Bound by Duty(8)

By: Cora Reilly


Aria and Luca, and Matteo and Gianna, as well as the Scuderi family occupied the table to our right. Aria gave me a smile before she returned her watchful gaze to her sister and Matteo who seemed on the verge of an argument. Those two would have one hell of a marriage. Matteo didn’t seem to mind the glowers Gianna was sending his way.

“You look beautiful together,” Ines said, drawing my attention back to our table.

Dante regarded me with an unreadable expression.

The servers chose that moment to enter the ballroom with plates.

After the four-course dinner, it was finally time for our dance. Dante led me toward the dance floor and pulled me against his chest. I smiled up at him. He felt warm and strong, and was a good dancer. He smelled perfect like a warm summer breeze and something very masculine. I couldn’t wait to share a bed with him, to see what he hid beneath the fabric of his expensive suit. If we had been alone, I would have rested my cheek against his shoulder, but everyone was watching us, and I didn’t think Dante liked to show intimacy in public.

Of course our guests didn’t care. Soon they started calling. “Bacio, bacio!”

Dante peered down at me with one cocked eyebrow. “Do we honor their wishes, or ignore them?”

“I think we should honor their wishes.” I really really wanted to honor their wishes.

Dante tightened his hold on my back and firmly pressed his lips against mine. His blue eyes were fixed on me and for a moment I was sure I saw something like warmth in them. But then the guests flooded the dancefloor to join in the dancing and our kiss was over. Shortly after, Fiore Cavallaro asked me to dance and Dante had to dance with his mother. I smiled at my father-in-law, unsure how to act around him. He had the same cold aloofness going as Dante. “My wife and I had hoped Dante would choose someone who wasn’t married before.”

The smile on my face became difficult to maintain, but I didn’t want people to realize that Fiore had said something that hurt me. “I understand,” I said quietly.

“But his reasoning convinced us. Dante needs a heir soon and someone not quite as young might prove a better mother to our grandchildren.”

I nodded. Their cold logic was something I hated with every ounce of my being. Not that I could tell him that.

“I don’t intend to sound cruel, but this is a marriage of convenience, and I’m sure you know what’s expected of you.”

“I do. And I’m looking forward to having children with Dante.” It was true. I’d always wanted children. I’d even considered in-vitro fertilization when I’d still been married to Antonio, but I wanted the chance to get to know Dante better before I tried to get pregnant. Naturally, I couldn’t tell his father that either. My brother took over from Fiore as was expected. “I’m glad you could come,” I told him as I looked up at him. He had my dark green eyes and almost black hair but those were the only similarities between us. We’d never been close, not for lack of trying on my part however. I wasn’t sure if that would ever change. He resented our father for coddling me, and sometimes I thought he resented me for having had it easier than him.

“I can’t stay long,” he said simply. I nodded, having expected nothing else. Orazio avoided our father as much as possible.

I was glad when Pietro, Ines’ husband, asked me to dance. He was a quiet man and didn’t step on my feet, so I wouldn’t have minded to dance with him until the end of the evening to avoid awkward conversation. Of course that would have been beyond inappropriate. After my dance with Pietro, hospitality dictated that I had to dance with the head of New York. While Aria looked perfectly comfortable around Luca now, I definitely wasn’t. Nevertheless, I accepted his hand when he held it out for me. He wasn’t smiling. I’d only ever seen glimpses of a real smile when he looked at Aria. Dante was tall and muscled, but with Luca even I had to tilt my head back to maintain eye-contact. I knew people were watching us as we danced. Especially Dante’s steely gaze followed every move we made, even though he was dancing with Aria. Not that Luca seemed much happier about the fact that Dante was embracing Aria. Men in our world were possessive. Men like Dante and Luca were something else entirely.

When one song ended and the next began, I could hardly hide my relief. Luca had a knowing expression on his face. He was probably used to people being uncomfortable in his presence. My next dance partner was Matteo. I didn’t know him very well, but I’d heard about his temper and his skill with the knife.

“May I?” he asked with an exaggerated bow.

I curtsied mockingly in turn. “Of course.”

Surprise flashed in his eyes. He pulled me against him with a shark-grin. Closer than Luca had risked. Closer than any sane man would risk.

“I think I saw your husband twitch a little just now,” he murmured. “That’s the equivalent of an emotional outburst for a cold fish like him, I suppose.”

I exhaled, trying to stifle laughter. “You don’t like to beat around the bush, do you?”

His dark eyes twinkled with mirth. “Oh, I like bushes well enough, don’t worry.”

I burst out laughing. And not a ladylike restrained chuckle. It was high-pitched laughter. “I’m pretty sure that was inappropriate.”

I could feel a few heads turning our way, but I couldn’t restrain myself.

“You’re right. I was warned to behave myself around the wife of The Boss as not to cause a rift between New York and Chicago,” he said lightly.

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell on you.”

Matteo winked. “I fear it’s too late for that.”

“I think it’s my turn again,” Dante said, appearing beside us, his hard glare fixed on Matteo, who seemed thoroughly unperturbed.

Matteo took a step back. “Of course. Who could stay away from such dark beauty for long?” He bent over my hand and kissed it. I stiffened, not because of the kiss, but because of the look in Dante’s eyes. I slipped my hand into his quickly and squeezed, and suddenly Aria was at our side. “Matteo, you should dance with me now.” He did and Aria cleverly moved them away from Dante and me.

“I thought you wanted to dance with me?” I said in a forced casual tone, peering up at Dante’s hard face.

His blue eyes settled on me. He wrapped his arm around me and started to move us to the rhythm of the music. I wasn’t sure what had been the source of his anger: jealousy, or Matteo’s disrespect. “What did he say?” Dante asked eventually.