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The mingling seemed to go on forever. Nearly two hours passed before it was time to be seated for dinner. We all gathered in the dining room where a table large enough to seat 20 stood proudly in the center. Its dark wood had a beautiful glossy finish, and the antique chairs that accompanied it were upholstered with gorgeous red velvet. A chandelier hung over the center of the table – its jewels sparkling brightly and creating tiny rainbows wherever the light hit.

The guests filed in gracefully, each taking a seat and waiting patiently for dinner to be served. Luca pulled me with him – his arm never seeming to leave my waist. He had kept me close all night – a part of his body always touching a part of mine. Whether he was being protective or possessive, I couldn’t tell. I hoped for the former because no matter how charming or handsome he was, I wouldn’t allow myself to be a man’s possession ever again.

Luca guided me to a seat near the head of the table, pulling my chair out for me and sitting to the right of his mother. Danny took the seat across from him and Carmen slid into the one opposite mine. I was still mildly irritated with her but being that she was the first woman I’d met, aside from Luca’s mother, who was close to him, I swallowed my chagrin and did my best to get along.

A few of the household staff entered the room pushing carts. I watched as they served us each a glass of ice water and filled our wine glasses. The entire experience was surreal to me. I’d never been in the presence of such wealth before. The sorts of criminals from my past were small-time, making no more than a few hundred thousand dollars with each job. Luca was bringing in millions – probably even billions. I could only assume he paid off his mother’s house and hired an army to help her care for it.

“You’re nervous.” Luca’s deep voice startled me, his lips brushing against my ear and warm breath sweeping down my neck as he spoke.

Turning to face him, I felt my face heat as our lips nearly touched. I was all too aware of the heads turning in our direction that could be seen in my periphery. “I’m not nervous.”

Paying no attention to the sea of eyes or muffled whispers directed at us, Luca kissed me softly on the mouth. “Relax.”

I scowled. “I’m fine, Luca. You’re making a scene.”

He chuckled, leaning back into his chair while nonchalantly resting his palm on my thigh under the table. He gave me a light squeeze as he struck up a conversation with Danny and their mother.

“I’ve never seen my brother smile so much,” a voice spoke from across the table. I met Carmen’s gaze, reaching for my glass of wine and bringing it to my lips as though she hadn’t spoken at all. “You must really be something special.”

I set my glass down, holding her gaze the entire time. “There’s nothing special about me.”

She laughed, mirroring my earlier actions and sipping her wine with the grace of a princess. Carmen was a beautiful girl with deep olive skin and thick, brown hair. Her eyes were a light brown, lacking the green undertones her brothers shared. Tapping her nails against the stem of her glass, she kept her eyes trained on me.

“If you’re not special then you must be very smart. Only an intelligent woman could capture my brother’s attention enough to have him showering her in gifts.”

I clenched my jaw, my fingers tensing around my glass until my knuckles blanched. “Are you insinuating I’m after his money?”

A small smile stretched her lips. “The gown you’re wearing is one of six in existence. I know because the designer is a friend of the family. I also know that someone of your…background…could never afford it.”

My eyes slipped shut as I silently prayed for the strength to resist the bone-deep urge to smash my wine glass over her head and break her nose with my fist. I hated violence, but this bitch was really working my last nerve. So much for her earlier apology.

Just as I had formulated my response, Carmen lifted her spoon off the table and clinked it against her glass.

“Excuse me, everyone. I have an announcement.”

The side conversations gradually died out as each head in the room turned its focus to Carmen Moretti. Everyone watched as she reached into her bra and pulled out something small and round.

“I’m so happy to be surrounded by loved ones after being away for so long. I love you all and want to thank you for being here today.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. Slipping something over her finger, Carmen finally lifted her hand and showcased a diamond ring to the crowd. Luca’s hand gripped my thigh a little tighter.

“A lot has happened since I’ve been gone. Well, I met someone in New York. A really great guy who treats me like a queen. We’ve been seeing each other for nearly five months, and now we’re engaged!”

The family gasped in unison and cheers broke out. Mrs. Moretti had tears in her eyes when she rose to hug her daughter. Carmen turned back to face us.

“He wanted to be here tonight, but his flight was delayed, so he’ll be joining us in the morning. I know you will all welcome him with open arms and show him the same love you’ve shown me my entire life.”

The clamor grew louder as more members of the family congratulated her. I felt nothing but indifference and irritation. I cared nothing about her engagement. She had been making jabs at me before choosing that exact moment in time to make an announcement and bring the entire family’s attention to herself.

Setting down my glass, I turned to Luca. “Excuse me.” He remained silent as he watched me push my chair back and rise. I quickly scrambled down the hall toward the bathroom – the only other room in the house, besides the kitchen, that I knew how to get to.

I closed the door and walked toward the large mirror and marble top counter. Staring at my reflection, I absorbed Carmen’s earlier words. This dress was probably worth more than I could conceive of. I never would have known that if she hadn’t said anything. I didn’t even recognize the girl I saw in the mirror.

I had allowed myself to be consumed by this new lifestyle – letting a man blow all his money on me.

What was I doing? I should have been keeping a low profile and watching my back.

The door opened and Luca stepped inside – locking it behind him.

“Everything okay?” He stepped behind me, resting his hands over my hips.

I pushed him away and flipped around, my anger getting the best of me. “God, why are you suffocating me, Luca? I just need a fucking minute alone!” My voice echoed in the large bathroom.

He flinched at my words, clearly taken aback by my outburst. It only took him a moment to recover, and the anger set in quicker than my brain could register. In an instant, he had his hand wrapped around my throat and backed me into the bathroom counter.

“Back to this, are we?” I ground the words out between clenched teeth, letting my disgust show in my face.

“Why are you so fucking stubborn?” He growled, tightening his grip a fraction before releasing me altogether. I watched him as he began to pace the length of the spacious bathroom. “Every time I feel you letting me in, you slam the doors shut and push me away. Every. Fucking. Time. It’s getting old, Calliope. My patience is finally wearing thin.”

“You’re being dramatic,” I spat, crossing my arms over my chest, “I’m not pushing you away, I just want a minute to myself. I couldn’t breathe out there…”

He paused, turning to face me and stepping into my personal space. “Did Carmen’s announcement upset you? Did it…” his eyes flitted between mine as he carefully chose his words, “trigger a bad memory?”

My eyes softened a fraction at the sympathy in his tone. He really seemed to be concerned for my well-being. It didn’t feel right to keep him at arm’s length. Luca was becoming someone I could confide in…someone I could trust with all my secrets.

“It’s not what she said during the announcement that bothered me, but what she said before it.” I turned back around to face my reflection, running my hands over the fabric of my dress. “She made a comment about this gown,” I met his gaze in the mirror, “said it wasn’t something that someone of my economic status could afford. She implied I was some sort of money-grubbing whore who’s manipulating you.”

Luca’s pupils constricted instantly – his jaw clenching and a tick beginning to form on the right side. His eyes slipped shut and I listened to the way he inhaled sharply – forcing himself to relax. His hands found my waist and his large fingers pressed into the soft silk of my designer gown.

Spinning me around, Luca opened his eyes and locked them onto mine. I loved the perfect blend of green and brown in his irises. They were light and dark at once. Just like his soul. Good and bad mixed into one delectable human being.

He was just as twisted as I was – just as damaged. Yet, the good in him showed just like I knew the good in me did. At my core, I wasn’t an evil person – I just did what was necessary to survive. But the darkness in me pushed for control at times – the turmoil forcing its way out and paralyzing me with fear. Luca’s darkness escaped through anger and the need to control everything around him.

We were different, but the same.

“I must, once again, apologize for Carmela’s behavior. I will deal with her later. Right now, I want to take care of your needs.” He cupped my face, dragging his thumb over my jaw and cheek until he brushed my bottom lip.

“I’m fine,” I whispered, my nipples hardening the moment his skin was in contact with mine.

He raked his gaze down the length of my body, the hunger in his eyes growing to voracious heights. “Yes, you are.”

He dragged his fingers down the curve of my neck, sending an electric heat shooting down the column of my spine. I shuddered, my eyelids growing heavy as the arousal set in. Luca gripped my nape roughly, bending forward to kiss me on the mouth.

My arms dropped from my chest, my fingers gripping the fabric of his button-down before pulling him close. He kissed me hard, his tongue forcing its way past my lips as his fingers dug into my hair.

I could feel the pins coming loose and the thick, black, strands falling over my shoulders as he leaned me over the counter until our bodies melded together. His left arm snaked around my waist, lifting me onto the counter while he forced my knees apart with his own body.

The dress rode up my body slowly, bunching up around my thighs. Luca gripped the fabric roughly with his hands, forcing it over my hips. His fingers slipped beneath the skimpy waist of my thong, digging into the flesh at my side.

He never stopped kissing me, never stopped pulling on my hair or stroking as much of my ass as he could reach while I lay back on the large counter. My fingers stroked his washboard abs until they reached the waist of his pants. I fumbled with the button and fly, reaching between his legs and pulling his length free from the confines of his boxers.

I stroked him with both hands, and he groaned into my mouth, thrusting his hips forward, pushing his hot length farther into my palms.

He released my hair, bringing his arm between us and pushing my thong to the side so he could slip his fingers through my wet folds. I moaned at his touch, taking a sharp breath when he flicked the tips of his fingers over my sensitive, swollen nub.

He dragged his lips across my jaw and lavished my neck with wet kisses. Reaching into his pocket, Luca handed me a gold wrapper. I made fast work of the packet and rolled it over him. I squeezed his cock in my fingers and felt the way it pulsed in response – jumping with excitement. Pulling him forward, I guided the head of his member to my entrance, biting my lip the second I felt the crown breach my opening.

He slipped in, stretching me wide and burying himself to the hilt.

“Fuck,” he groaned, his head falling forward and his eyes sliding shut, “this pussy…”

I clung to his shoulders as he rocked into me. My eyes rolled into the back of my head and a moan escaped me. He felt incredible inside me. My nipples grew hard and the delicious clench of pleasure in my core sent my entire body into a state of pure bliss.

Pulling hard on his neck, I forced Luca’s lips onto mine, kissing him roughly as he fucked me on the bathroom counter like some whore he met in a bar. I can’t explain why I fucking loved every second of it.

It was so dirty, so spontaneous, and so exactly what I needed to forget his bratty little sister’s comment and the room full of nosey Moretti’s down the hall.

“Luca,” I moaned, clawing at the hair on the nape of his neck. He groaned in response, the sound deep and guttural. “I’m already so close.”

“I know, baby,” he breathed against my lips, “I can feel it.”

Luca slid a hand beneath my ass, sliding a single finger between the crease. I tensed immediately, afraid of the foreign intrusion. Despite my twisted, dark past, I’d never been taken from behind. That was something I was grateful for every fucking day.

“Relax,” he cooed, trailing his lips to my neck as he continued to pound into me.

I forced myself to let go, trusting him with my body like no one else. His finger traced my back entrance, gently probing but never fully penetrating. It felt odd, yet the pleasure between my legs seemed to increase tenfold. Luca pushed past the tight ring of muscle, inserting the very tip of his finger and fucking me harder than ever.

It was like he discovered some secret button I never knew about because I immediately fell over the edge. My thighs clenched around his hips and my nails dug into his scalp as I came violently – screaming in his face without inhibition.

He muffled my cries with a kiss, laughing into it. “Shh,” he said, sliding his tongue into my mouth and swallowing my cries with an impassioned embrace of his lips. A moment later, I felt him tense, groan, and release. Despite the latex barrier between us, I felt the heat of his come as it filled the condom inside me.

Just as quickly as it had started, it was over.

My heart beat through my chest and sweat trickled down my neck – disappearing into my cleavage line. I was sated and exhausted from the intense quickie.

Luca pulled out, removed the condom and disposed of it quickly. In the time it took me to reorient myself, he had already cleaned up and put himself back together. Not a hair was out of place.

I lowered myself from the counter, turning to face the mirror. My eyes bulged when I saw the state I was in. How on Earth had he managed to remain so intact? I looked exactly like what I was; a woman thoroughly fucked.

I caught Luca’s gaze in the mirror – full of smug mirth. “You should probably clean yourself up before going back out there,” he said, the amusement obvious in his voice.

I shot him a violent glare when he grinned boyishly and stepped out without another word.

Thankfully, dinner and dessert passed by without a hitch. Carmen didn’t engage in conversation with me and I was finally able to relax.

Shortly after dessert, I was informed that the family would be spending the night here at the estate – meaning I would be as well. I wished Luca had told me that before we left the penthouse. I didn’t even pack a toothbrush or change of clothes.

A member of the staff escorted me to one of the many guest bedrooms on the second level of the estate. I wasn’t surprised to find myself in yet another luxuriously decorated room. With a California king-sized bed against the wall and gorgeous cherry oak furniture, I had stepped into a dream.

A knock sounded at the door and I pulled it open, revealing Mrs. Moretti in a nightgown and silk robe. She carried folded clothes in her hands.

Buonasera, bellissima,” she keened, smiling warmly, “I have some of my old things for you. I hope they fit. Luca said you would need them.”

I accepted the clothes and returned her smile. “Thank you, Mrs. Moretti.”

“Oh, please, Tesoro, call me Adelina…or Mamma. Whatever you prefer.”

I had a mother at home, even though I hadn’t seen her in over a year. It felt wrong to call another woman by that name – like I’d forsake my own mother by doing so. “Thank you, Adelina. I really appreciate this.”

She lingered in the doorway, seemingly deciding whether to say the next thing on her mind. After a moment, she reached for me and took my hand in hers. “I know my son can be hard-headed and stubborn. He is much like his father that way. But he’s the best man I know. I see the apprehension in your eyes when he is near, but, Raven, if you give him a chance to show you who he really is, I know you won’t regret it.”

I didn’t know what to say. “Mrs. Mo – Adelina,” I stumbled over the words, trying to find an appropriate response, “I think highly of your son. He’s been good to me and that isn’t something I’ll forget easily.”

She gave me a sad smile and reached for my face, cupping my cheek affectionately. “I know you do, bella. And I can tell he thinks the world of you. Buona notte, darling.”

“Good night.”

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