Page 66 of Ruined Kingdom

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Being back here is strange, especially at this time of night. It must be around eleven by now, and the square is empty, the town quiet. Amadeo’s soldiers in their SUVs are the only ones making any sound at all as he climbs out of ours and walks ahead of me toward the large double doors. I follow him, a soldier on either side of me and one at my back. They’re not taking any chances I’ll run. As if I’d have anywhere to go. As if they couldn’t catch me.

My steps are quiet on the stairs today. No heels. Just a pair of espadrilles. I’m not dressed for church. A soldier pulls the heavy, creaking door open when we reach it, and I’m comforted by the lingering scent of incense. It’s my only comfort as I shudder with a chill on this warm night. The heat must never fully penetrate this place. The stone walls are too thick.

I listen to the sound of Amadeo’s shoes as I follow him up the aisle. The pews are empty except for two at the front. Similar to the last time I was here. The day I was to bury my father. I hug my arms to myself, glad when I near the front to see that the blood has been cleaned off the stone floor. Although this close to the altar, I swear I can smell the perfume of the lilies from that day. A cloying suffocating stench. I hate lilies. They are the flowers of funerals.

In the front pew, I recognize the man who stands. Bruno Cocci. I met him at the restaurant. A woman beside him also stands. She’s wearing a cream-colored suit and holding rosary beads in her hands. She smiles at me. I wonder if she’s his wife.

Bruno steps into the aisle to greet Amadeo. They discuss something, their voices too low for me to follow. Amadeo slips him a piece of paper, which Bruno tucks into his pocket before turning to me.

“Vittoria, it’s nice to see you again,” he says warmly as if this were a friendly visit. As if I weren’t under duress. Because he knows I am. He knows all of it. I’m being blackmailed into marrying my enemy. My sister is his hostage until I do. And even then, after, what’s to stop him from going back on his word? From demanding more? Had I thought this man friendly or kind even when I’d first met him? I am an idiot.

Those last moments in the kitchen replay in my mind, and I swear when Amadeo turns to look at me, I can feel his hands on me, his fingers inside my panties. Teasing me. Showing me just how much he owns me. Because he does. There is no question about that. I am his. I may want to deny it, at least sexually, but I live because he grants me life. He needs me. I don’t know why just yet. I don’t know how he’ll use me, and this strange marriage is confusing. Why does he demand it? I could understand the fake engagement. He needed to get the authorities and the press off his back. My brother could make trouble for him even from the safety of the penthouse in New York City. I’m the daughter of a wealthy man. An heiress to a fortune. I’d be considered important. Whoever said money can’t buy everything never had enough of it.

Amadeo approaches me, and the soldiers step away, giving us some privacy. Bruno and the woman at his side sit down and turn to the altar. I unconsciously take a step back and have to stop myself from taking another. I can’t show fear. Men like him thrive on it. They eat it for breakfast.

My stomach flutters again, and I find Amadeo is right. I am attracted to him. His deep, low voice, the sense of control that emanates from him when he speaks, when he simply stands in a room, his eyes on me, his scent around me, his hands on me, I want it. I want his attention. His touch. And I do hate myself for it. Perhaps more than I hate him.

“Dandelion,” he says with a smile as false as any as he takes hold of my arms. “Don’t make me chase you. Not here.”

“I’m not running. I’m not a coward.”

“No, you’re not that.” Is he flattering me? The bastard. Before I can tell him to shove his compliment, he squeezes his hands around my arms. “You understand what you need to do?”

“Yes. Pretend I want to marry you. Pretend it’s my choice to tie myself to a monster.”

He grins. “Exactly,” he says, irritatingly smug. That smugness, too, does not repel me. It’s that sickness inside me. Maybe it’s self-hate to want to be wanted by a monster. Or maybe I see something of myself in him.

He steps closer so there’s no risk of anyone else hearing him. “If you’re good, I’ll finish what I started in the kitchen.”

I shove at his arms, but he only tightens his grip as he searches my face. “Is this remotely funny to you?”

He sobers. “Hardly.”

“Why do you want this?” I ask. “Why marry me? I’m already your prisoner.”

“Prisoner is a harsh word.”

“It’s the one that fits.”

“Believe it or not, I am protecting you from a greater danger than I.”

I snort.

“As well as protecting Emma from your brother.”

“He wouldn’t hurt her.”

“Are you so sure about that?”

I don’t answer.

“And what about you? Would he hurt you?” He pauses, and I wonder if it’s just for effect or if he knows something I don’t. But no, he’s messing with me. It’s another game. “You’re twenty-one in just a few days.”

I feel my forehead furrow as I try to follow. “What does that have to do with anything.”

“Your father is dead. Now that he’s gone, your brother’s hold over your family’s company could grow, or it could not.”

Tags: Natasha Knight Romance