FORTY – FIVE
“Ladies and gentlemen…” Every set of eyes in the room turned to me, except mine was fixated on that one face that upturned my entire world for good. Lilliana was looking so beautiful, so ethereal that I felt a sense of pride to make the declaration in front of everyone that she was mine.
“Tonight is indeed special, so thank you for joining us,” I began with a smirk, knowing they actually had no other choice. My family knew how to keep the people of Chicago interested in us.
“A few months ago, I met this girl—a beautiful one who changed my entire life in ways I couldn’t even imagine. And before I could realize, I was already deep under her spell. As stubborn as I was, I kept telling myself that ‘it wasn’t love’, except, these were the exact moments that I fell in love with her—over and over again.”
Soft murmurs broke out as someone giggled while others whispered.
My gaze roamed around the crowd and purposefully paused on her. “I could have said these words in private, probably in a more romantic setting, but I don’t exactly have the words to tell her how much I love her. You see, it’s a little difficult to explain in words that everything I do is a reflection of her love for me.”
“Lilliana…” I beckoned softly, offering my hand as the sea of crowd slowly parted to accommodate her path. In small steps, she made her way towards me. Her eyes were saturated with tears, brimming with emotions, and her lips trembled like a delicate petal against a soft breeze.
I met her halfway, paused for a second to drink in her sight. That moment was ours, and everything around us seemed to have blurred out of focus.
“Lilliana...I can’t promise you the sun and the moon, the sea wind and sand shore you adore so much, but I can promise you that I’ll stand by you forever. And in every day of that forever, I’ll love you.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks while a brilliant smile danced on her lips. Lilliana was looking like a beautiful mosaic of light and shadow, and so effortlessly splendid.
Still holding onto her hand, I took a step back and lowered myself on one knee.
The room was so silent that I could hear our matching heartbeats, hers and mine. The rhythm of each thrum and each beat building up to its crescendo for the ultimate moment that will sealed us together.
Letting go of her hand, I took out the blue box and lifted the lid. Truly, the diamond held a blinding flawlessness, but it still couldn’t compete with her traits.
“Will you be my wife forever and ever?”
Lilliana nodded fervently as words escaped her. So I took this moment of acquiescence and slipped the ring onto her finger. The diamond shone under the lights as collective gasps and cheers filled the room.
“I love you,” she mouthed as I read into her stunned, trembling frame.
“Love you, too, sweetheart.”
Rising, I took her mouth into mine. I kissed her as fervently possible so she could taste the bone-deep love on my tongue and know it for sure how intricately she affected me.
“I never took you for a man of flowers and sweet words,” she giggled, shaking her head in disbelief.
“If it means to see you happy, then I’d gladly do it for the rest of our lives,” I said, then added whisperingly, “only after I’d fuck you senseless in our bed.”
She laughed, throwing back her head as she wiped a stray tear, and I wanted to kiss it away. “I was kind of hoping when that part comes in.”
“Oh, it comes right when and where you want.”
Our special little moment was rudely interrupted by a couple of women, drooling over the rock and showering us with fake congratulations. I was surprised how well Lilliana handled them, smiling and carefully avoiding any questions thrown at her.
“You did it!” Mia came up, grinning ear to ear like a Cheshire cat.
“You were doubtful?”
She rolled her eyes and smacked my arm. “I wasn’t very sure how well would you pull this off. But you did it more beautifully than possible.” Her gaze sailed over to Lilliana talking to one of the society women. “That’s because you truly meant those words.”
I followed her eyes. Lilliana was now talking to a man, unconsciously tucking her hair behind her ears. “I don’t know if I fully understand love, but I do know that she is all that I want. Not like an obsession, but someone to wake up to every morning.”
Mia chuckled, shaking her head. “That’s because Lilliana symbolizes love for you.”
I continued looking at her because, even though the knowledge that she was all mine was well-embedded into my mind, it was impossible to take my eyes off her.
Until someone actually killed the charm.
“That was quite the speech,” the voice said as I turned to find Ralph, wearing an expression of bitterness. I was under the impression that he would be arriving later…much, much later, and would probably be leaving soon.
“Well, Lilliana deserves the best,” I smirked. “And I am sure she will have the best once she comes to the Romano Mansion.”
Oh, the satisfaction of pissing him off. I knew that my future-father-in-law wasn’t stupid enough to create a scene in the party, but watching him reign-in that Italian temper was worth the risk.
“Well, I will be right here, in Chicago, should my daughter needs me,” he shot back.
“Weren’t you going to spend your retired life in Italy?”
His eyes narrowed in slits and fingers wound tighter around the glass he was holding. “I don’t see how it concerns you.”
Mia nudged me from beside and stepped forward. “I don’t know about anyone else, but I know that Alessandro would love nothing more than to have you in Chicago.”
His face broke into a genuine smile. “È bello vederti, dolce ragazza.” It’s good to see you, sweet girl.
Mia leaned in to press a kiss on his cheek. “Seriously, if you are going to speak to me in Italian, you might as well to teach me that language.”
A senator came up, followed by the Mayor, to congratulate on the engagement as I took this moment and excused myself to move away from them. The past few weeks made me realize that I could go above and beyond for Lilliana, which I would, but I still can’t make Ralph like me. So why the hell on earth should I even try?
The people around us were as enamored by her beauty and magnificence as I was, and I felt it was all the more reason to steal her away from here.
“Do you need a tissue? You are drooling like a boy in puberty.” Viktor chuckled, coming up to clap his hand on my back.
“Fuck off.” I snickered.
“Who knew you Romano men would turn out to be such pussies!” Beside Viktor was Marco, probably on his hundredth drink, because parties like these bored him to death. Also, because Aurora wasn’t around, and the rest of the women didn’t interest him.
“You aren’t getting any younger, so I suggest you find a woman before your wood withers away,” Viktor quipped.
“My wood is just fine. You both worry about yourselves.” He finished the drink only to pick up another.
Viktor scanned around the crowd with a face. “If this is the size of an engagement party, what’s going to happen at your wedding?”
“Ask your wife. Apparently, she wants to use my wedding to portray that we are family-oriented Americans with a fat-ass bank balance and a generous heart.”
Marco chuckled while Viktor proudly looked over to his wife. It was truly magical how Mia transformed herself, like a Phoenix out of ashes. Surely, we were strong and ruthless men, but she was far tougher than any of us.
“So, when’s the wedding?” Viktor asked.
“Mia wanted to go grand and insisted on after three weeks, but somehow I convinced her within ten days.”
“Why are you so enthused about getting married?” Marco asked. “Did you, by any chance, get my sister pregnant?”
“You have a one-track mind, pig.”
“Hey Dominic, uh…” Viktor was looking elsewhere, somehow stifled with excitement.
“What?” I followed his gaze and stopped where Sophia Bianco was walking up towards Lilliana. “Shit!”
“Well, shit’s about to get real.” Marco laughed.
Lilliana didn’t look happy. In fact, she looked like she was going to fling her drink on her face. Not that I would object, but a scandalous engagement party would not end well with Mia, since she has worked so hard to make us look like Chicago’s finest and reputable.
I quickly handed my drink to Viktor, before muttering, “Excuse me, I got to take my fiancée away before she kills someone in her own engagement party.”
This evening felt like a dream. In fact, dreams were paled in comparison to this.
Dominic swept me off my feet, literally and figuratively, and I stood there in awed silence and deep contentment knowing that this story—our story—could rival the love of the sun and the moon.
I read somewhere that you need darkness to appreciate the beauty of daylight. For me, the darkness came in the form of Sophia the-bitch Bianco, as she made her way to me, with her vulture eyes and slutty form.
Also, the fact that she was the namesake of my mother angered me more.
She sauntered forward with a fake smile on her ‘filler’ lips. “I almost regretted coming to this party until I saw you.”
I quickly grabbed a drink from a nearby server to keep my hands occupied because if I didn’t, she would be on the floor—strangled with my fingers clasped around her neck.
“I am surprised you are invited at all,” I bit out.
“Dominic and I go way back,” she crowed with delight, making my blood boil. “You know, the three AM friend? He says that he feels comfortable around me than anywhere else.”
Don’t punch her. Don’t punch her now.
“Well,” I smiled, saccharine sweet. “We all have a past, and we always go for the better version of our past to settle down for something real.” I lifted my hand to show off the giant rock sitting on my finger.
Sophia laughed; smoothing her hair and making me want to rip it off her head. “Dominic has a phrase, like every rich and impulsive guy. I am sure he will get over it pretty soon and then seek a real woman who can satisfy him better.”
The moment I took a step forward, Dominic came out of nowhere, wedging himself between us.
“Not here, sweetheart,” he whispered, kissing the side of my face, like that’s going to calm me down.
“Then I am sure your house has an empty room,” I gritted back.
“I have been looking for you!” Mia came rushing, hooked her arm into the crook of my elbow. “Senator Gibbs wants to meet you in person.” And before I know it, I was walking across the room with her.
“There’s no Senator Gibbs.” I frowned, unlocking my arm from hers.
“Well, at least you know.” Mia winked, although I didn’t find that funny. “C’mon, you have to smile now. Everyone’s watching, Lilliana.”
“It’s hard to pretend when I want to strangle her ten different ways.”
She sighed and shook her head like she was trying to teach a child to no avail. “You have to learn to smile, Lilliana, even when you walk into a room and see a bunch of people you want to light on fire.”
“Because that’s what queens do,” Mia stated simply. “They smile and be gracious, all the while, plotting a murder. Like Lady Macbeth. She could have poisoned Duncan, but she chose to be a gracious woman and plot the whole thing instead, leaving the bloody job to her husband.”
“Then she went bat-shit crazy,” I finished the story for her.
“Yeah, we will leave that portion out.”
We looked at each other briefly before breaking into a laugh, and for what it’s worth, I could take my mind off that bitch for some time.
“I wasn’t prepared for this life at all,” I told her a while later. We were still at the party but somehow managed to find a corner to talk. “Being in love…being married to someone…which I will be soon.”
“Marriage is the easy part. What comes later, as a wife, is the real deal,” she said distantly as if narrating her own experience.
“I don’t understand…”
Mia turned to me and sighed before she began. “When I married my husband, my father-in-law told me that I was Mrs. Romano first, and then Viktor’s wife. That means I have a bigger role to play that being a trophy wife. Whatever I do or say would be a reflection on my husband. The same applies to you now. The men in this family might be the one running the business, but they can’t do it without us making them look like the Gods of Chicago.”
As soon as she spoke those words, the switch in my brain flipped and unraveled of all those times Mia Romano was the face of the social influences in Chicago, running charities, fundraisers, and other programs. Not only it made her popular among classes, but it benefitted the family as well.
Wealth, power, skill, monopoly…they wanted it all.
“Lilliana? Lilliana?” Mia snapped a finger in front of my face. “Are you okay?”
“What? Yeah…yeah, I am fine. I was just mulling over what you said…being Mrs. Romano and all,” I replied vaguely.
Turning my head around, I found her smiling at me. “You will learn all of that when the time comes. But before that, you have something more important to deal with. Did you decide on your wedding dress?”
I had to blink for a couple of times to register how she could jump from world domination to choosing a wedding dress in mere seconds.
“Uh…I guess something white?”
Shaking her head, she laughed and sent me an e-contact. “That’s the woman you should contact for anything and everything you need.”
I stared at the contact before looking up at her quizzically. “And what am I supposed to say? I need a wedding dress?”
“You won’t have to say a thing, Lilliana,” Mia smirked as her eyes traveled to another direction. “By tomorrow morning, you will be the headline of every news channel of Chicago. The one and only, would-be Mrs. Dominic Romano.”