I stood in the hallway outside my mother’s bedroom door looking to my left, out of a window. The window had a beautiful view and I found myself looking up at the stars that twinkle in the night sky. I was once told that our destiny was written in the stars. It was a concept that was once too difficult for me to wrap my head around, however, I came to understand it. If the moon can control the ocean, surely the stars can decide our fate. The constellations were sparkling bright tonight, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a blessing.
I tore my gaze from the stars and took a deep breath before opening the door to my mother’s room.
“Mother?” I asked in a soft tone, not wanting to give away my motive for speaking.
“What is it, Roza?” She asked as she stared at herself in the full-length mirror, fiddling with the earrings she was trying to put on. They were gold with pearls dangling from them, there was no doubt in my mind that they weren’t real. My father always hated fake people and fake things, he’d rather stay in before having his wife leave the house wearing fake gold and pearls.
I squeezed my hands together behind me before taking a deep breath before I made my request.
Never speak with a shaky voice, if you do you might as well not speak at all.
“How do you say ‘hello’ in Italian?” I asked holding my breath.
She turned around with a worried yet stern look on her face. Even with that look, she was still beautiful. She wore a beautiful burgundy silk dress that fell off her body perfectly, radiating class.
We dress with class because we have it, if you want to dress like trash then go live in the trash.
“Now why would you want to know that?” My mother asked.
I twiddled my fingers behind me, not letting my mother see.
Breath Roza, breath.
“Well since Dante is Italian, I thought I could at least greet him in Italian.”
She stood there, debating in her head whether to tell me or not and rightfully so. My father refused to let my mom learn Spanish, but somehow I was able to learn it only because it was my grandma’s last wish. However both of my parents knew Italian, I didn’t. They had decided that it was for the best that I didn’t know certain details about our lives.
Sadly I couldn’t agree more, I want to be as little involved with that part of our lives as possible.
“Buona sera.” She said with a slight edge to her voice.
“Buona sera.” I repeated, letting the words roll off my tongue.
My mom smiled, enjoying me speaking her native language.
Then my father’s loud voice with his thick accent filled the room. “Roza, date la vuelta. Déjame verte, mi hija!”
(Roza, turn around. Let me see you, my child!)
I quickly smoothed my dress before turning around. Only perfection is acceptable when it comes to my father, the Boss of the Valeriano Family.
I was wearing a white modest mermaid style dress with long sleeves and a neckline that went all the way up to my collar bones. It was one of the few dresses that passed both my parents’ approval.
“Mi perfecta hija.” My father said with a huge smile on his face as he wrapped an arm around my mother’s waist.
(My perfect daughter.)
My mother was the daughter of Italian immigrants with no connection to the mob prior to dating my father. She had lived a simple life before she started working at a restaurant as a waitress when she was 19. My father, the son of Spaniard immigrants, was born into the mob lifestyle and was active in the family business along with his 2 brothers. The restaurant my mother worked at was one of my fathers’ family restaurants, but she had no idea that she was working for the mob.
My father was a regular at the restaurant and all my mom knew at the time was my father liked his coffee black with no cream or sugar, she was to never leave him a bill because all his meals were free, and that he was somehow related to the owner. My father always went in ordered the same thing and sat in the same seat. Eventually, he requested that only my mother took his order, which lead to them making small talk, and he would always leave her a tip despite him not having to pay.
That’s how their story started sweet and pure, however, the truth always reveals itself.
One night my mother was the last one closing up the restaurant when my father came in blood covering his body. My mother panicked and brought him in the back where she could assess his wounds and patch him up.
My mother wasn’t supposed to be closing the restaurant that night, the owner was but he had caught the flu and my mom had sent him home and assured him that she had things under control.
That night my father had told her the minimum of what she needed to know and despite his warning to stay away from him, she kissed him. After that they had started seeing each other, her not asking questions about his business and him coming into the restaurant every day to check on her. Years later my father had surpassed his brothers and his father and became Don of the Valenriano Group.
“Shall we go to dinner ?” I asked, taking note that both of my parents seemed to be dressed for tonight.
However dinner tonight wasn’t going to be a normal dinner.
Tonight was my engagement party. My stomach turned just thinking about it. My engagement was arranged, I was nothing more than a piece in a game of chess and I refuse to see it any other way despite my mother’s efforts to convince me otherwise.
It had been in place since I was 10, and I had only met my fiancé once which was the day we both found out.
Since I could remember all I have ever wanted was a peaceful simple life outside of the mob. I used to tell myself that I would marry a baker or an artist and escape this blood-stained family but those dreams were shattered 8 years ago.
I knew all I could wish for now was a happy marriage like my mom and dad’s but that was a long shot, since the last time I was face to face with my fiancé I was acting like a ‘rude brat’ according to my father. So it was important that I started tonight on the right foot because no matter how much I hated the situation I was in right now I didn’t want to make it any worse for myself.
Family comes first.
“Oh, did you not tell her Santiago?” My mother said with a slightly concerned look on her face.
That can’t be good.
I gave my father a questioning look, he sighed.
“I was coming up to tell you. Dante has requested to pick you up from the house and escort you to dinner.” My father said.
“Oh,” I said trying to not sound disappointed, I’ve been told it wasn’t a good look on me.
“Cheer up Roza, Donnie will be accompanying you guys.”
“I would hope so,” I said with a playful tone, Donnie was with me 90% of the time.
“Donnie’s waiting for you downstairs.” My father said bringing me in for a kiss on the cheek. As soon as I could, I walked out of the room and made my way down our grand staircase where Donnie was posted at the center of the entrance downstairs.
He stood there in his usual stance, alert, back straight, face unreadable. His usually messy dark brown hair was styled tonight to give a clean, sharp image. Along with the clean hair he also wore a crisp black suit with a white tie and pocket square. If it wasn’t for his above-average looks he would blend in easily at his dinner, but I would never tell him he looked above-average his ego would grow ten times the size it already is and no one needs to deal with that.
“Roza..” He said before his jaw almost dropped and his hazel eyes racked up and down my body before his jaw tightened. “Your father approved of this dress?”
“Yes! It covers everything.” I said twirling around once I reached the bottom of the stairs. “Do you like it?”
“It’s so tight it might as well be showing everything.” He said before I slapped him on the shoulder.
“Stop that!” I said playfully as he cracked that award-winning smile.
“You look beautiful Roza.”
I couldn’t help but feel flustered at the comment, Donnie rarely gave compliments to me. I’m sure my face showed how flustered I was and Donnie confirmed that when he let out a small laugh.
“Wow Roza, try not to fall in love with me ok?”
Now I was embarrassed. So embarrassed that I could just run into my room and never see Donnie again.
“You really have some balls don’t you Donnie?” My father said from the top of the staircase behind me.
I watched as Donnie’s face paled slightly and he straightened his stance.
“I’m sorry Boss,” Donnie said before bowing his head a little.
I shot Donnie a look and then my father one as well. I hate it when Donnie has to apologize and he knows it, and my father knows that Donnie can say almost anything he wants to me.
He was more than one of my father’s men, he was my friend.
“Father he isn’t going to steal my heart the night of my engagement party.” I said with a pout.
“Supongo.” My father said with a frown on his face.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Donnie raise a finger to his earpiece and a second later he looked at me and said, “The car is here.”
“Ok, let’s go,” I said before walking out of the house with Donnie right behind me. Once the doors to the house closed behind us Donnie caught up and started walking next to me.
“Roza, take this.” He whispered before placing a small handgun in my hands.
The cold metal of this deadly weapon was like fire on my skin.
I sighed, “Donnie I don’t need this, I have you.”
“I know you hate using it Roza, but please just keep it on you.”
I glanced at him and saw his pleading eyes, he was always like this. Without another word, I slid the gun in my clutch as we approached the car with a dark figure standing at the car door. My heart tightened, I hadn’t even seen a photo of him since that day and I was hoping he wasn’t bitter about how I acted that day.
As we grew closer I was able to make out his facial features and his dark grey eyes pierced my soul, his strong jawline was defined even in the dark, he had some stubble on his jawline too, his dark hair was styled so that it was pushed back and it made me want to run my hands through it, but he was tall. So tall I felt like I should have worn taller heels. Nothing about his stance was welcoming, it was very cold. His hands were both in his pants pockets as if he had been waiting for ages for me to leave the house. Even in the dark, I could feel the coldness in that set of dark grey eyes, it was such a huge contrast to the warmth I felt in Donnie’s hazel eyes.
CEO of Zanandrea Corporation, and one of the most powerful Don’s in the Italian Mafia.
According to Donnie if you crossed Dante Zanandrea you were in some serious trouble. All the stories I’ve heard about him have only come from Donnie since my father and the rest of his men refuse to tell me anything about him.
I felt the heat rise to my face and I knew I had to get myself together.
I put on a timid smile and said, “Buona sera, Dante.”
I watched as his eyes narrowed and his lips curved to form a slight smirk. This left me confused, his mouth showed happiness but his eyes betrayed him.
There was a storm brewing in those eyes.
I was at a loss for words.
His eyes flicked from me to Donnie and I felt like I could breathe with his gaze off of me.
“Perché è qui?” He asked in a voice so cold and sharp it cut through the air.
(Why is he here?)
Now I didn’t need to know Italian to put together that he was asking about Donnie. He probably didn’t know that wherever I went, Donnie followed.
“He’s my personal guard,” I said not allowing my voice to shake, but I spoke softly.
He looked Donnie up and down, “Ah, so you have a guard dog.”
Donnie’s jaw tightened but he remained silent.
“If you must put it that way,” I said quietly. This brought his gaze back to me causing me to flinch and for a split second, disgust filled his features.
I spoke out of line.
“Guard dog, you can sit in the front with the driver,” Dante said before opening the rear door. “Get in.” He said in a softer tone, that was directed towards me.
Without another word, Donnie and I both entered the black vehicle. My hands clutched each other in my lap as I glanced up at the rearview mirror as I met Donnie’s eyes. They were calm and serious, mine, however, betrayed my calm face, as fear swam in my black orbs. Then slowly the car’s divider began to rise and Donnie and I maintained eye contact the entire time. As soon as the divider completely cut off all eye contact from us my heart sank and I soon became aware that Dante was already in the car. I couldn’t hide my surprise and flinched raising my hand to my chest as I gasped.
He raised one eyebrow and a part of my soul melted.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you entered the car.”
His eyes narrowed, “Do I really scare you that much?”
“No!” I said a little too quickly, and I bit my tongue.
He let out a sigh and murmured, “Naturalmente il mio fidanzato è innocente e spaventato da me. Come un cerbiatto che inciampa su un orso.”
(Of course, my fiancé is innocent and scared of me. Like a fawn stumbling upon a bear.)
I gave him a questioning look, not understanding him but I knew better than to ask for what he said. He continued to stare out the car window as I fixed my gaze on my hands clasped together.
I was in a trance until his words snapped me out of it, “Quindi parli italiano?”
(So you speak Italian?)
“What?” I asked with confusion all over my face.
“Don’t you speak Italian?” He asked confusion now crossing his face.
“Ah, no I don’t, but I want to learn.”
A smile played at his lips before he said, “It’s best that you don’t.”
My heart sank, “Might I ask why?”
“It’s safer for you the less you know about my business.”
Exactly like my father.
I bit my bottom lip before I said something pointless or worse, stupid. I found myself scanning his body, and my eyes landed on one of his rings. It was a silver ring and engraved on the ring was a bold but delicate ‘Z’ on it with a golden lily engraved on the sides. His family crest.
From what I know besides being in the mob the Zanandrea Family, otherwise known as Zanandrea Corporation, owns a few hotels along with a few night clubs which are known to cater to people who live lives of luxury.
I’ve even heard that some of their suites come with their own personal butler who will do any request asked of them.
Besides mob connections, both of our family’s businesses are another reason behind this engagement. My family’s company, the Valeriano Group deals with high-end restaurants which my family wants in all of Zanandrea’s hotels. We have started with 3 in their major hotels once the engagement was finalized but when we wed there will be one of my family’s restaurants in every Zanandrea hotel. Bringing both of our families together would only strengthen us not only in the corporate world but in the underworld as well.
I didn’t enjoy knowing any of this but I endured it, I don’t know what else is part of our engagement but I have learned it’s sometimes best-knowing nothing.
Obviously Dante feels this way since he seems against me even greeting someone in Italian.
I felt the car come to a stop and Dante resumed eye contact with me once again.
“We are to walk in together, we will sit together, be in the presence of each other as long as our families will allow, and then we will leave together. Understood?” His voice commanded me to agree to his request.
I nodded my head silently as the car divider descended and the driver said, “We have arrived boss.”
Dante was the first to leave the car and I waited as he walked over to my side to open my door. I walked out of the vehicle to only face the most glamorous hotel I’ve ever seen. Written on the top of the entrance was a sign that said ‘El Lirio’. This was one of his family’s hotels, one which has my family’s restaurant inside. That is where the engagement party will be held.
I felt Dante rest his hand at the small curve of my back and I straightened as we walked into the hotel together with Donnie following close behind. We entered the elevator because the restaurant was on the rooftop of the hotel. The elevator ride up was the most painfully quiet ride of my life. Finally, we get to the top floor and Dante held out his arm to me, silently asking me to take it which I was obligated to do. I felt my own grip on his arm tighten as we walked through the restaurant’s doors.
“Respirare Roza.” Dante breathes in my ear causing my breathing to hitch which makes him chuckle.
We are soon approached by Dante’s parents. His father who I have met on multiple occasions due to him doing business with my father, and his mother who I have only met once.
His mother walked towards me with open arms and a huge smile, “Ciao Roza, sei bellissima!”
(Hello, Roza, you look stunning!)
I only understood ‘Hello Roza’ after that I was completely lost. So I just smiled and returned the hug saying, “Hello Mrs.Zanandrea it’s wonderful to see you.”
When I pulled away from the hug and I saw Mr.Zanandrea standing to the side of his wife, so I nodded my head down towards him. “Hello Mr.Zanandrea, it’s wonderful to see you again.”
A frown spread across his face and he made a tsking sound.
“Please Roza, Lorenzo. We’re family now.” Mr.Zanandrea said in a disappointed voice.
“I’m sorry Lorenzo.” I said, glancing at the floor. I hated calling my elders by their first name, it didn’t feel right.
“Well look what we have here, a rose with no thorns.” A snarky voice said behind me.
It’s been 8 years since I have heard that voice and it still hasn’t changed since we were kids.
I turned around to meet a pair for fiery ice blue eyes framed by long black strands of hair that fell in front of her olive-skinned face. She still wore the same judgy, entitled expression she gave me within 5 minutes of our first encounter. Except of wearing a yellow sundress with distressed edges from playing with the boys, she wore a bright cherry red bodycon long dress that flared out past her hips and had a plunging neckline that showed off her full chest.
I suddenly felt self-conscious of my less impressive chest.
“Victoria, no one wants to hear it,” Dante said in a voice that could make a child cry.
Her red lips pressed together and her eyes glanced at Dante acknowledging his words. Then a second later her gaze returned to me, with the same intensity as Dante’s gaze.
“Roza.” She said, my name rolling off of her tongue as it was poison.
“Hello Victoria,” I said retaining eye contact with her.
“Hmh.” She said with a smirk, “I guess you have grown since I last saw you.” She stepped closer to me entering my personal bubble.
Resentment radiating off of her, it made me want to run away but I stood my ground.
“You will never be a Zanandrea, you’re not worthy of our name. You’re too weak. If you do this our life is going to ruin you, and Dante is going to end up stepping on his precious little flower.”
“Victoria.” Dante growled, but this didn’t faze her. Her eyes remained glued on mine.
“Victoria, I have no intention of being involved with Dante’s life outside of our marriage. I will just be a flower on the wall.” I said my voice not shaking, my father would be proud.
Victoria’s cold expression transformed and she now wore a pitying smile, “Oh Roza.” She stepped closer and leaned into my ear and whispered, “You should know by now that our power will always be defined by the men around us.” And with that statement, she walked away.
It was like she verbally slapped me in the face.
Dante let out a sigh, “I’m sorry about her, she’s the only one that’s against this engagement.”
I recollected myself and looked back up at him, giving him a soft smile I said, “It’s ok.”
“It’s not.” He said in a dark tone and locked his eyes with mine as his hands found my waist, holding me securely in place in front of him. “Once we are married tell me if she speaks to you like that again. Promise me you will tell me if anyone talks to you with that amount of disrespect. If they are disrespecting you they are disrespecting me, and I won’t tolerate that.”
“I promise,” I said truly, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Victoria being pulled to the side in a corner by her father. He seemed to be lecturing her and that thought was confirmed when I heard her hiss, “Respect?! She’s not his wife.”
“Not yet.” Lorenzo hissed back, trying to control his composure. “Cristo, Victoria impara a tenere chiusa quella bocca prima che un giorno ti metta nei guai.”
(Christ, Victoria learn to keep that mouth of yours shut before it gets you into trouble one day.)
“Tale padre, Tale figlia.” Victoria spat.
(Like father, like daughter.)
Lorenzo grabbed his daughter by the back of her neck and whispered something I couldn’t make out in her ear causing her too soon after walk away, anger spewing off of her.
I took my gaze off of her and I focused on three tall men standing together dressed in suits around Dantes age. Victoria walked past them and as she did one of them said something to her and she snapped back at him in Italian causing them to chuckle. Then the men looked in my direction, they weren’t staring at me they were staring at Dante. One of them motioned with his head for Dante to come over, as he put a cigarette in his mouth. I glanced up at Dante and his jaw tightened before he looked down at me, “Stay here I have some friends to talk to.”
“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” I asked.
His gaze darkened as he responded, “Maybe some other time.”
Then he leaned down and kissed my forehead making my whole body explode with heat as my cheeks turned bright red, like Victoria’s dress. Dante looked at me and chuckled with an enduring smile before he walked away to join his friends.