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Chapter 2 - White Doves

Too many thoughts are stirring.

Alessio doesn’t spare me a word when walking back into the venue. All he does is press an open palm to my lower back, guiding me to stand next to him in the center of the room.

Is he mad at me? His face gives nothing away. Emotionless as ever is what makes me contemplate on how he truly feels.

When the eyes of others begin to shift on us, I look to my feet. It’s a natural reaction for me to look away to avoid the shaking and fear that rises from the depths of me. I hate being the focal point. Attention from so many frightens me to the point where I feel as if I could faint.

The sound of clinking glass reaches my ear, signaling for everyone to quiet down.

It’s time.

When the silence sweeps over completely I force myself to raise my head and straighten my shoulders as if I hold no dread in this moment.

Maybe reminding myself of my mother’s words will give me assurance that it’ll all be okay; don’t be afraid, you’ll be fine.

But I don’t feel fine.

Anxiety is a consuming monster.

“Now that I have your attention, on behalf of the Romano’s and the Valentino’s, I have an important announcement to make.” It’s Bianchi Romano who says this from across the room.

My gaze finds its way to an empty beige wall, looking straight ahead to avoid the stares, refusing to pay attention to the onlookers.

Alessio lowly clears his throat as he snakes an arm around my waist.

“Today is the day we’ve all been anticipating. A union and an accession that’ll change the course of our future and children’s future. You should all feel honored to be apart of this, to witness the coming of a new era. This is just a taste of what’s to come, of how our empires will grow with the merging of families — and business of course.”

The pads of Alessio’s fingertips gently dig into my side, pressing right underneath my breast, momentarily distracting me from his father’s speech. My eyes slightly widen, the need to shift away is great because of how red I’m slowly becoming.

Composure, I remind myself.

Maybe it was just an accident? An unintentional thoughtless act?

“-everything we’ve done, all the aspects whether great or small has led up to this very moment. With that being said... right here, right now, I would like to congratulate my son on his engagement to Cherry Valentino, Antonio Valentino’s daughter who will take part in union for the good of the cause.” A few waiters come in, heads down and mouths shut as they carry champagne glasses, handing them out to everyone in the room. “My son will no longer be the underboss of the Romano’s but the acting boss as soon as he and his soon to be wife pledge themselves to one another. Their ceremony will be grand and our future even more.”

When a man my age carrying a tray of champagne glasses comes up to us, Alessio pulls me into him, his grip tightening with me pressing against his torso. Awkwardly my right arm is suffocating in this position so I move it behind me and settle my hand on his back since I have nowhere else to put it.

This feels strange, and I can tell I’m not the only one who feels this way because of how his body tenses underneath my touch.

Am I that unbearable?

When we take our drinks the boy scurries away, his pace quicker than the eye can see.

“Raise your drinks with me miei amici, today we toast to new beginnings.” Bianchi raises his drink first before everyone else follows along. From the corner of my eye I see my father who stands next to my mother; he’s looking on with a peculiar face.

I wonder why?

“È il momento dei nuovi inizi,” Alessio’s father says, nodding his head at my parents before drinking out of the glass.

“E altro ancora,” my father replies as he mirrors the action.

It’s tradition that everyone waits for the bosses to drink first.

And as everyone else raises their drinks to their mouths, I raise mines to my lips but hesitantly stop. I’ve never been fond of the taste of champagne, as I’ve had my few share on special occasions, so I only take a few small sips.Though only eighteen, I find the idea of alcoholic beverages distasteful already.

Saying nothing, I wearily smile to the female relatives from my side of the family when they begin to stand and swarm me. They hold smiles and offer hugs, rushing their questions, excitingly pulling me away from my now fiancé.

They congratulate me as if I have a say in this.

The men in Alessio’s family are lining up one by one, waiting to congratulate and pay their respects, acknowledging what’s to come and who he is, the power he’ll hold.

I feel lost, like a rag doll as my family passes me around, speaking of their happiness for me.

It isn’t until Reece pulls me aside and embraces me in her own endearing hug do I feel as if the rooms not spinning.

All of this is so overwhelming.

“Where did my parents go?” Asking as we take a seat at one of the empty tables.

“They are talking to the Romano’s.” When her eyes shift over my shoulder I turn around to see her husband, Harry Giordano, making his way to where we are sitting.

Giordano is a simple man with sharp looks. Standing around six feet, his pale skin contrasts with his strikingly vibrant green eyes, enhancing his delicate features that showcase his high cheekbones. Chestnut-brown hair is kept clean and swept back; pristine as if he holds little to no flaws.

He walks with extreme confidence, however the look he’s holding tells a different story.

“Reece,” Harry says, stopping a few feet away. “Come back to our table.” He isn’t demanding, it’s more of an awkward request he’s making for her to come back with him.

Reece instantly stands, eyes down and lips sealed. Her father, Enzo Riccardo, is walking up from behind Harry, making his way towards us. There’s serious look in his eye that makes me question his intentions as he closes in.

“Harold,” Enzo places a heavy hand on Harry’s shoulder, his voice coming out strong yet low. “Sit.”

It wasn’t a request, it was a subtle demand. His authority reminds me of my father, blunt yet professional. “Vieni e rimani vicino a me,” speaking to his daughter to which she complies and moves to her father’s right.

The hand on Harry’s shoulder pushes down, forcing him to sit in one of the chairs at our table in a discreet manner. “And congratulations on your engagement Cherry. Marriage can be such a beautiful thing.” Though Enzo is speaking to me, he’s not speaking at me.

His sole focus is on Harry.

Standing behind him with his palm still on his shoulder, Mr. Riccardo leans down, speaking into Harry’s ear, “marriage is a sacred bond that represents trust and respect. Isn’t that right Harold?”

There’s a tightness in his voice that makes me bite my bottom lip. I think Enzo knows what Reece suspects and that brings much worry. How will this affect their families? Their business?

Harry’s eyes look up at me, compose as ever on the outside but I know it’s not what he feels on the inside. “Of course — marriage brings... clarity. Congratulations Cherry,” he regards me in hush manner before he stands, dropping Enzo’s hand in the process.

“If you excuse us.” Grabbing reece’s waist, they walk away and head to their original table where some of their family sits. Enzo raises the corners of his lips before he nods and turns away.

I’m left alone — or so I thought.

“Come sit by me.” The smoothness of those words makes me shiver as they hit the shell of my ear.

Alessio’s hand comes into my vision, he’s holding it out for me to take. When I place my hand in his, he holds it with delicacy, as if I’m glass that’ll break.

Following him to a long table that’s set up at the front with beauty and sophistication, we take our seats and wait for our food to come. It’s silent between us as we eat, so much so that I become bored after I’m done with my meal.

Looking around the room, discussion and laughter is everywhere — yet we sit quietly. And it remains so for a few hours. Occasionally I can feel his stare, ogling me with predatory eyes. I can’t help but wonder what he’s thinking.

The afternoon slips by quickly with the sun lowering, the skylight windows of the restaurant pouring down an fiery-orange light that warms the air around us.

When I blow a low sigh and slouch, I immediately sit back up, eyes wide when realizing what I’ve just done. Looking down then peaking up at him, I see that he’s already facing my way with an arched brow before he narrows his eyes.

Turning away from me he picks up his champagne glass and throws his head back, chugging down the drink all at once. In a swift motion he stands, grabbing my hand in the process and dragging me out of the room with him.

“Um, where are we going?” The timid tone comes out naturally with a pout that follows after. I think he’s angry with my disinterest back at the table, will I be facing consequences because of this?

Our footsteps stop as we exit the restaurant. Shouldn’t he at least let my father know we’re leaving our own party?

Whistling loudly, the valet man scurries across the parking lot and enters the same black car we came here in.

I wonder where the driver went?

As the car pulls up, the man parks the car and hops out with the engine still on. Alessio opens the passenger door for me and motions his head to get it. I want to ask if we should let my parents know but apart of me fears to ask any questions. Deciding against my better judgment, I step in. When he goes around and slides into the driver’s seat, we head out of the parking lot and down a street that’s the opposite way of home.

“Alessio... where are we going?”

Can he hear the nervousness in my voice?

Briefly glancing in my direction, he turns back to the road and says in a thick accent, “I want to show you something.”

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