Bound by Duty

By: Cora Reilly

Luca and Dante shook hands, both with those unnerving shark-smiles on their faces. Ignoring them, I grinned at Aria, honestly happy to see her again. It had been months. She looked much more relaxed than at her wedding. “You look amazing,” I told her as I embraced her. She was wearing a dark red dress that set off her blond hair and pale skin beautifully. No wonder Luca couldn’t stop glancing her way.

“You too,” she said as she stepped back. “Can I see the back?”

I turned around for her.

“Wow. Doesn’t she look amazing?”

That question was directed at Luca and led to an awkward pause in which the tension skyrocketed. Dante wrapped his arm around my waist, his cold eyes on Luca, who took Aria’s hand, kissed it and said in a low voice. “I have only eyes for you.”

Aria gave me an embarrassed smile. “I need to look for Gianna, but I’d love to talk to you later?”

“Okay,” I said, glad when she and Luca walked off. With the men around, Aria and I wouldn’t be able to talk anyway.

I turned to Dante. “You don’t like him.”

“It’s not a matter of like. It’s about self-preservation and a healthy dose of suspicion.”

“That’s the Christmas spirit,” I said, not trying to hide my sarcasm.

Again a hint of amusement made the corners of Dante’s mouth twitch, then it was gone. “Would you like to grab something to eat?”

“Definitely.” After the last few days of torturous diet, I was starving. As we made our way through the crowd, I noticed that the current head of the Outfit wasn’t present. “Where’s your father?”

“He didn’t want to steal the show from us. Now that he’s as good as retired he prefers to stay out of the public eye,” Dante said wryly.

“Understandable.” These social functions were exhausting. You had to be careful what you said and did, even more so as the head of the Outfit. From the hard looks that some of the women were throwing my way, I knew I was currently their favorite topic. I knew what they were saying behind their hands: Why had Dante Cavallaro chosen a widow instead of a young innocent bride?

I glimpsed up into his emotionless face, the hard angles of his cheekbones, the calculation and vigilance in his eyes, and found myself wishing once more that the answer to that question were something else than pure logic.

The buffet was loaded with Italian delicacies. I took a slice of Panettone for myself as I was in desperate need of some sugary treats. As usual it tasted like heaven. I’d made it a few times but it had never been as good as the one from Ludevica Scuderi.

“Dante,” came a pleasant female voice from behind us.

Dante and I turned at the same time. His sister Ines, with whom I’d exchanged only a few words over the years as we were nine years apart, stood in front of us. She was pregnant, probably third trimester if my guess was correct. Across the room, her twins, a boy and girl, were busy playing with Fabiano Scuderi who was their age. Ines had the same fair hair as Dante and she carried herself with the same cold aloofness, but as her eyes settled on me, they were, not necessarily warm, but friendly. “And Valentina. It’s good to see you.”

“Ines,” I said with a smile. “You look radiant.”

She touched her belly. “Thank you. It’s been a challenge finding nice dresses that fit me with my belly. Maybe you can help me go shopping for one for your wedding?”

“I’d love to. And if you don’t mind, I’d be delighted if you would join me when I go looking for a wedding dress.”

Her blue eyes grew wide. “You don’t have one yet?”

I shrugged. Of course I still had the one from my last wedding, but I didn’t intend to wear it again. That would mean bad luck. “Not yet, but I’ll go looking for one next week, so if you’re free?”

“Count me in,” she said. Her eyes had become much warmer. She looked much younger than thirty-two and even though she was pregnant she didn’t seem to have gained an ounce of weight. I wondered how she did it. Maybe good genes. I definitely hadn’t been blessed with those. Without the occasional detox day or week, and regular workouts, I’d be gaining weight in no time.

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