He was a like a fallen angel, maybe he was a Lucifer reincarnate. The way he stepped out of the car, there was a sizzling energy around him, on that attracted me to him like a moth but I stayed put, I couldn’t open myself up, I couldn’t spill my thoughts and secrets. I was to be guarded. He was my enemy and I knew I had to stay closer and careful. Have you seen little kids outside of candy stores? I am pretty sure those candies always felt so haughty and full of themselves, maybe that’s how Raffaello felt, like an attractive candy.
The entire metaphor seemed so foolish to me.
He didn’t feel like a candy, emotions like arrogance and haughtiness seemed beneath this man. No, was like a strong warrior, leading his army, leading his soldiers only he didn’t seem as inspiring as Achilles or Hector. He was like… Vlad the Impaler. There, this seemed much more suitable. He seemed the kind of man who did probably drink the blood of his enemies.
Stepping towards my house I couldn’t help but observe his large physique. He wore a fitting black t-shirt the sleeves of which tightened around his thick and muscular biceps. His shoulders were broad and his entire torso seemed so built. Maybe that’s what he did in the prison, venting his anger out on his body, exercising and preparing himself for the day he would be released. He was a rugged man through and through. My eyes observed his face and I wasn’t surprised to find it to be devoid of emotion. He curtly nodded at my father, Silvano reciprocated. You didn’t hug, kiss or shake hands with Raffaello. His hair, dark like his aura was long and pulled back by elastic band.
I took a step forward, it was to announce my presence and announce it did. The dark orbs of Raffaello met mine and I couldn’t help but feel a shiver run down my spine. I struggled to keep my barrier up. His piercing eyes bore into mine and I knew he assessed me, tried to read me but I knew he struggled because as much as this sinister man tried to daunt me into unravelling, I was careful. I put my façade on. I couldn’t let him know that I was not a dumb little wife.
It was a task, a taxing and unnerving task to look him in the eye and not spill your deepest, buried secrets to him. So I did what I had learnt from my mother, taking a step back. I lowered my eyes so that I could now stare at his chest and bending my shoulders slightly to appear timid. My blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair made me look innocent and I was sure he would have no trouble in believing my façade.
“Welcome, Don Morretti,” Silvano said. My father was ecstatic yet petrified, he couldn’t wait to wash me off his hands, he couldn’t wait for the Don of the Morretti clan to marry me. Raffaello would be a better Capo than any of his sons could ever be. But who knew what the Don would do of this clan, wasn’t it stupid to assume that he would always keep it protected? How could an outside understand the Ricci? But Silvano was a stupid man, his incompetency was palpable. My grandfather’s only flaw, Silvano Ricci and his biggest strength Valentina Ricci.
“Help your Mother in the Kitchen, Valentina,” my father commanded me.
I turned around instantly in the direction of the kitchen, it would be foolish to linger and observe him some more even though I was tempted to. I walked towards the corridor that led to the dining area and the kitchen and found my mother garnishing her delectable dishes. The poor woman had been slaving over the stove since the morning.
My eyes skimmed over the large serve ware. Pasta all’Amatriciana, my favourite was there too. I looked at her and smiled. She knew how to make me happy, in her little ways. She gave her maternal smile and came to me.
“I thought you would want this, after all that daunting man can definitely steal your appetite, maybe this would bring your hunger back,” Lily said. I let a genuine giggle slip past my lips, I would miss her. Sometimes I felt bad for being so deceitful, sometimes I felt like opening myself to her but I couldn’t, she wouldn’t be able to carry the load of my secrets. And just like my grandfather had told me to do, to keep myself to only myself, I would just smile and be an innocent daughter.
“He is d-daunting,” I said with a slight stutter.
“Don’t you worry, he is going to love you much,” Lily tried to soothe my fear.
Did she really think Raffaello to be a man capable of loving?
But I just nodded.
I helped her carry the dishes to the dining area. I observed the cutlery arranged properly, Silvano had probably ordered Lily to take out the silverware, each containing an emblem of Ricci clan. I turned to one of the soldiers standing.
“Please call everyone for dinner,” I said to him and he nodded. My mother placed her hand on my shoulder and gave me an assuring smile. I returned the smile to her, my eyes quickly scanned the dining table, making sure nothing was out of place before looking at the entrance to the dining area again. The men entered, following Silvano and Raffaello. There were around twenty odd men and my eyes assessed the food. I quickly turned to my mother.
“The food is less, please tell the cooks to start preparing another batch of the same,” I whispered to her. She fortunately didn’t argue with me and quickly walked to the kitchen and gave the cooks the instruction. They sprang to action. My mother returned.
The men started to seat themselves, my father sat on the chair beside the head of the family chair and I saw Raffaello take a seat on it. I gulped back the insult and my blood boiled at the good-natured smile on Silvano’s face. Did he just simply give away that significant position to a stranger? I knew that Nonno would’ve died again had he been alive to witness this moment.
This man was just giving away everything on a silver platter, with the Ricci emblem on it.
I walked to the chair opposite my father’s and sat down. I kept my eyes lowered and my rage disguised well. My eyes went to the plate in front of me, the emblem stood out.
“Do you know what the Ricci emblem stands for?” Nonno asked.
“Loyalty, strength and power,” I recited.
“That’s a good girl, and what do they mean?”
“Loyalty to the Cosa Nostra gives us power and the strength to fight for us and those who are ours. We respect us more than we respect others but we respect us lower than the god, the almighty who gives us the strength and the power and we in return give him our loyalty,” I said.
The smile at the end was my reward.
I returned back from my thoughts.
“Valentina went to Brown University; she just completed her education last month. She now assists her mother at home, learning to be a wife,” Silvano said.
“Learning to be a wife now? What was she doing before?” a man spoke up. He looked like the cousin, the Underboss, Lorenzo Morretti. He was a hothead and very volatile. He would probably go on a rampage if he is not controlled by the Capo himself.
“She lived with her grandfather till she was eighteen, my old man lived alone after the death of my mother so he kept Valentina around,” Silvano said, “but Valentina is a fast learner, she has made the caramel cheesecake today.”
I smiled politely at the mention of it, to be frank, cooking was an art, an art of precision and patience and I have been taught precision and patience amongst many other things since the very beginning. So when it came to learning cooking, I was able to pick up the art and I picked it up well. I knew these men would finish that caramel cheesecake today and unlike my mother I had deciphered the number of people coming and had made the dessert accordingly.
The conversation moved to much serious things now and I was able to pick the main players of the Morretti clan, Raffaello of course didn’t speak a lot, followed by his second-in-command Lorenzo and two of his cousins Caporegime Christian and Caporegime Salvatore. I felt his eyes on me and I shyly looked in his direction, now that we were saw closer, I could make out his eyes. Dark grey orbs, assessing me. His face was a sculpted beauty, hooded eyes, strong jaw and an aristocratic nose. But there was something evil about him and I kept myself calm. The key for surviving here was to look like an angel, an oblivious idiot who went about her day ignoring the blood and politics that were an integral part of the Cosa Nostra.
Should I stir up a conversation?
Do you like the food, Don Morretti?
Is there something else you would need, Don Morretti?
I decided to stay quiet.
“Valentina,” he said. My breathing hitched and I struggled to stop myself from reacting to it. There was a way in which he said my name, my name suited his voice. Thick and strong, it was as if he was waiting to say my name. The way it rolled out of his tongue. I gulped and shyly looked up from my plate, I was genuinely feeling shy, this man had an effect on me.
I looked into his eyes.
“Don Morretti,” I whispered.
The entire table was quiet. Everyone’s attention was on us.
“I would like to see the house,” he expressed his command. He had the Italian lilt that made me want to behave like a teenage fan. I turned to my father and he nodded. I gently stood up from my chair.
“We will send Valentina’s dessert in her room,” Silvano said, “the two of you can enjoy it there.”
I walked out of the dining area, Raffaello following me. I walked into the foyer and started climbing the stairs. My heart was beating rapidly; he wanted to see the house, which seemed like such an unusual request from a man like Raffaello. Was there an ulterior motive to this? I stopped near a family portrait and turned to him.
“This was our last family photograph with Nonno,” I said in the softest voice possible, “I am eighteen in this photograph.”
He assessed the photograph for a minute before turning his eyes to me. I kept mine lowered.
“I would like to see your room,” he said. I nodded and led him towards it.
I knew why he wanted to see my room, he wanted to understand me, he wanted to decipher me but he was in for a disappointment. There was nothing in my room that spoke of what kind of a person I am, I never lived in this house, nothing was personal to me. My room was staged to look like what people thought I was. It was feminine and sweet, it was harmless to the naked eye.
I led him to my room.
There was a beautiful canopy bed made of white ivory. Beautiful curtains hung making around it, the bedding was a pale blue with ruffled frill edges. A study desk on one corner with some books and a vanity table on the other side, there were windows on either side of my bed, giving a view of the Ricci estate. I turned to him, my hands intertwined with each other. He walked around the room, observing each and everything closely. He was trying to study it.
He walked to the study desk and picked up a book.
It was a classic by Thomas Hardy.
It was untouched, a fresh copy, I had read it only once.
He placed the book back and turned to me. His eyes hid an enigma, revealing nothing about how he felt. He slowly walked to my vanity. He picked up the pale pink lipstick, I had opened it just this morning for the occasion of meeting him. I think he realised that as he kept the lipstick on the table. He took the perfume, it was a victoria secret one, very floral and girly. I had opened that today as well, for the occasion. He opened the bottle and took a whiff before placing it back in its place.
And then he opened the top drawer.
Raffaello picked out an almost empty bottle of Paco Rabanne Olympea, a perfume that I had been using since it came out. Its notes spoke of strong women, competitive, successful and worthy of glory. I was obsessed with this scent but it was too deceptive. It didn’t suit my innocent looking, petite physique.
He turned to me, his eyes finally revealing something. He knew something about me now.
He knew I was no daisy. I was a rose, with thorns.
He walked to me, his eyes calculating.
Perfume, it took a perfume to reveal my true self. Or maybe I wasn’t hiding myself too well; maybe he sniffed my strong character, my substantial character. He stood in front of me; I craned my neck to look at him. He was tall, I barely reached his chest. I gulped back the fear that unnerved my senses; I couldn’t let a perfume reveal my intentions. My enemy couldn’t know me too well.
I gently bit my full lip, letting myself look vulnerable. His Adam’s apple bobbed and I triumphed in my mind, he was affected by me. The knock on the door saved me. The maid entered the room with two plates containing a slice each of my caramel cheesecake.
She placed the plate on my coffee table and walked out of the room quietly. I walked to coffee table and sat on the couch adjacent to it.
“Please have the dessert, Don Morretti,” I said.
He sat beside me and I squirmed at the proximity. He didn’t pick the plate and instead trapped me between his arms on the either side of me, gripping the arm rest. Releasing a shaky breath I looked up at him. He brought his hand to my face, gently cupping my cheek.
“Such an innocent face,” he said. My lashes fluttered on their own accord and I felt the heat rise to my cheeks. He was right, I had an innocent face and I had an innocent body too. I was pure as a little baby born. But my mind was pure poison.
“It will be a pleasure making you my woman,” he said.
I am nobody’s.
“You act innocent but even that act cannot deny the defiance in your spine, so erect and then you think that little droop in your shoulders will make you look submissive,” he said, each word thick and rich, “when I know you are domineering, Delphic and indecipherable.”
My eyes observed his, they were examining me, analysing me and then he brought his hand to his pocket and pulled out a small jewellery box. My heart thudded against my heart, he had assessed me quite correctly, he had studied me well. But did he study me because he was attracted to me or was it because he saw me as a foe?
He opened the box.
A circumference of smaller diamonds surrounded the larger oval pink diamond set into a gold ring. It was a dainty ring. He took my small hand, delicate and fragile, and slipped the ring in my finger.
He brought his finger to my lips, his eyes darkened and I gulped.
“The wedding will be soon, very soon, I have to admit,” he drawled, “I am looking forward to it.”
A gasp escaped my lips and I saw his eyes glimmer dangerously.
“Be ready for me Tina,” he said.
My father was ecstatic and my mother gushed when she saw the ring on my finger. I let a smile slip on my lips. Lorenzo kissed my cheeks and so did Christian and Salvatore.
But on the inside it felt like I was watching all of this like a movie, like I was a character playing the role of Valentina, I felt overwhelmed, I didn’t belong amongst them, my eyes went to Raffaello. He was staring right back at me, did he feel the same? Why were we so similar, yet so different?
I didn’t like feeling so foreign. Everything around me was changing and for once I felt like I was getting attached but this thought was a warning.
Don’t get scared Valentina, you are above this. You have an ambition in life, don’t let this small hurdle disrupt your pace.
I slowly backed away from the celebration, my eyes moving away from Raffaello.
The man affected me so much. I couldn’t let him have any power on me. I couldn’t let him win, he was my foe and becoming his wife was just a step to achieving what I wanted.
“She is shy!” Silvano boomed and I cringed. I wasn’t shy, I was just overwhelmed and I couldn’t let that show especially with Raffaello around. He was already beginning to understand me. He couldn’t get familiar with me.
I closed the door behind me. Slipping out of my heels I unzipped my dress leaving me only in my lingerie. There was a dagger tied to my thigh with a holster, it was my grandfather’s. I picked it out and examined the dagger. It had a brass handle with the Ricci emblem engraved on it and the sharpness of the actual knife. My grandfather had killed so many with this dagger, it was seasoned and it was sacred. I let the feeling of this dagger engulf me.
“If after all your attempts you are unable to fulfil the ambition then kill yourself with that same dagger,” my grandfather said to me.
I blinked back my tears and nodded to myself.
There will be blood on this dagger, Raffaello’s blood.