Time seemed to fly by in Nina’s mind. Before she knew it, it was Friday. The day Luciano would come. Nerves seeped into her being like poison. All of the collected calm she had in the past few days went flying out the window.
She had her hair in an updo, a few locks falling to the sides of her face. Nina chose to wear a Bordeaux floor-length dress with slits, showing off her smooth long legs.
“This stupid thing is not working with me!” Giorgio grumbled as he barged into his sister’s room.
“And a little privacy would be nice,” Nina said and looked at the crumpled up tie in her brother’s hand. “Here, let me do it.” She held her hand out.
Nina got the black tie handed over to her and helped her brother out. After she was done, she smoothed it over with her hand. Nina never said it out loud, but she liked having her little brother rely on her from time to time. Even if it was for small things like this. In the eyes of the family, Giorgio was a made man but to Nina, he was still her beloved brother.
“You know, you should really learn how to do it on your own.”
“I don’t have to when you’re here.” He gave her a cheeky smile making her laugh as well.
“Not for long anymore.” Nina sobered up at her realization.
I’ll be in Chicago. Away from my family and surrounded by new people. Nobody to rely on or ask for help. Papà and Giorgio won’t be able to help even if I wanted them to. I’ll be under the rule of the Gallucci. Under Luciano’s iron fist.
Giorgio saw the unease her eyes reflected. “Don’t worry. Those fuckers have no power here. I’ll let them know they don’t own the place.”
Nina shot Giorgio a disapproving look. “Please, Giorgio don’t say anything rash. I don’t want to start on the wrong foot with him.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” He sighed and continued, “I’ll try to be on my best behaviour.”
Nina smiled and even though she knew he would only do the bare minimum, she appreciated the effort. With her brother leaving the bedroom, her mother entered. She let her know of the arrival of their guests and left again.
“He’s here already.” Nina let out a shaky breath.
It’s fine. I’ll be fine. Stay calm. Nina assured herself. Her hands on her chest, trying to keep herself from panicking. I can do this. She threw her shoulders back, keeping a straight posture and her head held high.
She turned the lights of her room off, closed the door and descended the stairs. It was faint but she could hear the sound of people talking in the foyer. One of them was clearly her father but the other two were unknown to her. Before letting her presence made known, Nina peered around the corner to see her fiancé.
Three men in suits. One with his back to her. Her father. The other two were faced in her direction. One slightly taller than the other, but both clearly above six feet. The first one to catch Nina’s attention was the taller one of the two. He had pitch-black hair and an imposing look to him. The other man was a dark-blonde, his face veiled a sober look. Nina hoped the latter was her fiancé. Compared to the other one, the man with blonde hair appeared to be softer around the edges.
“What are you doing?” someone from behind said, startling her.
Nina quickly turned around to see the culprit. Her brother looked at her with a dumbfounded look on his face.
“Don’t scare me like that.”
“I didn’t really mean to but sure.”
It took Nina a few seconds to realise the talking of the other party had stopped. All eyes were now on the two siblings. Her father broke the silence by telling the two men, they were his children. Giorgio made his way over to the three men and Nina followed suit.
“What was that? I don’t need to tell you to behave, do I?” Carlos said under his breath to Nina while Giorgio made his introduction.
Nina didn’t miss the strain in her father’s voice. She couldn’t blame him. If possible, she too would have preferred their first impression of her to be better.
“I’m sorry, Papà,” she said in a whisper.
When Giorgio was done introducing himself to the guests, Nina stepped forward. She began opening her mouth to introduce herself but her father beat her to it.
“My daughter, Nina. A beauty isn’t she?” Carlos’ chest puffed with pride.
I can speak for myself. Thank you, Papà. Nina sighed mentally.
“Certainly,” the dark-haired man said with a polite smile and looked at Nina.
The blonde didn’t say anything at all; going as far as avoiding eye contact with Nina.
I know I hoped for him to be my fiancé, but he can’t even look at me. Do I look that bad? Or is he one of those arrogant types? Thinks he is better than women. Or does he just not want to be here?
Nina held out her hand to the man with dark blonde hair. “Nice to meet you. I’m Nina,” she said with a sweet smile.
He shook her hand and said, “Nero.”
Nina made a conscious effort to make sure her smile didn’t falter. She diverted her eyes from Nero and focused on the daunting man next to him.
“Luciano?” Nina asked and shook his hand.
Nina made sure to meet his strong gaze. Now more than ever was she glad for the confidence she gained in the past two years. Back then, she would have been even more intimidated by the man in front of her.
“Well, let’s not stand here all day,” Carlos said.
Everyone moved away from the foyer and made their way into the spacious living room. With Luciano right behind her, Nina had to remind herself to breathe.
“If possible, I’d like a word alone with Nina,” Luciano said to her father.
“Of course, first things first. You should do what you came here to do,” Carlos replied and expectantly looked at his daughter.
Right. Nina mentally braced herself and turned around.
“I’m sure he can do whatever he wants right here,” Giorgio commented and threw a hard look in Luciano’s way.
“I could but I’d rather not.”
In her head, Nina scolded her little brother. She was sure their father wouldn’t give Giorgio’s actions a pass. He would get punished for it. Usually, she liked her brother’s protective side. Giorgio was never overbearing. In moments like these, she wished he thought about his own self-preservation.
“Will the garden do?” Nina suggested, hoping the outside air would help her cool down.
“Anywhere will do.”
Definitely the garden.
The moment Nina set foot out the house, she felt a little less tense. The uplifting flowers in the garden made her feel at ease.
Nina glanced at Luciano and took a moment to properly take in his defined features. The glimmer of the setting sun complimented his warm complexion. She was sure his piercing grey eyes often unsettled enemies and comrades alike. As if he could see right through them.
“Is your brother always like that? He should be more of aware his position. He is doing more harm than good.”
His statement caught Nina off guard. She heard his warning loud and clear.
“He means no harm.”
Luciano reached in the pocket of his black dress pants and took out a small velvet box. He opened it, revealing a ring. Golden band with a big diamond in the middle.
Most women would be thrilled to get such an expensive piece of jewellery. In Nina’s eyes, the ring was anything but subtle. She guessed Luciano just bought whatever the jeweller recommend to him.
“Try it. See if the size is right.”
Nina did as he told her to and put the engagement ring on her finger. It was a perfect fit. A while ago, her mother took a measure of Nina’s ring finger and passed the info on to Luciano.
“It’s lovely. Thank you,” she said politely.
Voicing her actual opinion on the ring he chose for her seemed unwise. Refusing the ring would be seen as an act of defiance. She didn’t want to be subjected to his wrath this early on in their relationship. She wanted to try and make it work. Nina saw Luciano narrowing his eyes at her. Gulping, she wondered if she said something wrong.
“What do you not like about it?” he asked. Still wearing the same grim look as before.
“It’s very…,” she stopped speaking, trying to think of the right word to use. “Let’s say attention-grabbing.”
The corner of his lip lifted as if she said something amusing to him. “I’ll keep it in mind for your wedding ring.”
Nina only nodded.
Can I hope for him to keep his word?
Nina’s mind flashed to some of the horrid rumours she heard about Luciano. He was someone who had fallen from grace. Committing one crime after another. Nina didn’t consider herself free from sin either. After all, she lived off the money made from similar crimes. Her engagement ring was a prime example of it.
“Was that all?”
“One more thing. The wedding ceremony will be in New Orleans but after we’re done, we’ll go straight to Chicago. You’ll have to pack and send over the things you want to bring with you before that.”
“I’ll do that. Can we go back inside now? I’m starting to get a little cold.” Nina made up an excuse, not wanting to be alone with Luciano for longer than she had to.
“On a summer evening?” He challenged her lie.
“I guess you are more accustomed to the cold than I am.”