I said nothing, allowing my soul to swoon as his lips took a slow, lengthy journey up my neck and to my lips. Inside, I fought with my mind as it swooped through endless scenarios that could occur with our future. Then his mouth took mine, and I forgot everything but the sensation of pure, premarital bliss.

Chapter 18

After I polished off some pecan pie we moved—Brad, Maria and I—a threesome of normal, up a giant staircase onto a quiet floor and down a plush hallway. Brad’s hand protectively at my back, I recognized this for what it was—time. Maria gave me a small smile, kissed Brad gently on the cheek, and leaned on a large set of double doors.

It was dark inside, and I blinked, trying to adjust to the light. Dark mahogany lined the walls of my dream library, a space filled with books of every shape and size. Other than bookshelves, there was one fireplace, four chairs, and three men. The family.

Maria excused herself, leaving me as the sole vagina in the room, a ratio that left me distinctly uncomfortable. I fought the urge to fidget as we stepped forward.

Beauty. That was the first thing that hit my mind. The genes that blessed Brad with an impressive stature, gorgeous features, and mind-numbing sex appeal hadn’t skipped over his siblings. Two dark, younger versions of Brad, similar in their devastation, but slightly varied in features, stood before me, flanking an older man, who stood at our entrance. He stepped forward, aided by a cane, a tall man with a shock of white hair and dark skin. He stopped before us and tilted his head at me.

“You must be Julia.” A scratchy voice spoke, that despite its tenor, commanded respect. Eyes that studied me carefully.

Unsure of the proper protocol, I stepped forward, extending a hand and shaking his. He had a fierce grip, and grabbed my opposite shoulder as he grasped my hand, locking me into his space, his eyes arresting me. They searched my soul, a desperate invasion that explored every inch, distrust and accusation in their depths. With a jerk, he released my hand, turning away from me and walking carefully back to a leather chair which he sank into, words tumbling from his mouth with a sigh. “Please, sit. I am weary from today’s activities.”

Brad gestured to a chair and I sat, my legs shaky. He stood beside me, strong and tall. “We can’t stay long. We have other obligations.”

His father scoffed, an action that turned into a cough, and he stopped for a moment, his face turning red before he let out a series of coughing barks. One of the men beside him stepped forward, concern in his eyes, and the old man waved him off irritably. “Stop that, sit down. Everyone, sit down. Brad, find a chair. I won’t have you hovering above me like a damn hawk.”

I glanced at Brad, noting his tight face, and watched as he nodded, dragging up a chair, wariness across his features.

“I assume you know the business of this family?” It was a dry question, stated without malice or concern, directed at me.

I nodded, meeting his sharp eyes. “Yes.”

“And you find ... issue, with this business?” He watched me closely, sitting back in his chair and studying me.

I stared back, my face expressionless. “Issue would be the wrong word. I disagree with your business practices. Issue indicates that I am confrontational in my disapproval.”

A slow smile spread over his face, a transformation that brought a hint of the good looks he must have once possessed. “That’s an interesting choice of words, Ms. Campbell.”

I said nothing, and he glanced briefly at Brad. “What exactly are your intentions with my son?”

“I intend to marry him.”

“Yes, I gathered that from my son. The issue is, Ms. Campbell, that marrying Bradley is not quite as simple as happily ever after. Do you love my son?”

I hesitated at the change in his tone, the question rolling harsh off his lips. “Yes.”

He leaned forward, fixating me with cold eyes. “Imagine your love for my son, if love is what it truly is. Whatever that love is, it won’t possibly compare what you will feel for your own children—what I feel for Bradley, as well as my other sons. Your children, whether they are number one or five, will be more precious to you than your own soul. And you, choosing him to marry, to father your children, are putting those future babies in danger. You will never be able to sleep soundly, knowing the evil that waits for them. You will never be able to vacation, or play with them in the park, without worrying about cars driving by, or men who look at you a moment too long. You are not marrying Brad. You are marrying this family, and endangering yourself and your children with that act. You may be scared of me now, child, but I am one family. There are four others, in this city alone, that have us dead center in their targets. You are not, and will not, be safe in this family. You are marrying into a lifetime of fear, and you need to understand that now, before it is too late.”

I listened to his words, understanding the reasoning behind them, my thoughts wandering down paths I had not even considered. I had been so worried about being against the Magianos that I had not considered what being part of them would entail.

“I am not marrying Brad for safety. I am marrying him because I am in love.”

He leaned back and smiled slightly, a cruel expression on his face. “Let me tell you a story about Bradley. We had a dog, an old mutt that used to sit behind one of our butchers. He would eat the scraps that we threw out each day. And one day we opened the shop to find him inside, his mouth bloody, meat still inside his mouth. I started to kill him, grabbed a meat beater from the counter and went to smash his skull in. But Brad stepped in front of me.”

He laughed, looking over at Brad. “The boy was eleven years old, and he stepped in front of me, his father, to save a dog.” He stood, leaning heavily on the cane, the movement slow and pained. “You don’t know the Italian way, but disobedience is not acceptable. I told Brad to leave or kill the dog himself. He refused, and stood his ground.” He shot Brad a look of disgust. “He defied me over a dog, a mutt, an animal not worth mopping the floor with.”

He looked into my eyes, stepping forward, speaking slowly. “I used the beater on Brad’s skull instead, knocking him unconscious with two blows. He spent four days in the hospital before he woke up. And his first question when he did?” He closed his eyes briefly. “The dog, he wanted to know about the damn dog!” He finished the statement with a snarl, his finger stabbing the air in Brad’s direction to punctuate the sentence.

“We had killed that dog before we even took Bradley to the hospital. Bradley risked himself for a dog—a trash animal he had played with in the alley one day. So yes, he is marrying you, but what does that mean to me?” He straightened and turned, walking carefully, his words tossed over his shoulder to me. “You are worse than a dog, Ms. Campbell. That dog was hungry, eating for his survival. You are eating to get fat, and ruining my son’s life with your greedy acceptance of his sacrificial offer. I am not surprised that he is marrying you. I am only surprised that you are stupid and selfish enough to accept.” He waved dismissively in my direction and closed the space to the window, leaning heavily on the sill and looking out toward the backyard. “Leave, I am tired.”

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