Bound by Duty

By: Cora Reilly

Dante’s expression didn’t change. “Of course. My father suggested your cousin Gianna, but I didn’t want a wife who’s barely of age. Unfortunately, most women in their twenties are already married, and most widows are older than me or have children, both unacceptable for a man in my position as you will probably understand.”

I nodded. There were so many rules of etiquette when it came to finding the right spouse, especially for a man in Dante’s position, which was why so many were shocked when I was announced as his future wife. Dante had stepped on many toes with that decision.

“So you were the only logical choice. You are, of course, still quite young, but that can’t be changed.”

For a moment I was stunned into silence by his emotionless reasoning. I wasn’t as naïve as I used to be, but I’d hoped at least part of the reason why Dante had chosen me was that he was attracted to me, found me pretty, or at least fascinating to some extent, but this cold explanation destroyed that small flicker of hope.

“I’m twenty-three,” I said in a surprisingly calm voice. Maybe Dante’s aloofness rubbed off on me. If so, I would be known as the ice queen in no time. “That’s not young by our marriage standards.”

“Twelve-years younger than me. That’s more than I would have liked.” His deceased wife had been only two years younger than him and they’d been married for almost twelve years before she’d died from cancer. Still the way he said it made it sound as if I’d forced him into a marriage with me. Most men in our world took on young mistresses once their wives got older, and yet Dante was displeased that I was too young.

“Then maybe you should look for another wife. I didn’t ask you to marry me.” The moment the words were out, I clamped a hand over my mouth, then met Dante’s gaze. He didn’t look angry, he didn’t look anything. His face was as it always was. Stoic and emotionless. “I’m sorry. That was very rude. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Dante shook his head. Not a single hair moved out of line. There wasn’t even a speck of dirt on his trouser legs, despite the snowy November weather. “It’s alright. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

I wished he didn’t sound so blasé, but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until we were married. “You didn’t. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”

“Let’s get back on track. There are a few more things we need to discuss and unfortunately I have a meeting scheduled for tonight and an early flight tomorrow morning.”

“You’re heading to New York for the engagement of Matteo and Gianna.” My family hadn’t gotten an invitation. As with Aria’s engagement party, only the closest family and the respective heads of the New York and Chicago mob had been invited. I was actually glad. It would have been the first social even after my betrothal to Dante had been made public. Gossip and curious glances would have followed me everywhere.

A hint of surprise flickered in his eyes, but then it was gone. “Yes, indeed.” He reached into his jacket pocket and held out a small velvet box. I took it from him and opened it. A diamond engagement ring was inside. Only a few weeks ago, I’d taken off the wedding ring and engagement ring that Antonio had gotten for me. They’d never meant much to me anyway.

“I hope you like the design.”

“Yes, thank you.” After a moment of hesitation, I took the ring out and put it on my finger. Dante hadn’t given any indication that he wanted to do it for me. My gaze flickered toward his right hand and my stomach plummeted. He was still wearing his old wedding ring. Another strange burst of disappointment filled me. If he wore it after all this time, he must still be in love with his dead wife, or was it a simple matter of habit?

He noticed my gaze and for the first time his stoic mask slipped but it was gone so quickly that I wasn’t sure I’d actually seen it. He didn’t give me an explanation or an apology, but I hadn’t expected one from a man like him.

“Your father requests that we do a social outing before the actual wedding. As we all agreed that an actual engagement party is unnecessary…” I’d never been asked, but I wasn’t even surprised. “…I suggest we attend the annual Christmas party of the Scuderi family together.”

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