Bound by Duty(5)By: Cora Reilly
“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.
“Wonderful.” From the corner of my eye, I saw Dante watching us with mild interest. I hoped he was happy that his sister and I got along. I knew his deceased wife and Ines had been friends. I’d often seen them laughing together at social events.
“Where’s your husband?” he asked eventually.
“Oh, Pietro went outside for a smoke with Rocco Scuderi. They didn’t want to disturb you and your future wife.”
A muscle in Dante’s cheek flexed.
“You can go after them, if you have business to settle,” I said quickly. “I’ll be fine on my own. I should probably talk to Aria. Maybe you’d like to join me, Ines?”
Ines shook her head, her eyes on her twins who were in a heated argument with each other. “I need to break this up or there will be tears and bloody noses.” She gave me a quick smile, then rushed off toward her arguing kids.
Dante hadn’t moved from my side yet. “Are you sure?”
He nodded. “I’ll be back soon.” I watched him head toward the terrace door and disappear outside. Now that he was gone, I could see that several women turned their attention more openly to me. I had to find Aria or Bibiana quickly before one of them engaged me in an awkward conversation. I meandered through the other guests, sparing them only the briefest smile. Eventually I found both Aria and Bibiana in the lobby in a quiet corner. “There you are,” I said, not trying to hide my relief.
“What’s wrong?” Aria asked with a frown.
“I feel as if everyone’s talking about me and Dante. Tell me I’m imagining things.”
Bibiana shook her head. “You don’t. Most widows aren’t as lucky as you are.”
“I know, but still. I wish they wouldn’t act quite so shocked about my engagement.”
“It’ll pass,” Aria said, then grimaced. “Soon Gianna will be back on the prime spot of daily gossip.”
“Sorry. I heard there was a scene at Gianna’s engagement party.”
Aria nodded. “Yeah. Gianna has trouble hiding her unwillingness to marry.”
“Is that why Matteo Vitiello isn’t here?” Bibiana asked. I’d wondered that as well, but I didn’t want to be nosy.
“No. But since Salvatore Vitiello’s death, Matteo is second in charge and he has to stay in New York when Luca isn’t there.” I searched her face for a sign of the tension I’d heard in her voice, but she’d learned to hide her emotions. Was Luca having trouble in New York? He was young for a Capo. Maybe some forces in New York were trying to mutiny. Once Aria might have told me, but now that I was the fiancée of the future Boss of the Chicago Outfit, she’d have to be careful what she let slip. Maybe we were trying to work together, but New York and Chicago definitely weren’t friends.