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Bound by Duty(3)

By:Cora Reilly

“I realize that’s less than a year after your husband’s funeral, but my father retires at the end of the year and it’s expected of me to be married when I take over his place.”

I lowered my eyes as my chest tightened with buried emotions. Antonio hadn’t been a good husband, he hadn’t been any kind of husband, but he’d been my friend and I’d known him all my life, which was why I’d agreed to marry him. Of course, I’d been naïve, hadn’t realized what it would really mean to marry a man who wasn’t interested in me, or women in general. I’d wanted to help him. Being gay wasn’t something that was tolerated in the mafia. If someone had found out Antonio liked men that way, they would have killed him. When he’d asked for my help, I’d jumped at the chance, had secretly hoped I could win him over. I’d thought he could decide not to be gay anymore, I’d thought we could have a real marriage at some point, but that hope was quickly shattered. That’s why a nasty, selfish part of me had been relieved when Antonio had died. I’d thought I was finally free to find a man who loved me, or at least desired me. Thankfully, it was only a very small part, and I felt guilty whenever I was reminded of it. And yet, maybe this was my chance. Maybe my second marriage would finally provide me with a husband who saw me as more than a necessary evil.

Dante seemed to misunderstand my silence. “If it’s too soon for you, we can still cancel our arrangements.”

Mamma would kill me, and Papà would probably suffer a stroke. “No,” I said quickly. “It’s okay. I was lost in memories for a moment.” I gave him a smile. He didn’t return it, only regarded me with cold scrutiny.

“Very well,” he said eventually. “I’d like to discuss the preparations as well as the time leading up to the event with you. Two months isn’t a long time, but since this wedding isn’t going to be a big affair we should be fine.”

I nodded. Part of me was sad that this wedding was going to be a quiet affair, but so fast after Antonio’s death anything bigger would have been in bad taste, and since it was the second marriage for both Dante and me, for me to insist on a splendid feast would have been ridiculous.

“Why did you choose me? I’m sure there were many other viable options.” I’d been wondering about this ever since Papà had told me about his agreement with Dante. I knew it was a question I wasn’t supposed to ask. Mamma would have thrown a fit if she were present.

Dante’s expression didn’t change. “Of course. My father suggested your cousin Gianna, but I didn’t want a wife who’s barely of age. Unfortunately, most women in their twenties are already married, and most widows are older than me or have children, both unacceptable for a man in my position as you will probably understand.”

I nodded. There were so many rules of etiquette when it came to finding the right spouse, especially for a man in Dante’s position, which was why so many were shocked when I was announced as his future wife. Dante had stepped on many toes with that decision.

“So you were the only logical choice. You are, of course, still quite young, but that can’t be changed.”

For a moment I was stunned into silence by his emotionless reasoning. I wasn’t as naïve as I used to be, but I’d hoped at least part of the reason why Dante had chosen me was that he was attracted to me, found me pretty, or at least fascinating to some extent, but this cold explanation destroyed that small flicker of hope.

“I’m twenty-three,” I said in a surprisingly calm voice. Maybe Dante’s aloofness rubbed off on me. If so, I would be known as the ice queen in no time. “That’s not young by our marriage standards.”

“Twelve-years younger than me. That’s more than I would have liked.” His deceased wife had been only two years younger than him and they’d been married for almost twelve years before she’d died from cancer. Still the way he said it made it sound as if I’d forced him into a marriage with me. Most men in our world took on young mistresses once their wives got older, and yet Dante was displeased that I was too young.

“Then maybe you should look for another wife. I didn’t ask you to marry me.” The moment the words were out, I clamped a hand over my mouth, then met Dante’s gaze. He didn’t look angry, he didn’t look anything. His face was as it always was. Stoic and emotionless. “I’m sorry. That was very rude. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Dante shook his head. Not a single hair moved out of line. There wasn’t even a speck of dirt on his trouser legs, despite the snowy November weather. “It’s alright. I didn’t mean to offend you.”