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Dark Protector

Dark Protector

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He says he’s saved me from a fate worse than death. But all I see is a future that was stolen from me.

Six months ago, my father promised me to the Bratva heir. My hand in marriage was meant to bridge the violence between our two families–Italian and Russian, mafia and Bratva–and bring peace.

Then my father died.

Now my godfather is my guardian. He believes the Bratva are ruthless animals, cruel and brutal, and that giving me over to them is signing my death warrant. So on my wedding day, he makes a fateful decision.

He takes me for himself.

Now I’m wed to the man who vowed to protect me. Who I vowed to love, honor, and obey. But there’s no honor in what he’s done. I can’t love a man who ruined my life. And obey him?


But our marriage bed can’t stay cold forever. And when forbidden desire finds its way into our marriage, I’m left with a choice.

I can hate the man who shattered my fantasy–or fall for my dark savior.

Dark Protector is a 🔥 full-length standalone!

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Chapter One

I’m so excited, I can hardly sit still.

It’s just one week until my wedding. But it’s more than just the wedding itself I’m excited about. Like so many other mafia daughters, my marriage is arranged. But unlike others, I had a hand in picking my future husband. A prince of the Bratva—the pakhan’s heir.

As I sit at one end of the long dining room’s breakfast table, picking at my plate of poached eggs, fruit, and toast, I can’t stop thinking that today is the last time I’ll get to see my fiancé before our wedding day. With the date so close, an entire week feels like an eternity. My skin prickles with anticipation, my mind filled with memories of all the moments we’ve spent together over our courtship. Of small touches and near-kisses, whispers that hint of everything still to come. My pulse flutters in my throat, imagining the moment when we won’t need to stop short of a kiss any longer—when we won’t have to stop at all. Just last week, I bought my lingerie for my wedding night while out shopping with my friends. Now, all I can think about is the moment that my new husband will undo my dress, and see what I chose for him. 

I’ve been lucky so far; I know that. Most girls in my position either don’t even meet their husbands until their wedding day—or they know who they’ll marry, but it’s not a match that they’re excited about. I’ve been to three weddings this past year alone, and all of the grooms made me feel all the more fortunate that my father cares about my choice in the matter.

Cared, rather. I swallow hard at the reminder that instead of my father sitting to my right at the breakfast table, it’s now my godfather and guardian, Salvatore Morelli. He glances up at me as I shift anxiously in my seat, raising one dark eyebrow.

“You’re energetic this morning,” he observes idly. “Something to do with the Lasilov heir coming by in a few hours?”

I bite my lip, unsure of how to respond. “You don’t always have to be so irritable about it,” I mutter, unable to keep as quiet about it as I know I should. My excitement dims just a little as I look at the stern expression on Salvatore’s face, and my irritation grows. “I know you don’t approve of Pyotr, but my father made the decision, not you.”

My petulance doesn’t seem to affect him. But then again, not much does. I look away from him, wanting to return to my daydreams about my wedding day, my first kiss at the altar, Pyotr’s lips finally touching mine after so long. His mouth has always looked warm and soft, and I’ve thought a hundred times at least about what it would feel like to be kissed. To be kissed by him, the man I’m promised to.

Salvatore’s voice breaks through my fantasy again, and I grit my teeth. 

“I served your father loyally for all of his life,” Salvatore says calmly. “I will continue to do so. A part of that is honoring his wish that I be your guardian until your marriage vows are said. Whether you like me here under your roof and at your table or not, Gia, that’s how things will be.”

I don’t like it. Every time Pyotr Lasilov is mentioned, or the Bratva in general, I can feel the tension in him. I can see the way his expression darkens. And although the mafia has long had no love for the Bratva, and vice versa, he seems to especially dislike them. 

“My marriage is supposed to bridge the gap between the two families,” I remind him. “That can only be a good thing, right?” Improved by the fact that I’m looking forward to my wedding day, rather than dreading it.

I stab irritably at a piece of strawberry on my plate—part of a spring fruit salad that our cook has made a regular part of the breakfast rotation for April. Since Salvatore came to live here, he’s quizzed me on things like that—how much I know about running a mafia household. Apparently, he thinks my future husband will expect me to be well-versed in managing the staff, directing the menus for the week, and generally overseeing the running of a mansion. I don’t actually think Pyotr will care about that at all—as far as I’m concerned, what’s the point of having a staff if I have to manage all of it? My father never insisted that I learn any of that, and our household has seemed to move along just fine. But my godfather appears to be of the opinion that was a major oversight in my education as a future mafia—or Bratva—wife.

If I’d grown up with a mother, maybe that would have been different. But she died when I was young, and my father remarried. He didn’t seem overly concerned about finding someone to teach me the things she would have, either.

Salvatore makes a noise low in his throat, one that seems disapproving to me. “You’ll have security for the meeting, as always. Don’t try to slip out of the gardens or sneak off anywhere private with him. Stay in full view of the guards at all times. Do you understand me?”

I let out a sharp, frustrated sigh. “Yes. I understand.”

He frowns. “You’re blushing, Gia. Whatever you’re thinking about your fiancé, it’s not appropriate for the breakfast table. Truthfully, it’s not appropriate for you to think about things like that at all.”

“Do you always have to be such a wet blanket?” I snap, pushing my plate away. My appetite is gone, because Salvatore seems intent on taking my anticipation and turning it into a lecture on good behavior. His reminder about the guards is just another way of doing that.

When it comes to that, at least, Salvatore and my father are similar—there’s always been a heavy guard on me and instructions that I not try to get away with sneaking off into dark corners with my intended. But my father was worried about things going too far, the natural desire of two young people who will eventually be married getting out of hand—and even I had to admit that was a possibility. The extent of it was one uncomfortable conversation where he pointed out to me that the Bratva could back out of the marriage if my innocence was lost before the vows were said, and I didn’t want that, did I? 

Since I very much want to marry Pyotr, I agreed. We’ve mostly kept our hands to ourselves. He hasn’t so much as gotten away with a kiss. And my frustration and eagerness to get to the wedding night has only been building with every week and month that has passed.

“Good.” Salvatore cuts a bit of sausage on his plate, looking at me levelly, with his dark, serious gaze. “The Bratva are dangerous, Gia. You need to be protected until the treaty is complete.”

I’m going to be the heir’s wife. They wouldn’t dare touch me. Pyotr would kill them. I bite my tongue because we’ve had this conversation before. Salvatore doesn’t trust the Bratva, seemingly believing that every interaction is an opportunity for them to cut us down in our own home instead of honoring my father’s arrangement. And I don’t understand why he thinks they’re one step away from being feral beasts. 

It’s all the more evident when they arrive. We’re waiting in the formal living room when Giorgi, the head of the house’s staff, shows Pyotr and his entourage in. I feel my heart leap in my chest the moment I see my fiancé—he looks as handsome as always, dressed in black wool suit trousers and a dark red button-down with the sleeves rolled up over his muscular forearms. His honey-blond hair is swept back from his face, dark blue eyes immediately lighting on me the moment they walk in, as if he’s been anticipating this moment just as much as I have. A half-smile curls his full mouth, his lips the only soft part of his otherwise strong, chiseled face. I feel a swirl of butterflies fluttering in my stomach when I remember that in one week, I’ll get to kiss those lips for the first time.

Or sooner than that, maybe. A part of me wants to try to sneak a kiss today, just to get back at my godfather for how strict and cold things have been since he’s arrived. He’s said over and over again that he’s only concerned for me, that he wants to make sure I’m protected and ready for my future. But I’m used to more freedom, and his way of doing things feels restrictive and oppressive.

My closest friend, Rosaria, thinks that it’s Salvatore’s way of handling his own grief over my father. He’s always been a dutiful man, I know that, and I can see that she might have a point—that he’s channeling his own sadness into making sure that nothing goes wrong for me. 

I, for my part, have been trying to remain hopeful, as much as I miss my father. Trying to look forward to the life he arranged for me, rather than allowing myself to be mired in grief. I don’t think he would want me to lose myself in sadness, and I’ve tried not to allow that to happen. The first few months were terrible, but in the past weeks, especially as the weather has warmed and I’ve been able to get out of the house a little more, I’ve started to feel my heart lighten a bit. And seeing Pyotr today will only help.

“Are you ready?” Pyotr glances at me and then at Salvatore. I can see his expression darken a little as soon as he looks at my godfather—it’s clear there’s no love lost on his side, either. “Where am I allowed to spend time with my dorogoy today?”

Dorogoy. Sweetheart. He taught me that word early on in our courtship, and I taught him the Italian word for the same—tesoro, or treasure. It was one of the sweet, romantic moments that I’ve held onto these past months—especially as the visits have been fewer since Salvatore has been in charge of things. His caution has meant I haven’t been able to see Pyotr as often—he felt that my father was too lax in allowing it as much as he did. He’s leaned on tradition heavily to justify it—that mafia daughters typically don’t see their husbands-to-be outside of formal events until the wedding, if at all—but it has felt overprotective to me, instead. That overbearing need to keep me safe from an imagined threat that’s hung over me since he came to live here.

“The gardens are fine,” Salvatore says, his voice clipped. “I’ll be in my office. My personal security will keep an eye on Gia, while the two of you spend time together.”

There’s a warning in his voice, and I look at him sharply. “Don’t be rude,” I whisper under my breath, a now-familiar fear springing up in my chest. Every time Pyotr has been here, Salvatore has been just-this-side of what seems rude to me—cold and sharp and just a hint of threatening. I’ve been afraid that Pyotr will take it badly, and that he or his father will call off the wedding, feeling insulted.

“Don’t forget your place,” Salvatore returns, his voice low and flat, his gaze still fixed steadily on the Bratva. He nods to Pyotr and then to me. “You may go.”

I feel my jaw tighten. I don’t like being told what to do, ordered around and dismissed, reminded of my place. Slowly, I stand up, and look nervously at Pyotr.

“Of course, your men may watch over her,” Pyotr says easily, from where he’s been standing since he and his entourage walked in. “Mine will come too, of course.”

“Of course.” Salvatore stands as well. The tension between the two men is thick and palpable, and I swallow hard. All I want is to be left alone with my fiancé.

Pyotr takes my hand, and I instantly feel more at ease as his fingers curl around mine. He looks at Salvatore, a hint of challenge on his face, as if to dare him to say something about Pyotr holding my hand. My father didn’t mind such things, but technically, Pyotr shouldn’t so much as touch me.

I see Salvatore’s gaze flick to our joined hands, and the muscle twitch in his jaw. But he says nothing, letting us walk out of the room as he and his guards follow.

I lead Pyotr to the back garden—he knows the way by now, since last summer when we first started courting after the marriage was arranged. But he lets me lead the way, which only makes me like him more. We walk through the house, to the large glass French doors that lead out to the paved walkway, and into the garden that’s beginning to bloom with life. It’s a bright, sunny day, warm with the fresh smell of last night’s rain and new flowers filling the air, and I breathe in deeply, turning to look at Pyotr with a smile on my face.

“I’m so happy to see you. It feels like it’s been an eternity.”

He chuckles, an amused expression on his handsome face. “It’s only been three weeks, dorogoy.”

“I know.” I pout teasingly, walking backward along the path as I lead him further into the garden. Behind him, Salvatore’s personal security and Pyotr’s bodyguards follow, looking ill at ease next to one another, watching us with a scrutiny that I try hard to ignore. There are always eyes on us, and I can’t wait for the day that there isn’t. “But we used to see each other more often. I don’t think we went longer than two weeks, while my father was alive.”

“Your godfather seems to prefer the old ways.” Pyotr catches up to me, his long stride easily eating up mine. He catches me with an arm around my waist, pulling me a little closer than he should, and my heart flutters. This has been the extent of our physical contact—moments where he pulls me close, his hand in mine, my leg touching his as we sit on a bench side-by-side. It’s only made the anticipation that much more intense—I can spend days after we meet, imagining what comes next. What would happen if we were ever alone. 

“But that doesn’t matter, dorogoy,” he murmurs, leaning down to whisper in my ear, as if daring to see how far he can push it before Salvatore’s men intercede and warn him away from me. “Soon, I’ll have you all to myself. Less than seven days now, and you’ll be mine. Milaya nevesta.”

Sweet bride. I feel my skin tingle, a flush of warmth filling me as I look up at him. There’s a dark gleam in his blue eyes, one that makes me feel that hot, curling anticipation low in my stomach. 

Mio marito,” I murmur. My husband. I touch his arm just above his elbow, where he’s holding me, feeling the firm muscle under my fingertips. I feel almost dizzy with want. There’s so much I’ve imagined, and so much that I don’t really know yet. Only six days left.

I hear one of the guards, a little further down the path, clear his throat. Pyotr loosens his hold on me a little, allowing a sliver of space between us, but he doesn’t take his arm away from my waist. He grins at me, a mischievous glitter of rebellion in his eyes, and an answering smile spreads across my face.

This has always been what’s attracted me to him—what I’ve been drawn to since our very first meeting. My father knew it would, and he told me as much, when we first spoke after Pyotr and I were introduced to one another. 

“It doesn’t matter what Salvatore thinks, either,” Pyotr continues as if reading my thoughts. “Your father wanted us to marry, and that’s all I or the pakhan care about. He arranged the treaty, he and your late father, not your godfather. He simply stood by and advised. We’ll honor the old don’s wishes, not the new one.” 

“My father thought we’d be good for one another.” A mafia princess and Bratva heir—the new ruling couple of a joined family. I’ve always been outspoken, disliking the structure and rules of the mafia. Instead of trying to stifle that or force it out of me, my father encouraged it instead. He told me that he would try to find a husband for me who would both benefit the family and who would appreciate my brazenness, someone who could allow me to be an equal with him rather than a subservient bride. “That we’d challenge one another,” I add, glancing at Pyotr. “He said you and your family are strong-willed, and so am I. He felt we’d complement one another, rather than clashing.”

It’s a conversation we’ve had before, but so close to our wedding, I want the reassurance once more that I’m truly what Pyotr wants. And he’s doing a good job of making me feel better, as always.

Pyotr chuckles, turning to face me. “I’m looking forward to having a strong-willed bride,” he murmurs, reaching down to touch my chin. His fingers are a little rough, his thumb sweeping over the edge of my jaw, and a shiver runs down my spine all the way to my toes. My knees feel a little weak, my skin tight, my heart racing faster than it should as I look at his handsome face above mine. I want him to kiss me so badly that it almost hurts. “I’m looking forward to finding out what it’s like to have your will match mine, dorogoy.”

There’s an edge to his voice that I can only interpret as desire. His gaze is dark and hot, and I can feel the world narrow down around us, almost to the point that I can forget that the guards are so close, watching us. 

But they are there, and I can’t forget it entirely. More to the point, I don’t want them to report something back to Salvatore that will earn me a lecture, or give him a reason to argue that Pyotr is taking advantage of me, and push back against the wedding. I can wait six more days. 

Even if, right now, I feel as if I’m going to die from waiting.

“I can feel how much you want me, dorogoy,” Pyotr murmurs, his thumb brushing over the back of my hand. “Our wedding night can’t come soon enough.”

“It’s not just that.” I look up at him, feeling that shiver of excitement in my veins again. “It’s—this is the last thing that my father wanted. He spent his last six months alive arranging this marriage, seeking out peace between our families, trying to ensure that my godfather would inherit a stronger mafia by creating peace instead of war.” I bite my lip, hoping that he’ll understand, that he won’t think I’m being silly. “It feels like this marriage is the last thing I can do for my father. I can do one last thing to honor his wishes. And I’m hopeful that we’ll be happy, too. I’d like to be happy, after so much sadness these last six months.”

“I have every intention of being happy.” Pyotr smiles at me, as we sit down on a bench opposite the large garden fountain together. “Our marriage will join two families, and we’ll no longer be in conflict with one another. I can’t imagine why your godfather bucks against it in the slightest. It’s been decades since the Italians and Russians haven’t been in open conflict with one another.”

“It’s quite an achievement. My father’s last achievement.” I lean back against the carved stone back of the bench, my fingers still laced with Pyotr’s. “Is there a garden like this behind your house? I still haven’t seen it.” There was some talk, in the early months of our courtship, of my being allowed to visit Pyotr’s family mansion with an escort of guards. But the visit never happened, and Salvatore quickly vetoed that idea the moment he had a say in the matter.

“No garden. I have a penthouse in the city. It’s very luxurious and grand; I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.” Pyotr glances at me, and I think I see a small flicker of annoyance at the disappointment I can’t quite hide. “You’ll be pleased with it. You won’t want for anything—I have a full staff, and they’ll be at your disposal.”

“Of course.” I hadn’t thought that Pyotr might live somewhere very different from what I’m used to—a huge mansion outside of the city with sprawling grounds. I’m not sure how I feel about living in the actual city, but I tell myself that the novelty of it will outweigh anything I might miss. And there’s no reason I can’t come back here to visit, if I want to get out of the noise and bustle of the city for a little while. Pyotr would never tell me that I can’t come back home. “I’m excited to see it.”

“You’ll see it in a week, dorogoy.” His voice lowers to something darker, more intimate. “I have plans to take you home for our wedding night. I thought I would surprise you, but I can see you’re a little disappointed, sladkiy. Instead of an impersonal hotel, I thought you would like our first night to be in our own bed. Where we’ll spend every night after that.”

I can’t help but smile at that. “That’s very romantic,” I murmur softly, squeezing his hand. “You’re right. There’s no reason I’ll be anything but happy, so long as I have you.”

The look he gives me makes my heart flutter wildly in my chest. I spent so much of my early teenage years worrying that I’d be given to some old man, or married to a stuck-up, uptight mafia son, one of the many irritating boys I encountered over the course of growing up, at dinner parties and events that I was allowed to attend. But instead, I’m being given to the Bratva heir—a rebellious, handsome man who fits every sexy bad-boy fantasy I’ve ever had. A husband who will encourage my wildness, my stubborn streak, my willfulness, rather than try to break and mold me into what he wants. A man who will desire me all the more for it because we’re the same.

Marriage is the end of happiness for so many mafia daughters. But for me, it’s the beginning of everything I’ve wanted—a fantasy I was afraid to believe in until my father gave me the choice of marrying Pyotr.

A little while later, one of my godfather’s guards approaches, clearing his throat. “It’s getting late, Miss D’Amelio,” he says, glancing between the two of us. “Don Morelli will want you to be ready to join him for dinner, soon.”

I’m not ready for Pyotr to leave. But he’s right, of course—I need to change for dinner…the floaty blush pink sundress and white denim jacket that I wore for my “date” with Pyotr won’t be acceptable. 

“Alright.” I look at Pyotr, who is already standing up, tugging me up from the bench with his hand still firmly entwined in mine. “I’ll see you in six days?”

“On our wedding day, moya nevesta.” He smiles at me, that dark, heated gleam still in his eyes. I feel a quiver of anticipation—and a flicker of disappointment, mixed with longing, as I look at his full, smiling mouth. I wanted that kiss, but we lost our chance. I didn’t push the issue, and Pyotr seemed inclined to wait, testing the boundaries in other ways. 

He lets go of my hand as we walk back into the house, giving me one final nod before he follows his entourage to the foyer, and out of the front door. I’m left with Salvatore’s guards, who are standing awkwardly nearby, watching the Bratva leave.

“You can go now,” I snap, feeling irritable as the door closes behind Pyotr. A week feels too long, and I’m filled with anxiety; the moment of our marriage is so close but still so far away. The last six months have felt strange, uncertain—getting used to my father being gone and someone new watching over me all at the same time. I’m ready to move forward with my life, and what was planned for me. “Unless my godfather ordered you to come upstairs with me while I get ready, too?”

“Of course not, Miss D’Amelio.” Josef, the one in charge of Salvatore’s personal security, motions to the others. “Let’s go.”

I let out a sigh as they walk away, turning to head upstairs. I have an hour to get ready for dinner, and I want nothing more than to lie down for at least half of that.

Salvatore is tense and silent at dinner. We’re served formally, something that my father often eschewed, feeling that a typical four-course dinner brought in course-by-course for two people was a little ridiculous. He saved the formalities for dinner parties. But Salvatore seems to like the structure of it—or at least, believes it’s important that I get used to it.

“Is this how the Bratva structure their days?” I ask, a little testily over the first course of lemon and crab soup. “Formal meals? Dressing in business casual at the table?”

Salvatore glances up at me, tearing a corner of his bread off and dipping it in the saucer of herbed olive oil in front of us. “I don’t pretend to know what Pyotr Lasilov does at home. You’ll be living alone with him, his staff, and his guards at his penthouse. Has he told you that?” 

“He mentioned it today, yes.” I drag my spoon through my soup, feeling my appetite beginning to fade. I wish I could simply fast-forward through the next six days, and wake up on the morning of my wedding. 

Salvatore’s expression remains neutral. He’s a difficult man to read, and after so many years of closeness between me and the only other person I lived with—my father—I often find it frustrating. “And how do you feel about that, Gia?”

I shrug, taking a small bite of my soup. “Fine. I’m sure it’s beautiful. It probably has a gorgeous view of the city—maybe even a spa in the building. A rooftop pool. A concierge. Whatever I could possibly ask for.”

Salvatore nods. “Well. You’ll be expected to attend family dinners with the Lasilov heir’s family, I assume. I gather even the Bratva have events, from time to time, dinner parties. You will be expected to behave in a way that befits the future pakhan’s bride, and in a way that suggests you’ve been raised as a don’s daughter, not a feral child. So you should know how to dress and act formally at the table.”

“My father didn’t completely neglect my education.” I narrow my eyes at him, feeling the sudden and almost undeniable urge to take my frustration out on him. “Anyway, who are you to be lecturing me about manners? You were rude to Pyotr earlier. Don’t pretend you weren’t.”

“I was firm.” He finishes his soup, pushing the china bowl back slightly as we wait for the next course. “I made certain he understood you would be supervised, and that attempts to harm you or take liberties with your person would not be permitted. I won’t allow that boy to take an inch with you, until he’s said his vows and made good on his father’s promises.”

“He wouldn’t.” I lift my chin, a little defiantly. “Pyotr is a gentleman.”

Salvatore’s eyes darken. “You have no understanding of the Bratva, Gia. Your father sheltered you, even if he did spoil you—”

“I’m not spoiled,” I mutter, and Salvatore chuckles.

“You are a mafia princess, Gia.” There’s a hint of tenderness as he says my name, and I look up at him, seeing his expression soften slightly. “You were always going to be spoiled, one way or another. Your father allowed you to run a bit wild, and that was his prerogative. But it’s mine, now, to ensure you’re protected. That means letting me concern myself with your future, and how it’s handled. My interactions with the Bratva are not for you to worry about.”

“I’m the reason for the treaty.” I know I sound petulant, but I’m not entirely sure I care. “My choice to agree to this marriage is why there will be peace. And you’re meant to honor my father’s wishes, too,” I add, leveling my gaze at him. “He arranged this, and you know it. So you shouldn’t endanger it by being rude to my future husband.”

“Your future husband, indeed,” Salvatore muses. His gaze flicks to my right hand, holding the silver spoon still trailing through my soup. “Pyotr didn’t give you an engagement ring, did he?”

“You were there for the betrothal ceremony.” I shrug. “You saw the whole thing. It’s not their custom.”

“But it is ours.” Salvatore’s voice is even and cool. “It would have been a gesture of goodwill, for him to respect our customs and give his future bride a ring. But then again, I suppose the Bratva would see it as poor taste to give away a gem when they could profit off of it.”

I’m vaguely aware of what my godfather is getting at—the Lasilov family owns a number of foreign mines, not all of them operating strictly legally, most likely. But it’s not as if our family operates with any concern for the law, either. “Or I could respect theirs, and not expect one.”

“Fair enough.” Salvatore looks almost amused, sitting back as one of the staff comes to collect our soup bowls while another replaces them with salads. “You should be cautious, Gia. Not so trusting of your new husband. The ring is just an example. They will stick to their ways, and expect you to forget all of yours. You will be one of them, but they won’t try to behave as one of us at all.”

“This is a treaty. It goes both ways.” I stab my fork into a tomato, feeling frustrated with all of it. I don’t really want to talk family politics over the dinner table with my godfather. “Anyway, I won’t be your problem in a week, any longer. I’ll be married, and you can focus on business, like you always have.”

Salvatore frowns. “You’re not a problem, Gia.” His voice has softened again, slightly, and I glance over at him. He almost looks a little hurt by what I’ve said—although I can’t really imagine anything hurting him. He’s always been unflappable, impenetrable, the solid wall between my father, me, and anything that might dare to threaten us. My father’s voice if need be, his pen if necessary, and his most trusted friend. My father and Salvatore have always been two halves of one ruling man.

Which makes me wonder, yet again, why Salvatore seems so uncertain about this decision now.

“I’m meeting with them tomorrow to discuss the wedding,” he says, sitting back and looking at me. “I want to be sure that without your father here, the terms of the treaty will still be upheld.”

“What do you mean?” I feel that flicker of fear again. “A meeting? Why wouldn’t they—”

“It’s a precaution, Gia.” Salvatore sounds suddenly tired. “I’m looking out for your own best interests.”

“My best interests are that this wedding happen, as planned.” My throat feels tight, and I swallow hard, trying not to let my panic show. “Salvatore—”

“We don’t need to discuss it any further. We’ll talk tomorrow.” He turns his attention back to his plate, and I can see from his posture and the shuttered look on his face that the conversation is finished, whether I like it or not.

I don’t like it. And if my godfather thinks he can stop me from marrying Pyotr at the last minute—

He’ll find out that willful doesn’t begin to describe how I can behave.

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