Francesca Lastra was promised to Antonio Giordano, Don of a powerful mafia family, when she was just eighteen. Brooding, violent, and unpredictable, Antonio demands complete submission from his wife as she struggles to be the Donna the family needs. Just when Francesca seems to be making headway in her role and in her marriage, tragedy strikes, and Antonio will need her in ways she never imagined.
Age Rating: 18+ (Assault, Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, Drug Use/Overdose, Human Trafficking, Kidnapping, Rape, Self-Harm, Sexual Assault/Abuse, Statutory Rape, Suicide, Torture, Violence Against Women, Violent Death, Pedophilia)
“mafia is family.” — Antonio Giordano, Mafia Puppet
LA NOSTRA VITA
uno | he who is deaf, blind, and mute shall dwell a hundred years in peace. follow omertà, the code of silence, if one is willing to see the next dawn.
due | one should not interfere in another brother’s business. do your own thing.
tre | one shall not engage in a battle they cannot win. play beside the Family or face the doors of hell.
quattro | be a man of honor–do not touch, see, or feel another brother’s women. respect the elders.
cinque | keep the ears and eyes open but the mouth shut. don’t sell your brothers or enemies out. face the punishment like a man of honor.
sei | have class and independence; do not beg.
sette | one shall see the doors of hell before betraying our secrets.
otto | one must never become involved with narcotics.
one shall be one of us with the prick of a needle at the base of his thumb, conjoining the blood on a burning card passed around to all.
we are men of honor and he will be our brother.
“You belong to him, and you better remember that. Never lose your virtue unless you want to lose your life.” Those words were the exact words Father had told me years ago. It was unnecessary when his and his bodyguards tailed my every move.
“He’s a fine young man, daughter, and he is the Don now. He will be less rough if you do as he says,” Mother had said when Father broke her to the news. She didn’t wait a second to advise me, and I did not expect any different.
I finished my education even though I knew I would never need it. Normally, a woman was valued more with a higher degree.
In the Family, that was anything but the truth. It would be demeaning in front of her possible suitors, lowering her worth because she looked to do more than just coddle her husband. I was one of those demeaningwomen. Father didn’t care. It wasn’t because he loved me; rather, it was because I didn’t need a suitor anymore. I already had one, and I wore his ring like a collar around my neck.
“I can’t believe we’ve already graduated from university.” My oblivious best friend, Sophia Magritte, bristled with excitement, pulling me out of my dreary thoughts.
I was grateful for it. Anxiety would never help me forbid something that was written in my fate. I had accepted it years ago. Yet still, a somber expression marred my face. I knew what would happen next—something stalled for so long would finally take its place in my life. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. He was close.
“We should party! I’ll introduce you to a bunch of handsome men who will die for you,” she said dramatically, grinning boisterously.
Quite literally, I thought in response.
“No, I can’t. You know that,” I said instead, pushing a strand of my hair behind my ear.
She rolled her eyes. “You are a beautiful twenty-four-year-old woman who has not even gone to a club yet, much less had a girl's night out. I always have to go alone or with other people, many of whom I don’t even like, but not this time, Missy. I will drag you there myself if I have to.”
Sophia was one stubborn woman. She was fiery, just like her red hair, and had one of the most beautiful eyes–one blue and the other green. She was loyal, someone who would not hesitate to burn the world down just for the people she loved.
Sometimes it overwhelmed me; her obstinate nature always coerced me into doing things that made me get into trouble.
She didn’t know that, of course, and I would never tell her, so I merely tried to avoid such situations.
Usually, it worked.
But, this could be my last day with her, and I wanted nothing more than to just step out of my role as an honorable mafiosa.
However, I also knew that I was easily replaceable, and while some part of me would have been glad for it, I knew my life was only easier because of the ring hidden under my shirt. If I lost him, I would lose the safety I felt whenever I stepped outside. He was my only future, and it was simply my good fate that my betrothed himself wanted to tie the knot late—probably to continue his bachelorhood until he eventually had to conceive an heir. Either way, I was able to fully mature and understand the severity of my position. I was no longer prone to making stupid mistakes. It was not worth it. I had given up trying.
“Why are you zoning me out again? I swear to God, you are always so sketchy. You never stay after school. You have weirdass bodyguards tailing you. It’s as if someone would jump you out of nowhere, and then not to mention you are always so stiff. I admit, you are filthy rich, but don’t you think this is a little extra? A businessman should not be this protective, or should I say possessive, about his daughter. Your dad needs to chill the fuck out.”
Well, that’s an understatement. I sighed. “It’s not like that, Sofie. Father is just strict. It’s normal,” I tried to explain, but it was in vain. Sophia had long caught onto my lies.
“Which is exactly why you should move out. You can afford to live for yourself, right? I don’t even mind if you come to live with my family and me,” she offered before her nose scrunched up in disgust. “I am just sick of your parents. They didn’t even come to your graduation.”
I ignored the small stab in my heart and looked around if anyone had heard. Father had already told me to cut her off once my studies were over. He didn’t need outsiders investigating us. He only allowed me a friend because he thought it would be even more weird if I was friendless.
If my bodyguards heard her comments, they would report it back to Father, who was only looking for another reason to go on another wrath rampage. With the FBI on the rise again, he was being extra cautious, leaving us more under his care.
I titled my head higher, almost arrogantly. “Look, I can’t, okay? Don’t be so stubborn.”
Sophia shook her head with a look of sadness in her eyes. “Franci, you are ruining your life by giving into unjust demands and oppression. I don’t know why you refuse to go against your quite toxic family and stand your ground, but I do hope you would tell me. I would understand, and I would help you as much as I can. You know I have the power to do so.”
She held onto my hand as if a physical touch would melt me, and I really wanted it to. I really did. She did not know how desperate I was to let someone in, but I also knew that she would not understand. She would run away, just like the others. She would not get it. I was not following the orders of Father. I was following the orders of the one I was betrothed to, as always.
“There is nothing to tell. Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you later.” I didn’t wait for her response. I walked out of the prestigious university building, my heeled legs barely holding me up as my trembling body tried to desperately avoid another confrontation.
Spotting my ride was not hard. It stood out like a white dot in a duvet of pure black. The sleek white limousine caught the attention of many bystanders.
It always baffled people how I lived my life. After all, no sane person got driven around in a vehicle that would cost a fortune. No one except me, the rich girl. They must believe I was a snob.
My bodyguard Silvio leaned against the vehicle with a stone cold expression, a cigarette perched between his lips, who quickly stood straight once I neared. His gray eyes bore into mine as if I was the most expensive thing in the world that he needed to protect with his life. A scratch on me would indeed cost him a brutal death. Silvio opened the door for me and waited until I was comfortable. He was nice sometimes, especially since he always made sure to have the smell of mangoes and peaches inside the limo. A blissful sigh left my lips at finally being away from the eyes of the many strangers. I didn't even mind the two guards sitting opposite me today, either. I was used to them by now. They were almost invisible. Almost.
“Where to?” Silvio asked in his gruff voice, peering down at me from the open door.
“Home,” I answered, crossing my legs.
Silvio nodded as if I had told him something new. We both know it was a rhetorical question. Home was the only place I was allowed to go to, but Silvio has always been kind enough to let me feel like I had a choice. Albeit fake, but still a choice nevertheless. It made me feel respected, which was odd because Mother never received any treatment of respect. Father’s men would always grope her, and no one would care. With me, however, they were a lot more constrained.
I felt the car move as I turned my head to the side. I didn't miss my best friend staring at the tinted car with her eyes narrowed in suspicion. I had to keep her safe and away from my world. She couldn't know. The facade of being the conservative rich daughter of a millionaire helped, but I knew she had her own theories. She was not stupid, and I wasn't that good at being too discreet, either. It was only time before she found out.
Not unless you stop seeing her.
It was the right thing to do, I decided. Sophia needed to be gone for her own safety and mine.
Home wasn’t sweet, and Father never failed to let us know.
"Francesca, your father has some guests. Do not come out of your room," Mother's timid voice greeted me.
She was scared; the feeling was mutual. It wasn't the first time Father had his allies visiting him, and Mother’s petite body was too weak to fight anymore.
Without a word, I left for my room upstairs. I didn't want to hear the noises. I didn't want to hear the screams, and even though I should be used to it, I wasn't. It was just as difficult as the first time.
I grabbed my phone and AirPods before blasting some slow, soothing music. It blocked out my mother's screams of shame. It blocked out Father's pleasing laugh and the men's nasty grunts. It blocked out the reality that I desperately wanted to block out.
As the night fell, I knew my mother would be lying in the guest room with a bunch of bruises and a nearly tattered soul; I didn't go there to comfort her. I didn't want to get seen by the disgusting men, much less get groped.
Mother would not want me down, and that was what I told myself every time.