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Bound by Duty(4)

By:Cora Reilly



“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.”

I wished he didn’t sound so blasé, but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until we were married. “You didn’t. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”

“Let’s get back on track. There are a few more things we need to discuss and unfortunately I have a meeting scheduled for tonight and an early flight tomorrow morning.”

“You’re heading to New York for the engagement of Matteo and Gianna.” My family hadn’t gotten an invitation. As with Aria’s engagement party, only the closest family and the respective heads of the New York and Chicago mob had been invited. I was actually glad. It would have been the first social even after my betrothal to Dante had been made public. Gossip and curious glances would have followed me everywhere.

A hint of surprise flickered in his eyes, but then it was gone. “Yes, indeed.” He reached into his jacket pocket and held out a small velvet box. I took it from him and opened it. A diamond engagement ring was inside. Only a few weeks ago, I’d taken off the wedding ring and engagement ring that Antonio had gotten for me. They’d never meant much to me anyway.

“I hope you like the design.”

“Yes, thank you.” After a moment of hesitation, I took the ring out and put it on my finger. Dante hadn’t given any indication that he wanted to do it for me. My gaze flickered toward his right hand and my stomach plummeted. He was still wearing his old wedding ring. Another strange burst of disappointment filled me. If he wore it after all this time, he must still be in love with his dead wife, or was it a simple matter of habit?

He noticed my gaze and for the first time his stoic mask slipped but it was gone so quickly that I wasn’t sure I’d actually seen it. He didn’t give me an explanation or an apology, but I hadn’t expected one from a man like him.

“Your father requests that we do a social outing before the actual wedding. As we all agreed that an actual engagement party is unnecessary…” I’d never been asked, but I wasn’t even surprised. “…I suggest we attend the annual Christmas party of the Scuderi family together.”

For as long as I could remember, my family had been at the Scuderi house on the first Sunday in advent. “That sounds like a reasonable idea.”

Dante gave me a cool smile. “Then that’s settled. I’ll let your father know when I’ll pick you up.”

“You can tell me. I have a phone and am capable of operating it.”

Dante stared. There was a flicker of something like amusement on his face for a second. “Of course. If that’s what you prefer.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket. “What’s your number?”

I needed a moment to suppress an unladylike snort of laughter before I could give it to him.

When he was done typing, he stuffed his phone back into his jacket, then he straightened without another word. I rose as well and took my time smoothing out the nonexistent wrinkles in my skirt to mask my annoyance behind schooled pleasantness.

“Thank you for your time,” he said formally. I really hoped he’d loosen up after our wedding. He wasn’t always so restrained. I’d heard the stories about how he’d established his position as the heir to his father’s title and how efficient he was when it came to dealing with traitors and enemies. There was something dark and feral behind his ice prince demeanor.

“You’re welcome.” I walked toward the door but Dante beat me to it and held it open for me. I said a quick thanks before I stepped into our lobby. “I’ll get my parents so they can say goodbye.”

“Actually, I would like to have a word with your father in private before I leave.”

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