Lucian Romano glared at the man sitting across from him in the small family run Italian restaurant. This was the last place in hell he ever wanted to be, but this was a meeting months in the making. It would hopefully end the rivalry between the Romano’s and the Gallo’s forever. But Lucian had concerns about what they would sacrifice to see that end. Two strong Italian families were battling for dominance, and both were determined to win. Men had died, including Lucian’s own son, and families had been torn apart. The rivalry had lasted centuries, and it now looked like it could finally be at an end.
Anthony Gallo sat opposite him and glared right back. The two of them were the heads of each family, and would be the ones to decide their fate. A bottle of half empty top shelf whiskey sat on the table between them, and cigar smoke swirled above them, giving the restaurant a deceptively sweet smell. The remaining tables had been stacked haphazardly in a corner, giving them the room they needed. Men lined the walls on either side, and they were all heavily armed. Trouble was expected, and both sides were more than prepared. Tensions were high between the two and their men, and one wrong move could end in a bloodbath. Fingers got twitchy when stress was high.
Lucian was anxious to come to an agreement and get the hell out of there. He’d been here over an hour, and they had decided nothing. It was wearing on his patience and a headache was forming at his temple. He ignored it and slammed his fist on the table, upsetting the bottle and spilling its contents on the crisp white tablecloth. Men stepped forward from both sides, and guns were raised in anticipation. Furious, Lucian raised his fist, and the men froze.
“What will it take to end this?” Lucian roared. “I’m sick of this back and forth. Come up with something we can agree on or we both die tonight.”
Anthony nodded, and his expression turned resigned. “I agree, it is time to make a decision,” he acknowledged. “There is only one favourable outcome I can come up with. It will tie the two families and end this feud.”
Lucian dropped his head in despair. He knew what the man was about to propose, and the thought made him physically ill. Unfortunately he also knew it was the only solution. Lucian took a deep calming breath and raised his head once more, so he was looking directly in Anthony’s eyes. He would not be the one to voice what they were both thinking. If he was questioned later, he could then honestly admit it was not his idea.
“Your daughter and my son will wed,” Anthony declared as he shoved back his chair and stood. “Their match will join the families for life and end this rivalry.”
Lucian was breaking inside, but he refused to let the other man see it. Rising with all the dignity he could muster, he too shoved his chair back and stood. When Anthony thrust his hand out he understood that once they clasped hands, the deal would be unbreakable. Lucian leaned forward and thrust out his own hand, but at the last minute pulled back.
“You give my daughter a month. Your son will move into my estate and they will get to know each other. After that time the wedding will take place,” Lucian pushed.
Lucian could only hope that in that month his daughter would submit to Anthony’s son, and some form of bond would form. He didn’t have any high expectations of that actually happening, but he needed it for his own peace of mind. He had heard terrible things about Anthony’s son, and he hoped in that time the boy would warm towards his daughter and things would work themselves out.
“What will a month accomplish?” Anthony questioned with a curled lip. It was obvious the man saw no reason for the delay.
“Relationships take time, and we are forcing this marriage on the two. The month will give both of them a moment to acquaint themselves with each other, maybe even grow feelings towards each other,” Lucian pushed.
Anthony scoffed at him as he shook his head. “A waste of time. You know as well as I do that this will be a marriage for duty and not love.” Then he narrowed his eyes. “But if it is what you need to ease your mind, I will agree to it. One month from today, and only one month,” he stressed. “My son will move in tonight. They will share a bed and they will spend the time allotted together.”
Lucian knew that was the only concession he would get. He closed his eyes and prayed for his blackened soul, then he opened them and clasped Anthony’s hand with his own. The two glared at each other as they held on tightly and sealed the fate of their children.
“Bring me a sharp blade and the contract,” Anthony ordered as they remained joined together.
Lucian heard the telltale footsteps of a man retreating to do Anthony’s bidding, but he didn’t break eye contact. He needed to remain strong, and the connection with his enemy would ensure that. It was only a minute before the man was slapping a contract on the table between them and thrusting a knife into Anthony’s free hand. Anthony gave a sharp nod in thanks and then thankfully let his hand go. Lucian’s hand throbbed from the tight grip he was forced to endure, and it tingled as the feeling returned.
Anthony held out his hand palm up, then raised the other hand that was holding the knife, and slashed a thick line across the open palm. Immediately blood flowed from the gash to coat his palm. He flipped it over and slammed it down on the right-hand side of the contract, before boldly glaring at him once more.
“Now you,” Anthony demanded as he held out the knife.
As soon as Lucian took the sharp blade, a handkerchief was thrust in Anthony’s direction. He wrapped his hand, then motioned to the contract with obvious frustration. With no other option Lucian sliced his own palm, hissing at the searing pain, then slammed it down on the left side of the contract. Without a hint of emotion, he lifted his hand and stared at the bloody print he’d left behind. They pushed another handkerchief at him, so he took it and wrapped his as well.
“The deal is done,” Anthony grinned. “And the war is over. Let us have a final drink to celebrate, then you and my son can be on your way. It is a momentous day.”
Cheers went up on both sides, but all Lucian felt was an empty hollowness. His daughter would not agree to this, he was sure of that, and he would need to force her hand. It was a dark day, and he had no doubt it would only get darker.