“Protective of you,” Luca said simply. His voice was even, deep, emotionless. “This is my brother Matteo.”
Matteo’s lips were pulled into a wide grin. I was glad he didn’t try to take my hand. I didn’t think I could have kept my composure if either of them had moved any closer. “And this is my right hand, Cesare.” Cesare gave me the briefest nod before he returned to his task of scanning the corridor. What was he waiting for? We didn’t have assassins stashed in secret trap doors.
I focused on Luca’s chin and hoped it appeared as if I was actually looking at his eyes. I took a step back. “I should go to my siblings.”
Luca had a knowing expression on his face, but I didn’t care if he saw how uncomfortable, how scared he made me. Not waiting for him to excuse me – he wasn’t my husband nor my fiancé yet – I turned and quickly walked off, proud that I hadn’t given in to the urge to run.
Mother tugged at the dress Father had chosen for the occasion. For the meat show, as Gianna called it. No matter how much Mother tugged though, the dress didn’t get any longer. I stared at myself in the mirror uncertainly. I’d never worn anything that revealing. The black dress was clinging to my butt and waist, and ended at my upper thighs; the top was a glittery golden bustier with black tulle straps. “I can’t wear that, Mother.”
Mother met my gaze in the mirror. Her hair was pinned up; it was a few shades darker than mine. She was wearing a floor-length elegant dress. I wished I was allowed something that modest. “You look like a woman,” she whispered.
I cringed. “I look like a hooker.”
“Hookers can’t afford a dress like that.”
Father’s mistress had clothes that cost more than some people spent on a car. Mother put her hands on my waist. “You have a wasp waist, and the dress makes your legs look very long. I’m sure Luca will appreciate it.”
I stared down at my cleavage. I had small breasts, even the push-up effect of the bustier couldn’t change that. I was a fifteen-year-old dressed up to look like a woman.
“Here.” Mother handed me five-inch black heels. Maybe I’d reach Luca’s chin when I wore them. I slipped into them. Mother forced her fake smile onto her face and smoothed down my long hair. “Hold your head high. Fiore Cavallaro called you the most beautiful woman of Chicago. Show Luca and his entourage that you are more beautiful than any women in New York too. After all, Luca’s knows almost all of them.” The way she said it I was sure she’d read the articles about Luca’s conquests as well, or maybe Father had told her something.
“Mother,” I said hesitantly, but she stepped back. “Now go. I’ll come after you, but this is your day. You should enter the room alone. The men will be waiting. Your father will present you to Luca and then we’ll all come together in the dining room for dinner.” She’d told me this dozens of times already.
For a moment, I wanted to take her hand and beg her to accompany me; instead I turned and walked out of my room. I was glad that my mother had forced me to wear heels in the last few weeks. When I arrived in front of the door to the fireplace lounge on the first floor in the west wing, my heart was beating in my throat. I wished Gianna was at my side, but Mother was probably warning her to behave right now. I had to go through this alone. Nobody was supposed to steal the show from the bride-to-be.
I stared at the dark wood of the door and considered running away. Male laughter rang out behind it, my father and the Boss. A room filled with the most powerful and dangerous men in the country and I was supposed to go in. A lamb alone with wolves. I shook my head. I needed to stop thinking like that. I’d made them wait too long already.
I gripped the handle and pressed down. I slipped in, not yet looking at anyone as I closed the door. Gathering my courage, I faced the room. Conversation died. Was I supposed to say something? I shivered and hoped they couldn’t see it. My father looked like the cat that got the cream. My eyes sought Luca and his piercing stare rendered me motionless. I held my breath. He put down a glass with a dark liquid with an audible clank. If nobody said something soon, I’d flee the room. I quickly scanned the faces of the gathered men. From New York there were Matteo, Luca and Salvatore Vitiello, and two bodyguards: Cesare and a young man I didn’t know. From the Chicago Outfit there were my Father, Fiore Cavallaro, and his son, the future head Dante Cavallaro, as well as Umberto and my cousin Raffaele whom I hated with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. And off to the side stood poor Fabiano who had to wear a black suit like everyone else. I could see that he wanted to run toward me to seek solace, but he knew what Father would say to that.