A/N: It’s still Friday for me! Sorry everyone, I had a small emergency and I was away from the house all day. I literally just got home! Thank you!
The whole lot of them.
Niccolo was leaning against one of the bedroom’s windows, watching the Mancini family crowding his garden. The old hag hadn’t been enough - no, the others were here too. To meet their wonderful niece/cousin whatever.
Because Gabriella was such a darling. So lovely. So much like Isabella.
They weren’t taking the approach he had expected. He thought they would be cold, avoid her, dismiss her. Granted, the resemblance made it difficult to do that, but still. No, instead they opted to be a loving welcoming family to her.
But he knew their real personalities. It was the one they showed to him.
They treated him like dirt.
Of course, they did. He didn’t expect the red carpet treatment. They were everything. To them, he was nothing more than scum at the bottom of their shoes. That was fine; he was used to this.
Revenge. That was what he would do. Except he couldn’t. He had to swallow his pride, take all the hits, and put a smile on his face while he gave a polite answer. He couldn’t give them any ammo, he couldn’t give them anything to use against him.
Niccolo already knew they would try to turn Gabriella against him.
Speaking with her while there were ears in the house was no easy feat. Meaning he didn’t get to take the pulse, and see how she felt. Especially not since the hag swooped her away as quickly as she could.
And Gabriella followed her. As she should.
The right game to play here would be to pretend that they had her eating out of the palm of their hands. However, it wouldn’t work if she showed disdain towards him. There was no logical explanation for her to marry him so quickly and to be just as quick to turn against him.
They needed coherence. Strength.
The bathroom door creaked, forcing him to turn his head to look back. Gabriella emerged, a towel in her hands, slowly drying her hair. From the way her white shirt clung to her, he could tell her skin was still damp.
For a split second, he regretted not taking Vanessa’s offer. It had been a long time, too long. He planned on fully taking advantage of her family situation. A little payback for all of her teasing.
“What’s wrong?” she asked as she lifted her head to look at him.
“Your family is here.” When he saw the light in her eyes, he knew he had misspoken. “I mean your new family. Not your mother and your brother.”
“Did you not have fun yesterday?”
She scoffed. “I thought she was being… weirdly nice… but then… honestly? She was laying it on a little thick. She had a lot of questions.”
He sneered. “Of course she did. She didn’t try to hide her disdain for me.”
Gabriella failed at her attempt to withhold her laughter. He figured she would find it hilarious that her grandmother’s sister was a rude hag. He would also find it funny if he could actually retaliate. But he couldn’t. At least not yet.
Realistically? Probably never.
He wouldn’t suddenly become more powerful than one of the oldest families out there. Even with the inheritance. He was known to fly off the handle was unnecessary, but he had to control his rage for the time being. No matter the cost.
“I thought you were gonna lose your shit when she called you boy.”
“I wanted to.”
For a long time, he thought this life would crush her, break her spirit. Despite the obvious fire within her, she was too good for this. At least he thought so. Especially after the kidnapping and murders that followed. Yet, there she stood. Lying through her teeth, keeping secrets from him.
If he hadn’t heard the conversation between her and her mother, he wouldn’t suspect a thing. She was acting the same as she always had. When had she become so good at deceptions and lies?
He could be proud, but instead, he was bothered. How could he trust her to carry on the original plan when she decided to keep little secrets? Didn’t this simply prove that he had been right to keep information from her? Since she so easily did the same?
Trust was for the fools.
His mother had trusted his father, and it brought her nothing but misery.
If fate hadn’t shunned its light on him, he would have suffered the same fate.
“So what’s your plan?”
She quirked an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, what’s your plan? They clearly wanna butter you up. Maybe you think they’re a safer bet than me.”
Her arms dropped to her side, the towel hanging low, grazing the ground. “Seriously?”
He offered her a shrug. “Maybe you’ve got your own plan.”
Gabriella’s lips parted, her tongue flicking the back of her teeth as she shook her head. “Are you fucking serious right now?” She pinched her lips when the loudness of her voice hit her. “Do you think I woulda married you if I had another plan?” she asked in a hushed tone.
“Maybe you changed your mind.”
“And maybe you’ve got some serious trust issues,” she snapped back.
He did. But it had nothing to do with this.
“You asked me if I was all in, and I said yes. You,” she said, pointing her index finger at him. “You asked me to marry you, to trust you. So I did. God knows why, but I did. It’s not like you’ve given me a lot of reasons to do it. You always expect me to listen but you never tell me anything.”
“Then why trust me?”
Gabriella turned her head to the left, rolling her eyes. “Because.”
“That’s not an answer.”
If he were to be completely honest, he wouldn’t trust himself either. As a matter of fact, she shouldn’t technically trust anyone. Which was in contradiction with his desire to have her trust. He realized that. He could not explain it. The way to survive was to only rely on one’s self. Yet, he wanted everything she had to give.
“You’re an asshole, okay.”
Not the best argument.
She threw her hands up. “You are. You’re self-centered. You think you’re some kind of all-knowing God and that everyone should do as you say.”
“So, you trust me because I’m a God?”
Her eyelids fluttered and he could see her annoyance levels rising as her cheeks became tinted red. “No. Because despite not trusting you and hating your guts most of the time…” She paused, her chest caving in as she let all the air out. “You showed up - when it mattered. I called you on a hunch, you came running. That fucking psycho took me… and you came.”
It wasn’t like he had a reason. She called her came. He wanted to bone her, and - and it exactly… it made her trust him. Then the fucking Devil snatched what was his. He had to rescue her - it was a matter of principle. He wouldn’t have done the same thing - for anyone else.
He would have.
It came with the - lifestyle. He had to protect what was his.
Not that she was his-his. Well, she sort of was. Legally. Anyways.
“Don’t worry, I’m not stupid enough to think there’s a soft side to Niccolo De Luca.”
“Good enough for an answer?”
“I guess I’ll have to trust you.”
“I haven’t done anything to make you do otherwise.”
“Haven’t you though?”
He watched as she swallowed, her throat bobbing. There was a crack in the mask. He knew he would catch her off guard eventually. Though if he said it, all that would do was create tensions. Tensions right before they had to trust each other and put on a happy front.
Niccolo would have to keep his trap shut. For now. Maybe mess with her a little. It might make her break down completely. Perhaps it would help her change her mind, and share the tidbit of information with him.
Even if he had a small idea of what it might be. It was connected to her grandfather after all…
“I haven’t. Are you trying to start something right before we have to pretend to be two people desperately in love?”
“Me? I would never. I’m the perfect husband.”
“AH!” She chuckled. “Sure.”
“Well, that’s what you have to sell.”
“Oh, because this is on me?”
“No, but I already know I can pretend. Let’s see what you can do.”
“You’re on. Now how many of them are here?”
“I counted at least ten.”
“TEN? How many of them came?”
“As many as they could fit in their cars.”
They were playing a nice game, but - at the end of the day they were here because they wanted was belonged to Gabriella. That and they wanted the new chest piece. Isabella could have had it all if she had married someone else.
Sure, perhaps she did love the old man. Yet, there had to be more to it than that. She was a smart girl. He wasn’t anyone. It would have been fine if he had been an ordinary, normal man. But he wasn’t. He had ties to the mafia.
So what had been her end game? Why him? Why stick to it?
There was something he had been missing, he knew it. Maybe whatever Gabriella was hiding from him could provide Niccolo with answers. But, he’d have to wait to find out - or discover it without her help.
“So, are you gonna get dressed, or are you gonna greet your family like this? Either way, I don’t mind,” he said with a wink.
He wouldn’t have said no to a little show, but as expected, she grabbed some clothes and disappeared into the bathroom. He chuckled, his shoulders shaking, before heading back to the window to take one last undetected look at the Mancini family.
Maybe she had underestimated the task at hand.
Most of the time, Gabriella could follow Niccolo’s lead, but not this time. They could not give two shits about Niccolo. The walls were more visible than he was. She did try to introduce him a few times - even though they obviously knew who he was. After all, this was his home, not hers.
But they took every jab they could.
Oh, Gabriella, what a beautiful house you have.
Oh, Gabriella, your taste in decor is amazing.
Yup. They had to know. This wasn’t hers.
Gabriella would have never guessed that Niccolo had so much restraint in him. Sometimes, she saw his face twitch, his rage seeping through the surface, but he would shove it back down. Impressive.
“Isabella… I mean, I’m so sorry. Gabriella. You two are simply so alike.”
Yeah - that was another annoying thing. They kept accidentally calling her Isabella. Her grandmother passed away when her father was a child. From her understanding of the situation, Isabella hadn’t seen her family before her death.
So there was no fucking reason to mistake her for her grandmother. Enough time had passed that her name shouldn’t be on the tip of their tongues. Niccolo was right; they were taking her for an idiot, and they were trying to lure her into a false sense of security.
None of this was real.
She wished it were. She wished that she had more family, a way to connect to her father. Yet, she couldn’t let that sense of longing fool her. They were here for one thing and one thing only.
At the moment, Niccolo was the only person she could rely on. Even if he seemed oddly suspicious of her.
“Yes?” she replied, the same fake smile on her face. Man her cheeks were starting to hurt from all that smiling.
“You know who you would love? My nephew!”
Wait. Who was this again? The lady was fairly advanced in age, her mane of hair turned white and gray already. Gabriella scrambled her brain for her name, but she couldn’t come up with anything.
Except - her nephew… wouldn’t he be… like… related to her?
The lady chuckled. “Oh don’t worry dear. He’s my nephew through my husband.” She winked. “Not a drop of blood between the two of you.” She leaned forward, covering the side of her mouth with her hand. “Though between you and me, a little blood never hurt anybody. Keeps it pure.”
Puke. She was going to puke.
And as a matter of fact, a little blood did hurt some people. Nope, nope. Come on, Gabby, do not get into it. There is no point. Smile. Smile. “I-I, I’m already engaged.”
The lady grabbed her hand, her naked hand, looking it over. “No ring, my dear.”
“That would be my fault, Giorgia.”
THAT WAS HER NAME.
Niccolo swooped in, putting an arm around Gabriella’s waist and bringing her flush to his body. “I seemed to have guessed my fiancée’s ring size incorrectly. I had to have it adjusted.” He shoved his free hand in his pocket, pulling out a ring box. “Considering your family’s unexpected arrival, I forgot to give it to you my love.”
The words coming out of his mouth were enough to make her want to wince. But she didn’t. Because that wouldn’t be an appropriate reaction for a woman in love.
Her hands had a slight tremble as she reached out for the box, grabbing it with both hands. She popped it open, revealing a beautiful ring. It was a simple silver band with a small sapphire.
“Let me,” he said, forcing her to change her face.
Right. This wasn’t the first time she was seeing it. At least according to their story. She smiled at him, raising her hand as he slipped his arm away. He slipped the ring on and thank god it fitted like a charm.
“There, that’s better.”
This was surprisingly… not flashy. It wasn’t as though she wanted a big shiny rock or anything. She preferred this. It simply didn’t fit what she thought Niccolo would buy. Especially considering the fact that he was trying to impress this fake family of hers.
“I see business is slow,” Giorgia said, disdain dripping from her words as she stared at the ring.
“I offered her a better ring, but Gabriella had already fallen in love with my mother’s ring. She is sentimental that way. I love that about her.”
He bent down, pressing a kiss to the top of her head while she smiled.
It was a story.
It had to be a story.
Though - if she thought about it. She did think it was strange the ring was so simple. She also knew his mother… his mother was a mistress, not a wife. She wouldn’t even have a ring and if she did - it would be simple, wouldn’t it? He wasn’t the heir. He shouldn’t have been.
He was the bastard.
It could be a ploy. But she couldn’t see how this won him any points. The story made sense, but buying a fancy ring would have yielded the same results. So why not go flashy and fancy?
He had given her his mother’s ring.
That was a truth - not a lie.
His mother’s ring.
Was it her or the air was getting a little thicker? Maybe her dress was too tight, cutting some of her air supply. Yeah - that could be it.
“If you’ll excuse me. I need the bathroom,” she said, gently gliding her hand across Niccolo’s arm.
She needed some air. Fresh air.
She was outside though.
Well - she needed to breathe the air where there was no one else.
“Of course sweetheart. No worries, I’ve got plenty of catching up to do.”
All that catching up didn’t include Niccolo apparently. The second Gabriella detached herself from his side, Giorgia began walking away. Wow. Could they make it any more obvious that they didn’t want anything to do with him?
This was his house and they were disrespecting him anyways.
Wasn’t that against some kind of rule? Or were they truly that powerful that they did not fear repercussions from their actions?
It didn’t matter.
For now, she needed a breather.
Gabriella half expected Niccolo to chase her down, but he didn’t.
She rushed inside, beelining for the bathroom. Hopefully, a splash of water would help her calm her nerves. After everything she had been through - this shouldn’t be unsettling for her. It should be easy.
She was bad at this. So bad at this. It was easier when he wasn’t around. They never had this type of relationship - not that she wanted that. Initially, it was supposed to be meaningless sex. Somehow, it ended up getting… complicated.
Near life and death experiences…
Small betrayals… or at least that was what she called what he did when he let Sebastien watch them. Sometimes, she forgot. Thank god she’d always remember. But then - he did this. Like giving her his mother’s ring. Why not buy something?
As Gabriella began heading down the hallway, some soft murmurs caught her attention. It was as if someone was speaking in a low hushed voice. It was her understanding that everyone was outside - where the food and the drinks were.
She took a few steps, the sounds getting louder.
“What do you want me to do?”
That sounded like Caterina.
Gabriella pressed her back to the wall, sliding across on her tippy toes. Her voice was muted and mumbled. Maybe if she got a little closer, she could hear better. She held her breath as if it would help her be more invisible.
“No, he told me they were already married.”
Ah fuck. How did they know?
“Then why are they having a wedding? What’s the point?”
“I do not know!”
“What are we gonna do? I didn’t know we’d have to deal with a divorce.”
“Well - there are other ways than a divorce…”
“Shh! Not here…”
Gabriella took a few steps back, a hand slapped on her mouth. Wait. No - they couldn’t be saying… But this was exactly… what they did wasn’t it? Murder. Disappearance. It was the right fit for the family business.
Did they want to kill Niccolo?
Of all the possible outcomes, she had never thought that would be one. Did Niccolo think that could happen? She had to tell him. This she could not keep from him. Impossible. She - she knew murder and kidnapping and rape and all that fucking bullshit was part of this world…
But she never thought they would come here to his home and intent on getting rid of him.
Worst of all, what the fuck did they plan for her after they killed him?
Niccolo’s instinct had been right. Even before he met them he knew they would pull some shit like this. He had been convincing enough for her to marry him instead of taking a chance with the Mancini.
“Let’s talk about this later.”
Oh no, no, no, no. They were coming out. They were going to see her. She should run. No, if she ran they would hear her… Maybe she could slip away? Oh no. What if that wasn’t fast enough?
She shook out her hands, her toes and fingers tingling. Come on think, think. What the fuck was she going to do? Play it off maybe? Yeah. She could do that. They would maybe buy it. Why not?
March in there.
But she didn’t.
Instead, she felt a hand pressed to her mouth and a strong grip around her waist. By the time her eyes flashed open, she found herself staring at Niccolo. He had her pressed into the wall, his head turned in direction of where Caterina and whoever were.
She tried to speak, but all she did was mumble incomprehensible words against his hand. In response, Niccolo pressed his index finger to his mouth. The skin around his eyes was bunched, his lips pressed into a thin line.
He was pissed off.
That could only mean one thing; he heard.
They had to talk about this, they had to —
They had to get the fuck out of here.
He turned his head to look at her, his finger still pressed to his lips. She nodded and he slowly retracted his hand. He leaned into her, his lips on her neck. “Follow my lead,” he whispered.
She nodded even though he couldn’t see her head from his angle. Two large hands sneaked under her dress, working their way up her thighs. Alright, what the heck was his plan? He peppered kisses down the column of her throat, shivers jolting down her spine.
His fingers pressed into the flesh of her thighs, the skin caving under his touch. Then, he lifted her, and she wrapped her legs around his waist. They had been in this situation before. It had ended in a very public display.
She didn’t want to repeat that.
Now that she was holding herself up using his waist, one of his hands came up, and there was a snap. She glanced down, noticing he had popped open the first two buttons of her dress. A little much.
“Come on princess, you can sell this a lot better than that,” he whispered in her ear before nibbling at her earlobe.
Niccolo grabbed her hand, bringing it to his belt buckle. The show of a lifetime right? She unbuckled it, feeling as his jeans dropped, only being held by her legs. In the meanwhile, his lips had found their way to her jaw, kissing his way to her mouth.
It took one second, and he wasted no time by kissing her. His tongue swept across the seam of her bottom lip and she opened her mouth wider. His hands were back on her body, tugging at the straps of her dress. Niccolo took control over the kiss, his lips moved smoothly against hers.
Her hands were flat against his chest, feeling the sturdiness of his pecs beneath her touch. Gabriella knew all of the reasons why this was insane, why they could never be anything. She hadn’t forgotten those.
If only her vagina shared her brain.
“Hm, hm,” came a voice, clearing their throat.
Well, they found them.
Gabriella gripped Niccolo’s shoulders and used that position to push him away from her. Her teeth sunk into her bottom lip as she shifted her glance to the floor. “Caterina. Hm, I-I thought everyone was outside.”
Niccolo released her and her heels smacked against the ground as she landed on her own two feet.
“Clearly,” she replied sternly.
“We- were just - this was hm…”
“Perhaps this kind of display should be kept to the bedroom.”
“Right. Yes. Of course.”
Gabriella smoothened her dress, palming at it, working her way through the wrinkles. She didn’t have to fake her shame; the heat booming through her cheeks was fucking real. She knew they had put on that show to save faces but…
It still felt like they had gotten caught red-handed.
“A little bit of fresh air will do you some good,” Caterina said as she grabbed Gabriella’s hand.
She did not give her a chance to protest or remove herself from her grip. Instead, she tugged, forcing her to follow. Gabriella turned her head back, looking at Niccolo who was buckling back his pants.
He gave her the faintest nod.
She needed to talk to Niccolo.
As soon as she could pry herself free.