The time was finally here, Rosalina Picone and Nicolo Falcone’s wedding day. We were all in Philadelphia because Rose wanted to have a small wedding at a hotel in her home city. It would be the very last time she would see the city. To appease Nick’s family, Rose had chosen her dress in New York. Vittorio, Rose’s brother and my kidnapper, forced me to go there to get my maid-of-honor dress. I wouldn’t admit that I had a good time. There, I met the rest of the Picone famiglia. Any time a brother got close to me, Vito appeared and dragged them off. It was weird.
I had changed over the last few weeks. Ever since that dreadful night, the night of my first kidnapping.
The first thing I felt was pain. So much pain in my abdomen. I opened my eyes to feel the glare of a bright light wreaking havoc on my eyes and shut my lids quickly. A tiny sound came from my right and I whipped my head toward it. Romano waltzed into the room. He sneered at me and undid the shackles on my wrists. I rubbed them while eyeing him warily.
“Get up; you’ve got work to do.” He didn’t give me a chance to listen to him. He grabbed my hair and pulled me off the cold metal table. It had only a light sheet on it and was hard against my back. There was a stabbing pain in my lower stomach, and I could feel a substance trickling down my sides.
“What are you doing?” A well-dressed man stopped Romano just outside the door.
“Taking this bitch,” he spat in my direction. It hit the side of my face and I shuddered.
“She won’t heal properly. You need to let her have bed rest for a few weeks at least.” The stranger must have been a doctor.
“Fuck that. My men are waiting.” Romano dragged me by the hair, down the stairs to a large open area. There were a ton of men. All different shapes and sizes. They were all fair skinned and speaking in a different language. It sounded like Italian, but off.
Romano barked instructions and motioned toward me. It was then I realized I was naked. Completely naked in a room full of strange men. Their eyes showed the hunger and lust from drinking in my body. There was smoke in the air from cigars. Laughter from the men who were drinking. Romano approached me and said one word that forever changed my world.
I shook the memories out of my head. This was Rose’s day, and I wasn’t going to ruin it for her. I might have healed on the outside, but my inside was very broken. No one would tell me why I couldn’t return to Texas. It was always brushed off and pushed aside, which only served to piss me off more. If I wanted to leave, I should be able to. This was why I called Vito my kidnapper. The man was sexy as sin, though. It was hard to hate him when he had a body made for loving.
“Eunji, why aren’t you dressed?” Rose screeched in my ear. She had been a bit of a bridezilla since Nick proposed.
She was sweet, but I thought her inner mafia princess had come out to play and it was not pretty.
“I don’t need that much time to slip into my dress. By the way, have I said thank you for letting me wear my combat boots? If not, thank you kindly,” I drawled.
If there was one thing I knew how to do, it would be buttering up a person. I would only do that for Rose. I had been on my best behavior, hoping that Vito would get tired of me and send me back home. That didn’t seem to be the case. If anything, he was even more enamored by me. I was going to have to show him the real me if I wanted to get away from this life anytime soon.
“Yeah, you thanked me. Now get dressed, tiny.” Since Rose had been given a nickname little thorn by Nick, she’d taken to nicknaming me tiny.
The thing was I was only slightly smaller than she was. I, however, didn’t enjoy her names and repressed a growl.
We were getting ready in a hotel suite at The Monaco, in the heart of Philadelphia. The reception was going to be held in a ballroom, while there was a cocktail hour beforehand on the rooftop. I was excited for the cocktails. There was no way I would be able to be surrounded by these families without getting drunk.
My dress was laid out on the bed and it was just me and Rose in the suite. We were drinking mimosas and eating strawberries while waiting for the hair and makeup women. Rose didn’t want to go all out. This was a small affair, but looking around, everything still screamed money.
“How are you coping?” Rose sank back onto the bed, resting her legs up on the pillows.
“I’m fine,” I snapped.
I reached below my chair and grabbed hold of my favorite knife. It was a balisong, a beautiful butterfly knife with a black galaxy print on it. I always kept it on me. It was razor sharp and a comfort. I picked my nails with it, an awfully bad habit that I couldn’t seem to break.
“I don’t believe you,” Rose sighed.
I knew she was frustrated with me. I didn’t want her to be upset on her wedding day. It should be a happy time. Anyone with eyes could see that she and Nick were one of those couples that just belonged together. They just oozed happy-go-lucky vibes. If I were a better maid-of-honor, I would be able to be happy for my friend. But I couldn’t. I was homesick, being held against my will and forced to stay in a place where I wasn’t comfortable.
“Do you think you could have Nick try to reason with Vito?” I knew it was a long shot, but I had to try.
“You don’t want to be here?” Rose tilted her head at me in confusion.
Sometimes she could be so dense. Maybe it was because she was born into this life.
“Rose, the compound is cold. It isn’t my home. I don’t know anyone here. I’m healed for the most part. I want to go back to Texas.” I spoke as if she were a child. Sometimes she acted like one if I was being honest.
“What’s back in Texas for you?”
My heart panged, remembering the loss of Maddox. It was still fresh, and I still blamed them for his death. I hung my head and studied my nails harder. I dug the dirt out of a few. A light knock came at the door, stopping any more conversation. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Rose opened the door and a flurry of activity followed. As we drank and ate, the team of women came and started to beautify us. I missed my products from home. I always imported facial items from South Korea because they were better than American products, at a more affordable cost.
We talked about random things. Rose caught me up with her life that was now in New York with Nick. I couldn’t help the surge of jealousy that hit me unexpectedly. I wanted to have a life, the life I thought I was going to have with Maddox. Now I was here. I was broken. I was stuck.
I picked up my off-the-shoulder, asymmetrical chiffon dress. It was light blue, tied in the back with tulle. When I tried it on in the dress store in New York, I felt like a tiny ballerina. It wasn’t floor length. The front was only a little above the knees and the back hung down to my mid-calf. Rose wanted me to wear heels, but I fought tooth and nail for my biker boots, throwing off the entire look, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to carry a purse and my knife was going to be on my person.
I threw on the dress and sat down so I could get done with hair and makeup as quickly as possible. That way I could help Rose into her dress. The lady started curling my hair. I didn’t have any say in the style, not that I wanted to. I preferred letting Rose take care of all the details. It made her happy, which in turn made me less grumpy.
My bangs were curled under and the rest of my hair curled into a half up, half down hairdo that really left me looking whimsical. My makeup was bare minimum, a cat eye with a nude lip. This was Rose’s day, so I wanted to tone down what I would normally wear so she could shine. It wouldn’t do if I took eyes off her, and frankly, I didn’t want anyone at this wedding looking at me.
The chair was spun toward Rose and her breath caught. “Oh, Eunji. You look beautiful,” she gasped.
I threw a faked girly giggle her way, knowing it would make her smile. My scars were showing, but I didn’t care. Not at all. Let them see. Let them remember. I was a slave, and now I wasn’t. Someone else in my position would probably cover up the trauma from their ordeal. Not me. I wanted to make people uncomfortable. Make them squirm in their seats. If any of them showed pity or sympathy, I’d gut them. I didn’t need it. Not from them.
“Thank you,” I murmured back at Rose.
She’d picked everything out, so she shouldn’t really be too surprised by the outcome. I gave myself a once over in the mirror and thought I looked like a fairytale sprite. A dangerous one, not one of those magical ones who looked sweet. I looked like I could bite. I shot my reflection a feral grin. Rose chose a skintight, mermaid-style, long-sleeved dress with buttons in the back that stopped at her plump ass.
When she tried it on, I clapped and told her it was perfect. Nick would want to spank her in it. Her entire back was showing because the sleeves and back were see-through. The train was made from tulle and the dress floor length, so I knew I was going to be on bathroom duty with her. It was my job as her maid-of-honor. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I knew she didn’t have any friends and her mother tried to have other women in her bridal party, but Rose stood firm that she only wanted me. I wasn’t going to shit on the opportunity. It wasn’t like her family was super welcoming to me. Other than Vito, her parents were cold and rude. It was stifling and oppressive on the compound, which was why I was happy the wedding and reception weren’t taking place there at all.
It was Nick’s father who proposed a neutral ground. I guess the famiglias still didn’t trust each other, even though they had some sort of treaty between them.
I helped Rose into her dress and made sure everything was in place. She had her white- blonde hair curled as well, but in a beach wave style. She looked like she had woken up and decided to get married. Her makeup was stunning. A red lip and bright eye made her features pop. I knew all eyes were going to be on her as she walked down that aisle.
The team of women hurried out and I wondered if someone had threatened them to do this wedding. I shook the idea off. Not everything was nefarious. Another knock came at the door and Rose called for whoever was there to come in. The door swung open and there he was, my kidnapper, Vittorio Picone. He looked as shocked as I felt. He was standing in the doorway staring at me. Rose cleared her throat.
“Something you needed, Vito?” she sassed. She only spoke to him and Nick this way. With anyone else, she acted quiet and meek.
“They are ready for you.” He cleared his throat, his eyes roaming over my body, making my skin tingle.
I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. I was going to put it in the not good thing category. Any attention from Vito wasn’t good. He was too interested in me, and if I was honest, I was too interested in him.
He looked good, better than good. He looked sexy as hell. His tux fit him exactly right. He wore a blue bowtie that matched my dress and matched his eyes. His hair was mussed like normal, which meant he had run his hands through it a million times. He didn’t shave for the wedding, but I could tell he had just trimmed his facial hair. It was shorter than normal but still made him stand out. His stubble made my hands itch. Not in a bad way. In an I-want-to-run-my hands-over-it way. I shook off my stray thoughts. They always involved Vito and sex, two things I wouldn’t ever do.
“We’ll head down right now.” Rose beamed at her older brother. Happiness just poured off her.
I smiled too because it was infections. Even I couldn’t be surly when I was about to witness true love strung together. Vito frowned at me and motioned for us to leave the suite. As I walked past him, my body slid against his. He could’ve moved out of my way, but where would the fun be in that? I let Rose go ahead of me so I could flip him off without her seeing. Fuck him and whatever high horse he rode in on. He may look like sex on a stick, but there was a stick shoved far up his asshole. Someone needed to yank it out so he could have some fun. It wasn’t going to be me. Anyone but me.