Growing up in the bustling heart of New York City as the daughter of a mafia chieftain comes with its own set of advantages. I never lacked for material comforts, never experienced hunger or thirst, always had a cozy bed to sleep in. Yet, what I truly craved was something more profound: companionship, love, and the precious taste of freedom. My father orchestrated my union with Antonio Moretti, a prominent figure in the Famiglia known for his icy demeanor and strategic mind. He has recently ascended to the position of Capo in the Chicago mafia following the passing of his father. The Bratva's actions have left our group weakened, and my father believes that this marriage will help strengthen our connections. Regrettably, I'm reduced to being nothing more than a mere business transaction. Whispers and tales of Antonio Morretti circulate, instilling a deep-seated fear within me. The very idea of relinquishing my innocence and being coerced into an emotionless marriage, a fate shared by other unfortunate women born into this life, terrifies me to my core. **Note:** This novel delves into mature themes and employs mature language and is therefore recommended for readers who are eighteen years old and above.
“We’re going to Chicago,” my father says as he hangs up the phone.
“What happened?” My eldest brother, Luca asks. The lines on his forehead showing prominently.
“Lorenzo Moretti is dead,” he pinches the bridge of his nose. “So are eighteen of his men.”
I exchange glances with my mother. She always looks so scared and worried. I knew that they were advancing, and the war between the mafia and the Bratva was increasing, but I never thought that the Capo of the Chicago Outfit would die. I never expected to hear those words. Lorenzo was the most powerful and respectable man in the mafia. I thought he was indestructible. I guess it goes to show how naive I am. Both my older brothers are Made Men, Luca is my father’s heir—he will be the next Capo of the New York mafia. I was born into this life, but my father did his best to shield me from its horrors.
I’m not saying my life is perfect, yes—I live in a mansion, we have lots of money, and we are a powerful family, but as the daughter of a Capo I have no freedom. I only have one friend, she too is a part of this lifestyle. Last year I graduated from an all-girls private catholic high school. My virtue, according to tradition, needs protecting at all cost. No boys or men are allowed near me without an escort present. Father will promise me off to receive the best political advantage—so I’ve heard him say once.
I’m glad at nineteen I haven’t been promised to anyone yet, Father has been talking to me about possibly letting me go to college. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, to get my degree in Art History and maybe work in museum one day. The Metropolitan would be my ultimate dream job.
“Go. Pack,” my father dismisses us.
Luca, Angelo, and I head upstairs and down the corridor and to our individual rooms to pack. I grab my black dress, modest unlike my cocktail dresses I wear for social gatherings. I always loved Chicago, I’ve only gone a handful of times when Father brought us when he had meetings or business to attend. Although I wasn’t allowed to leave the penthouse we have there, we have the most amazing view. I fantasize about roaming the streets and going to the museums where there I’ll meet my one true love. We’ll both be admiring a painting by—
“Pack some nice dresses,” my mother says from the threshold. She looks like she’s been crying, her eyes are bloodshot. Father must’ve yelled at her again.
“I packed my black dress. How long are we staying so I know how many clothes to actually bring.”
“I don’t mean your black dress, bring some of your finest dresses.”
“Why? We’re going to a funeral,” I knit my eyebrows together.
“We will be attending some social gatherings there—“
“Don’t question your mother. Bring the red dress and another one,” Father looks distracted. “Be ready in twenty minutes, we’re flying out tonight.” He disappears into the hallway and into my brother’s room across the hall.
On our private plane, I sit next to Angelo while Luca talks with Father about business and Mother sleeps. Angelo looks antsy, shaking his leg and fiddling with his thumbs. Angelo has always been the more handsome brother, girls in my class always used to gush over him. Even though it was a girl’s only school, they had more freedom than I did. Girls in my class got to go to parties and that’s where they’ve seen Angelo. I’ve unfortunately heard many cringe-worthy stories a sister shouldn’t hear about her brother.
Angelo, like me, has golden blond hair and blue eyes. His tan skin, white teeth and tall stature makes all the girls drool. Luca on the other hand with dark brown hair and brown eyes is handsome, but his cold features scare the crap out of everyone. He became a Made Man at thirteen, Angelo a Made Man at fifteen—what a disappointment to my father that was, but all he could say was thank God Angelo wasn’t his heir. He is the spare, and Angelo has always been angry being thought about like that.
“What’s wrong?” I ask him.
“Do you know what the death of Lorenzo and his best men means?”
I shake my head.
“It means Chicago is weak at the moment. They’ll need soldiers because the Russians are sure to strike again. After the funeral some of Father’s men are going to stay to help the them fight.”
“And you’re staying,” I search for his eyes which are now looking out the plane window. His jaw ticks.
“Yes. I’m staying to fight.”
He doesn’t want to, I know he doesn’t. Angelo isn’t a fighter, he’ll pretend to be the cold murderer Father expects of him, but just like me—he doesn’t want to be a part of this lifestyle.
I cross my arms over my chest rubbing my arms from how cold I am in the planes air conditioning. My breast aren’t small, but they aren’t large either, I’ve always liked how average they look. The one thing I did feel self-conscious about was my figure. I feel like a stick, I have no hips, no butt, not to mention I’m short—barely over five foot. I make up for it with my thick, wavy blonde hair that cascades down my shoulders, the length ending near my belly-button. I always prided myself on eyes, they’re my secret weapon. Bright baby blue eyes with long dark lashes that only looked even longer with mascara. The occasional freckles are scattered on my nose and cheeks, I’ve never been a fan of them, but Gia—my best friend—has always said how much she loves them. She said it makes me look cuter, but I don’t want to look cuter. I want to be called gorgeous, hot, beautiful. I’m nineteen, I don’t need to be called cute like a child. I want more than anything to not get mistaken for a young girl, I am a woman.
We landed in Chicago and took the car straight to the penthouse. It was just past midnight and Father rushed me off to bed, probably so he could talk business with my brothers.
I sit on the stairs and eavesdrop instead.
“I don’t like this,” Angelo says.
“It doesn’t matter what you like. It’s what will benefit the mafia,” my father barks through what sounds like gritted teeth.
“You should let her decide!” Angelo continues to argue.
“I won’t hear another word about this. You will learn your place, Angelo!” Father yells. “Do you see your brother complaining? No, because he knows this will be a beneficial union. I will hear no more arguments, and no more back talk!”
After a few seconds of no talking I’m startled by Angelo turning the corner looking pissed off.
“You should be in bed. Go,” he sounds cold and distant.
I nod my head and decide not to get myself into further trouble. Besides I am getting tired.
Her. Angelo said, ‘let her decide.’ I lay awake in my room staring at the ceiling trying to decipher who her is. Could it be me? Why wouldn’t Father tell me whatever he’s hiding?
Maybe it’s about Mother?
I wake up to sound of my alarm beeping. I guess I was so exhausted that I passed out. I don’t even remember falling asleep. I do remember what I was pondering over though. Her.
I head down the stairs but stop at the top when I see Luca sitting alone eating cereal, I’m surprised Mother isn’t up. Usually she will keep herself busy by cooking. Since it’s short notice our maid and cook won’t be at the penthouse, so in situations like this Mother will cook. For breakfast she always makes pancakes, eggs, and bacon.
I turn around and head towards my parents room to see if maybe Mother is sick. I stop in front of the door and lift my hand to knock when I hear sobbing coming from inside.
“I don’t want her to!” My mother weeps.
“Get a hold of yourself, Valentina! You know it is her duty!”
“He might say no! There’s still a chance!”
“He will not say no to my offer. Not when the Outfit has been weakened like this.”
“Stop crying!” Father screams and Mother shrieks.
I rush away from the door and want to cry for being such a coward. I should’ve rushed in and stopped my father from hitting my mother. I should’ve stopped it so many times.
“Eavesdropping again?” Angelo taps on my shoulder from behind.
“You scared the crap out of me!” I hold my rapid beating heart.
“Leave it alone. It’s none of our business.”
“Isn’t it? Isn’t it at least my business?”
Angelo clenched his fists.
You should let her decide.
I am her.
“I know what you’re thinking, that you can save Mother. Father is much stronger, he’d hurt you too if you got in the way of his business. Let it go.”
“Doesn’t it hurt you knowing our Mother is his personal punching bag!” I shout.
“Liliana. Go take a shower and start getting ready.” Luca says from down the hall. He looks angry. “Angelo, a word.”
“That is enough out of you, Liliana! You need to stop acting like a nosey brat. Angelo is right, it’s none of your business,” Luca growls. He gives me a warning look as if to say he dares me to talk back to him. I press my lips into a thin line and push past them to go to my room.
I start the shower in my en suite bathroom and gather the clothes I’m going to wear to the funeral. The last time I saw the Moretti family was when I was sixteen. Lorenzo from what I remember has two sons, Antonio and Rocco. Both of them were older, Antonio is around Luca’s age at twenty-five and Rocco only a few years younger. They never paid much attention to me considering at the time I was just a stupid teenage girl to them and they were adults in their twenties.
The Moretti brothers had just lost their mother three years ago, from what I heard she was sick—cancer. It must be hard to lose the last of their parents, but then again if their father was anything like mine…
I’m hungry by the time I finish readying myself. My blonde hair is pulled back into a low ponytail, my makeup minimal only wearing mascara. My black dress falls to my knees, the sleeves are three-quarters and the neckline goes to my collarbones. My ballet flats are plain and black, nothing about me looks exquisite, I look dull and bleak. Aside from my vibrant golden hair and eyes such a piercing blue color you could make them out from afar.
Downstairs everyone seems to be waiting for me. All of them already dressed in black and wearing stoic faces.
“Do you mind if I grab something to eat?” I walk toward the pantry.
“Yes, I do mind. We are leaving. Now.” Father says heading out the door and the rest follow him.
Slumping my shoulders and fantasizing about food, I groan and my father gives me a dark look daring me to complain again.
“Could’ve ate something if you didn’t spend your morning listening in on things that aren’t your business to begin with,” Luca says before ducking his head to get into the car. I wanted to scold him but there isn’t a point when I know Father will take his side in any battle.
The church is huge, it is the church my grandparents got married in. My mother is originally from the Chicago Outfit, her father was consigliere and married her off to the New York Capo’s son, Domenico—my father.
My father went straight to the Moretti brothers and expressed his condolences. Rocco eyed me looking stunned while Father whispered something in the new Outfit Capo’s ear. Antonio’s brows furrowed and then his face goes blank. He nods his head simply.
“Luca, Angelo, good to see you again,” Rocco says.
Angelo pulls him into a hug and claps his back. “Sorry about your father. Looks like I’ll be staying longer than the duration of the rest of my family to help.”
“You’re a good soldier, were glad to temporarily keep you,” Rocco nods. He turns his gaze down to me. “Liliana, it’s been a long time.”
“Three years,” I gulp suddenly nervous.
“So it has.”
“Come, let’s sit down.” Father pulls me away from Rocco’s lingering gaze.
We sit in the row directly behind the brothers. Listening to the priest was hard, especially when Antonio and Rocco would whisper to each other and I could’ve sworn they were looking at me out of the corner of their eyes. I squirm uncomfortably hoping it’s just my imagination.
The rest of the service seemed to go quick and suddenly I found myself watching them lower Lorenzo’s casket into the ground. There are women crying and some men even tearing up, but when I look at Antonio and Rocco their faces are stone. Antonio as the new mob boss can’t show any weakness to his men, crying is a weakness and a part of me wonders how sad he really was. I mean from a psychology class I took in high school we learned bottling up is bad for you.
So who was I going to be, his therapist?
The rainy Chicago weather was fitting for the funeral, I stood next to my father and he holds up the umbrella to cover the both of us. My father hasn’t said two words to me today since before we left the penthouse. By now, I’m starving. My stomach growling and I pray no one can hear. My father would beat me into next week if I embarrass him.
The gathering after the funeral was held at Antonio and Rocco’s aunts house. That is to ensure privacy and safety for the new Capo, just like in New York, only a select few of my father’s men know where we will. If there is a traitor amongst us—which there has been in the past—then we’d likely be dead or moved to a new undisclosed location. The Moretti brothers cousins are all crying and Rocco is comforting his aunt while Antonio is nowhere to be found. Neither is my father.
I roam the hallways in search for the two. I’m startled when they exit a room and run into me.
“Liliana Mia Ricci! What the hell have I told you about eavesdropping!” My father says with his hands clenched into fists.
“I was just, uh, looking for the bathroom. I didn’t hear anything.” I hate how I cower.
“It’s alright, Domenico. May I have a moment alone with her?” Antonio asks.
My father looks a little less angry and obliges the new Capo. My father never lets me in a room alone with a man.
What the hell is he thinking?
Antonio puts his hand on the small of my back and leads me into one of the bedrooms. He closes the door and stares at me.
After a moment of awkward silence, I decide to speak up. “What do you want?” My voice trembles.
“Are you scared?”
I debate on lying, but I know better than to lie to a man in power. If Antonio told my father, I’d be disgraced and have a punishment to look forward to. “Yes.”
“Good. You should be.” He paces.
Why is he pacing? It only makes me more nervous. Is he going to kill me? Did Father finally get sick of me and now he’s getting rid of me? His only daughter?
“May I go back out, I-I’m really hungry. I haven’t eaten all day.”
“No,” Antonio takes a step toward me. “Do you know what your father and I were discussing?” I shake my head. “We were talking about how as the new Capo I should appear more mature to my men, and that since the Famiglia in New York is helping the Outfit, your father believes there is one way to pay him back for his generosity. He believes a union will ensure peace between the Outfit and New York.”
“Union?” I can feel my legs go weak.
Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t say it.
“We are to marry. We will announce our engagement at the end of the week and marry next month.”
My vision goes black and the last thing I see before hitting the ground is Antonio rushing toward me.
“She hasn’t eaten all day!” I can make out Angelo yelling.
“Every day she embarrasses me!” Father growls.
I open my eyes and am surprised to see Antonio at the side of the bed looming over me. “Are you okay?”
I nod my head. “Yeah. I’m hungry and thirsty is all.”
“Here, I brought you some snacks from downstairs,” Angelo replaces Antonio handing me a plate of crackers, cheese, and pepperoni. When I look up and scan the room, Antonio is gone.
“Am I…” I clear my throat when it goes hoarse. “Am I really marrying Antonio?”
Angelo sighs once again looking upset. Luca looks to Father who nods his head. “Yes. You will not be returning to New York. You’ll stay at the penthouse with Angelo, and one of Antonio’s bodyguards will not leave your side. When I return to New York I’ll have someone ship all your stuff.”
“But I don’t want to leave New York,” I cry, “I want to attend NYU and work at The Met! Please don’t make me do this!”
Father slaps me hard across the face. “Enough! You will do as you are told!” He storms out of the room. He calls from the hallway, “Don’t let her back downstairs until you two are sure she isn’t going to embarrass me further!”
I weep into my hands and Angelo sits down on the bed next to me. He gives me a pitiful look and raises a glass of water for me to drink.
“Please, we don’t want you passing out again.”
“You can’t let Father do this to me,” I sob and push away the water.
“You should be honored you’re marrying the most powerful man in the Outfit,” Luca says through gritted teeth. “Drink the damn water, hydrate yourself so we can return. I’m tired of babysitting you.”
“How could you say that? She’s our sister!” Angelo argues.
“Father is right, it’s time you both learned your places. The only reason Made Men have daughters is to give them away, and the reason they have sons is to make soldiers out of them!” Luca shoves his finger into Angelo’s chest.
“She’s nineteen, she has dreams! Her dreams go to fucking hell when she marries Antonio. She’ll become nothing but a means to give him an heir, you think that’s an honor?!”
“One more word out of you and I’ll put a fucking bullet between your eyes,” Luca warns, lingers, then leaves when Angelo has shut up for good.
“Please stop arguing with him, thank for sticking up for me, but it’s no use.” I wipe a tear trailing down my cheek and finally take the glass of water for a long sip.
“I’ll see if there’s something more I can do—“
“No. I...I can marry him. It won’t be so bad, I mean at least he’s not old, fat, and ugly,” I hiccup a laugh and end up sobbing even harder.
Angelo wraps his arms around me and holds me tight. “I’ll see if I can stay in the Outfit for good, so I can be with you. You’ll need someone to look out for you.”
“Father will never agree to that...but it would be nice having you here. It won’t feel so lonely,” I sniffle.
Downstairs, there is an eerie silence except for a few estranged sobs coming from Antonio’s cousins. I look around, my eyes catch my future husband, he raises his drink to me and takes a sip. He places the glass down and walks away looking royally pissed. I gulp, but no one looks angrier than my father and Luca.
“Seems we’re going to be in-laws,” Rocco says beside me, an alcoholic beverage in his hands.
He snorts. “Of course I know. You know I was hoping I might’ve received the honor of marrying you,” he bites his bottom lip seductively.
My heart pounds out of his chest. “Well, my father wants the best possible union and that would be with the new Capo.”
Rocco takes a sip of his drink and offers it to me.
“I’m not legal,” I shake my head. Father forbid me to touch alcohol that wasn’t the wine we always have at dinner.
“That’s right,” Rocco chuckles. “Tell me, Liliana, you are still a virgin? Right?”
A blush creeps over my cheeks. “That is a very inappropriate question.”
“Well seeing as my father isn’t here to interrogate you and see if you are right for my brother—”
“Seeing if I’m right? You just mean if I still have my virtue!” I clench my fists.
“Correct,” a sly grin spreads across his face. “Or should I check to see if you’re lying.”
“You will do no such thing!” My face couldn’t be any more beat red.
Rocco tips his head back and laughs. He was only joking.
I want to leave, I want to go back to New York. I never thought I would come to hate Chicago.
“No,” Father picks out the most revealing dress I brought with me. “You will wear this, leave your hair long and curly. Have your mother help you with your makeup. Oh, and wear your tallest heels.”
I feel like a rich prostitute, the clothes are expensive, but make me feel cheap. My breasts are pushed up and hanging out of my low cut crimson red dress. Mother used too much mascara, too dark of eyeshadow, and too red of lipstick. The black heels are barely walkable in, they give me at least four inches making me only average height. Father always tells me men like tall girls with long legs—even with heels I can’t be a tall girl, only average.
And average doesn’t make you stick out.
“You look beautiful,” Mother claps her hands together and starts to cry again for the third time since doing my makeup.
Looking in the mirror, aside from cheap, I feel beautiful. My honey blonde hair is in curls and looks soft and thick. My blue eyes look so pale they’re the color of icebergs. The red dress looks good in contrast to the color of my skin and hair.
“We’re leaving right after the party. Angelo will look out for you and Antonio will have his bodyguard here. You’ll be safe, call when you can.” Mother kisses my temple.
“Take care of yourself, Mom.” I give her a quick hug.
Father and my brothers are dressed in their best dark navy suits all with different color ties. Father always wore a blue tie that matches his eyes. Luca, wore red, and Angelo, purple. Mother wore a light pink dress that Father would scold for her later—pink always makes her look flush and he always said how ugly she looks in it. Even though it is her favorite color.
My hands sweat the entire ride to the mansion, Antonio’s other aunt decided her home is big enough for such a festivity and she is right. It is almost as big as the mansion we have in New York City—the one I won’t live in ever again. Angelo discreetly takes my hand in his and rubs his thumb over my knuckles silently telling me everything is going to be okay. But it won’t. I’m marrying a man I do not love nor know.
The Moretti family greets us in the foyer, we’re fashionably late, so guests have already arrived and have begun to mingle amongst each other.
Antonio’s Aunt Cordelia hugs me and looks me over, “A pretty one she is. Very pretty indeed.”
I feel like a piece of meat they’re inspecting.
“Sister-in-law,” Rocco pulls me into a hug. “You look ravishing,” he whispers in my ear.
In heels I only come up to his chest, he’s maybe 6 foot two, and Antonio definitely has two inches on his little brother. They both look so similar, both have dark brown hair and dark eyes, Rocco is more round in the face where his brother has more sharp features. Rocco also has a birthmark on his chin where Antonio has a scar on his cheek. Both brothers endearingly handsome, but both scare the ever-loving crap out of me. Well, Rocco not so much, he’s seems like a jokester, but I don’t know him well enough to say he’s harmless. I mean, he is a Made Man and consigliere of the Outfit.
“Your fiancé is in the other room,” Rocco whispers and lightly pushes me in the direction of Antonio.
When I step into the living area, everyone stops talking to stare at me. The girls look bitterly jealous, and the men’s jaws have dropped. I look at Antonio feeling incredibly nervous. He’s wearing a black suit with a red tie—is it coincidence that we’re matching? His jaw ticks as his eyes rack over my body. He approaches me and I begin to feel meek. I have to crane my head to look up at his face. He’s extremely tall and muscular, I begin to picture what he looks like shirtless.
I stare down at his shined black shoes. “Good afternoon, Mr. Moretti.”
“Come. I have something to show you.”
Please don’t be anything sexual.
He drags me along upstairs until we can no longer hear the crowd talking. He opens up his suit jacket and reaches in the pocket. I flinch, but what he pulls out is a black velvet box. He opens it and reveals a large diamond ring, the way it shined told me it was stupidly expensive.
“You shouldn’t have,” I say with my breath caught in my throat.
“You are my fiancée and my fiancée needs a ring.”
“But not one so expensive,” I am afraid to touch it.
He shakes his head. “Only the best.”
“But why, you don’t even know me. This is too kind.”
Antonio chuckles lowly. “I am not kind. This ring is to prove worth, that I am rich, and powerful. Do not mistake me for a good man, Liliana.” He grabs my left hand and shoves the ring on my finger.
It looks so beautiful. I always thought this moment would be me crying tears of joy while I jump into my fiancé’s arms and kiss him.
Kiss him. I am engaged and still have never had my first kiss!
“Now, are you ready to make our announcement to our guests.”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I breath heavily in a panic.
Antonio simply takes my hands and escorts me downstairs where our guests are surprised by our hand holding.
“Welcome everyone, thank you for your attendance I’m sure you’ve been waiting to hear the news. As you all know I have taken my father’s spot as Capo of the Outfit, we are strong, but have lost most of my father’s best soldiers and my father himself. New York has been kind to us and with my gratitude and honor, I am marrying Liliana Ricci,” he raises my hand slightly to show off the engagement ring. The women gawk and I know in their minds they wish they were me. I wish it too. “I know it’s short notice, but the wedding will be in a week. Invitations should be delivered to all of you by tomorrow. We hope to see you in attendance.” Antonio bows his head and turns to me while the crowd claps and talks loudly amongst themselves.
“Have you gone wedding dress shopping?”
“My cousin, Arabella, will take you tomorrow.”
“Your bodyguard, one of my best and most trusted soldier, Carmelo, will be watching you until our wedding night. I trust your mother has also told you what’s expected of you.”
“You mean our marriage night?”
While I feel embarrassed and tinge of trepidation, Antonio looks stoic and cold. He doesn’t seem to have any interest in talking to me on a personal level. It’s all business.
“I think so, but we don’t...we don’t have to. Right?” Hope fills my eyes.
He shakes his head. “It’s tradition. If you need anything, Carmelo will get it for you.” Just like that Antonio is gone and Carmelo replaces him but keeps his distance.
Alone in the middle of the foyer, I never felt so defeated. My life is no longer my own and I will be a slave to the new Capo of the Outfit. Forced to live in misery—just like my mom.
When I was six-years-old I cried to my mother asking why Father hated me and her simple reply stuck with me all these years.
It’s not that he hates you, he is Capo, he is unable to love in the business. It’s weakness, loving you would put him in danger.
My father never loved my mother either—if he did, she would be used as a means to hurt my father. Now I am destined to live a life married to a man incapable of loving anyone or anything but the business. My duty as his wife will be to spread my legs and produce him an heir and a spare.
God forbid me from conceiving a daughter so she never has to live like how I am forced to.