her distress. They trade an apprehensive look with each other before plastering on insincere smiles.
“We’re not ignoring it. We’re pretending those are tears of happiness,” I say to my sister.
The table can comfortably seat twenty, but we have a big family and a few distant cousins who absolutely refused to be left out, so there’s twenty-six of us squished side by side.
I’m sandwiched between Gemma on my right and Mamma on my left. Mamma is giving Belinda her best stink-eye. If that wasn’t enough to communicate her disapproval, the clench in her jaw ought to do it. I know exactly what she’s thinking—it’s above Garzolo women to be this emotional.
Mamma hates crying, whining, and complaining, and as her eldest daughter, I’ve had plenty of tutelage on how to avoid doing any of those at all costs.
A skill that’s been tested frequently since I got married two months ago.
The thing is, poor eighteen-year-old Belinda hasn’t had the same training, and her reaction to her situation is understandable. Next month, she’s set to marry one of Papà’s most senior capos, who happens to be three times her age. Papà arranged it, and as I’ve learned, he isn’t in the business of brokering happy marriages.
“This is so awkward,” Gemma says. “I’d rather be at a funeral.”
Mamma overhears—how can she not when she’s sitting close enough for her elbow to brush mine every time she reaches for her water glass—and sticks her neck out to look at Gemma. The expression on her face isn’t a full-fledged frown, but anyone who knows her knows that the tiny line between her botoxed brows means she’s pissed. “Take Belinda to the bathroom, and don’t come out until she’s calmed down.”
My sister’s face pales. “Me? How am I supposed to calm her down?” She shoots me a pleading look. “Send Vale instead.”
Mamma’s gaze lands on me for a moment before she shakes her head. “Go, Gemma. Don’t take too long.” There’s a subtle edge to her tone that tells us there’s no point in arguing.
Gemma lets out a long sigh, rises out of her seat, and smooths her hands over her knee-length linen skirt. “If I’m not back in ten, it means I need back up.”
Her departure is like a flick of a switch. The uncomfortable tension that appeared between Mamma and I soon after my wedding day snaps into place. My spine straightens. Her jaw works.
“You don’t think I’m capable of giving advice to Belinda on her upcoming marriage?” I ask. I should keep my mouth shut, but I can’t. My heartbreak at her and Papà’s betrayal is too fresh. How could they give me, their eldest daughter, to someone like Lazaro?
Mamma twirls her spaghetti-al-limone on her fork and raises it off her plate. “I know you’re still adjusting.”
A bitter smile twitches across my lips. “Is that what I’m doing?”
“I hope so. I prepared you for this.”
She has to know that’s a ludicrous statement. “Nothing you taught me remotely prepared me to deal with my current situation.”
Her chews slow. She swallows her food and turns her face to me. “Have you forgotten our lessons?”
I tighten my hand around my fork. “Which ones? I don’t believe any of them covered how to handle being forced to—”
“Let me remind you of one,” she interrupts. “Garzolo women never complain about circumstances they can’t change.”
My lungs constrict. “Ah, of course. That’s a classic.”
“You’re a married woman with a husband you must support in whichever way he requires. We already have one insolent child at this table, Valentina. We don’t need another one.”
It’s ridiculous that after everything that’s happened recently, receiving criticism from her still feels like a sharp sting.
“You can face any challenge this life throws at you,” she continues. “That’s how I raised you. Do not insult me with your weakness.”
I draw my elbows in. I suddenly can’t stand the thought of coming into contact with her. My appetite is gone. I move my food around my plate until Mamma exhales with frustration.
“Go check on your sister,” she snaps.
I don’t need to be told twice.
The bathroom is down the hall, and when I turn the corner, a slightly calmer-looking Belinda hurries past me. She gives me a watery smile.
“Where’s Gemma?” I ask.
“She’s fixing her makeup.”
In the bathroom, Gemma’s leaning over the counter to get closer to the mirror as she reapplies her lipstick.
“Good work,” I say, stepping to her side and slapping my purse on the marble surface. “Belinda seems way better.”
“I told her he won’t be able to get it up at his age.”
I sputter a surprised laugh. “How would you know that?”
“I don’t. What else was I supposed to tell her? Not everyone can get as lucky as you and get themselves a handsome young enforcer for a husband. I’m sure Lazaro has no problems in that department.”
A sour taste appears inside my mouth. If only she knew that Lazaro had little interest in fucking me. Besides doing his duty on the night of our wedding, he hasn’t touched me in bed.
He gets off on something entirely different.
I school my features into a mask, but it’s harder around Gemma. We’re only two years apart, and we’ve always been close. She was the first person I told about my betrothal when Papà informed me I’d be marrying his best enforcer. I later found out from Mamma that I was Lazaro’s reward for uncovering a big plot to overthrow Papà—one that ended with a capo and ten of his soldiers dead. Papà always made a point to reward loyalty in his men, but that approach didn’t appear to extend to his daughters.
Gemma closes her lipstick tube and meets my gaze in the mirror. “Speaking of, how are things? We’ve barely talked since you two came by for brunch a few weeks ago.”
I pretend I’m suddenly very interested in my own reflection. “I’m fine.” My sister can never know the details of my marriage—the things Lazaro does and makes me do. It would shatter all her illusions about our parents and about me. “Why didn’t Mamma bring Cleo?”
“Cleo’s not allowed out of the house, so you’ll have to come over if you want to see her,” Gemma says as she adjusts a strand of her hair.
She looks perfect, as always. Her hair is a sleek hazel bob that frames her oval face, and today she’s wearing the diamond earrings I’d gifted to her for her nineteenth birthday a few months ago. She has lush lashes, stunning gray eyes, and a body toned to perfection with the help of her five private Pilates classes a week. Unlike her, I’ve never been into fitness, so the few extra pounds I carry in my ass and hips are here to stay.
“What did our little sister do now?” I ask.
“She ran away from her guard while they were at the mall, and when he found her fifteen minutes later, she was at a tattoo parlor. The tattoo artist had just finished stenciling the words We did it on her back.”
Did what? She couldn’t be possibly referring to… “Freed Britney?”
Gemma rolls her eyes. “Her idol. Papà told Mamma they never should have allowed Cleo to go to all those rallies. He thinks she’s brainwashed, and now Mamma is set on putting her through a reeducation, whatever the heck that means. In the mornings, they spend hours in the kitchen. Mamma’s teaching her how to cook traditional Italian dishes. And in the afternoons, there’s a constant stream of tutors in and out of the house. I think she’s making her sit through etiquette classes. Cleo’s been complaining nonstop.”
It’s so ridiculous, and I can’t help but laugh. My youngest sister has always been the most rebellious out of the three of us. It used to worry me. Now, I hope she won’t let Mamma dim that spark. “I give it a week, at most, before the prison sentence is over. Mamma has always had a soft spot for Cleo.”
“I don’t know,” Gemma says, turning to me. Her expression slides into a frown. “Something’s going on with Papà. He’s upped the security detail for all of us. At first, I thought it was because of what Cleo did, but that doesn’t explain why he added more men to his detail as well. He seems…off.”
“Have you asked Mamma about it?”
“She won’t tell me anything. Says I should stay focused on the party next month.” Her shoulders slump. “They want to give me to one of the Messeros, Vale. I swear, they’ve invited that entire clan so that they can parade me around like I’m some piece of meat.”
The Messeros run upstate New York. As far as I know, we’ve always managed to co-exist with them without much trouble. They deal in racketeering and construction, while Papà’s primary business is in cocaine—not a ton of overlap. If Papà wants to give Gemma to one of them, it means he wants to forge an alliance. What for?
“You know their reputation,” Gemma says. “The men of that family act like it’s still the Stone Age. I wouldn’t be able to leave the house without an escort, even as a married woman. I’m sure Papà wants to give me to the don’s son, Rafaele. He’s pretty, but his reputation is as black as it gets. Apparently, he became a made man at thirteen. Thirteen.”
The Messeros are famous for their brutal initiation ceremonies. They require aspiring members to kill for their capo. It’s how they ensure their members won’t hesitate to do what needs to be done when someone doesn’t pay their protection fees.
Anger flares inside my chest. Papà wants to do to Gemma exactly what he did to me—marry her off to a killer. I don’t know how I’ll be able to stand aside and watch it happen.
Mamma’s voice sounds inside my head. You may not understand your father’s ways, but everything he does is to protect our family.Every day I repeat that sentence like a prayer, and every day its power wanes.
What happens when I stop believing it entirely? It goes against everything I’ve been taught, but I constantly daydream about running away from Lazaro. It would be a real scandal. The end of my life as I know it. I’d be caught and handed to my husband for punishment, and he’d enjoy making me scream.
A barbed wire squeezes around my heart at the thought of what my husband would do in retaliation. If it was only my life at risk, it would be one thing, but he’s made it clear that others would pay for any hint of disobedience I display.
“I’ll talk to Mamma about the Messeros,” I say.
Gemma waves me off. “Don’t bother. You know she won’t listen. Just come to the party, please. I really need you there.”
I nod. “We should head back. They’ll wonder where we are.”
When we reappear in the dining room, our cousin Tito is there. There’s no way he was invited to the shower. It’s girls only. He’s hovering behind where Nonna’s sitting, eyeing the giant spread of mortadella on the table, but when he sees me, he seems to forget about it.
“I came looking for you,” he says.
“Is everything okay?”
“Lazaro called. He asked me to take you home.” Tito jingles his car keys in his pocket.
Alarm bells ring inside my head. “What happened?”
“He just said he needs you home.”
The face of the large clock hanging on the wall reads five pm. It’s early. Too early for Lazaro’s games. The things he does—the things he makes me do—they belong in the dark. But what else could he want me for?
I float through the room, patting my aunts on their arms and kissing their cheeks. After a quick goodbye to Belinda and a hug to Gemma, I make my way to the exit. I can feel my mother’s gaze on my back. She’s upset I didn’t say goodbye to her, but I can’t handle her right now.
Humid May air wraps around my shoulders like a blanket as soon as Tito and I step through the back door. The puddles on the ground tell me it must have just stopped raining. His car, a bulletproof G-Wagon, is parked only a few steps away. He helps me into the backseat before slamming the door shut and sliding in the front. “We haven’t seen you in a while.”
I like Tito. We’ve always gotten along. Unlike most of my male relatives, he doesn’t talk to me like I’m some brainless Barbie. “I’m adjusting to married life,” I say.
Tito huffs. “Tell Lazaro he needs to let you out more often. Just because he doesn’t know how to have any fun, doesn’t mean you can’t have any either.”
Despite Tito’s assumptions, it isn’t Lazaro keeping me from family functions. I’m the one who’s been declining invitations whenever I can. I simply don’t have the energy to pretend like everything is fine. Most days I can hardly get out of bed. Today, I came because Mamma told me it wasn’t optional.
Lazaro wouldn’t care if I was out of the house for most of the day. He’s frigid and emotionless. The only time I’ve seen him affected in any way is when—
No. Don’t think about it.
I change the topic. “How have you been, Tito?”
His long fingers tap against the wheel. “Exhausted. There’s a lot of work.”
“I thought you were a bunch of workaholics,” I tease, shooting him a tired smile in the rearview window.
He eyes me for a moment, and then his shoulders relax by a minuscule amount. “Yeah, sure we are. You know what I say, Vale. I’ll sleep when I’m dead. But it’s one thing to kill myself for the family, and a whole other thing to do some assholes’ bidding.” He stuffs a cigarette in his mouth and grabs his lighter off the dashboard. “I’m no one’s lapdog.” The words come out muffled as he lights his smoke. “And I’m not about to bury my nose in anyone’s shit.”
I try to unpack that statement. “Papà’s having you working for someone else?”
Tito rolls down the window and blows out a cloud of smoke. “Me, my father, Lazaro, even Vince. We’re chasing down shit that doesn’t make any sense. I think it’s all a fucking distraction, but no one listens to me.”
At the mention of my older brother, my ears perk up. Vince is in Switzerland, working at one of the banks and managing a large chunk of the clan’s capital. If he’s involved, it means something major is afoot. Some kind of a business deal?
“Who’s the other party?” I ask.
Tito puffs on his cig and shakes his head. “Don’t worry yourself about it. Have you seen that new movie on Netflix about aliens? It’s a real mindfuck.”
We chat about TV for the rest of the ride, and I try to mask the suffocating dread I feel the closer we get to Lazaro’s house. I refuse to call it my home. I’ve never felt at home there. For me, it’s a prison with no way out.
We pass through the gate and pull into the long driveway. Tito kisses me goodbye on the cheek. “Take care of yourself, Vale. And let me know if you find anything good to watch.”
I promise him I will and pass through the front door.
My husband stands in the kitchen, looking down at his iPad, his back turned to me. He’s in a steel-blue button-up shirt, a pair of black slacks, and a leather belt, his usual business attire. My muscles soften with relief. Lazaro always changes into something more comfortable before we begin. Maybe nothing will happen tonight.
“Welcome home,” he says, his gaze not leaving the screen. “How was the bridal shower?”
He doesn’t really give a shit, but he likes to go through the motions. I don’t know why. It’s not like there’s anyone here he needs to convince we have a normal marriage.
“Fine.” I move to the sink and grab an empty glass to fill with water. “Tito said you needed me back here.” There’s a small leather backpack on the counter by the sink. That’s not mine. Did Lorna, our housekeeper, leave it there?
Lazaro lifts his gaze to me and watches as I drink. When I finish, he smiles softly and hands me the iPad. Cold dread curls inside my gut. I know that look. It can only mean one thing.
“I have something special for you,” he says in a low voice, bringing his hand to my face. His fingers trace my cheek. “Take a look.”
I swallow and look down.
On the screen is the camera feed to our basement.
And curled up in fetal position on the cold concrete floor is a woman.