Bound By Vengeance(5)

By: Cora Reilly

“One of your hairpins is loose,” she said.

My free hand flew up to the spot she was looking at and I tried to find the offending pin before it could ruin my hairdo. Other guests were throwing glances my way anyway, as this was my debut at a party. I couldn’t risk appearing anything less than immaculate.

“Let me,” Trish said and simply pushed the pin a few inches back. “There. All done.” Her smile was kind.

That was all? From Anastasia’s reaction one could have thought, I’d committed an inexcusable fashion sin.

“There’s a nice selection tonight,” Anastasia said. Her eyes lingering on a group of men across from us made it clear she wasn’t talking about the buffet.

The men in her focus were all at least ten years older than us, and as I surveyed the rest of the room, I realized that we were among the youngest guests. Most of the attendants worked for Falcone. This was a party for his subjects; I doubted he had any friends. Men like him couldn’t afford that luxury.

“But of course, you don’t have eyes for other men anymore now that you’re engaged to Cosimo,” Anastasia continued, dragging me back to reality.

I wasn’t sure what to say to that. Her voice had been odd. Was she jealous? Her father was probably already looking for a suitable match for her, so she’d soon be engaged as well.

“We’ll all be married soon enough,” I said in a placating tone.

“You got your hands on the highest-ranking bachelor, that’s for sure,” she said with a tight smile. Then she let out a laugh and clinked her glass against mine. “I’m joking, don’t look so shocked.”

I laughed, relieved. I really didn’t want to fight with Anastasia over Cosimo. We’d all marry good matches.

The music picked up and I took another sip of my drink. I was starting to relax thanks to the alcohol spreading in my blood and barely minded the occasional curious glances from other guests. At the next party, I’d already be one of them and someone else would be at the center of attention. Trish tapped her foot on the hardwood floor in rhythm with the song and hummed a few tunes before Anastasia shot her a look. I had to stifle a laugh. The dynamic between them was ridiculous at times.

To my surprise, I realized that even my bodyguard had disappeared from view to give me privacy with my friends. Slowly but surely this evening was getting good.

I knew Talia would give me an earful when I returned tonight, but our parents had been right when they’d insisted she was too young for a social event at Falcone’s house. Of course I wouldn’t tell her that again. It would be hard enough to make her forgive me as it was, though a few juicy rumors would probably placate her. Not that I was an experienced socialite. I’d have to rely on Trish and Anastasia for that. Annoyance toward Father rose up in me. Maybe he’d refused to take me to a social function until now because he thought I’d embarrass him in front of his boss. I’d overheard him tell Mother several times how terrifying and brutal Falcone was, so it wasn’t too far-fetched that Father thought I might cower in fear in front of that man, which was ridiculous. He was still human, not the monster Father always made him out to be, and even if he were, I doubted very much that he’d hate to see me cower in fear. It would probably excite him if he were the man Father had described.

“They are a bit too old for my taste,” Trish said, then took another sip from her champagne, returning to our previous topic.

“I don’t mind. I want to be treated like a princess by my husband and older men are more likely to appreciate me than a young guy,” Anastasia said. She gave me a knowing smile. For some reason it felt false. “From what I hear the deal between your family and Cosimo is almost done, so your engagement party will be soon.”

I frowned at the use of the word ‘deal’ when it came to me marrying Cosimo. But in all honesty, it was probably the term that fit the whole arrangement best. I gave a small shrug, trying to act nonchalant. I didn’t want to talk about him tonight, especially since the topic seemed to rile Anastasia up.

“Oh my God, Falcone invited his monster,” Trish whispered, clutching at my arm and almost making me spill my champagne over her dress. I followed her shock-widened brown eyes toward a corner of the room where a tall, muscled man leaned against a wall. He was dressed in a white shirt that strained against his massive chest, a black suit and black dress shoes. In fact he didn’t look that different from the other men in the room except for the missing tie, if you took only his outfit into consideration. But the rest of him, God have mercy.