Bound by Duty

By: Cora Reilly

“It’s wonderful to meet you again,” I said with a small tilt of my head.

Dante let go of my hand. “Yes, it is.” He turned his blank gaze toward my father. “I’d like to talk to Valentina alone.” No pleasantries were wasted as usual.

“Of course,” Papà said eagerly, taking my mother’s arm and already leading her away. If I hadn’t been married before, they would never have let me alone with a man, but as it was they thought they didn’t have to protect my virtue anymore. And I couldn’t tell them that Antonio and I had never consummated our marriage. I couldn’t tell anyone, least of all Dante.

When Mamma and Papà had disappeared into my father’s office, Dante turned to me. “This is acceptable for you, I assume.”

He seemed so restrained and controlled, as if his emotions were bottled up so deep inside, not even he could reach them. I wondered how much of it was the result of his wife’s death and how much was his natural disposition.

“Yes,” I said, hoping he couldn’t see how nervous I was. I gestured toward a door to our left. “Would you like to sit down for our talk?”

Dante nodded and I led him into the living room. I sank down on the sofa, and Dante took the armchair across from me. I’d have thought he’d sit beside me, but he seemed content to keep as much space between us as was acceptable. Apart from the brief hand kiss, he made sure not to touch me. He probably found it inappropriate as long as we weren’t married. That’s what I hoped at least.

“I assume your father told you that our wedding is planned for January 5th.”

I searched for a flicker of sadness or wistfulness in his voice, but there was nothing. I rested my hands in my lap, linking my fingers. There was less chance of Dante notice my trembling that way. “Yes. He told me a few days ago.”

“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.

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