Wife By Force(9)

By: Caro LaFever


Right.

His own right to take what he wanted when he wanted had been eclipsed by his duty. During these years, he’d focused on what he needed to do, not on what he wanted to do. After he lost Lara, he’d had nothing to live for but his familial duty.

But now? Now, for once, he would take what he wanted. To hell with anything else.

“Now,” his mother’s voice strengthened. “We talk about you.”

He allowed himself a wry smile since his back was to her. His mamma was the only one in all these years who had never lost sight of the boy he’d been. She clucked and worried and suggested until he nearly went mad and told her so. His objections made no difference, however. She was as stubborn as he was.

“Dante?” The one word was filled with irritation. “Pay attention to me, per favore.”

If only she knew this conversation was not needed. He wondered for a moment what Giana Casartelli would say if he announced his aim. His aim to take. Take what he wanted. Of all his relatives, his employees, his business associates, she would undoubtedly be overjoyed he was doing something for himself for once.

But no. This was not the time to share with anyone his desires. He’d learned, painfully, not to share much of anything about himself. It was not time to share anything. With anyone. Not even Lara.

“Dante.” His mother broke through his thoughts, her tone sharp and shrill. “I demand you listen to me.”

“Demand?” His quiet word slipped into the air.

Her tone shifted. “Request, then.”

He turned to stare at her.

His mother stared back at him with grim determination. “You are thirty-six.”

“I don’t know where you are going with this.” Actually, he knew precisely where she was going; he just had no interest in following. Yet he knew enough about his mamma’s ways to know he needed another cognac. Walking to the liquor stand, he picked out another crystal glass. “Would you like a nightcap?”

“No.” An obstinate look crossed her face. “I want to talk about this with you.”

“This being what?”

“You must feel relief that all your sisters are secure and happy.”

“Certamente.”

“This responsibility has been a huge burden for you. I know this.”

“Mamma—”

“It has been eleven years since your papa died. You have carried these obligations for all these years. The raising of your siblings. Running the family company. You’ve done an admirable job.” Giana’s eyes filled with tears again. “I’m very proud of you.”

“I merely did what needed to be done.” Irritated, he stifled the need to walk out of the room. He hated this, this endless recitation of his supposed good deeds. As if he’d had any choice when his father lay dying. As if he’d ever once contemplated denying his father’s last request to take care of his siblings, to take care of his mother, to take care of the family business.

His mother’s gaze turned from tears to a snapping sparkle. “You constantly do this.”

“What?”

“Try and dismiss what you’ve sacrificed.”

He sipped his drink and kept his face blank. “Mamma, let us talk about—”

“We are talking about exactly what I want to talk about.”

He paced to the fireplace and planted himself.

“Dante.”

“Si.”

A heavy female sigh came from the chair. “I can see you are not in the mood to listen to me. Not yet.”

“I listen to you, Mamma.”

“You listen, but you don’t understand.”

What could a man say to this meaningless assertion? Nothing.

“You have that look on your face again. Stubborn boy.”

He was not a boy. He hadn’t been for many years. This was not something he could give her, the wild emotional boy she’d loved years ago. That boy wasn’t in him any longer. “You are tired, Mamma. It is time for you to go to bed.”

“Don’t dismiss my concern for you.” Giana’s eyes flashed.

“Your concern is misplaced. As I have told you many times before.” His tone was harsh, too harsh, he noted with exasperation. At himself. He rarely lost even an edge of his temper, yet it had been a long day. A day filled with lust and want and emotions he’d found hard to push back on. But his mother also irritated him. She had not chosen her timing well.

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