Gianna gasped. “He’s a monster.”
Umberto shrugged. “He’s what he needs to be. Ruling over New York, you can’t be a pussy.” He gave an apologetic smile. “A wuss.”
“What happened?” I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know. If Luca had killed his first man at eleven, then how many more had he killed in the nine years since?
Umberto shook his shaved head, and scratched the long scar that ran from his temple down to his chin. He was thin, and didn’t look like much, but Mother told me few were faster with a knife than him. I’d never seen him fight. “Can’t say. I’m not that familiar with New York.”
I watched our cook as she prepared dinner, trying to focus on something that wasn’t my churning stomach and my overwhelming fear. Umberto scanned my face. “He’s a good catch. He’ll be the most powerful man on the East coast soon enough. He’ll protect you.”
“And who will protect me from him?” I hissed.
Umberto didn’t say anything because the answer was clear: nobody could protect me from Luca after our wedding. Not Umberto, and not my father if he felt so inclined. Women in our world belonged to their husband. They were his property to deal with however he pleased.
The last couple of months had gone by too fast no matter how much I wanted time to slow, to give me more time to prepare. Only two days until my engagement party. Mother was busy ordering the servants around, making sure the house was spotless and nothing went wrong. It wasn’t even a big celebration. Only our family, Luca’s family and the families of the respective heads of New York and Chicago were invited. Umberto said it was for safety reasons. The truce was still too fresh to risk a gathering of hundreds of guests.
I wished they’d cancel it altogether. For all I cared, I didn’t have to meet Luca until the day of our wedding. Fabiano jumped up and down on my bed, a pout on his face. He was only five and had entirely too much energy. “I want to play!”
“Mother doesn’t want you to race through the house. Everything needs to be perfect for the guests.”
“But they aren’t even here!” Thank God. Luca and the rest of the New York guests would arrive tomorrow. Only one more night until I’d be meeting my future husband, a man who killed with his bare hands. I closed my eyes.
“Are you crying again?” Fabiano hopped off the bed and walked up to me, slipping his hand into mine. His dark blonde hair was a mess. I tried to smooth it down but Fabiano jerked his head away.
“What do you mean?” I’d tried to hide my tears from him. Mostly I cried at night when I was protected by darkness.
“Lily says you cry all the time because Luca has bought you.”
I froze. I’d have to tell Liliana to stop saying such things. It would only get me in trouble. “He didn’t buy me.” Liar. Liar.
“Same difference,” Gianna said from the doorway, startling me.
“Shhh. What if Father hears us?”
Gianna shrugged. “He knows that I hate how he sold you like a cow.”
“Gianna,” I warned, nodding toward Fabiano. He peered up at me. “I don’t want you to leave,” he whispered.
“I’m not leaving for a long time, Fabi.” He seemed satisfied with my answer and the worry disappeared from his face and was replaced by his up-to-no good expression. “Catch me!” he screamed and stormed off, pushing Gianna aside as he darted past her.
Gianna tore after him. “I’ll kick your ass, you little monster!”
I rushed into the corridor. Liliana poked her head out of her door and then she too ran after my brother and sister. Mother would have my head if they smashed another family heirloom. I flew down the stairs. Fabiano was still in the lead. He was fast, but Liliana had almost caught him while Gianna and I were too slow in the high heels my mother forced us to wear for practice. Fabiano dashed into the corridor leading into the west wing of the house and the rest of us followed. I wanted to shout at him to stop. Father’s office was in this part of the house. We’d be in so much trouble if he caught us playing around. Fabiano was supposed to act like a man. What five-year-old acted like a man?
We passed Father’s door and relief washed over me, but then three men rounded the corner at the end of the corridor. I parted my lips to shout a warning, but it was too late. Fabiano skidded to a halt but Liliana ran into the man in the middle with full force. Most people would have lost their balance. Most people weren’t six foot five and built like a bull.
I jerked to a halt as time seemed to grind to a stop around me. Gianna gasped beside me, but my gaze was frozen on my future husband. He was looking down at the blond head of my little sister, steadying her with his strong hands. Hands he’d used to crush a man’s throat.