“You can tell me. I have a phone and am capable of operating it.”

Dante stared. There was a flicker of something like amusement on his face for a second. “Of course. If that’s what you prefer.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket. “What’s your number?”

I needed a moment to suppress an unladylike snort of laughter before I could give it to him.

When he was done typing, he stuffed his phone back into his jacket, then he straightened without another word. I rose as well and took my time smoothing out the nonexistent wrinkles in my skirt to mask my annoyance behind schooled pleasantness.

“Thank you for your time,” he said formally. I really hoped he’d loosen up after our wedding. He wasn’t always so restrained. I’d heard the stories about how he’d established his position as the heir to his father’s title and how efficient he was when it came to dealing with traitors and enemies. There was something dark and feral behind his ice prince demeanor.

“You’re welcome.” I walked toward the door but Dante beat me to it and held it open for me. I said a quick thanks before I stepped into our lobby. “I’ll get my parents so they can say goodbye.”

“Actually, I would like to have a word with your father in private before I leave.”

It was futile trying to get any information from his expression, so I didn’t bother. Instead I strode to the end of the corridor and knocked at my father’s office door. The voices inside died down and a moment later, my father opened the door. Mamma stood directly behind him. From the look on her face I could tell that she was eager to bombard me with questions, but Dante was close behind me.

“Dante would like to have a word with you,” I said, then turned around to Dante. “Until the Christmas party.” I considered brushing his cheeks with my lips but discarded that idea immediately. Instead I tilted my head with a smile before walking away. My mother’s heels clacked behind me, then she fell into step beside me. She linked our arms. “How did it go? Dante didn’t look too pleased. Did you do something that offended him?”

I gave her a look. “Of course not. Dante’s face is frozen in one expression.”

“Shhh.” Mamma looked behind us. “What if he hears you?”

I didn’t think he’d care.

Mamma scanned my face. “You should be happy, Valentina. You won the husband lottery, and I’m sure there’s a passionate lover hidden beneath Dante’s cold exterior.”

“Mamma, please.” I’d suffered through two sex talks with my mother in my life so far: the one where she tried to tell me about the birds and the bees when I was fifteen and already well aware of the mechanics of sex. Even in a catholic girls school that information got around at some point. And the second, shortly before my wedding to Antonio. I didn’t think I’d survive a third one.

But I hoped she was right. Thanks to Antonio’s disinterest in women, I’d never had the chance to enjoy a passionate lover, or any lover really. I was more than ready to finally be rid of my virginity, even if that would pose the risk of Dante finding out my first marriage had been for show, but I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.CHAPTER TWODante picked me up at quarter to six as promised. Not a minute too late or too soon. I hadn’t expected anything else. My parents had already left a few minutes ago. As the future head of the Outfit, Dante couldn’t arrive too early to the party.

He was wearing another three-piece suit in navy blue with light blue pinstripes and a matching tie. I froze for a moment when I saw him. My dress was navy too. People would think we’d done it on purpose, but there was nothing to be done about it now. I’d followed a strict detox diet for three days to fit into the tight backless dress; I wasn’t going to wear something else. Despite its long pencil skirt reaching my calves, the slit up to my thigh allowed me to walk stairs without too much trouble.

Dante’s eyes did a quick scan. “You look beautiful, Valentina.” He was being polite. There was absolutely no sign that he actually found me attractive.

“Thank you.” I smiled and stepped up to him. He touched my lower back to lead me toward his black Porsche parked at the curb and tensed as his palm came into contact with my naked skin. I wasn’t sure but I thought I heard him release a rushed breath, and the thought that he might be affected by me, coupled with the feel of his touch sent a shiver of delight down my spine. He planted his hand lightly on my back and gave no further indication that I’d taken him by surprise with my partial nakedness as he guided me toward the passenger door and held it open for me. I slid in, almost giddy with triumph over the fact that I’d managed to get a reaction out of the iceman. Once we were married, I’d try to do it more often.

***

The other guests had already arrived when we pulled up in front of the Scuderi mansion. We could have walked, if it weren’t for the four inches of snow, safety concerns and my high heels. Dante hadn’t bothered with small talk during our drive. His mind seemed far away anyway. When Dante put his hand on my naked back this time, there was no outward reaction.

Ludevica Scuderi opened the door for us. Her husband Rocco, the current Consigliere to Dante’s father, hovered behind her, his hands on her shoulders. They both smiled brightly as they ushered us into the pleasantly warm foyer. An eight-foot Christmas tree, decorated with red and silver baubles, dominated the space.

“We’re delighted that you could make it,” Ludevica said warmly.

Rocco shook Dante’s hand. “I have to congratulate you on your excellent taste. Your future wife looks marvelous, Dante.”


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