“Another drink, darling?”
Gabriella shook her head. “No, no thank you.”
“Oh come on, what’s a bachelorette party without some alcohol?”
She had a bachelorette party… it had alcohol. She couldn’t say it had been the party she had wished for, or that it had been with people she cared about but - she had enjoyed it more than she enjoyed this one.
Also, a supper at an upscale restaurant, being waited on, wasn’t exactly what she would call a bachelorette party. Of course, she kept those thoughts to herself. For the same reason that she had agreed to go through this insanity in the first place.
At this point, she didn’t know what their plan was. They didn’t deny who she was, no one brought up the inheritance. They were keeping her at arms’ length while trying to pull her in. Maybe they couldn’t figure out what to do with her - or they were assessing what kind of threat she was to them.
“I’m not a big drinker.”
“Oh? I find that surprising,” Caterina said with a smile as she brought her glass of wine to her lips.
She shrugged as she took a sip of the red liquid swishing in her glass. “I have heard about your future husband’s reputation. A party boy. I am shocked to learn he hasn’t dragged you down with him.”
If she were to be completely honest, she hadn’t seen Niccolo done much partying. Then again, ever since they tumbled into each other’s lives, it had been one chaotic event after another. It did not leave much room for partying and entertainment.
“Niccolo is good a projecting an image. I think it’s part of the job. But he’s very different when we’re together.”
A little bit of the truth, a little bit of a lie.
She knew there was more to him beneath the surface, but he never let it show. She’d seen glimpses of it when they were under duress. Like when she almost died. When he rescued her… sometimes, when everything felt dark… she felt how darkness had swallowed his whole life.
It was no excuse.
But it was true.
“Is he? I guess he’s very talented at appearing completely incompetent.”
This. This part of their game - she couldn’t figure it out. What did they gain by constantly bashing Niccolo? Was it a mind game, a way to try to get her to doubt him, to see him as less than he was?
Did they not fear it might backfire? Did they not think it might turn her against them? She knew him a lot more than she knew them. She was missing a piece of the puzzle and it was fucking frustrating. There was more to this than what she could see.
Was she supposed to keep defending him? Was she supposed to slip? To share? To turn her back on him?
It would be dangerous if he lost her support. After all, they had already talked about getting rid of him. What might they do if they thought it was of no consequence? Would anyone investigate this, would anyone get involved?
Another dead mobster. Would anyone care?
Gabriella used the only option she felt was available; silence.
One quick glance at Caterina was enough to know it displeased her. She wasn’t looking at the dozen of cousins and aunts and whatever other family members had been dragged to this stupid thing. Nope. She was her only focus.
She was trapped.
“Has your grandfather ever spoken of us?”
What a fucking turn around. Her grandfather? Oh no. Was this a test? Did they know about his condition? Or did they only find out he was in a old folks’ home? How much did they know? She was tethering the line, not sure which side to fall on. Lie and risk showing her hand, or tell the truth but risk revealing information that might but her grandfather in danger?
“The only time he mentioned anything about… your family… was to talk about my grandmother.”
“What did he say about her?”
“That I look like her.”
She chuckled. “He would be correct. For once.”
Did Caterina hate all men, or simply the ones who got involved with members of her family? What was the dynamic? If her sister was gone, shouldn’t she have gotten more? Did she get blamed for the marriage… why did it matter to her?
Sure, it was her sister. Gabriella loved her little brother. But to harbor this kind of rage? Something else was up. Come on, Gabby, what are you missing? What the fuck are you missing?
“What about your husband to be? As he mentioned us?”
Another trap question.
“He said that, my grandmother comes from a very old, reputable family.”
Her mouth twisted into a pout before she nodded. “Really?”
“Yes. He said you were one of the oldest families.”
“Nothing else? Nothing about your grandmother?”
She shrugged. “Only that she was the best of the best.”
“Yes, Isabella, Isabella. Beautiful, deadly. She was everyone’s dream.”
Caterina made no attempt to hide the jealousy that dripped from her every word. It was possible for jealousy and love to co-exist. It sounded like her sister got all the attention, and there was none left for Caterina. It didn’t mean she hated her.
Then again, from what she knew about the will, she might have screwed over a few people.
There was one thing out of place in this story. If Isabella married the wrong man, if she detached herself from her family and ran away… Then how was it that she had valuables to put in a will? How did she retain so much control over so many things?
Enough that to this day, it screwed over her family… to the point that they were here - trying to do something to Gabriella… all to get it back.
“So I’ve heard.”
“We didn’t know about you. Or your father.” She put down her glass. “I am sorry about your loss.”
Yeah right. “Thank you.”
“Your grandmother - or should I say, your grandfather. They went through great lengths to hide from us. It’s not an easy task. I never imagined my sister would run away this far.”
Obviously, Isabella went as far as she had to in order to make sure they couldn’t track her down. What was she running from?
“Love can make you do crazy things.”
“Is that what you think?”
“I never thought my life would be this… and yet…”
No, she didn’t love Niccolo, and it wasn’t what brought her to this point. Yet, her life had indeed spiraled out of control. Was it that crazy to think it could happen for love? Probably not.
“You are right. Love can make us do the craziest of things. A lot of mistakes.”
“Are you married?”
Caterina rolled her lips inwards, her neck tensing up as she wrapped her fingers around the stem of her glass. “I was married. I’m a widowed now.”
“So you’ve been in love.”
She laughed, tilting her head back just a bit. “Love? Oh sweetie. You kids… you have no idea how the real world is. You get that from your grandmother.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You marry for love now, for foolishness. This is why marriages don’t last. Back in my days, we married to help our families. To prosper.”
She frowned. “Like an arranged marriage?”
“When we are young, we are foolish. We believe we know better, but we do not, sweetie. Elders know better. They make the right decisions for us. Some of us forget that and make bad choices.”
Like her. She was comparing this to this current situation.
“Sometimes, we have to know what’s best for our family and put our own selfish feelings aside. Love never lasts.”
“I think love can last sometimes.” Her mother and her father were an example of that. Sure, her father was taken from them far too soon. She didn’t have many memories of him but - her mother still loved him. There was no room in her heart for anyone else. “Niccolo risked his life for me.”
She snorted. “Yes, the kidnapping incident. I heard about that.”
Caterina knew she was actually married already. She knew about that incident. What didn’t they know? What was the point of all this if she didn’t need any extra information? Was it really to pretend she was on her side?
“I was lucky that he found me.”
“Lucky? Is that what you called it?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
Caterina offered her a shrug. “From what I hear he is… I mean, that monster, what he did. Kidnapping you. That’s horrible.”
Yet, she wasn’t making it sound like it was terrible. She wasn’t asking her about her experience, she wasn’t sorry it happened to her. Even the word monster rolled off her tongue in a strange way.
“From what I heard, he wouldn’t - he shouldn’t have made mistakes like that. He was sloppy.”
“He was sloppy when he kidnapped me?” She meant to hide her disdain a little, but it came right out of her. Really? She pretended they were family but she cared more about what the Devil did or didn’t do?
Did her hatred for Niccolo blind her that much to the reality?
“Shouldn’t you be happy I was found? Otherwise you wouldn’t know about me and I wouldn’t know about you. We’d still be strangers.”
The words made her want to puke but she had to say them.
Caterina clapped a hand down on her arm. “Oh sweetie. I am glad he made a mistake. Who knows what might have happened to you? I would have never found you if it weren’t for his mistakes.” She raised her hand, cupping her cheek.
“I’m so thankful you are safe. What I meant to say is that you do not owe your entire safety to that man.” Why was there more hatred in her words when she spoke about Niccolo than the Devil? “The fact that you were released… the Devil was being amateur. He made rookie mistakes.” She cleared her throat. “You should thank your lucky star. Not that man.”
Gabriella did her best to smile, but her entire body was stiffed. She couldn’t trust Caterina. Nothing about her was genuine.
“Enough gleam talk! You’re safe, you’re sound and you are finally with your family. As it should be.” She raised her hand, signaling a waiter. “Another drink for my granddaughter, please.”
She smiled, turning her head to look at Gabriella. “I can call you that, Gabby? “I feel terrible that you were robbed of such an experience. It would be my ultimate pleasure to have a granddaughter like you.”
“S-sure.” She shrugged. “I- sorry, having a big family like this - it’s new.”
“Of course. And look at me, bringing up bad memories. It’s all in the past. You’re safe now. I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. I couldn’t help my sister, but I will help you.”
By controlling her whole life? By murdering her husband?
“Anything for you.”
Something wasn’t right.
Her words… her answers… it was staring right at her.
If only she could figure out what it was.
“Niccolo! Wake up.”
“Are you drunk?”
Niccolo was laying in bed, still dressed, the blankets over him. He had way too much clothes on. She knew he was his own version of a bachelor party tonight but - it was mostly with his men and the men from the Mancini family.
There was no way he had a good time.
He was most likely pissed off as hell.
“What the fuck?”
“I need to talk to you.”
He sat up, his eyes a bit unfocused as he slapped a hand on his face, dragging it down to his chin. He drank. Was he drunk?
“You need to talk to me?” he snapped. “Yeah, I had to spent the fucking evening with your psychotic family. I’m not in the mood for another round of blue balls.”
Right. She did do that - but in her defense, he completely deserved it.
“Niccolo - this is serious.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it is,” he said, rolling his eyes.
Okay no, she needed him to take her seriously. Except, she couldn’t say anything here. He told her that. Fuck. Her head hurt too. She had some more drinks after and - it wasn’t enough to be wasted, but it was enough to make her doubt herself.
This was why she needed to talk to him.
She needed Niccolo to tell her if she was crazy. If she had made up a story. Gabriella had spent the whole evening mulling it over, adding pieces of conversations to events of her life… Until a picture came to be.
The picture was wrong. It had to be.
Or maybe she wanted it to be because she was fucking scared of the truth.
She needed to get him somewhere safe. Somewhere they could talk in privacy. The shower. Gabriella gripped his arm, tugging at it. Initially, he gave her some resistance, but she kept tugging and tugging until he followed.
“What the hell?”
“I told you, I need to talk to you,” she said, dragging him in direction of the bathroom. He tumbled a bit, but he followed her. She slammed the door shut and then released him. She rubbed her face with her hands, her blood pumping, her heart racing.
She wanted to puke her guts out.
Okay. Okay. Breathing.
Oh the shower. She needed the shower to drown out the sounds.
She rushed to the shower, turning it on. She didn’t pay attention to the temperature. She wanted cover and nothing else. She turned around, sweat dripping down the side of her face, as she reached for Niccolo’s hand.
She didn’t give him a choice as she pulled him into the shower with her. They didn’t need to be in here. But it was hot. It was really hot in here. Was it her?
“Gabriella, what the fuck?” he said, freeing his hand from her hold.
“I need you to listen to me.” She gripped his sleeves, the water rendering the fabric heavy and dragging her fingers down. “Please.”
She was crazy. She had to be absolutely batshit crazy. It was the only option.
Well - she had pushed the both of them in the shower. Fully clothed.
No snarky comments, no flirting. He was still, staring down at her with his eyes wide open. He might take this seriously. She needed him to take this seriously.
“I may be insane.”
“Niccolo, this is serious. Please.” He reeked of alcohol. She could smell it still, even with the shower on. Still, he didn’t feel wasted. He should be lucid enough to hear this.
“Alright, what’s going on?”
“I - I don’t think it was about you.”
“What wasn’t about me?”
“I don’t think the Devil kidnapped me to get to you.”
He shrugged himself free from her grip, backing into the furthest wall of the shower, getting away from the dripping water. He slicked back his wet locks, his eyes never leaving her face.
“So what’s your theory then?”
“I-I think I - it was me. He wanted me.” Saying it out loud was terrifying. Her stomach was in knots, bile was churning in her stomach, threatening to make its way back up. “I- he knew my grandmother, remember?”
“Caterina… she was talking tonight…”
“She told you that he was after you?”
“No… but she knew that he kidnapped me.”
He chuckled. “Everyone knows what happened, princess. It’s not a well guarded secret.”
“I know.” God, could he not be arrogant for like five seconds? She was trying to still put it together herself. “Just - she mentioned that it was weird I got away. And it was weird.”
He could have taken her with him. Niccolo hadn’t reached her yet. He could have continued his sick games, but he didn’t. At the end of the day, it truly felt like it had all been his choices, his decisions… Neither of them had anything to do with it.
“He ran away like a coward.”
“Really, Niccolo? That adds up?”
He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I’ll play along. So what, you think he kidnapped you because… you look like your grandmother?”
“Caterina talked about… how everyone wanted my grandmother. Then she ran away. You can hate your family all you want… why run away? Why go so far?”
“To protect your grandfather.”
True. They had already talked about killing Niccolo. It was easy to assume they had the same kind of talk when her grandmother married her grandfather. So the theory held. It was possible she was making a bigger deal out of this than it was.
“To go this far? I know they’re powerful, I know they have money. But - that’s far. It’s a lot. They changed their whole lives. From the get go. Did she really know they would kill him? She went through with the wedding. She married my grandpa.”
“What are you getting at?”
“I told you, he was old. Older - much older. Old enough to be around her age.”
“Yeah I figured. When you said he mentioned your grandma, I assumed they were around the same age.”
“So what if Isabella wasn’t just running from her family?” Her voice was shaking, the water slipping into her mouth every time she spoke. “What if - what if she was running from him?” she whispered.
No one could hear, but the words she spoke were enough to terrify her. “Caterina talked about how back then… it was all about arranged marriages and people respected them. She was mad. What if the Devil wanted my grandma… and she ran with my grandpa?”
“And now you’re the replacement,” he finished for her.
Thank God he said it because she didn’t have it in her to finish that thought.
“Am I still crazy?” she asked, a half-smile on her face.
“Then why did he let you go?”
“What did I do that day, after he left?”
“I killed someone.” She turned, she shifted. She went past the point of no return. Her whole life changed and everything since then had been transformation and mistakes. After that, she could never be who she used to be.
“Isabella was well renown. Beautiful and deadly.”
“You weren’t ready.”
“I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t her. I only looked like her.”
“He was careless. That’s why he made mistakes. He saw you…”
“And I reminded him of Isabella - too much to wait.”
From everything she had heard about the Devil, Niccolo should have never found her. She thanked the Gods that he did, and she was grateful. But it was sloppy. That was because he decided to not be rational. He saw her and he acted in instincts. Her presence probably brought back too much for him to handle.
“He wants his promised bride.”
He wanted her.
He wanted her to fulfill this life and fantasy that his grandmother took from him. He didn’t care about Gabriella, he wanted his dream. He wanted it all.
The weight of it hit her like a wrecking ball. Her legs trembled and her knees buckled, forcing her to crumble to the ground. He touched her. He would do it again. He wanted to do it again. He wanted to take her life from her and force her into a mold that wasn’t her.
Why because she looked like her fucking grandmother? How was that fair? She didn’t ask for this. She didn’t ask for her life to be taken so that she could be someone else. So that she could be someone’s pet.
This was why Isabella ran. She didn’t want that life.
Well neither did Gabriella.
She couldn’t feel the tears because of the water, but she knew she was crying. Her heart ached, the pressure building in her chest each time she tried to breathe. They weren’t here really for the inheritance. They weren’t here to make sure to get it.
They were here to get their bargaining chip.
She was fu
cked - she was so fucked.
Gabriella felt Niccolo’s arms around her body as he pulled her in, pressing her face to his chest. He was hugging her, but she couldn’t feel any warmth - all she could feel was numbness.
“It’ll be alright.”
Would it? Would it really?