The Forbidden Husband
I’ve been thrown to the wolves in an arranged marriage no one will see coming. What happens when my loyalty to my family is tested by the secret gestures of my husband?
Can I hold out against my greatest enemy?
I handle my father’s business. Discreetly. No one knows I fix things behind the scenes and keep things running. Smoothly. When the men in the Rossi family offend would-be business partners, I’m the one who smooths things over. Without that knowledge, my father thinks the only way I can help Little Italy return to glory is to marry the new underboss of the Bianchi family – our greatest enemies.
The Rossi trades me – the family’s greatest asset – to our biggest rival.
Matteo Bianchi has the chance to change the direction of his family’s business and regain the Bianchi honor. Before his brother is in handcuffs, Matteo makes a grab for my hand.
He has no idea who I am or what I can do, but I just might be the key to all his dreams. If he smothers me the way my family has, he will never get my help… but if he lets me soar… I might be the answer to everything he’s every wished for.
Careful, Adele Rossi, your heart won’t know what to do with appreciation and love, let alone respect. What happens when your family finds out you might have traded sides?
I looked like all my other sisters, so why did I expect to be treated any differently?
Except, I was plainer. I had less dramatic angles to my eyes, thinner lips, and a smaller nose. My sisters epitomized Italian princesses while I was more like Cinderella and there was no prince coming for me.
“It’s not that I don’t love having you home, Adele. I do. It’s just we all need to step up right now and sacrifice for the good of the Rossi family.” My father, Giovanni Rossi, steepled his fingers on the desk in front of him and studied me as if he expected me to run screaming from the room.
Little did he know just how close that was to happening. The room felt like it crowded in on me. Had the walls always been so dark or the windows felt so small?
I swallowed and glanced between Alessandro, my brother who I had trusted; Angelo, my oldest brother and my father’s underboss which just meant he was being trained to take over; and Leonardo Capone, my new brother-in-law.
The roomful of men stared at me and I suddenly wished they would all look away. My insides hurt at the betrayal of what was being suggested. I swallowed again, wishing for something to take away the dry mouth sensation that had hit me when Papa started talking.
I flipped my hair behind my shoulder and jutted my chin out. “What makes you think marrying a Bianchi is the best thing for the Rossi family?”
My dad didn’t know. None of them did. They had no idea what I did for the family business. If they let me go, sent me to the other side, they would see a decline in business and they wouldn’t understand why. A nonnina would say it was an omen or something ridiculous like that, and I would never get the recognition I deserved for helping with the business like I had all these years.
Okay, so five years. But that was a lot when you were my age.
“Adele, don’t take things personally. We all have to do hard things. Just suck it up. If you were smarter or had an education or something, we would put you to better use. As it is, you’re a woman and this is something you can do to help us.” Angelo shrugged, folding his arms. He had no idea how ignorant he sounded.
If I was smarter… or had an education… Because I was a woman, that’s all the good I was for – an arranged marriage and the benefits associated with it. They didn’t deserve my loyalty. They didn’t deserve what my secret, late-night online schooling had taught me.
I lifted my chin and returned my gaze to my father’s, boldly staring him in the eye. “Is that how you feel, Papa? That I’m worthless unless I marry?” So, help him, if he said yes or intimated as such. So, help him…
He inclined his head slightly, no sign of remorse as he boldly denounced my value in front of the Rossi men. “You do a great job of keeping the house in order, but I think this will do more for the family and the business.” Narrowing his eyes, he tilted his head forward. “Are you willing to do this for us, Adele?”
Looking away from him at that point wasn’t an option. He’d seriously insulted me more than I’d ever been slighted before. He had no idea that later that day I was supposed to meet with the Barracks about a shipment of items coming in that my father would sell at one of the retailer spots he’d rented throughout town. My father didn’t stock the stores, but his wallet benefited from the sales.
This most recent one was legal, fresh, and a trending item in Europe that would be a huge hit in the States. My father had been in line to carry the items first in the nation, because of me. If I went to the Bianchis, everything I’d worked for behind the scenes would be lost.
Glancing once more at the men in the room, I leaned forward and pleaded with my eyes to my father. “Papa, are you absolutely sure this is the only thing I can do?” Why didn’t he know? Why was he so obtuse that he didn’t see what I had done for him, for the business? Why wasn’t I good enough to see? “Do you really want this?”
Please, say no. Please…
My father nodded his head and leaned back in the chair, his wide shoulders stretching across the seat as he swiveled to the side. He pointed at Alessandro. “We’re going to have Alessandro move into an accounting position after his last fight next year. At this point, we have nothing open in the business.”
Nothing open. Alessandro’s eyes widened in alarm and his lips parted. He had no idea that our father planned on shortening his fighting career. With the Rossis as his biggest sponsors, he would need us to decide what he was doing and for how long. I think he’d hoped his fighting career would be around longer than Papa insinuated. I wasn’t the only one getting screwed over. It was small consolation to not feel alone.
Plus, I wasn’t stupid. The only reason there wasn’t a spot open in the business was because my father didn’t work with women. At least in his own business. He had no problem working with female business associates, but a woman within his own setup was not acceptable by any means.
Especially one of his younger daughters from his second wife. That would never do.
I wasn’t going to get help there. No one cared what I thought or what I did. No one cared what I could do or had done and there was no way I could tell them. They’d never believe me. They would never see me. Not who I really was. I had diminished in their eyes and if I stayed there, I would diminish in my own estimation.
They wanted to trade me off, give me away to a man I’d never met, a man who was a member of the dreaded Bianchi family. I would never find happiness, if I went. And yet, I would never be able to stay with the Rossis after they’d revealed just how little they thought of me.
Dropping my gaze to the floor, I took a deep breath. “When?” I would have to adjust around a timeline. As long as I could plan, I could do anything. Even tie myself to a man I would never be able to love. I would have to resolve to being unhappy and alone for the rest of my life. Would anyone notice if I sobbed outloud?
“You’ll be married in three days.” Angelo delivered the news. I snapped my gaze to his face, catching the chagrin in the tilt of his lips and pity in his eyes.
Three days. That’s all I had to get my affairs in order. My heart pounded while I tried to catch my breath. There was something almost dangerous in the way I couldn’t breathe normally. I had less than three days to get my life ready to leave.
Leonardo cleared his throat and reached out, patting me on the arm. “Don’t think of it as a bad thing, Adele. At least it isn’t Mason. From what I understand, Matteo wants to join the families to bring more unity to Little Italy. A man who wants the best for a community, can’t be all bad, right?” Leonardo was a Capone. He was only there because he’d married my sister and he was the underboss to the Capone family. Bless his soul.
Yeah, I did just curse him to Italian hell in my mind.
He’d never been traded to another family because his perceived worth was so low. He had no idea what I would going through or what my loss would do to the family.
I rose from my chair, ignoring his comments. They were all men who had no idea what I was going through. They had no idea how I felt or how insignificantly they’d reduced me in the family or as a person. I clenched my jaw, trying to not to cry at the swarm of emotions overwhelming me.
“Excuse me.” I turned, striding past the chair I’d sat in and out the door. Taking two steps at a time, I climbed the stairs to the next floor, bypassing the kitchen and the other Rossi women moving around. As I reached my room, I could hear them under my feet, laughing and talking as if the entire world hadn’t shifted.
For them, it hadn’t. For me… I wouldn’t be able to survive living amongst the heathens of the Bianchis. Why them? Why me? Couldn’t they have married me off to another Capone? They seemed like a good group, if you could get past the fact that they were Capones.
In my room, I closed the door behind me and stared up at the ceiling. Was this my father’s wife’s idea? She hated me being underfoot. I was the daughter of Papa’s second wife and I had no doubt that Gloria couldn’t wait to get me out of the house.
Well, I was going. She was about to get her wish. I had three days, but I suddenly didn’t want to wait to leave. What was the point? Why delay the inevitable? I had no idea what was going to happen, but I suddenly wanted to rush things along.
Yanking my Versace luggage from the storage space in my large walk-in closet, I systematically went through my belongings, stacking up the clothing I didn’t want or wouldn’t need. The rest were moved into their new storage space in the luggage pieces. I wasn’t a shoe connoisseur like the rest of my sisters. My passion was wrapped up in numbers and technology.
Once my clothing and toiletries were packed, I moved into my bedroom and grabbed my laptop bag and packed the things I’d been working on. If my father didn’t want my help in continuing to move the business forward into the legitimate waters of retail, I wouldn’t force it on him.
Pulling my cell phone out, I called down to Donatello’s Storage. “Hey, Donnie. It’s Adele Rossi. Do you have any of your larger units available on short notice? I’ll need something this evening at about five.”
“Anything for you, Adele. See you then.” Donnie would pull through for me. He’d been in a position to lose everything to the Bianchis, but I’d created a chart for him in my father’s files and my father had accepted the business as if Angelo himself had put it into suggested holdings himself. He’d researched Donnie’s business and then decided it was a good fit for Rossi protection. Donnie hadn’t been bothered by the Bianchis since.
Next, I ordered an Uber.
After all of that was accomplished, I called down for two of the Rossi soldiers to come to my room. I’d send them out with my luggage but not to take the car Papa had bought me. No. I had no problem taking my clothes, because those were mine. The car, however, wasn’t even my style.
Without looking back, I followed the soldiers who carried my things from the house. Loading everything into the sedan that arrived, I smiled at the soldiers and shut the door. Leaning forward, I smiled at the driver. “The BMW dealership, please.”
I needed a car that was mine and I was going to use my money to get it. I couldn’t arrive in an Uber to my big meeting that evening. I might be switching from one family to the next, but all of my work was going with me.
What was the saying? A woman scorned? It might be more accurate to say a daughter slighted.
I felt bad for this Matteo I was going to marry. He had no idea just what he was getting into.
“The most important thing now that Mason is gone, is making sure the Bianchis make big moves to keep our spot in Little Italy.” My father furrowed his brow as he stared around at the gathering of Bianchi capos and higher soldiers.
I was already making big moves. If I could secure my position in the family, Mason wouldn’t have anything to come home to. As much as I appreciated the fact that he was my brother, I couldn’t help wishing Mason would stay in prison the rest of his life.
“I don’t think anyone understands the severity of Mason’s prison sentence. He had his fingers in more business than any of us combined.” An uncle I had little respect for shook his head as he continued, “I don’t know how the family will ever recover from this. Do we even understand what he was doing or what he was running?”
My father, Diego Bianchi, scratched his neck as he stared at something on the table. He spoke slowly because he refused to be rushed by anyone or anything, even something as dire as his eldest son being sent to prison. He didn’t have an underboss and that would need to be the first thing set into place.
If I wanted the spot, I had to move fast. Taking a deep breath, I cleared my throat. All eyes turned my direction, some more suspicious than others. “I’m stepping into Mason’s spot.” Taking the assertive lead would leave little room for doubt. Before anyone could object, I stood from the seat I normally sat in over five spots down from my father’s seat. Mason’s seat was empty and I strode toward his chair, challenging everyone there with my eyes as I passed by.
Pulling the chair out, I sat and folded my hands on the surface of the table. Narrowing my eyes, I continued as everyone tried to assimilate what I’d done. “I’ve taken steps to position the Bianchi family back into favor in Little Italy. It’s time we reclaimed our honor in the community.” I’d overstepped my bounds and I knew it. But bold was what my path called for. I was done sitting by while my bullying older brother took what he wanted.
“We might want our honor back, little Bianchi, but we need money more. Money brings power.” The same uncle, Sitso, smirked at a few of the men around him and then looked back to me to gauge my reaction.
I leaned forward, unwilling to give an inch. If I showed weakness at the point where I wanted to claim power, I would be eaten alive. Unflinching, I calmly stated, “Look what illegal power and money got Matteo. Look at us as we sit in this dark basement room with little to no light.” I pointed at the uncovered bulb hanging above our heads. “Yeah, I feel like we have so much power, so much respect.” My sarcasm lingered on the air as the men shifted in their seats, averting their gazes from my emboldened stare.
Turning my attention to my father who considered me with doubt in his eyes, I clenched my jaw. “The Bianchi name has been dragged through the mud. It’s time we return to the glory of our yesteryears. We aren’t less than the Rossis or the Capones. We’re better. We need to start acting like it.”
The room fell silent. Ashton, a man I’d only spoken to once or twice regardless of our familial ties sat forward and leaned his head to the side. “What do you propose, Matteo?” That question was the only entry point I needed.
Offering a side smile that lacked warmth, I inclined my head. “I’m glad you asked, Ashton. I have something in the works that will make it hard for anyone to ignore the Bianchis. We’re going to make a difference and we’re going to ignite Little Italy into being the most productive area of Puget Sound. All we need is some clout.”
The clout I spoke of wouldn’t come in the form of cruelty or illegal activities. No, the clout I wanted for my family had everything to do with pride and position in the community.
“What do you have in mind?” Another uncle who always seemed to be sleeping but who made some of the most important decisions in the Bianchi lineup spoke up and stared me down.
“I’m going to marry a Rossi.” Saying it out loud didn’t make it seem any more real. The titterings of the men at the table added to my own disbelief that my plan would work.
“Why would you do that?” My father’s question took me aback and it shouldn’t have. I was prepared for the why. I wasn’t prepared for the hostility coming off a lot of my family in waves.
Making sure to meet each man’s gaze with my own before replying, I took the time to take each man’s measure. After a drawn-out silence as the room seemed to wait for my reply while holding their breath, I answered. “The Rossis and Capones have united, doubling their power. They’re moving into the legal world and they have the numbers to do it successfully. Instead of having to protect against us and each other, they only have to compete with us.”
“They’re idiots. They just don’t know it.” A less intelligent cousin spoke up, his position as a soldier wobbly at best.
“They’re idiots? You think so?” I pushed my chair back from the table and stood, moving around the group like an orbiting moon. “The problem with that statement is they make money hand over fist as they – together, mind you – have claimed most of the construction leads, importing and exporting orders, as well as the seafood trade.” I stopped beside the cousin who had spoken up.
Bracing my hands on the table, I leaned forward, staring down the table and holding my father’s gaze with mine. “Do you know what the Bianchis are known for?” No one spoke. We all knew. We just didn’t want to admit it. Well, I was already started. Why not go all the way? “We’re known for terrorizing our neighbors, stealing from those less fortunate, and hurting those who really don’t deserve it.” I stood, shrugging. “I don’t know about you, but I can’t help wondering just what our great-great grandfather would think of us today. Everything he sacrificed to be one of the best Italian families on the west coast and here we are… hated and despised.”
Appealing to their pride, to our ancestor, would hopefully get the recognition to the situation that we needed. I didn’t care which daughter Rossi matched me to. I just wanted to make sure we were united and ready for the next stages of my plans. If I wanted to replace Mason with a more permanent hold on the family and the position of underboss, I needed to get my steps rolling forward and I needed everyone’s approval.
“You really think marrying a Rossi will help us with that?” My father studied me. He knew my desire to never marry and my own need to be independent. He alone would know the sacrifice I was making.
I had his attention with my move. I scoffed. “Doesn’t it stand to reason? The Capones’ holdings increased already in the short time since their union. If we can make a similar union, I don’t see the point in continuing how we’ve been going. Does it mean a rebrand? Sure. But I think the Bianchis are ready for that. I think we need it.”
“Won’t Mason be upset when he hears what you’re doing?” Sitso spoke up again, as if he wanted me to shoot him. And maybe he did. If he didn’t stop being annoying or contradictory, I’d be happy to oblige.
I stilled, staring him down with eyes I knew matched my brother’s in intensity. “Tell you what, Sitso. You can get on board with our movement forward, join us as we become the Bianchis we’re meant to be, or you can hold onto your loyalty to Mason and be left in the dust as we succeed.” I shrugged, piercing the rest of the clan with my gaze. “It really isn’t a matter of should we. It’s now a matter of when. I’ve already got the ball rolling. I’m not going to let anything stop the momentum.” I sank into the seat I’d claimed earlier and folded my hands on the table.
Hopefully my message was clear – Anyone who got in my way was going to be left behind and I wasn’t going to tolerate stragglers.
As the meeting broke up and my father shook the hands of the men who had joined us, I swiveled back and forth in the seat by only a couple inches either way.
On the morning of Mason’s indictment, I’d pulled Giovanni Rossi to the side, just before he’d left with his family. Convincing him that uniting with me and the Bianchis would be a smart move hadn’t been easy. I’d told him I’d marry the daughter that was worth the least to him just to have a union. That had captured his attention.
The Rossi daughters were known for their loyalty to the family. I was taking on a dangerous wife. She could kill me in my sleep, turn me in for illegal activity, or any other number of things just to make her father happy. To get a leg up in our society, I was willing to take that on as a potential liability.
I also couldn’t help wondering about the possibilities. What happened when a man married one of the Rossi women and convinced her to shift her loyalties? If a Rossi could be loyal to the Bianchi name, couldn’t the rest of Little Italy? The potential was there and I finally had a chance to look past the limitations Mason had placed on the family.
I had a few days left before facing one of the most daring business moves I’d ever attempted. If it failed, if any of it failed, I’d be in the perfect position for my brother to kill me when he was finally released or before.
But if I succeeded… there’d be no place left for him to go.
I just had to get through the wedding and save my family.
I didn’t answer any calls from my sisters, my brothers, or even my father. I don’t remember turning off the phone, but when I turned it back on a text from Alessandro tersely gave me the details for the wedding which earned him even more silence.
The morning of my fateful day, I woke up in my hotel suite alone. Of course, I was alone. What did I expect? Just because I’d agreed to take the important step for my father, didn’t mean I would suddenly gain value. I’d promised to do it, if for no other reason than to have somewhere else to go. My family obviously didn’t want me. As much as that hurt, I couldn’t help feeling like maybe I could still make them happy, make them change their minds about how they felt about me.
Determined to due my duty and marry the Bianchi I’d been paired with, I dressed in a discreetly simple cream business suit. The lines complimented my petite form while the heels gave me an additional two inches of height. Not only was I the least beautiful of my sisters, I was also the most diminutive.
Leaving my hair at a more sedate level than most of the family would, I let it fall around my shoulders in waves. Even my makeup was more on the natural side as I figured I’d be the only one there who would care if I wore a lot of face paint or not.
I packed everything in my room and called the bell desk to store my luggage until I had an address for it to be delivered to. I didn’t even know where my home would be. Accepting that I was going to be a married woman in just a few hours, I drove my new car further into town. As long as I didn’t focus on the fact that I was being married off, I was able to hold onto my sanity a little bit longer.
In no time, I pulled up in front of the courthouse where Mason Bianchi had been convicted. Ironic that the Bianchi family would choose that particular spot for the ceremony to take place.
I wasn’t even sure who Matteo was. Had I seen him before? Was he ugly? Was he mean? Would he be better or worse than his brother’s own reputation? I’d asked around, but there wasn’t a lot to be said of the younger brother. Most of the Bianchi rumors focused on Mason and his undeniable cruelty.
Not for the first time did I wonder what I was marrying into.
Parking near the front of the building, I stepped from the car and stood on the sidewalk, staring at the stately exterior of the courthouse. I’d never felt so alone as I took a steadying breath. Being there on my own was my choice. I couldn’t whine about taking the steps into the future.
A car pulled up behind me, parking in the last parallel spot available on the street, inches from my own car. I glanced behind me, grateful for the distraction before I moved into the courthouse and changed my life.
Climbing from the sleek vehicle, a tall man with broad shoulders and dark hair swept to the side seemed to suck the air from the nearby area. I caught my breath, my chest tight as I took in his strong jaw enhanced with the dark lines of his black tailored suit. He glanced at me, his gaze sliding past and then back to me as if he’d missed something the first go ‘round. As he scanned my form, I could feel his appreciation. He inclined his head with a sharp jerk but moved past me, a regret-filled smile twitching the corners of his masculinely sculpted lips.
As he passed, a wave of an expensive cologne drifted past and I clenched my teeth. Of course, he would smell as delicious as he looked. Life wasn’t fair. In any other situation, I would have approached him, but I was set to get married in just a few minutes.
There was nothing fair about any of it.
He went inside the doors and I took another moment to gather my bearings. I’d just been inventoried by a man who left my heart racing. I’d never see him again and I resented the entire situation. Rather than turn from dishonoring my family, I wrapped my determination around me.
Counting to ten, I followed the direction the delicious man had gone in, climbing the steps of the courthouse with an irritating persistence to follow through on my last act of loyalty to the Rossi name.
Alessandro’s text had told me to meet my future husband in the room marked B2. I could do that. It wasn’t hard to find. Pulling open the door, I picked at the cuticle of my thumb with my forefinger while hanging my hand by my side.
The occupants of the room turned toward me – a judge, a bailiff, a records keeper, and the man I’d seen outside. Was it possible the man was Matteo Bianchi? My future husband? What were the odds that a man who made my nerves twinge with one glance would be the man I would be matched to? I always doubted I was a lucky woman until that moment.
“Are you Adele Rossi?” The judge called out from his seat above the rest.
I nodded mutely, suddenly overtaken by nerves and uncertainty. No one else was there. My brothers and sisters had truly left me to this shaky future with a family whose sanity was questioned on a normal basis through all of Little Italy.
Matteo – now that I had a name to go with the face – approached me where I stood, half-frozen by the doorway. My hands shook. Did he know how attractive I found him? I suddenly wished I’d taken more care with my appearance, made myself more flashy and feminine.
His eyes studied me as if searching for a sign that I was going to bolt. His appraising gaze had changed to one of hesitation. He stopped in front of me and reached out, taking my hand in his. “Adele? I’m Matteo Bianchi.” The way he said his name – Mat-Ay-O – left little doubt he had been raised with the Italian language in his home. At least there was culture in his upbringing.
Trying to smile, I licked my dry lips with an even drier tongue. “Yes, nice to meet you, Matteo.” I didn’t know what else to say or even where to look as his fingers around my hand left me with a tingling all over my skin.
He lowered his voice, tilting his head toward me to shorten the distance between us. “Are you sure you want to do this? I don’t want you to feel forced into anything you don’t want to do.” His concern amazed me and I blinked, staring up at him. When did a man care about what a woman wanted?
My uncertainty wavered and then disappeared as his cologne wrapped around me. This time, the scent was the only familiar thing in the room and I grabbed onto that comfort with an almost desperate degree of willingness. True, I’d never smelled the scent before seeing him outside, but there had been an attraction there I couldn’t deny. Maybe that would make our union easier to swallow, easier to commit to.
Nodding, I smiled, trying to hide my nerves. “Of course. I usually do what I want.” My words weren’t only a reassurance for him, I needed to get through to him that I wouldn’t be ruled by anyone. Misogyny was accepted in the Italian families, but I was done being a pawn for the men. If Matteo couldn’t welcome me as I was, then we were in for a rough marriage.
His side smile took me aback. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He turned, motioning toward the waiting judge. “Shall we?”
Falling into step beside him, I couldn’t help noticing that he hadn’t let go of my hand as we walked down the aisle together. Would he be the type of man who would let me be a partner or would I be placed in a beautiful cage and kept there to show off to his friends? The former would be a fantasy while the latter was expectation.
The ceremony was brief and to the point, but as the judge and the other courthouse staff left to go about their next appointments, Matteo turned to me, taking my left hand in his. From his pocket he pulled a small ring and slipped it onto my wedding ring finger. “I don’t expect you to know the meaning of this ring, but I hope you’ll accept my promise that accompanies it. I’m working to better the Bianchis. You’re a big part of that. One day, I hope to be worthy of this union. Until then, I promise to try my best.”
I didn’t miss the romantic notion behind the ring or the sincerity behind his words.
My new husband wasn’t short on surprises. What would be expected of me in my new life? Would I fail him as well as myself?