Elaina Duval lived a perfectly happy and normal life with her mother—until the day she turned eighteen, that is. On her birthday she discovers she’s been promised to the cruel and heartless Valentino Acerbi, soon to be capo of the Italian Mafia. With no choice or say in the matter, she’s dragged into his twisted world and forced to endure things no human should have to, but what if she begins to like it?
Age Rating: 18+ (Content Warning: Violence, Sexual Abuse, Rape, Human Trafficking)
Twisted Minds by Cassandra Rock is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.
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Are you happy?
I know it’s a ridiculous question to ask, but really think about it for a second. Are you happy?
If you are, hold onto that for as long as you can, because I have learned that above everything, not all things happy in life last forever.
Not even I, being a normal girl from Ohio, could be happy forever after living what I thought was a normal life.
Aside from not having a dad, my mom and I had always been close.
But just because I didn’t have a dad in the picture didn’t mean my life wasn’t normal. Plenty of people only have one parent in their lives, and they turn out fine. So could I.
All of my life, it has been my mom and me, the strong-willed woman and her only daughter.
My mom is the owner of a cake shop Duval’s Cakes, and after graduating high school, I spent the summer there helping her.
I added icing around the edges of a graduation cake someone ordered, and just as I was about to add the finishing touches, the lights in the cake shop went off.
“Mom?” I asked, lifting my head and attempting to get a clear view, but everything was too dark.
The staff room door squeaked open, and my mom’s face, along with my best friend Kira, was lit up from the candlelight.
They began to sing “Happy Birthday” to me as she walked out of the staff room and toward me, causing me to laugh and set the icing aside.
“Make a wish, Elaina,” Kira said to me.
Today is my eighteenth birthday, the day I’m supposed to become an adult, and it should be the happiest day of my life.
I hadn’t thought much of it. I focused on working at the shop, but having Kira and my mom here made me feel more in the mood to celebrate.
I closed my eyes and thought of a wish before blowing out the candles. I didn’t wish for anything, because in that moment, I didn’t need anything. I already had everything I wanted.
I had built my life the way I wanted it to be, and no wish I made would change that; actions would.
As I opened my eyes, I smiled at my mom and Kira. “Shall we cut the cake?”
We sat together at a small table in the cake shop that was close to the window. Since we were closed at this late hour, we had the whole place to ourselves, and the privacy was nice.
While we enjoyed the fresh cake my mom had baked for me, Mom and Kira also passed their birthday gifts to me.
They consisted of a best friend charm bracelet, and my mom gave me a limited edition copy of The Great Gatsby, which happened to be my favorite novel.
“I’m also trying to get us tickets to that Pitbull concert,” Kira explained to me, seeming disappointed. “They’re sold out, but I might be able to get some for the show in New York.”
My jaw dropped in excitement. “You’re kidding? Kira!”
My mom simply shook her head. “No. I’m sorry, but you’re not leaving Ohio, Elaina.”
“What?” I asked.
“I said, you’re not leaving Ohio. Do the concert, but only if it’s in this state…” She cleared her throat. “I, uh…I’m not comfortable with you leaving the state.”
It’s seemed highly unfair that she felt like she had that type of control over my life, especially now she legally didn’t.
“Mom, I’m eighteen now. I’m an adult,” I explained to her as politely as I could. “I’ll be okay. Kira isn’t even sure yet.”
My mom’s gaze met Kira’s. “I’m kindly telling Kira to not waste her money because you are not leaving the state. Ever.”
I had no intention of staying in Ohio forever. I planned on doing my schooling elsewhere and escaping this town.
But the way my mother stated this made me feel trapped, and I could only wonder about the meaning behind her words.
The lack of control she had over my now that I was eighteen seemed to scare her. Though she wouldn’t admit it, I could see it in her eyes.
Kira cleared her throat, uncomfortable. “I should be heading home. I have this…thing tomorrow.”
She was escaping—something I wished I could do. I wasn’t sure why my mom was so adamant about this, but I knew it was about more than being overprotective of me.
I sat on my bed the following day, still attempting to understand my mom’s reasoning behind her control over me. When I thought about it, she had always been like this.
In the tenth grade, my class took a trip to Canada to explore Niagara Falls, but I wasn’t allowed to go.
For Kira’s sixteenth birthday, her parents took her three closest friends to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but my mom refused to let me go.
It was a never-ending cycle, and now that I was eighteen, she couldn’t prevent me from experiencing the things that I wanted to enjoy in life.
My phone buzzed with a text from Kira.
I smiled to myself. She was hosting a birthday party for me that was luckily in the same state, so I could attend without my mom getting furious and forbidding me to go.
Of course I would go—the party was for me, no matter how much I didn’t feel like celebrating. The feelings just weren’t there now that I was sensing all the stress from my mom.
She was hurt by my words yesterday even though I was hurt from her holding me back from things all teenagers my age do—things that legally, she had no say in.
Regardless, she was my mom, and I respected her opinion, so I didn’t necessarily just go against her anyway.
As I stood from my bed, I decided to checkup on my mom and tell her that I would be attending my birthday party tonight.
My hopes were that we could just move past this negativity today, for my birthday, and discuss everything else later.
I hurried down the steps that led to the foyer of our small home. “Mom? Kira is hosting a birthday party for me. I’m going to b—”
I stopped as I noticed my mom in the foyer with three men whom I’d never seen before—not that I could recall. She didn’t seem happy to see them, and they were dressed extremely formal.
Perhaps this was about a cake order, but we weren’t at the shop, so house calls seemed a little too personal.
“Mom?” I asked as I took the final step, reaching the floor and looking at my mom’s nervous features.
“Elaina, go upstairs,” my mom responded quickly before one of the men cut her off.
“No, no. That isn’t necessary, Fiona. Let Elaina stay. I’m sure she’s very curious.” The man spoke with a thick accent that seemed European.
While the other two men stayed silent, the man who seemed to be running the show continued, “Ah, sweet Elaina. You have no idea, do you?”
He took a step closer in my direction, and I hesitantly stepped back, looking over at my mom who quickly stepped forward to stop him from coming closer to me.
“Do not interrupt me, Fiona. Not when I’m talking to my daughter.” The man, Vadim, smirked darkly at me. “That’s right, sweetheart. I’m your father.”
My father? My mortified eyes met my mother’s. She looked devastated but didn’t deny anything. If anything, she looked shocked that I’d found out this way.
“Mom! He’s lying…” I said, and when she didn’t say anything, I raised my voice again. “Mom!”
“Ah, such a spitfire. You get that from me,” Vadim said with an amused tone. “Let’s catch up, my dear.”
“Let’s not,” I snapped at him. “Get out of my house!”
I turned to run up the stairs, not having a moment to take any of this in before I felt an arm grip my wrist tightly and pull me back.
“Do not talk to me in that manner,” Vadim scolded in an extremely stern tone, but his ice-cold eyes bore into mine as if he had some kind of high authority over me.
I just stared at him, my mom not saying a word, as the other two men stayed silent while my suddenly present father appeared out of nowhere.
“Why are you here?” I asked him softly. “Why now?”
He furrowed his brow as if I had just asked him the most ridiculous question in the world. “Your mother knew I was coming. This was always the plan, Elaina. You’re eighteen now.”
“What does being eighteen have to do with this? Just yesterday, I was seventeen. One day doesn’t make a difference.” I attempted to prove my case, but it seemed impossible.
“It does, actually.”
“Vadim, please let me talk to her first,” my mom begged him, and I stared at her, confused. Why was she bowing down to this disgusting excuse of a man? He seemed terrible.
He simply raised his hand to shush her before continuing. “You’ve had eighteen years to talk to her, Fiona. She’s mine now.”
“Yours!” My eyes grew wide before Vadim began to speak in a language that I assumed was Russian. He seemed Russian based on the accent, and he had a lot of similar features.
I’m not one to stereotype, but the language was a hard giveaway.
If he’s my father biologically, then I have Russian blood.
After his rant in his language, one of the men strode toward me and held me firmly so I couldn’t move while the other stopped my mom from doing anything.
This wasn’t real. It had to be some practical joke.
“You see, Elaina, your mother has known she would only have you for eighteen years…” Vadim explained to me.
“I’ve been providing for you both under the condition that when you turn eighteen, you leave with me.”
But why did he want me now, and why did my mom agree to this? For my entire life, my mom knew that she was losing time with me, and she made no attempt to even let me know.
I stared at my mom who had tears rolling down her cheeks as she mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry? She’s serious. I’m sorry doesn’t cut it.
“I don’t want to go. So I kindly reject your offer,” I told Vadim, struggling in the other man’s grip.
“Elaina, you need to listen to him,” my mom warned me, but I was done listening to anything she said.
She set me up for this. I could have run or tried to hide from this man who was supposedly my father, but now, I was trapped for God knows how long.
Vadim lifted my chin and gave a bone-chilling smile. “Sweetheart, you have no idea who you’re talking to, do you?”
“Not my father,” I spat, looking away from him only to have my chin yanked back quickly, which took me off-guard.
He stared at me, silence filling the room for a deadly amount of time, which may have seemed like a dramatic buildup for him, but for me was a terrifying moment in which I had no idea what to expect.
“I am Vadim Vasiliev, leader of the Russian Mafia, my dear. Which makes you, my only child, Elaina Vasiliev.”
Black. That was it—everything went black. But it isn’t what you think. I didn’t pass out. I wasn’t so shocked that I fell to the ground in complete dismay.
As my vision went black, I felt a sting in my side, a similar sensation to the feeling you get when you get blood work or have a vaccine.
After hearing that the man in front of me was claiming to be a part of the Russian Mafia, I was injected with something that instantly made me pass out, and that was it.
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”Hurry, honey. We need to leave.” My mom was rushing me, but I had no idea why. Everything was fine when I went to bed. Everything was always fine.
I watched from my bedside as my mom stuffed some of my clothes into a suitcase, and all I could manage to say was, “Are we leaving, Mommy?”
She looked at me, and her expression frightened me. She looked scared. If Mom was scared then I should be too. She was the one who was supposed to protect me.
”Just for a little while.”
”But why? I don’t want to go.”
I quickly grabbed the stuffed bunny from my bed, holding it tightly in my arms. If I was being forced to leave home, as a four-year-old child, I needed my stuffed bunny.
”I promise it’ll all make sense eventually,” my mom said to me before taking my hand and leading me down the stairs in my PJs.
There was already one suitcase waiting. It must be Mommy’s. Although she said that it would make sense, right now, everything was so confusing.
”I’m going to take our bags to the car. You wait here, okay?” she told me, and I responded with a simple nod.
I watched as my mom picked up her suitcase and unlocked the door.
It wasn’t until she opened the front door that we realized a tall man was waiting. His presence alone terrified her, causing her to scream and step back.
”What did I say, Fiona? You don’t leave. I’ll always be one step ahead,” the scary man chuckled before looking at me. “Go back to sleep, Elaina. You and your mother aren’t going anywhere.”
I opened my eyes to the sight of an unfamiliar room. It was large and far too spacious. I didn’t need half of the space, but that was the least of my concerns.
I wasn’t home, and I had no idea where I was.
Sliding carefully off the bed, I stood carefully and walked to the door. Someone could be on the on other side. Vadim could be on the other side.
But the door seemed like the obvious choice at this point.
I attempted to open the door, but it was locked from the outside. Even after tugging and shaking on the doorknob, it didn’t budge, so I proceeded to bang on the door furiously.
This was insane. My life was completely upside down for reasons I no longer understood.
Suddenly, the door was pushed opened, causing me to fall back on the floor.
I looked up to see one of the men who was at my house before I blacked out. He was still dressed in a suit, and he still wasn’t smiling.
“Your father wants to see you.”
“He isn’t my father,” I answered without really thinking about any possible consequences.
He didn’t respond other than motioning his head for me to stand. “Up.”
You don’t have to listen to him, is what I continued to tell myself, but that was against my better judgment. Of course I did. If these were the people Vadim said they were, I could be in great danger.
How I’d managed to get myself into this situation I had no idea, just like I had no idea how I would get myself out.
I stood from the floor and followed behind the man as he led me down the hallway. The hallway was long, slightly dark, and not a bit welcoming in my opinion.
The floors were covered with red carpet, and I’ve always recognized red carpet as a fancy or superior type of décor. But that’s just me.
The hall was covered with various doors, which made me wonder how many people lived here and where exactly here was. It seemed gigantic. No one in Ohio had a home this large.
The man stopped at a door that was fairly larger than the others and knocked. “Sir, it’s Viktor.”
I heard Vadim respond, “Come in, Viktor.”
Viktor opened the door, and Vadim sat behind a large cherry-colored desk, writing things as though he were a businessman.
But what caused my heart to drop was the gun I noticed casually sitting on the top of his desk.
“Lovely, isn’t it?”
I looked up after realizing I had been staring at the gun. “I…”
“I bet you’re wondering, ‘Has he killed people with that gun?’ or, ‘Was he actually telling the truth?’
“Well, my dear, the answer to both of those questions is yes,” Vadim said with a proud smile on his face before setting his pen down. “Give us a moment, would you, Viktor?”
Viktor nodded and left the room. Now, it was just Vadim and me, along with that terrifying silver gun I couldn’t stop staring at.
“Take a seat, Elaina. We have a lot to talk about.” He motioned to the seat in front of him. As he picked up the gun, I instantly stepped back, which caused a chuckle to escape his devilish lips.
“You can’t seriously think I brought you all this way to kill you? Take a seat, Elaina. I won’t ask again.”
All this way? How far were we?
I slowly took a seat in a chair that was positioned in front of his desk, placing my hands on my lap. “Where…where are we?”
“While you were napping, I brought you home to Chicago,” he answered, causing my eyes to grow wide.
My heart began to race as things became clear. This was a kidnapping. I wasn’t even in the same state anymore.
“Where’s my mom?”
“Don’t worry about her. She’s fine…for now. As long as you follow instructions, your mother will not be harmed,” Vadim assured me, but not knowing what instructions I had to follow concerned me.
He stood up from his desk and walked around it to reach the side of me. “The thing about our family business is trust, Elaina. That, and bonds.
“We need to have close relationships with as many people as possible, strong people, for our benefit.”
He referred to this Mafia stuff as a family business, as if it were something to be proud of. It was criminal, and no one was stopping them.
If they’re a Mafia, where the hell are the police?
“We’re creating ties with the Italians. It’s a fantastic opportunity and a great power move,” he continued on, but how this involved me I had no idea.
“The head of the Italian Mafia is Marco Acerbi. Do you know what Acerbi stands for, Elaina?”
I simply shook my head.
“It means harsh. They’re strong people—they live up to their surname. We need their union.” Vadim lifted my chin to look up at him before casually stating, “To get that, our families are to unite.
“You are to wed Marco’s son Valentino.”
My mouth gaped open, and I looked at him with complete shock in my eyes before I said in an adamant tone, “No.”
Before I could realize how stupid I was for talking back to this stranger who had proven himself to be a danger, the back of his hand met my face, and I held onto the side of the chair for support.
“Do not talk to me that way. You will respect me, and when the Acerbis come over tonight, you will respect them also.” He was glaring at me now and speaking through his teeth.
My face was burning, and I knew that a mark would be left based on the pain I felt. Never in my life had I been hit. Not by my mother, not even by a kid at school. This was a first.
They were coming here. The Italians. I was stuck in a house full of Mafia people who were using me as a pawn in their personal dealings.
Vadim referred to them as harsh, which didn’t make meeting them seem any easier.
He was going to force me with marry a stranger, a criminal at that, all to create bonds within some illegal business.
My adult life didn’t begin the day I turned eighteen; my entire life ended.
Vadim sent up a dress to the room I woke up in earlier the same day so I could prepare myself for dinner with the Acerbis.
He was practically wrapping me up like a present and putting a bow on me for them. It seemed like some kind of sex trade.
To think that somehow in this sick, twisted world he was biologically my father disgusted me more.
He didn’t have a paternal bone in his body. It was all power, but then again, that’s what Mafia is supposed to be as far as I know.
Up until now, I didn’t even know the Mafia still existed. I always thought they disappeared in the seventies or eighties.
I stood in front of a stand-up mirror that was placed in the room, looking at the dress and deeply concerned about the fact it fit me perfectly. It wasn’t too small, nor too big. It was the perfect size.
The black fabric hugged my body and fell just above my knee, showing slight cleavage.
Black isn’t exactly the color I would have chosen for the occasion. It made me feel like I was going to a funeral—but then again, it could be my funeral.
There was a knock at the door, and I glanced at it nervously. “Yes?”
As the door opened slightly, Viktor motioned backward. “Hurry up. The Acerbis have arrived.”
“Uh…do we have any makeup?” It was a ridiculous question, I was well aware, but the large bruise on me face from the smack Vadim had given me was quite visible.
If only I had foundation to cover it up or something.
Viktor rolled his eyes. “Look, princess, your father didn’t bring you here to spoil you. Two minutes.”
That was something I was already well aware of: he wasn’t a father; he was a businessman. I didn’t want to get married, but I also wanted my mom to be safe.
So now, I had to go downstairs and have dinner with a group of maniacs who had guns attached to their hips.
There would be no comfort whatsoever in that situation, but it was something I was forced to live with until I could find a way out—and I would find a way out.
I adjusted my long brown hair, keeping it basic and down. It wasn’t as if I had anything to work with, and I had no intention of impressing anyone. This was misery at its finest.
When I opened the door, Viktor was impatiently waiting for me and started leading me downstairs without a word.
He was quite intimidating to say the least. He never showed any emotion and barely ever spoke. It was all following orders and whatnot.
I hadn’t had a chance to look around yet, though I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to. I’d been locked in that room all day, kind of like Rapunzel, but my hair couldn’t save me from this mess.
We reached the downstairs, and Viktor opened the large doors that led to the dining area. Across from Vadim, two men were sitting, also wearing expensive-looking suits.
I could have sworn they heard me gulp because they all seemed to look in my direction as I did.
“There she is,” Vadim announced before motioning to the seat next to him. “Sit, Elaina.”
I tucked a strand of my brunette hair behind my ear and slowly walked toward the table. I could feel my body shaking, and I knew that it was visible.
I was terrified. I couldn’t just hide that. Especially now that there were multiple people having a conversation about my life and I had no control over it.
Slowly, I eased down in the chair next to Vadim but stared at the currently empty plate. Empty like my heart.
“Elaina, don’t be rude. Allow me to introduce you,” Vadim scolded me, which caused me to lift my head obediently. The last thing I wanted was another slap in the face.
He motioned toward the older man with black hair, a slight gray going through it. “This is Marco Acerbi.”
“Hello,” I spoke softly, but it came out as a squeak. He was just as Vadim described. He had a harsh look, stern almost, and there wasn’t the slightest welcome on his face.
He didn’t even return my hello.
Vadim then turned to the younger man, a smile appearing on his face, and I already knew exactly who this was. “This is Valentino Acerbi. He’s next in line to become capo of the Italians.”
“Capo?” I questioned. I recalled hearing Vadim say it earlier, but I hadn’t thought much of it.
“Leader,” Vadim told me.
I glanced at Valentino. His eyes were dark brown and emotionless. He had black hair that didn’t seem the slightest bit out of place and a fair amount of stubble on his face.
He wasn’t a teenager, that I was sure of, and he also got his stern appearance from his father.
His lips pressed into a fine line, and no one cared to mention the fact there was a marriage being forced upon us.
“I’m impressed, Vadim,” Marco eventually spoke up. “Eighteen years of keeping your daughter in hiding for safekeeping. Well done.”
“It’s a dangerous business,” he responded curtly, “and I expect Valentino will take that job just as seriously when Elaina becomes an Acerbi.”
Valentino didn’t get a chance to speak for himself; his father spoke for him. “We value family very much.
“The Acerbi name is important, and as soon as she becomes a part of the family, you can consider her untouchable.”
I noticed the smirk on Vadim’s face grow wide. “I suppose we have a wedding to plan.”
We. As in they had a wedding to plan. I’m being sold to a man who cannot smile or say hello. For all I know, I will live in the garage while he lives a separate life in the actual house.
I wanted badly to refuse, but the last time I did, he slapped me.
“Sooner rather than later,” Marco responded curtly. “Valentino isn’t getting any younger, and as you know, Vadim, unions are very important.”
Vadim snapped his fingers, and within seconds, the maids handed him three cigars. He passed one to Marco, who graciously accepted, and extended another to Valentino.
“Cigars are not my taste,” he answered.
“It’s a celebration, my son. A joining of two powerful families. This is a great opportunity,” Vadim insisted, urging Valentino to take the cigar.
I noticed Valentino’s eyes turn dark as he glared at Vadim. “No. Non mi prova.”
Translation: Do not test me.
I stared at my place, uncomfortable, feeling the atmosphere change completely. It was one thing for Vadim to slap me, but if I were correct, he couldn’t slap Valentino.
“Calma, figlio,” Marco told Valentino before focusing back on Vadim. “Where is the food, Vadim? We’ve been waiting quite some time.”
Translation: Calm down, son.
The conversation quickly changed, and for most of the evening it stayed in English, which didn’t matter to me because I wasn’t involved in the conversation.
The men talked, mostly Vadim and Marco, while I sat in silence during the entire dinner. I was a statue, terrified to breathe and terrified to move.
My mom could be looking for me right now, and the first opportunity I had, I would run away. There was no way I was spending my life involved with this. It was ludicrous.
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