”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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