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His to Wed: A Dark Mafia Arranged Marriage Romance by Sassa Daniels – Sample

Chapter One

Emilia

After fourteen hours on my feet, I am ready to collapse into my bed. It’s been nonstop since I arrived at the hotel at eight o’clock this morning. I don’t usually work such long days, but Maddalena, who was supposed to take over for me at five o’clock, called in sick. With nobody to cover, I’ve been stuck behind this desk, dealing with bookings and fielding questions from the dozens of guests who’re currently staying here. When is the bus to Ravello? Where can I withdraw some cash? Why doesn’t my room have a view of the sea? It’s been relentless. My uncle’s boutique hotel is popular with discerning tourists, by which I mean demanding pains in the ass.

The only bright spot in my day was when the gorgeous guy who’s staying in one of our more modest suites called me upstairs to help him with the air conditioning. He thought it wasn’t working, but he just hadn’t programmed it correctly. Though it can be tricky, it’s not beyond the capabilities of anyone who can use a smartphone.

It made me wonder if he was looking for an excuse to get me up to his room. He did give me a flirtatious wink when he checked in two days ago. Sadly, when I went to his room, he didn’t show any signs of being attracted to me when we were alone. In fact, he frowned as he looked me up and down, as if I’d somehow pissed him off. I guess I’m not the type of woman he’s interested in.

The man is a demi-god. Visiting from New York, he’s tall with a mop of dark brown hair. His eyes are as blue as the Mediterranean on a sunny day. I don’t know if he’s a model, but he could be. With a muscular body that tells me he spends a lot of time in the gym, he’s as close to physical perfection as I’ve ever seen. Of course, I haven’t studied a lot of men with their shirts off. My family would never allow it.

The American, Signore Greco, was wearing nothing but swim shorts when I went to his room, so I got a good look at the tattoo on the back of his right shoulder, a magnificent winged horse. I don’t know what it represents, but I imagined myself lying in bed next to him, tracing the outline of the tattoo with my finger. The very idea of it makes my skin tingle and my heart pound.

But, as much as I’d love for him to be the handsome prince who rides in here and carries me off to a life of adventure and romance, it’s never going to happen. We’re too different. Although he’s probably only a couple of years older than me, he carries an air of confidence that suggests he has far more experience of the world than I do. That wouldn’t be hard since I’ve led a sheltered life. I’ve never even left Italy. The farthest I’ve ever traveled was to Palermo, and that was for a family wedding. Constantly under the watchful gaze of my grandfather, I haven’t had the chance to spread my wings. Cloistered nuns lead more exciting lives than I do.

“Oh, Emilia, I’m sorry it took so long for me to get here.” My uncle Gianni’s voice breaks into my thoughts.

My shoulders sag in relief that he’s finally here. He rushes over, apologizing profusely. It’s obvious he’s been running. His face is bright red and his brow glistens with sweat. There was a time when my uncle was considered one of the most desirable men, not just in our small town, but the entire region. Sadly, since he settled down with my aunt Caterina, he’s lost most of his hair and developed an unsightly roll of flab around his waist. Always flustered these days, he isn’t the best advertisement for marriage.

“Your cousin refused to go to bed,” he explains, “and your aunt was very upset.”

It takes a lot of effort not to roll my eyes. Caterina is perpetually upset about something. I offer a sympathetic smile, knowing the hard time she gives my uncle. Caterina has a nervous disposition and finds it impossible to control my twin cousins. To be fair, they are incredibly energetic boys, and at eight years of age they aren’t afraid to assert their will. Gianni frequently has to step in to instill some order in their household.

“It’s okay.” There’s no point in making him feel worse than he already does. “It’s not as if I had plans for tonight.”

If I had an ounce of courage, I would have. My friend, Chiara, wanted me to sneak off to a party in Ravello with her. It would have been my first real night out. I’ll turn twenty-one in two days and I’ve never been to a party that wasn’t for a family member or a close friend of my grandfather. Chiara tried to persuade me to feign a headache and pretend to go to bed early. She thought I could sneak out through the staff entrance before Maria, our housekeeper, locked up and activated the security system. Although I long to escape my grandfather’s scrutiny, if only for a single night, I couldn’t summon the nerve to agree to the plan. I’m a complete chicken, but it doesn’t matter now. The last bus to Ravello is long gone.

“I know, stellina,” my uncle says, “and it’s not right. You should be allowed to go out more, see a bit of the world.”

Gianni is the only man in the family who seems to think I deserve more freedom. He’s the one who convinced my grandfather to let me work here. Even after three years, the old man still grumbles every time I have a shift, but my uncle placates him by assuring him I’m perfectly safe here.

“It’s not possible,” I say sadly. “You know how strict Nonno is with me.”

My uncle shakes his head. “My brother, rest his soul, should have given you more freedom when you were a child. He should have let you have some fun while you had the chance.”

Zio!” I scold. “You make it sound as if living with Nonno is a prison sentence.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Isn’t it?”

“Of course not.” My protest lacks conviction because I don’t really believe what I’m saying. I huff out a breath of frustration. “It doesn’t matter. Soon I will be twenty-one. Perhaps I can start to live a little.”

“Yes,” my uncle agrees. “Soon things will change for you.”

There’s a hint of doubt in his voice that tells me he thinks it is unlikely my grandfather will ever loosen his grip. After all, he didn’t grant me any leeway to live my life the way I want to when I turned eighteen. I guess I shouldn’t hold any hope I’ll ever enjoy the freedoms my friends do.

My life hasn’t been like theirs, though. My parents were killed in a carjacking when I was nine. I moved in with my grandfather straight away. He’d only just lost my grandmother, who died of a brain aneurysm completely out of the blue. He’s always been a tad overprotective of me, but considering the losses he’s suffered, it’s understandable.

Trying to banish the sadness that creeps up on me as I contemplate how different life might have been if my parents had lived, I grab my purse from under the desk and head for the door.

“Straight home now, Emilia,” Gianni calls after me. “The bars are packed tonight and there are lots of strange men out there.”

“Yes, Zio.” I wave off his concerns. Home is a beautiful villa, a mere five-minute walk from here. Although I have to pass several bars to get there, I’m confident of making it to the house unmolested. There’s rarely trouble in the town.

When I step outside after being indoors all day, the air is refreshingly crisp. The streets are still bustling with tourists, soaking up the atmosphere of the Italian seaside. I hurry toward home, not because I’m frightened something might happen to me, but because I want nothing more than to get into a nice, hot bath and soak until my bones no longer ache.

As I pass La Cucina, a restaurant owned by my uncle Mario, I wave to my cousin, Giorgio, who’s on duty as a waiter tonight. Too cool to return my enthusiastic greeting, he merely lifts his chin in acknowledgement of my existence. His expression, as always these days, is sullen. Where did this once sweet kid get such a negative attitude from? He’s fourteen, and you’d think he carried the weight of the entire world on his shoulders.

I continue on down the street and make a left. It’s quieter here, with just a couple of tavernas and a few shops, which closed hours ago. As I step off the curb to cross the road, my ankle twists and I stumble. Shrieking in horror, I throw my hands out in front of me to soften the inevitable fall.

By some miracle, my face doesn’t meet the asphalt. Strong arms wrap around my waist and I’m pulled back against a solid body. For several long seconds, I just stand there, reveling in some stranger’s embrace. I breathe in his masculine scent. What is that? It reminds me of a sea breeze.

As I register how tight a hold this man has on me, I come to my senses. What would my grandfather say if he knew I was lingering in a man’s arms like this? He’d probably punish me for it. Shrugging off my rescuer’s grasp, I turn to face him.

“Thank you so much.” My mouth flaps open in surprise when I see who it is that saved me from falling. “Signore Greco?”

“Emilia.” His eyebrows draw down and his lips purse tightly. If I thought he had any reason to be, I’d say he was angry with me. “What are you doing out at this time of night?”

My eyes widen at the sternness in his voice. Where has that come from?

“I… uh… what? It’s only ten-thirty.”

“Ten-forty.” He corrects me as if ten minutes makes all the difference. “But that’s not the point. You should not be wandering the streets alone.”

Affronted by the way he’s chiding me as if I’m a small child, I pull my shoulders back and lift my chin higher.

“I am not wandering the streets, signore. I just finished work and I’m on my way home.”

He tilts his head to the left as he studies my face.

“You were working this morning. I called you about the damned air con before breakfast.”

Why do I get the impression he thinks I’m lying about where I’ve been all day? Though it’s none of his business, I give a small shrug. “I started at eight.”

He arches an eyebrow, apparently waiting for some further explanation. I have no idea why he thinks he’s entitled to one.

“I worked all day,” I tell him. “My uncle needed me to cover for someone. I barely had a chance to catch my breath.”

“Unacceptable.” He shakes his head and mutters what I assume is a curse under his breath. “Your uncle should not be making you work such long hours or allowing you to walk home alone. Anything could happen to you.”

Now it’s my turn to furrow my brow. Why does it matter to him how many hours I work or how I get home? I don’t understand his attitude. This morning, Signore Greco was polite and friendly, if not exactly warm. Now he’s stern and, frankly, sort of terrifying. It’s not just his demeanor that’s changed. Earlier, he looked like a typical tourist, here to soak up the sun. Tonight, he’s wearing a suit that probably cost double what my uncle pays me in a month. Now looking at that impeccable tailoring, I’d say it’s more like quadruple. His shoes are also expensive, fashioned from the finest Italian leather. It makes me wonder why he was staying in one of our cheapest rooms when our presidential suite is currently unoccupied. The man standing before me right now looks like he’s used to the best.

I guess it’s none of my business where he stays, just like it has nothing to do with him that I’m out here alone. As much as I want to tell him that, I know my uncle wouldn’t be happy about me being rude to a guest. Even if it’s outside of work hours, I need to remain civil, so I plaster my best customer service smile on my face.

“Thank you for your concern, Signore Greco. I’ll get off home now.”

As I turn to walk away, he puts a hand on my arm. His grip isn’t firm, but it’s enough to hold me in place. I glance up to see his expression has softened fractionally. Some of the tension has gone from around his beautiful blue eyes.

“I didn’t mean to sound so harsh, Emilia. I saw you trip and was afraid you’d be hurt. Can you forgive me?”

“Of course.” I look down at where his hand rests on my arm. “It’s nothing.”

I try to pull away, but he doesn’t let me go. My pulse races and the first flutterings of arousal tease my intimate flesh. I shouldn’t get a thrill from being manhandled, but I do.

“Come, let me buy you a drink to make amends.”

It’s a tempting offer, but I really should turn it down. My grandfather will be waiting up for me. Besides, Signore Greco is a guest at my uncle’s hotel. It doesn’t seem right to go for a drink with him, no matter how much I might want to.

“Thank you, but that’s unnecessary.”

His fingers tighten around my arm, and he glares down at me. Then, seeming to realize he’s overstepping, he loosens his grip and smiles softly.

“You don’t want to disappoint me, do you?”

“Disappoint you?”

“Yes, I want to spend some time with the most beautiful girl in Italy.”

Heat rises to my cheeks and only my ingrained good manners prevent me from laughing out loud. The most beautiful girl in Italy, I am not. Sure, I’m pretty when I make an effort, but right now I’m not looking my best. Dressed in a straight black skirt that falls below my knees and a loose-fitting white cotton blouse, I’m hiding the curves that might make my body alluring. With my hair scraped back into a low ponytail, I look incredibly plain. There isn’t a scrap of makeup on my face either. My grandfather won’t allow me to wear it. He says only loose women paint their faces and Ernesto Conti’s only granddaughter is no whore.

But, whether Signore Greco’s flattery is sincere or not, it does funny things to my insides. His words make me feel warm and fuzzy. I consider his invitation and decide to take a risk.

“Very well, Signore Greco, one drink.”

“One drink,” he agrees, “and call me Alessandro.”

Alessandro? It’s a strong, masculine name that suits him well. He releases his grip on me, but then drapes his arm around my shoulders in what feels like a proprietorial gesture. I should tell him it’s inappropriate for him to touch me like this, but I have to admit, I am enjoying the closeness.

He steers me back along the street to an intimate taverna. I’m uncomfortable with his choice since it’s run by a close friend of my grandfather. But, of course, it would be impossible to find somewhere in this town that doesn’t belong to an associate of his, since Nonno knows everyone.

The taverna is empty when we get there, apart from a couple of men in dark suits. Both tall and built like tanks, they could be someone’s bodyguards or, worse, they might be Mafia. Organized crime isn’t really a problem around here, but you never know. The two men hover inside the door as if to deter people from entering, but they nod to Alessandro as he strolls past. Are they with him?

Before I can ask Alessandro about them, he guides me into a seat in the corner. Giuseppe, the gray-haired owner of the taverna, hurries over with a bottle of wine. It’s a rare Tignanello, which goes for about six hundred euros a bottle. My grandfather has a case in his cellar, reserved for special occasions. Alessandro’s choice of wine is another indication he’s not the beach bum I first thought he was.

Giuseppe places the bottle of wine and two glasses on the table and walks off without greeting me. He spares me only the briefest of glances as he positions himself behind the bar. His behavior is odd since he’s usually so warm and friendly. I’m not sure if I’ve interpreted his hunched shoulders and lack of eye contact correctly, but it seemed to me he was afraid.

Behind me, the door clicks shut. I look back over my shoulder to see that the two men who were standing there are now gone. One is positioned outside, in front of the window. The other, presumably, is on the opposite side of the door. It’s a disconcerting thought that they’re guarding the place. Are they here to keep others out, or me in? Either way, their presence makes me uneasy.

“Giuseppe,” Alessandro says, without turning to look at him, “your presence is no longer required.”

My eyes widen as the older man nods respectfully and disappears through the door into the kitchen. I had my suspicions before, but now I know for sure that Alessandro Greco is not who I believed him to be. There’s something dangerous about him. I wish I’d sensed it before.

As he pours the wine, he keeps his gaze firmly fixed on me. His stare is so intense, it makes me uneasy. It’s not just fear I experience, though. There’s an altogether more alarming sensation, a warmth slowly spreading through my body. I’m attracted to this man. It isn’t safe for me to be alone with him. I may end up doing something stupid.

Deciding I need to get out of here, I push to my feet.

“Sit down, Emilia.” Alessandro’s command makes me freeze. “Sit down and don’t move until I say you can. Defy me and I will spank your ass raw.”

My stomach flips at the force he puts behind the threat. I’m not sure how I feel about it. Horror would be the proper response, but that’s not what takes hold of me. It’s curiosity. A part of me wants to push him, to see if he’ll actually do it.

After a few seconds, common sense kicks in and I sink back onto my chair. Alessandro slides a glass of wine across the table to me.

“Tell me what you think of it.” His tone is light, and he smiles as if he didn’t just threaten to spank me.

Eyeing him warily, I pick up my glass and take a sip. I get subtle hints of cherry, black currant, and a deeper oaky flavor.

“It’s good.”

Alessandro nods but says nothing. He just continues to study me carefully as I roll the stem of the glass between my fingers. Is he deliberately trying to unsettle me?

“So, you come from New York?” I ask when it becomes clear he isn’t going to speak.

“I do.”

“Have you always lived there?”

“Yes.”

I take a deep breath. This is like pulling teeth.

“You like living there?”

A slight smile drags the corner of his mouth upward and I get the sense my desperate attempt to make conversation is amusing him.

“Yes,” he responds.

I bite back a rude remark. Why the hell did he bring me here if he’s not even going to talk to me? I drink some more of the wine. As the renewed silence drags on, I stifle a yawn. I need to get out of here.

“You know, you really are beautiful,” Alessandro says eventually. “Fucking you will be no hardship.”

“What?” The word explodes from me as I fail to conceal my shock.

“You heard me, dolcezza.”

Signore Greco…”

“Volante,” he corrects me. “My surname is Volante.”

A prickle of fear runs through me. I don’t need to speculate about why he used a false name when he checked into the hotel. The Volantes are notorious here. It’s been sixty years since the family immigrated to America, but people still talk about them with a mix of reverence and fear. Since arriving in New York, they’ve steadily built up one of the most successful criminal organizations in the world. They’re ruthless in stamping out their enemies.

My hands tremble. The charming tourist I had a crush on is actually Mafia.

“Volante?” I double check just in case I misheard him.

“That’s right, sweetheart. I am Alessandro Domenico Volante, your future husband.”

Chapter Two

Alessandro

I’ve never been a man who enjoys making big, dramatic announcements, but dropping the bomb on Emilia that I will soon be her husband gave me a real kick. It’s the stunned look on her face that makes it so worthwhile. Her big brown eyes have grown even wider. She had no idea what was coming, and she’s completely unaware of how her life is about to change.

“N… no… no… no,” she stammers. “That can’t be right.”

She gets to her feet and I tut loudly. “Emilia, I did not give you permission to rise, so sit back down.”

Of course she doesn’t obey me. She doesn’t know yet that I don’t make empty threats and I will spank her ass. Too panicked to see clearly, she has no idea what to do with herself. She just stands there, chest heaving, fingers clawing at her skirt as she tries to get a grip on her fear, or whatever other emotion she feels right now. Her eyes dart wildly around the room, looking for a way out, perhaps. She spins on her heel and heads for the door.

“Uh-uh, naughty girl.”

Shoving my chair back, I get to my feet. I catch up with her before she gets halfway across the room. Taking a firm grip of her elbow, I drag her back to where I was sitting. I drop onto my chair and pull Emilia down across my lap. She struggles valiantly, as an undoubtedly virtuous young woman should, but I subdue her easily.

As her feet kick out, hammering my shins, I hook my leg around hers to hold her in place. She’s such a slight little thing, fragile in my grasp. She inhales sharply as I drag her skirt up inch by inch to reveal surprisingly risqué black lace panties, held together at the sides by scarlet bows. Only the flimsiest wisp of fabric covers her pussy. Does my sweet, virginal bride have a naughty side? I can’t wait to find out.

“Who did you wear these panties for, Emilia?”

“No one. I just like how they feel.”

She’s lucky I believe her, because if I thought she was trying to tempt another man to take what’s mine, I wouldn’t be able to rein in my jealousy. From the moment I first set eyes on a photo of her, I decided no other man would have her.

When I spread my palm across her delectable ass, she renews her fight to get away from me. Her grandfather would be proud of her efforts to defend her innocence. After all, he’s guarded her virginity well, keeping potential suitors far from her door.

“Calm down, sweetheart. I won’t fuck you… yet.”

She rears up and takes a swing at me. While I might admire her spirit, I can’t allow her to hit me. Grabbing a fistful of her silky brown ponytail, I yank hard, and she squeals. I turn her head, forcing her to look at me.

“Behave, Emilia. I will not tell you again.”

She tries to pull away. I bring my hand down on her ass and she stills.

“I warned you what would happen, and you defied me anyway. Now you’ll lie there and take your spanking without a fuss or the consequences will be severe. Do you understand me, dolcezza?”

“You can’t do this,” she protests. “You have no right.”

The venom in her voice tells me she doesn’t understand. My little angel is getting mad, and it makes me want to bend her over the table and fuck the sass out of her. Since I can’t do that, I deliver another harsh slap to her butt.

“As your future husband, I have every right. Now, tell me you understand.”

She glares at me, eyes flashing fire. Her full lips pout and I ache to have them wrapped around my cock. What would it be like to fuck that hot little mouth? I can picture her kneeling before me, eager to please. The image is so vivid, I can almost feel it.

Emilia shatters the daydream by grinding her teeth, a discordant noise that sends a shudder down my spine. I squeeze her ass hard.

“Yes,” she spits out. “I understand.”

“Good girl. Now, settle down and don’t move again.”

I untangle my fingers from her hair and she does as instructed, draping her upper body over my lap once more. She pushes up onto her tiptoes and places her palms on the floor to help her balance better. If she’s worried about falling, she needn’t. I wouldn’t allow that to happen.

As much as I’d love to pull her panties down and watch her olive skin turn red, I’m not going to do that. Emilia is an innocent, and I’m willing to wait until our wedding night to see all of her. Though I haven’t been a saint in the past, I want this marriage to get off on the right foot. So I’ll try to show my bride the consideration she deserves.

Drawing my arm back, I spank her right butt cheek. Even with the fabric of her panties creating a barrier between my palm and her flesh, there’s a satisfying crack. Emilia gasps, a desperate, breathy sound that I could easily grow to love.

There isn’t time to enjoy this first spanking the way I want to since time is pressing, so I step up the pace, peppering hard smacks across her pert ass. At first, her only response is the occasional sharp breath but, after a minute, she’s moaning softly with each strike. Unable to obey my command to keep still, she wriggles on my lap, making my cock sit up and take notice.

“Are you enjoying this as much as I am, Emilia?” I can’t help taunting her because her reactions are so entertaining. “Is being spanked turning you on?”

“No, it is not,” she denies primly.

“Oh, Emilia. Should I add a further punishment for lying?”

“Please don’t.” Her voice is quiet, but I haven’t broken her yet.

I raise my hand and resume her spanking, paying equal attention to her left and right butt cheeks. It doesn’t take long for her to start pleading with me to stop. I pause, resting my hand on her ass. Through the thin silk of her panties, I feel the heat radiating from her skin.

“Have you had enough yet, Emilia?”

I know she’s nowhere near her limit, but I want to see if she’s prepared to lie to me about it. Before she can answer, the door to the taverna flies open and Stefan rushes in. He’s one of the two men my brother, Antonio, insisted I bring on this trip to retrieve my blushing bride. I’d have preferred to come alone, but Antonio is the boss of the family, and nobody says no to him.

Wanting to keep a low profile, I booked into Gianni Conti’s hotel under a false name, choosing a modest room so I could pass myself off as just another American tourist. My men stayed at a different hotel close by, an arrangement that nobody but me was happy with.

Being at Conti’s hotel gave me the chance to observe Emilia for a couple of days while Stefan and Roberto checked out her uncles, who live in the town. Emilia’s grandfather, Ernesto, has long suspected one of his three sons of working to bring him down. Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out yet which of them is the traitor.

As Stefan heads for us, I quickly pull Emilia’s skirt down to preserve her modesty. I don’t allow her to get up, splaying a hand across the small of her back to hold her in place. If she wants to act like a brat, she needs to realize I will punish her for it, even in front of my men.

“What is it?” I demand, as Stefan stares down at Emilia, his mouth flapping open. If he doesn’t avert his eyes in the next two seconds, I’m going to gouge them out and stuff them down his throat.

He blinks and looks up at me. “We have to go. The Conti house is under attack.”

“What?” Emilia cries out. “What’s happening?”

“You’re in danger. I need to get you out of here.”

Setting Emilia on her feet, I rise from my chair. I hold on to her arm in case she tries to flee. It’s not safe for her out there. The attack on Ernesto’s home is coming sooner than any of us predicted. He thought I’d be able to get his granddaughter safely to New York before his enemies made their move. My heart lurches as I realize if I hadn’t intercepted Emilia tonight, she would be at his house amid the massacre that’s undoubtedly happening there.

“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on.”

As I try to pull Emilia toward the door, she digs her heels in. She’s surprisingly difficult to move. There isn’t time for me to reason with her, so I pick her up by the waist and carry her outside to where Roberto has a Mercedes SUV waiting. I deposit Emilia on the back seat and get in next to her. Predictably, she scrambles away from me and tries to open the other door. It’s locked, of course.

She turns to face me, a deep scowl on her face. She’s like an angry kitten. It’s hard to take her obvious fury seriously.

“Let me out.”

Ignoring her demand, I lean forward and tap Roberto on the shoulder. “Straight to the airfield. I want to take off immediately.” I turn to Emilia. “Put your seatbelt on.”

I have my passport with me, but not Emilia’s. It won’t be an issue. Nobody here or in New York is going to challenge me. The few personal items I left at her uncle’s hotel are of no consequence. They’re easily replaced.

While Stefan gets on the phone with our pilot, Roberto drives off slowly. He sticks to the speed limit so we don’t attract attention as we drive along the streets of San Vicente. We have no idea where Ernesto Conti’s enemies are, and we can’t risk anyone coming after Emilia. Though we have weapons in the car, I’d prefer not to have to shoot our way out of here. I promised Antonio I’d do nothing to draw attention to us.

I turn to Emilia and realize she hasn’t fastened her safety belt. Reaching over, I draw it across her slender body and clip it in place. She tries to bat my hands away.

“This is your last warning, angel,” I tell her. “Behave, or I’m going to have to take drastic measures.”

I don’t have to outline what those measures might be since she’s already had a taste of what I’m capable of. Emilia swallows hard and nods once. I usually prefer verbal communication, but her wide, glossy eyes betray her fear, so I let it slide.

As we drive away from the picturesque town, Emilia twists her body away from me and looks out into the darkened skies. Her body language makes it clear she doesn’t want to talk, and that’s fine with me. Right now, I wouldn’t know what to say to her.

Up front, Stefan’s cellphone rings. He answers it, speaking in hushed tones, giving monosyllabic responses to whatever he’s being told. I suspect he’s receiving an update from our contact in the San Vicente police department, letting us know what’s happened to Ernesto. I won’t ask him about it in front of Emilia. It’s obvious from the way she sits, head tilted to one side, that she’s trying to listen in on the call. She huffs out a breath as Stefan hangs up and continues to stare at the road ahead. He gives nothing away.

“Was that about my family?” she demands. “I have a right to know.”

“You have whatever rights I choose to grant you.”

I know that makes me sound like a total dick, but I need for Emilia to understand I am the one in charge now. Every aspect of her life will be subject to my rule. The sooner she comes to grips with that, the easier things will be for both of us. If she misbehaves when I bring her home, my brothers are going to have a few things to say about it. I wouldn’t put it past Antonio or Leo to punish her themselves. It isn’t a thought I want to entertain.

Emilia glowers at me for several long seconds and then turns away once more. I’ve got to hand it to the girl, she’s got a backbone. Few men would dare throw such a filthy look at me.

As we drive toward the airport, I finally understand what people mean when they refer to a deafening silence. The atmosphere in the car becomes so tense I worry my eardrums will burst. Thankfully, it only takes us twenty minutes to get to the airstrip where my family’s jet sits on the tarmac, ready to go. The car rolls to a stop, and Stefan jumps out.

After a quick scan of our surroundings to check for potential danger, he opens my door.

“Survivors?” I ask quietly as I step out of the vehicle.

“They took out the old man, his guards, and the household staff. Ernesto’s sons are unharmed.”

Shit. That means it could be any or all of them who betrayed their father. I’m going to have to tell Emilia about this, but not until we’re safely in the air. I don’t want to deal with hysterics on the runway.

Schooling my features into a blank expression, I turn and hold a hand out to Emilia.

“Come.”

She unclips her safety belt, slides across the seat, and climbs down without accepting my help. Before I can reprimand her for being rude, she takes off running. There’s nowhere for her to go, but I don’t have time for this nonsense, so I immediately give chase.

She’s fast and if I wasn’t in a hurry to get out of here, I might take a moment to be impressed by how well she sprints in those slip-on shoes. She makes it almost to the control tower before I finally get close enough to grab her shoulder.

Swinging Emilia around, I pull her against me. She raises her hands and I think she’s going to hit me, but she just presses them against my chest to keep some distance between us.

“Let me go!” she wails. “I need to go back.”

“You can’t go back. There’s nothing for you in San Vicente now, dolcezza, nothing.”

Her breath hitches as she grasps what I’m telling her.

“But Maria…” Her chest heaves as sobs rack her body.

Seeing her genuine distress, I find my anger dissipating. I wrap my arms around her and stroke her hair. I wish I could tell her everything will be okay, but I can’t bring myself to lie. It seems I have something of a conscience after all.

“Who’s Maria?”

“Our housekeeper.”

It’s interesting that her concern is for a member of the staff and not her own flesh and blood. I guess Ernesto Conti was not an easy man.

I shake my head. “I’m sorry. There’s no one left.”

After a few seconds of holding her stiffly against me while she refuses to soften, I step back.

“Come. We need to get on the plane.”

Apparently resigned to her fate, she lets me take her hand and lead her to the plane. She climbs the steps ahead of me and goes to the back of the cabin, dropping onto the last seat before the partition that separates this area from the galley kitchen. Her eyes are red-rimmed and her face is pale. Yet her defiance remains. She folds her arms across her chest and glares up at me.

“You didn’t mention my uncles. Are they dead too?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“Then I want to go home to them.”

She gets to her feet as if she actually imagines leaving is a possibility. I put my hands on her shoulders and push her firmly back onto her seat.

“Your home is with me now. It’s what your grandfather wanted.”

“What?” She sits up a little straighter, ready to challenge me.

“Your grandfather planned for this. He knew you were in danger here. He arranged for me to bring you to New York as my bride.”

That’s not strictly true. He brokered a deal for one of the Volante brothers to marry Emilia. The old bastard didn’t give a crap which of us it was. It couldn’t be Antonio since he’s already married. Both Leo and Gio refused point blank to consider it, so that left me and Matteo. I wanted the gorgeous brunette from the moment I saw a picture of her, so Antonio gave her to me.

“I don’t believe you,” Emilia spits.

“Frankly, I don’t care what you believe. You are mine now, dolcezza, and I will protect you whether you like it or not.”

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