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Bound by Duty(10)

By:Cora Reilly



***

When January 5th, my wedding day finally rolled around, I felt a flicker of nervousness; not only because of my wedding night. I knew this was my second chance at a happy marriage. Most people in our world didn’t get that. They lived their lives in miserable union    s until death finally separated them.

As I walked down the aisle in my cream sequins dress, I felt more hopeful than I had in a long time. Dante looked sophisticated in his black suit and vest. His eyes never left me, and as my father handed me over to him, I was sure I saw a hint of approval and appreciation in his expression. His hand was warm around mine and the small smile he gave me before the priest started his sermon made me want to stand on my toes and kiss him.

My mother was crying loudly in the first row. She looked like she couldn’t be happier, and my father was practically beaming with pride. Only my brother Orazio, who’d arrived only two hours ago from Cleveland where he had work to do for the Outfit, looked like he couldn’t wait to leave. I preferred the sight of Bibiana’s and Aria’s encouraging smiles. While the priest spoke, I kept throwing glances at Dante and what I saw on his face tore at my heart. Every so often sorrow marred his expression. We had both lost someone, but for Dante the person had been the love of his life, if rumors could be believed. Could I ever compete with that?

When it was time for our kiss, Dante bent down without hesitation and pressed his warm lips against mine. He definitely didn’t feel like an iceman. Mamma’s words popped into my mind and a thrill of excitement rushed through me. Maybe I couldn’t make Dante forget his first wife, and I didn’t want to, but I could help him move on.

***

After church, we all drove to the hotel for the following celebrations. It was the first moment of privacy Dante and I got as a married couple. He didn’t hold my hand as he drove but he probably wasn’t the touchy-feely kind of guy. What worried me more were the tension in his jaw and the steel in his eyes.

“I think it went well, don’t you think?” I said when the silence got too oppressive.

Dante’s eyes snapped to me. “Yes, the priest did a good job.”

“I wished my mother hadn’t been crying so much. Usually she’s better at composing herself.”

Dante smiled tensely. “She’s happy for you.’”

“I know.” I paused. “Are you happy?” I knew it was a risky question.

His face closed off visibly. “Of course I’m happy with this union    .”

I waited for something more but the rest of the drive passed in silence. I didn’t want to start our marriage with a fight, so I let it drop.

When we got out of the car and headed toward the entrance, Dante touched my back. “You look very beautiful, Valentina.” I peered up at him, but his gaze was directed straight ahead. Maybe he’d realized how cold he’d been acting in the car and had felt guilty.

The ballroom of the hotel was beautifully decorated with pink and white roses. Dante kept his hand on my lower back as we made our way to our table under the cheers of our guests. Most of them had arrived before us and had already settled at their tables. We shared a table with my parents and brother, and Dante’s parents as well as his sister and her husband. I hadn’t talked to Dante’s parents, except for a few occasions of smalltalk. They’d been nice enough though. My brother Orazio pretended he was busy with something on his iPhone, but I knew he was only trying to avoid our father’s questions.

Aria and Luca, and Matteo and Gianna, as well as the Scuderi family occupied the table to our right. Aria gave me a smile before she returned her watchful gaze to her sister and Matteo who seemed on the verge of an argument. Those two would have one hell of a marriage. Matteo didn’t seem to mind the glowers Gianna was sending his way.

“You look beautiful together,” Ines said, drawing my attention back to our table.

Dante regarded me with an unreadable expression.

The servers chose that moment to enter the ballroom with plates.

After the four-course dinner, it was finally time for our dance. Dante led me toward the dance floor and pulled me against his chest. I smiled up at him. He felt warm and strong, and was a good dancer. He smelled perfect like a warm summer breeze and something very masculine. I couldn’t wait to share a bed with him, to see what he hid beneath the fabric of his expensive suit. If we had been alone, I would have rested my cheek against his shoulder, but everyone was watching us, and I didn’t think Dante liked to show intimacy in public.

Of course our guests didn’t care. Soon they started calling. “Bacio, bacio!”

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