Wife By ForceBy: Caro LaFever
She eyed him. “The last of your five sisters, Dante. Successfully launched.”
“They are not boats, Mamma.”
“What I’m trying to say is you have finished the job your father gave you long ago.”
“Not quite,” he said. “There is Tomas.”
“Tomas.” She waved her hand in dismissal. “He is too busy sowing his wild oats. It will be years before I have to organize his wedding.”
“True.” He’d given his brother the freedom to play that he’d never had. He’d had no choice for himself. He’d given up his freedom because he had to. For his family. For the business.
For his honor.
That was what he’d done so long ago with Lara. The night he’d relived over and over in his memory. With no resolution, no way back. Because he’d done the right thing that night. The only thing he could have done. He hadn’t had the freedom to take her, take her as she wanted and he wanted. Not then.
Little had he known how much he would pay for that decision. Pay for years and years.
He closed his eyes.
“Dante? Are you listening to me?”
“That boy,” his mother clucked her tongue. “He has more women than he knows what to do with.”
“He is not stupid. Or foolish.” Setting aside his regret, he eased himself off the desk and paced to the window. “He’s still in his twenties. Let him have his fun.”
“I suppose he has a right to enjoy his youth.”
His own right to take what he wanted when he wanted had been eclipsed by his duty. During these years, he’d focused on what he needed to do, not on what he wanted to do. After he lost Lara, he’d had nothing to live for but his familial duty.
But now? Now, for once, he would take what he wanted. To hell with anything else.
“Now,” his mother’s voice strengthened. “We talk about you.”
He allowed himself a wry smile since his back was to her. His mamma was the only one in all these years who had never lost sight of the boy he’d been. She clucked and worried and suggested until he nearly went mad and told her so. His objections made no difference, however. She was as stubborn as he was.
“Dante?” The one word was filled with irritation. “Pay attention to me, per favore.”
If only she knew this conversation was not needed. He wondered for a moment what Giana Casartelli would say if he announced his aim. His aim to take. Take what he wanted. Of all his relatives, his employees, his business associates, she would undoubtedly be overjoyed he was doing something for himself for once.
But no. This was not the time to share with anyone his desires. He’d learned, painfully, not to share much of anything about himself. It was not time to share anything. With anyone. Not even Lara.
“Dante.” His mother broke through his thoughts, her tone sharp and shrill. “I demand you listen to me.”
“Demand?” His quiet word slipped into the air.
Her tone shifted. “Request, then.”
He turned to stare at her.
His mother stared back at him with grim determination. “You are thirty-six.”
“I don’t know where you are going with this.” Actually, he knew precisely where she was going; he just had no interest in following. Yet he knew enough about his mamma’s ways to know he needed another cognac. Walking to the liquor stand, he picked out another crystal glass. “Would you like a nightcap?”
“No.” An obstinate look crossed her face. “I want to talk about this with you.”
“This being what?”
“You must feel relief that all your sisters are secure and happy.”
“This responsibility has been a huge burden for you. I know this.”
“It has been eleven years since your papa died. You have carried these obligations for all these years. The raising of your siblings. Running the family company. You’ve done an admirable job.” Giana’s eyes filled with tears again. “I’m very proud of you.”
“I merely did what needed to be done.” Irritated, he stifled the need to walk out of the room. He hated this, this endless recitation of his supposed good deeds. As if he’d had any choice when his father lay dying. As if he’d ever once contemplated denying his father’s last request to take care of his siblings, to take care of his mother, to take care of the family business.
His mother’s gaze turned from tears to a snapping sparkle. “You constantly do this.”
“Try and dismiss what you’ve sacrificed.”