He is cold as ice. Feared the most. And his eyes was on me. Massimo is the heir to his father’s empire. Don’t be fooled by his handsome face, or that dazzling blue gaze. He’s no prince charming or chivalrous hero. He’s dangerous and feared, possessive and fierce. Our first meeting began with a contract that forced me to marry him and sign my life right away. I was a debt repayment and a pawn in his game to exact revenge against my father. I belong to him now. The pure virgin is now owned by the devil who placed me in a gilded cage. But something unexpected happened the moment our paths collided.He gave me the best toe-curling lust which I adored. Then the past came knocking at the door and dark secrets scattered at my feet. Suddenly I don’t know truth from lies. Or, who the monster is, I thought it was my husband. Now I’m not so sure until things got complicated. This is a dark mafia romance.
17 years ago
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” Father De Lucca mutters before he pauses for a moment.
I gaze at him standing at the head of my mother’s grave. The solemn expression on his face deepens, and the pinch in his brows tells me he feels our loss too.
I remember him telling me stories about my mother when she was little. He was the priest who married my parents. I doubt he thought this day would come.
No one did. Not this soon, or so sudden.
Father De Lucca pulls in a breath, looks around the gathering of mourners, and continues. “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is able to subdue all things. God has received one of his angels today… I commit Sariah Abriella D’Agostino’s body back to the earth from whence she came, and I wish for a blessing on her beautiful, kind soul.”
I stare and note how my father looks at him on those final words. I wonder if Father De Lucca found it strange too. That my mother would kill herself.
Pa is standing paces away from him. A tear runs down his cheek as a light sparks in his eyes, probably from the kindness in the blessing.
The light fades a moment later, and he returns to being the broken man. I’m twelve years old, but I know what broken looks like. It’s how I feel.
Up until now, I’ve never seen Pa cry. Never. Not even years ago when we lost everything and were thrown into the streets with nothing but the clothes on our backs.
My grandfather gives my shoulder a gentle squeeze. When I glance up at him, he gives me a reassuring look. The type that everybody else has given since this all happened.
Grandfather has one hand on me and the other on Dominic, my youngest brother. My other two brothers, Andreas and Tristan, stand at his other side.
Dominic hasn’t stopped crying, not once since we told him Ma wouldn’t be coming home. He’s only eight years old. I hate that he has to go through this. We all teased him for being the baby and clinging to Ma. But then, we all clung to her in some way.
The only other funeral I’ve been to was my Abuelita’s. But at six years old, I was too young to understand death. Back then, I didn’t feel the way I do now. Like the collision of numbness and anger inside me will rip me apart.
Maybe I feel like that because it was me who found Ma in the river.
I was the first person to see her dead.
I was the first person to confirm our worst fears after she’d gone missing.
I was the first person to know that the last time we saw each other was goodbye forever.
We all looked for her for three days. It was while I was walking by the riverbank at Stormy Creek that I saw her, just drifting there in the water amongst the Cattail reeds. Her eyes still open, glassy. Her skin pale. Lips… blue. Her body rocking gently from side to side in the water. I’ll never forget the way she looked. Like a lifeless doll with her white blonde hair flowing out around her, her dainty features still looking so perfect. But lifeless. No more.
Inside I’m still screaming.
They said she must have jumped off the cliff. That’s what I heard the grownups saying.
Ma killed herself.
It doesn’t feel real.
It doesn’t feel right.
I’m pulled from my thoughts when Father De Lucca nods his head and Pa takes a handful of the dirt to throw down into the grave. When he finishes scattering the dust, he gets down on one knee and holds out the single red rose he’s been carrying since we got here. We all have one.
“Ti amo, amore mio. I will love you forever and ever,” he says. My parents always declared their love for each other. Always.
I know he feels the same guilt that surrounds us. We all blame ourselves for not being able to save her. As Pa casts the flower into the grave, Father De Lucca says a prayer and Grandfather takes my brothers to give Ma their flowers.
I remain where I am. I can’t will myself to move. I can’t say goodbye yet. I don’t want to say goodbye at all.
I know what will happen next. We’ll leave and they’ll fill the grave with the rest of the dirt. Covering Ma up forever. My legs tremble at the thought and that weakness returns to my body.
People start throwing in their flowers too, one by one. Some look at me, others just follow suit dropping their roses: lilies, dahlia’s. Ma’s favorites.
I’ve been holding on to the rose in my hand so tightly the thorns have cut my palms. I almost forgot I had it. I look down at the stains of blood on the stem and leaves. The rich crimson color stark against the dark green.
A heavy hand rests on my shoulder, startling me. When I look up, I find myself staring straight into the pale blue eyes of the devil. The man who took everything away from us.
Riccardo Balesteri. A man Pa used to call his best friend. That’s who we knew him to be before things changed and he became a monster.
Pa doesn’t involve us in business, but there was no one to shield us from anything that day two years ago when Riccardo came to our home with men and threw us out.
I didn’t know what happened, but I remember the arguing. I remember Pa pleading with him to be reasonable and Ma crying as she tried to get Dominic and Tristan out of bed. It was Andreas who took me and calmed me down when I tried to help. The men just laughed at me.
Now, this man is here at my mother’s funeral. With a smile on his face.
“Dear child, I’m so truly sorry for your loss,” he says.
His words are similar to what has been said to me all day, starting when we entered the church this morning and as we arrived at the cemetery. Everyone who said it, though, meant it. They were genuine. This man is not.
The click-clack of what I know is a gun steals my answer. Not that I would know what to say. I haven’t spoken much since I found Ma in the river.
I look up to see Pa holding out two guns, aiming them at Riccardo. Grandfather places a protective arm around my brothers while the remaining guests stare on in terror.
The only person who doesn’t look scared is Father De Lucca. His face is stern and becomes harder when Riccardo tightens his grip on my shoulder.
“Get your hands off my son,” Pa demands, tilting his head to the side.
Riccardo laughs. The sound ripples through me. He squeezes my shoulder so hard I wince and my knees buckle.
“Giacomo, trust you to make a scene,” Riccardo answers in a sing-song voice.
“I said get your hands off my son. Now!” Pa shouts.
In answer to his demand, Riccardo applies more pressure to my shoulder. His fingers dig past the fabric of my suit and burrow into my skin.
“Let me go,” I growl, thrashing against his grasp. He’s too strong though. I’m helpless. I can’t do anything.
“So disrespectful at your wife’s funeral,” Riccardo taunts. “I wonder what Sariah would think if she wasn’t six feet under. Maybe the disappointment you are as a husband made her jump to her death. Yes, yes. That must be it. Maybe she preferred death to being with you.”
Enraged, Pa steps forward with his guns, but Riccardo retaliates by pulling his own, pulling me closer and placing the steel barrel to my temple.
I cry out, dropping my rose and gritting my teeth. That makes Pa stop in his tracks. His eyes widen with fright and my soul shivers with fear. This man is the devil. Pa always told me to never underestimate. It will get you killed. So, I won’t do it now. I won’t underestimate or assume that Riccardo won’t kill me.
Tears run down my cheeks when he smooths his hand up to my neck and holds me tighter.
“You fucking dog,” Pa shouts. He still has his guns raised though. “How dare you show up here today to gloat. Get your fucking hands off my son.”
Riccardo smiles and leans closer, close to my father’s outstretched guns, daring, as if he knows Pa won’t kill him.
“Look at you, thinking you’re hot shit. You can’t kill me. You know that.”
“Do you want to test me?” Pa snarls.
“Fool, if you could, you would have done it already. But… you know you can’t. You know the moment you do, you’re dead. Your boys are dead. Your father is dead. Your family in Italia is dead. Everybody you know will be dead. The creed of the Brotherhood protects me and mine.”
Pa seethes. Defeat enters his eyes. The same defeated look he’s carried for the last few years as one bad thing happened after another.
“Leave us,” Pa replies.
“That’s right. I thought so. You know you can’t do shit to me. You’re powerless and useless, helpless as shit,” Riccardo continues to taunt. “You lost everything. She was the last good thing you had left.”
He looks at the grave. Through my tears I catch the first glimpse of sadness in his eyes. He releases me and steps back, lowering his gun.
“Leave us, Riccardo. Go away. Go the fuck away,” Pa says.
“Came to pay my respect to the angel you should never have had. That’s all,” Riccardo answers. “And maybe to see your face. That look on your face as you accept you’ve truly lost everything.”
With a crude, sardonic laugh, Riccardo turns and walks away.
Pa lowers his guns, puts them back in his holsters, and takes hold of me, pulling me in for a hug.
“Massimo,” he breathes against my ear. “Are you hurt?”
I swallow hard. “No,” I answer. He pulls back to look me over. Sees the rose on the ground and picks it up.
We stare at each other. The sadness in his eyes grips me so bad it hurts.
“I’m sorry, my boy… I’m sorry for everything,” he says.
“Why does he hate us so much?” I ask, my lips trembling.
Pa shakes his head. “Don’t worry about him. Don’t, my boy. Today is not about him.” He straightens and holds the rose out to me. “Massimo…give your mother the rose. It’s time. Time to say goodbye. We will get through this. We will. Please… never think your mother didn’t love you. She did with all her heart.”
I know it’s true, but part of me wants to ask him why she would leave me without saying goodbye. Except I know the answer. Life became too hard after Riccardo took everything from us. That’s why.
“Give your mother your rose, amore mio,” Pa repeats, pushing the rose closer to me.
I take it and then those steps I dreaded. My legs grow heavier with each one. I stop right by the opening to the grave and release the flower from my grasp. As it falls, my heart breaks all over again.
Riccardo was right. Ma was the last good thing we had left. She was truly an angel.
I gaze off into the distance and see the vague outline of him walking down the path leading back to the car park.
He called my father powerless, useless, helpless. He blamed Pa for my mother wanting death, but it’s not his fault. Everything that’s happened to us is Riccardo’s fault. All of it.
In the moment this thought strikes me, I vow vengeance. As I watch his retreating back, I promise myself that I will fix this. No matter how long it takes me, I will spend the rest of my life if I have to, helping my father rebuild. And I will make Riccardo Balesteri pay for everything.
Right now, we might be powerless, useless, helpless, but we will not be that forever.
It doesn’t matter how long it takes.
He will lose everything too.