My eyes took in the beautiful and magnanimous crystal chandelier hanging by the ceiling; its light glimmered all over the beautiful marble floor. The Wolff residence was every bit lavish. I had been in awe of the Manor the moment we had entered. Its sprawling lawns, well maintained and lush, it set the precedent for the neo-classical mansion. I had been so awestruck that my father had to shake me literally to get out of the car. It was one of the rare moments when I had let my real feelings slip on my face.
Get a grip Valentina!
The inside was better, there was a beautiful staircase lined with a luxurious Persian carpet leading us to the ballroom. The walls were painted a pristine white with golden motifs on the edges, the craftsmanship was impeccable and worthy of high praise and awe. My eyes took in the beautiful paintings decorating the wall, most of them belonged to the renaissance era, were they real or a very convincing replica? I would never know. Arts and aesthetics interested me very much but I never got the time to indulge in the subject like I had always wanted to.
We entered the ballroom and I saw everyone interacting and mingling with each other. There were politicians, mob leaders and businessmen. Everyone was dressed up beautifully, it was a Wolff gala after all, a party everyone craved to be invited to. I wore a beautiful ball gown by Christian Dior; it was sheer black lace and strapless. It hugged all my curves and had a small train; my hair too had been pulled into a nice chignon with a few strands of hair purposely left loose. Judging by the appreciative glances on me I knew I looked good. My mother looked good too; she was wearing a simple champagne coloured gown with her hair open. We were like twins, looking exactly like each other but that’s where the similarities ended.
“Raffaello is not here yet,” my mother commented.
“I was informed that he would be reaching any moment,” Silvano said curtly. He wore a black tuxedo.
I turned and found Joe walking in our direction, my mother sneered and my father gave him a good natured smile. He kissed my cheek and nodded in my parents’ direction. He too had cleaned up really well. His tanned skin glowed and his dark hair had been swept back neatly. His black tuxedo looked sharp on him. I let a teasing grin slip on my lips.
“You clean up well,” I said slyly.
“You don’t look so bad yourself, cousin,” he commented. He was trying so hard to not blush, it was amusing.
I was about to say something smart when I saw a blonde god coming my way. He was tall and broad with his blonde hair cropped close to his scalp. His thick lips were set in a straight line and his piercing hawk like eyes were trained on me. I could feel his hunger for me and I let my sweet and innocent smile take over my lips. It was Victor Wolff or as many called him Don Wolff.
“Don Wolff,” I respectfully greeted him. He assessed me with his eyes, lingering on my lips for a few moments.
“Valentina” he said.
When I was a small child, I had always dreamt of having him as my husband until Raffaello came into the picture. Then I willed myself to stop thinking about him. But seeing Victor today was like revisiting those innocent feelings of infatuation for him. I mentally warned myself to not go down the road. I knew that if I got married to Victor then he would make Joe the Capo which meant that the Ricci clan would be looked after by a Ricci. He was honourable, not power hungry like the Morretti.
Letting go off the proposal sent by Victor’s father was Silvano’s biggest mistake, it would’ve stopped me from becoming this bloodthirsty and scheming woman. I too would’ve been able to enjoy the frivolous pleasures of life like shopping and getting my nails done. Like my mother.
Victor leaned forward and kissed my cheek. I closed my eyes and revelled in the proximity. He then kissed my mother and nodded towards my father.
“I hope you are all enjoying the party,” he commented.
“Yes Victor, the party is excellent,” my father said, “we can expect nothing but the best from you.”
“Well, if you guys don’t mind, I would like to show Valentina around the party,” Victor asked. He didn’t wait for my parents’ permission and simply whisked my into the swarm of people, I thought he would introduce me to some of them but he led me towards one of the exits of the ballroom. We walked out and then followed a corridor with a few gala attendees canoodling amongst each other. Victor walked me to the balcony and I welcomed the fresh air. The moon was full and it laid the spotlight of its cooling light on us. I turned around to him, my hormones were wild and I hoped he wouldn’t notice my flushed cheeks.
His authoritative yet charming aura engulfed me and I sighed. I stared into his mesmerising grey eyes and a small moan escaped my lips. I never realised how strongly Victor affected me. He placed his hands on my waist and looked me in the eye. They were not evil; they were so benevolent unlike someone I knew. I saw the appreciation for me and I knew I was reciprocating the same through my eyes.
“I have missed you Valentina,” he whispered.
“I have missed you too Victor,” I whispered in my soft voice. My heart’s longing had slipped into my words and I saw a hopeful emotion in them.
We never really talked; our interactions were mainly through our eyes, for as long as I could remember. His eyes glimmered with an emotion I had not seen for so long and I craved for that emotion.
We would be so great together. I had spent so much of my early teenage years simply imagining being with him, in his strong arms and basking in his love and affection. My heart gnawed against my chest, bringing me back to the painful reality.
“You cannot be mine,” Victor said.
“I know,” I whispered softly. My heart ached, it was not love but it came very close to it. I had always thought of love as falling off the cliff and in this case I was on the brink, I couldn’t let myself fall even though I wanted to so very much.
“Your father is going down the wrong path Valentina, Raffaello is not the right person to inherit the Ricci Clan, he will never understand it like he understands Morretti,” Victor said. I closed my eyes at his statement.
“You think I don’t know,” I seethed silently; “I am no fool. But you need to know that I am aware of this fact. You weren’t able to have me and now someone else is going to! That’s how it is in this world!”
I was tired all of a sudden, I just wanted to go home and strip this dress off me and just sleep but I couldn’t. I didn’t have the luxury to do what I wanted, I was still under Silvano’s direct commands and soon I will be under Rafaello’s direct commands. My needs had to take a back seat for the moment. I stepped away from Victor and walked back inside the party. My mind was swarming with bold and uninhibited emotions.
To others we probably seemed like jilted lovers but I didn’t care what others thought. My ambitions and goals were different and I would have to remind myself of this fact for the rest of the coming days or I would plunge my heart with the dagger strapped to my thigh.
I was about to enter the hall when a large hand placed itself on my mouth and pulled me into a room beside the washroom. The grip on my mouth was vicious while the other held my two hands in a lock. Panic was capturing my body but after years and years of intense training I knew what was to be done.
I stabbed my sharp heel in the foot of the attacker, it was a very painful stomp but I didn’t dwell on it. The momentary distraction loosened the grip on my hands and I pulled them out and straight away brought it to the hilt of my dagger, taking it to the assailant’s throat. My actions seized when I realised the identity of my attacker. My eyes met the dark eyes of Raffaello. There was a smirk on his face. The cruel fucker! There was a bitter taste in my mouth by just looking at him.
I was a mess in front of this man! He made me feel contradicting things at once!
He brought his hands to my dagger and pulled it out. Giving me one last look he brought the attention to the heirloom. His eyes inspected the brass handle and the sharpened edge of the blade. His fingers traced the patterns of the Ricci emblem and my ears burned. I wanted to kill the man now. His blood would look so beautiful glistening on the blade and under the moonlight.
“Every time we meet,” he whispered, “I learn something new about you.”
“Don Morretti,” I respectfully bowed my neck. My eyes were purposefully lowered; a sign of respect, only my stance was completely fake and pretentious. I had not an ounce of respect for this man. I wanted to snatch the dagger from his hand and decorate it with his blood but even I knew that haste could have dangerous consequences.
“Raise your eyes Tina,” he said as he placed the dagger in the palm of my hand.
I did as he told.
He stared at me with his dark eyes. I knew he was surprised and I knew he liked this surprise. He brought one of his hands to my face and gently cupped my cheek with it. The emotion in his eyes softened. My heart was beating loudly against my chest but I kept my eyes buried in his. He pulled me closer by wrapping his other hand around my waist.
“You look breath taking Tina,” he whispered, “like the moonlight scattered on flowers.”
That was poetic.
“I tried looking for you; Capo Ricci said you were engaged in the company of Don Wolff. I take that you know each other?” he asked. I could sense a hint of possessiveness, he didn’t like that I was in his company. His ego was threatened.
“We do, since I was young,” I said.
He nodded but he was not satiated by my curt answer.
“Are you happy with this union Tina?” he asked. The question was sudden but I assumed I felt an underlying curiosity for the answer to this question.
My breathing almost stopped but I maintained composure. The question did throw me off but I was quick to school my features. There must be something that I did wrong because he didn’t trust my act. Maybe he was even questioning my motives and I couldn’t let that happen, having an enemy like Raffaello was more than enough; him being aware of all of my plans was another problem that I didn’t want to deal with.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” I whispered softly.
His eyes fell on my moist lip and he reluctantly nodded. I didn’t realise what was going on in his mind but whatever it was, I had to know.
“Why did you ask that question?” I asked timidly.
“Amongst everything that has been happening, the feelings of the bride weren’t taken into consideration,” he said while caressing my cheek. His touch on my skin ignited a fire within my body and I didn’t know if I could keep up with the heat for long.
“I a-am happy with this u-union,” I said. I didn’t know where the blushing came from but some part of me was happy that he at least considered my feelings.
He reluctantly nodded and placed a kiss on my cheek.
“Have you been with someone else? Other than me?” he asked, “I ask because now that I know you, you seem to be a free spirited girl with a mind of her own.”
“You must have not seen a lot of girls like me,” I whispered. I regretted saying those words immediately. I didn’t want to be seen as free spirited. I wanted to be seen as guileless, naïve and stupid but he had a hold on me.
He could unravel me and make me expose my deepest of secrets and the faster I realised this fact the faster I could save myself from him.
The dangerous smile on his face told me that he had probably realised another thing about me. He took my hand in his and gently twisted it behind my back, I felt the sting in my arm and a wince made its way on my lips.
“I apologise,” he whispered, “that came out wrong.”
I just gulped.
“What I meant was, you better not have been with someone else,” he whispered in my ear, “you know I am a selfish bastard.”
I shakily nodded.
“Good girl,” he whispered and stared at the heirloom dagger in my palm. I strapped it to my thigh.
“I h-have to go, my parents must be waiting for me,” I said.
“It is alright, they know you are with me,” he said, “come, I will introduce you to some people.”
We walked back into the ball with Raffaello’s hand placed on the small of my back. He was confident and oozed a poisonous charm that grabbed the person by the neck and forced him to listen to this dangerous mafia boss. The person had no other option but to listen to him. I was under that same charm.
A gun shot suddenly echoed across the room.
There was a commotion.
I remember being thrown on the ground and a sharp pain shooting across my lower back. It was blinding, the sharp stab felt nothing like I had ever felt before. All the voices around me dulled into white noise and the only thing I could hear was my heart beating. Black spots began dancing in front of my eyes and everything else just seemed to be blurred figures. The pain was worse than before. My mind was confused with what had happened, it only focussed on the pain. The black dots began magnifying in front of my eyes until I was about to slip into an endless abyss. I heard faint voices calling me but I couldn’t focus on them. At last I heard one.