In or Out
I’m a smart woman, who runs a business on her own and I’m down to earth. Meeting his family will go great and I will win their approvals.
I got this.
Looking into the mirror I adjusted the dress I was wearing that covered my small baby bump. The green and gold dress was fancy but with my black heeled boots and sweater cover it wasn’t too much.
I got this.
Wincing my pep talk died on my tongue and my confidence plummeted.
This is going to be a complete disaster. What the hell do you say, do or bring to a mafia family dinner while being pregnant? Oh god, what if they view me like my mother.
Fuck… they are rich do they know my mother?
Why did I agree to this? Or right, I was freaking out, Maximus stopped by, asked me to go and I said yes.
Why did I say yes?
A pair of arms wrapped around my midsection pulling me into a chest, a chest I know anywhere. My body relaxed against Max while his soft clean smell eloped my senses.
“Relax Stella.” Max’s lips softly kissed my temple. “Be yourself and they will love you, don’t worry.”
“I’m not.” I closed my eyes with a wince. Slowly I opened them up seeing an amused look on Max’s face. “Can we pretend I said that calmly and not sounding like Minnie mouse?”
He chuckled behind me, his lips kissing my temple again. “Come on let’s go. It’ll be a good night with food. Don’t stress.”
Groaning I untangled myself from him, grabbed my bag and took a deep breath.
Don’t be a coward.
Stepping out of my apartment I waited for Maximus to follow before locking up. We headed out of the building and into his car, my body fidgeting nervously when we pulled away from my safe space and headed towards his family.
I didn’t pay attention while he drove, instead I practiced introducing myself in my head.
When the car came to a stop I didn’t have the chance to look through the window before the door was opened, a hand in front of me. Taking a breath, I took the hand, my feet sliding from the car letting me out. The moment my eyes looked at the estate, I felt them widen taking in the massive house and large gardens.
“Thank you.” I said to the man who helped me out of the car.
Maximus came over to where I was, his arm wrapping around my waist. “Relax, I got you.”
I nodded and we began walking up the stairs towards the mansion, stepping in I felt as if I walked into a fancy magazine seeing the marble and perfect interior design.
My jaw opened when we walked into the foyer of the estate, a maid came up to take my coat. “You grew up here?”
Max chuckled. “Yeah it wasn’t bad, sometimes a little crowded. There are a lot of us here.”
“Brother.” A voice greeted us from the top of the stairs. Turning I found a man who looked similar to Max walking down the steps towards us. “And you must be Stella, I’m Lorenzo Sorrentino, Maximus’s older brother.”
And Don, the title hung unspoken in my head.
I put my hand out to shake. “It’s great to meet you, Maximus speaks highly of you.”
Lorenzo took my hand in his. “As I you. Might I steal her while the men fill in.” Maximus stiffened, his eyes looking around telling me that he couldn’t say no to his Don. “Come now brother, might as well have her and I acquainted before dinner. Don’t want it to be awkward at the table.”
Maximus adjusted his suit, a few words of Italian leaving his mouth which Lorenzo respond to back in Italian. They began bantering back and forth, Max’s tone getting sharper with each Italian word.
Not wanting them to fight I put my hand on Max’s arm. “It’s okay, we’ll be right along.”
Max looked into my eyes and said one final thing in Italian to Lorenzo, this time in a firm tone. Lorenzo nodded his head and led me to a room off to the side, stepping into the room Lorenzo motioned me to a seat while he took one across from me.
I couldn’t help but feel like I had been called to the principle office.
Lorenzo’s eyes narrowed making me feel like he was peeling my skin off to look into my soul.
“So, tell me Stella.” He said while I focused on making sure my skin stayed on my body. “Do you want to be pregnant with my brother? Have you agreed to his marriage proposal?”
I let out a breath knowing where this was going. “You think I’m a hussy who planned this and will exploit Maximus.”
His eyes made me shiver, a coldness making me understand why people fear his name. “My brother’s net worth is millions of dollars and you happen to get pregnant after knowing him for a few months?”
“I’m not using him for money, we didn’t plan this. It’s not like the woman has a say in when she gets pregnant.” I said fidgeting.
This had been the fear from the beginning, people thinking I’m using Max. Well, I’m hungry and tired of this meeting hanging over my head, I won’t leave here until Lorenzo knows I’m serious about Max.
Lorenzo’s head titled. “I’m sure that’s what your mother says every time she remarries, what is she on? Husband number ten? At least she doesn’t get pregnant before marriage.”
My fist curled inward, the nails on my fingers giving sharp pain when they imbedded into my palm. The perfect distraction for me to make sure I don’t freak out on Maximus’s brother and Don. “I am not my mother nor do I have relationship with her.”
He took a long break of silence; every second passing was him making notes on me. What I say. What I do. What I mean. “Yet she visited you this month.”
Shaking my head, I decided now is not the time to address the fact that he had eyes on me. Right now, my priority is to convince Lorenzo that I’m not a threat to Max. That all my affection towards him is genuine and not some plan to get his money but he will prove to be difficult to convince.
“Well if you had asked whoever you had spying on me then you would know that she was in my store for less than five minutes and it ended with me yelling at her to stay away from me and my Nanna who is too ill to deal with her toxic daughter.” Taking a deep breath, I tried to battle the raging emotions, fucking hormones. “Listen, I understand, me being pregnant and your family’s standing makes you protective. But I like Max and right now I’m trying to take this one step at a time and figure out where I stand in his life.”
I sucked in a breath. Everything in their life was formal and I strolled in with a nickname. “Yeah, I uh call him Max. He may be Maximus to you but to me he is Max. With him I don’t see a mafia underboss, instead he’s a caring guy who ruined my couch.”
Lorenzo hummed and we stared at each other. We have gotten the big elephant out of the room but by the shadow on Lorenzo’s face I knew he was not done.
“I understand why you are weary of me.” I started, his eyes narrowing. “You want to protect Max from someone taking advantage of him, I get it, you’re his big brother and you two have been through a lot. But I’m not going to hurt him, this happened by accident and I’m not going to marry him just because I’m pregnant. I don’t want his money, I don’t want his family’s power. The only thing I want from Max, is for him to try and work this out with me so we can give our child a good future.”
The Don stared me.
“You need to make a choice.” Lorenzo said slowly. “You want my brother, then his life in the mafia is your life now. There is no choosing how much you want to be involved, if your toe is in this life then you’re in. No half in or half out.”
My head went back at how his tone of voice, view of me and conversation changed. “That’s it? Accuse me of being a hussy and now I should be a part of the mafia? Just like that?”
He got up from his seat adjusting his cuff links. “Some mafias think that a woman stands behind the man. Our family never has, we believe that the woman stands beside the man. She is a part of the family, she knows every side of it. If Maximus cannot talk to you about this family and what he does, you two are doomed. There are no two sides to him, only one and he would tear himself apart for you, damning him in the process.”
I wrung my hands together, playing with my nerves. “I understand, I wouldn’t want Max to feel he has to do that for me.”
“Do you understand? Maximus is my underboss and as of this moment he is my heir.” I swallowed when his eyes pierced through mine, my skin still trying to crawl off my body. “If you want him let us go to donner. If you can’t take this life, Vinzo will bring the car around and I’ll drop off a custody agreement in the morning.”
A moment passed where neither of us said anything. Right now, I had to either walk away or accept that I will be in the mafia world with no understanding of what that truly means.
Live the unknown with Max or walk away to the known. To safety.
Would I be safe away from Max? My child’s father is in the mafia, they would always be a part of this life.
“Max.” I whispered my choice as a knock sounded in the room, my body jumping finally breaking eye contact with Lorenzo. “I’ll take a risk on Max. I won’t deny him our child when he has shown me he cares.”
The door to office opened with a rigid Max stepping in, his eyes quickly running over me then to his brother. “Dinner is ready, I’ll take Stella back now.”
Lorenzo chuckled, his face relaxing and eyes warming while Max appeared beside me, helping me up from the chair. “Of course, we were done talking anyway. See you two at the table.”
The moment Lorenzo left the room Max slightly relaxed, his hand cupping my cheek. “I’m going to kick his ass for pulling Don shit. I swear I had no idea he was going to ambush you. You alright?”
Nodding my head, I melted against him. “I’m fine, actually kind of glad we got the big ‘are you good enough for my brother talk’ out of the way. Not sure I would have been able to eat with those eyes on me when I know he wants to talk.”
Max cursed under his breath then muttered something in Italian. Lifting up on my toes I gently kissed Max’s lips, his own lips not wasting a second to kiss me back. Pushing away I looked up noticing that he looks far more relaxed and closer to the Max I know.
Will he be able to be Max tonight?
“What was that for?” He tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear.
Kissing his cheek, I took his arm. “So that we can both relax. Come on I’m starving, I met the alpha lion now it’s time to meet the pride.”
We started walking towards the dinner room, Max’s arm around my waist. “They’re going to love you.”
One can hope.