M A R C E L L A
She couldn’t place his face, but it haunted her in her dreams. It wasn’t a comforting sight, which made her all the more wary of John Keller, the human hound. He appeared so ordinary. So… normal. Particularly with a name like that.
He didn’t exude a dangerous guy vibe, nor did he give off a vibe at all. He was one of those people who one could believe was a businessman or a plumber or an astronaut and no one would necessarily believe he was lying. Not that she could tell a person’s profession from their demeanor, but all her father’s men emitted a wicked malicious aura that the human hound simply didn’t hold.
She supposed that was useful in his line of work, able to camouflage into any role he deemed appropriate to impersonate. The name John Keller was unobtrusive and not memorable in the slightest if one had heard it in passing. They were all tricks to get the job done.
With all that said, he still haunted her. And she had no clue why.
She had taken several buses, pinching various different passes in case the hound was catching up to her. He could have traced her journey if he knew which pass she was using and accessed its route. She cursed how everything was digitalized now. He never would have found her the first time if technology had never been invented. But she never would have managed to escape if it hadn’t either.
For even more protection, she used a couple of the pinched passes to create a false journey, stepping on a bus and paying, then letting it leave without her. She knew she was being paranoid but she also knew he was good. Good enough to match whatever plan she had going. Being unpredictable was what helped her escape from him the first time. Having no plan had worked because it confused him. So, her journey would have to continue to confuse him.
He would have no idea of where she was heading to next. There was no way. She had worked this out and he had no clue how to get to her now.
She was proud of how far she gotten. She had no practice, no experience at this sort of thing, and yet she had outsmarted her father in a way. Alessandro had hired a professional to bring her back.
It told her that Alessandro valued this deal and wanted her engagement to Dante to go ahead. His only daughter pawned off for more wealth and power. She wasn’t going to let that happen, not if it would even take her death to avoid it. She’d rather be free in death than caged in a marriage to a heartless mafia man.
Dante was comparable to Alessandro in plenty of ways, much like Mari was. But every quality Mari shared with Alessandro, Dante didn’t. And every quality Dante shared with Alessandro, Mari didn’t. They were complete opposites, and whilst they claimed opposites attract, there was no way in hell Mari would ever be attracted to a callous beast.
She would take her own life if need be to protect her freedom and her fundamental rights as a woman. She would fight to the bitter end and die fighting. She would never take anything lying down, ever. It just wasn’t in her. And she had nothing to lose either. Nothing.
She had lived such a sheltered life that she had no clue what living was. And now she was running for her freedom, out in the real world, with everyday dangers having very possible dangerous risks as much as her father and his men did.
But it was those men she was still terrified of. Alessandro, her own father, who had sold her freedom and life to an evil man.
“My daughter will love it. She likes shiny things,” she heard her father’s voice say, muffled through the crack in his office door.
She didn’t usually listen in on her father’s private conversations, but at the mention of her name, she just couldn’t stop herself. Her name was rarely spoken off in his business meetings, which could only lead her to conclude that this concerned her.
It was her twentieth birthday tomorrow. She was already an adult, not that her father would ever see her that way. She was still his baby girl. In the past, she used to love her father dearly, his protectiveness and compassion he seemed to show towards her was his only redeeming quality. But she begged for more freedom, time and time again. She wanted to be a normal girl. She wanted friends, she wanted no guards at her high school, she wanted to go on just one date. She truly was a princess: pampered, sheltered, a daddy’s girl. And the bitterness for him grew with every passing day as she learned he’d never let her go.
She leaned in towards the door, careful not a make a single sound. She was petite and light on her feet. She could move like lightening, swiftly escaping the clutches of being caught. She felt guilt when snooping but snooping she would do anyway.
“I’m sure the principessa would appreciate it. She would become part of the family soon after all,” another man replied in a deep Italian accent that unsettled her right to her core.
Were they still talking about her? Why would she become part of this man’s family? None of this made sense to her, which compelled her to listen in even longer, invading her father’s privacy.
“When’s the wedding?” the other man asked confidently.
“A couple of weeks away.”
“Has she been told yet? I would like to meet my wife properly before being wed. And I wouldn’t want her moping on her wedding night,” he said with a devious chuckle that made Mari’s skin crawl.
“Then you’ll meet her now.” She scurried away from the door and shuffled up the stairs as she heard the increasingly loud footsteps heading toward the door. “Marcella!” Alessandro bellowed up the stairs, believing she was in her room, barely able to hear.
For this reason, she took her time traveling down. The fact that her gut told her to run at that very second, she knew. She knew that she was in trouble. She had that feeling. She knew her fate was about to turn sour, sourer than she had previously anticipated when she set her mind on running away.
She entered her father’s office with thousands of anxieties weighing her down. She couldn’t stop fidgeting with her fingers, so she twiddled them behind her back. Dressed in a green summer dress that she now felt nervous in, her eyes were glued to the floor.
Her eyes flickered to the unfamiliar face the second she sighted him. A scar ran down from his temple to the top of his cheekbone, caressing his face in the most devilish way. His thick Italian persona was only highlighted by the olive tan to his skin and the black stubble that decorated his face. He had a thick head of hair that curled slightly at its tips and complimented his dark eyes.
This was a man she didn’t want to mess with. This was a man she knew she should instantly be afraid of. And the smirk on his face merely deepened her fear.
“O, caspita, belissima,” he said under his breath as he stared directly into her eyes with a haunting expression. “My name’s Dante Marciano, piccola. Have you heard of me?” All she could do in response was nod her head.
That choice made her appear weak, which she certainly wasn’t by any means. She had a clue as to what was going on, but she prayed her father loved her enough for that not to be the case. She was in denial, and it made her respond so weakly. Also the condescending way in which he addressed her, ‘piccola’ meaning ‘little one’ as if she were some little girl he could talk down to. She was an adult.
“Good. You must be Marcella. You’re going to be my wife in two weeks.” She wanted to clock him right in that smug face of his, but she was stunned into a statue-like form, her eyes left to glance between Dante and Alessandro rapidly. Deep-seeded betrayal set in, the knife protruding out of her back as clear as day.
And there he stood, expressionless, emotionless, compassionless to his daughter’s clear fear.
That was the same day that proceeded the night she ran. She didn’t know if Alessandro predicted that. Was he surprised that she left? Or did he expect that of her?
He had given her every materialistic thing he could think of just to butter her up for the life he had planned for her. Dante was much older than her, perhaps even closer to her father’s age. But age was far from the issue. Age never mattered to her. It was the man himself. And the look he had given her the first time he saw her. It had plagued her in the sleepless nights that followed.
She was almost there, almost at the car that would save her. The getaway car. Her freedom car.
She never had any contact with Milo’s guy, but that didn’t matter. She trusted the car would be there, at the site they had agreed upon. In a scrapyard.
And there it was. In all its glory. She could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
She reached underneath the wheels for the key taped up in the inside of it. She felt them in her hands, tossing them once in the air and letting the metal slide in the clasp of her fingers. Almost like she was afraid they were never there, and it was all some dream. But they were real.
This was real. This was freedom. On foot, he could catch up with her. By vehicle, she would be almost impossible to find. She was going to win.
She unlocked the car and reached into the glovebox, finding what she had been looking for. Snatching it into her hands, she automatically felt safer.
And then a crackle and crunch of footsteps on the gravel forced her back into her paranoia. But this time, she had a right to be.
She sighted him. Somehow, he had found her. Again.