Chapter 24: Tony Calabria
"Isabella!" my dad bellows, storming into my bedroom in a furious state and grabbing my arm with force, enough to leave a hand print bruise.
"Yes?" I whimper, as if his hand is burning my skin. I try to pull out of it but it makes him squeeze harsher. He drags me to my wardrobe and pulls out a black cocktail dress, a plunging v-neckline ending mid-thigh. The neckline is laced together, much like shoelaces and the dress has long sleeves at least. He undresses me roughly, spending extra time changing my underwear into lacy black lingerie and I can tell that he wants me to please someone tonight. He sits me in front of my vanity once he has dressed me and applies classy smoky makeup to my face with a dark red lipstick.
Once I appear ready for presentation, he harshly yanks me out of my room, down the hall and down the stairs. He stops just outside the dining room door and turns to me, neatening my hair and then gripping my neck.
"You'll be polite, and quiet, and you don't speak unless spoken to. You be a good girl, or I'll punish you worse than I ever have done, understand me, Isabella?" he warns, squeezing my neck. I nod furiously, wanting the pain to stop and just comply to his commands. I've been ordered around by him long enough to know that if I just do what he says, it won't be as bad for me.
He pushes me into the room and I expect to be presented to a collection of men, but there's just one. He's a cold man, I can already tell, with dark features, most likely Italian heritage. His honey eyes pierce into me the moment I walk in, and I lower my eyes submissively, knowing that these types of men crave power and dominance above all. I know he's smirking a little, stalking over closer to me. He's dressed in a slick black suit with a black shirt to match, an outfit that adds to his intimidating aura.
He takes my hand and I hold back a gasp as he presses the back of my hand to his lips.
"Pleasure to meet you, principessa," he says in a deep haunting voice. He steps back and takes a seat at the dining table, all set up for a meal. I'm having dinner with a man I'm supposed to fuck? My father pushes me to a seat beside him and opposite to this mysterious man. "You are beautiful, Isabella."
"Thank you," I answer politely in a soft voice, remembering my father's words. No matter how intimidated I am, I need to have my manners.
"Your father didn't do you justice. Those eyes, I've never seen bluer eyes in my life," he comments and I give him a polite sweet smile. I don't meet his eyes, knowing I would be scared with what I would see in them. "I'm Antonio Calabria."
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Calabria," I reply. "Why are we meeting?" My father's hand moving to my thigh and squeezing viciously. What am I doing wrong?
"Sorry, my daughter doesn't know when she is allowed to speak. I'm sure your son will teach her some manners, she's quite unruly," my father says, hissing the last bit towards me. I look down into my lap, holding back my tears.
"Christian, would you mind me speaking with your daughter alone? I want to make sure she's good enough for my eldest son," Mr. Calabria asks, his eyes still on me. Reluctantly, my father takes his hand away from me, nods towards Mr. Calabria and leaves the room, sending me one last warning glare before exiting. "Isabella, do you speak Italian?"
"Yes, of course," I answer, my gaze still lowered.
"Look me in the eyes when I talk to you," he commands and something sparks within me as he gives me his orders. I glare at him when my eyes meet his and his smirk grows, seeing the fire.
"Why do you keep talking about your son? I understand that the Calabrias are our rival family in this city," I declare, cocking my head. Why am I speaking to him this way? This is daring, even for someone who hasn't been taught to submit to these types of men. I should know better. Yet, he seems amused by my attitude.
"You're feisty, piccola. I like that. Your father is proposing my son and you get married. It would unite our families, prevent a war. You are your father's only heir," he states.
"Without the marriage, you would what? Attack my family?"
"I hear a hint of hopefulness in your tone. Your father, I've heard rumors about his treatment of you. Seeing you with him, it disturbs me, to be honest."
"It disturbs me too," I reply, staring him right in his eyes.
"You'd be safe with my son," he tells me.
"All men are the same. They take what they want. I'm not safe with anyone. I want to be left alone."
"That won't happen. Your father won't allow that. But if you're married to my son, Lorenzo, you'll be his. He'll protect you. Your father will never be allowed to hurt you."
"But someone else will own me, your son will own me. He'll hurt me the same, he'll trap me. I just want freedom," I plead.
"Bambina, you should know that safety is more valuable than freedom. As a Moretti, you'll be protected. We protect family, not use them."
"Really? Because your son, if I know anything about the mafia, he won't love me. He'll marry me. That's using me to join our families. He'll impregnate me. That's using me to give him heirs. He'll ignore me. That's when he's finished using everything he can from me. But looking on the bright side, maybe my children will love me." He gazes at me, his smirk having disappeared among the words of my speech. His eyes search my face, narrowing every so often as he seems like he realizes a few things.
"Your father didn't mention how smart and perceptive you are. Well-spoken too, even though he never lets you speak. You might be right, the future you're seeing could happen. Or he might love you. Either way, marrying my son is the best life you'll ever get. I know you know there's no escaping, being truly free. You're a smart girl. With my son, you'll be... happier than you are now." Maybe he is right, if his son is who Antonio describes him as. But I can't imagine that's the case. He's the heir to being a mafia don. He could never be kind and caring, like I've always dreamed, some day, my husband would be.
"Tony," he cuts in. "After all, you will be my daughter-in-law."
"Tony, it doesn't really matter what I think. None of you care whether I'm happy or not. If my father wants me to marry your son, I'll be marrying your son. Why talk to me and try to win me over, I know that's what you're trying to do, when I don't have a choice here? The decision isn't mine to make."
"You're right," he says, sighing and leaning back in his chair. "You don't have a choice. But I do want you to want to be with my son, it will make it a lot easier for you."
"I don't care about what's easy. Nothing has ever been easy for me. If I marry your son, I'll do anything he asks of me. I can't say I won't object to some things though. But at the end of the day, you can get me to do anything if you force me, men always seem to be doing that with me." He pauses, continuing to observe my movement and listen to my words.
"How old are you?"
"I'm sixteen," I reply.
"Young. My son is ten years older than you. In a year, he'll take over as head of the family when I step down. He'll need a suitable queen who can give him everything he needs. You're right; he'll use you. But he'll be faithful to you. Truthfully, you are perfect. You're Italian and you speak Italian. You understand the Mafia and give us an important alliance. You're incredibly beautiful, I mean, fuck, you're absolutely stunning. You're smart and well-spoken. My son is rather dominant, he likes submissive girls. You know how to act around dominant men. He'll like you."
"But he'll like me less than he would if he met me naturally," I add on. His smirk returns, cocking his head at me and narrowing his eyes.
"Very perceptive. Yes, my son doesn't like me arranging matches for him. Yes, he would like you a lot if I didn't arrange it. But he would grow to like you just the same as I have. I respect you, a lot. You can speak your mind, but you're not reckless. I wonder how you are so... practiced when he barely lets you speak," he questions.
"He has an easy way to shut me up," I chuckle humorlessly. He catches on and twitches a little. "I'm not a virgin. Your son should know that."
"I already know that. I can tell. You're father, he's..."
"A monster. You don't have to tell me that."
"No, I don't," he answers in a melancholy tone.
"Maybe you're right. There could be nothing worse than the life I'm living now. But I think there could be a better one, away from all of this."
"You don't go to school, you won't get a good job, you won't earn enough money. A life away from this, away from your family, it only lasts so long. With my son, we'll protect you. He will. I will. I'll treat you like my own daughter. And he won't lay a hand on you."
"You can't guarantee that."
"I can. I promise."