Bound By Temptation

By: Cora Reilly


Aria gave me a once over. “You’re as tall as me now. I still remember when you didn’t want to go anywhere without holding my hand.”

I quickly looked around, but thankfully nobody was around to overhear her. “Don’t say anything like that when Romero is around. Where is he anyway?” I realized a moment too late how idiotic I sounded, and flushed.

Aria laughed. “He’s probably at his apartment.”

I shrugged, but it was too late. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten the blood on Romero’s hands but for some reason I wasn’t as scared of him as I was of Matteo, or even Luca. And I realized just how much when we walked toward them. My heart sped up and I could feel a panic attack rising up. I hadn’t had one in weeks, so I fought it desperately.

“The birthday girl,” Matteo said with a smile. How could that charming guy be the same person whom I’d seen covered in blood in the basement?

“Not yet,” I said. I could feel my panic already abate. In real life Matteo wasn’t as frightening as in my memories. “Unless you have an early present for me.”

“I like the way you think,” Matteo said with a wink. He took my suitcase, then held out his arm. I glanced at Gianna. “Won’t you carry Gianna’s luggage?” I didn’t want Gianna to think I was flirting with her fiancé even though she didn’t seem to like him very much most of the time.

“Luca can take care of it,” Matteo said.

Gianna glared at him before she sent me a smile. “Go on.”

I accepted Matteo’s hand. I wasn’t sure why Gianna despised him so much. And it had started before the basement, so it wasn’t that. But it wasn’t any of my business and Gianna didn’t talk about her emotions with me anyway. That was what Aria was for. In their minds I was always too young to get it. But I knew more than they thought.

***

Fifty minutes later, we arrived at Luca’s and Aria’s apartment building. I checked my reflection in the mirrors of the elevator, making sure my make-up was in place and I didn’t have anything between my teeth. It had been months since I’d last seen Romero and I wanted to make a good impression. But when we walked into Aria’s and Luca’s apartment Romero wasn’t there yet. My eyes darted around and eventually Aria leaned toward me, whispering. “Romero’s not around because Matteo and Luca are here to protect us.”

“I wasn’t looking for him,” I said quickly, but she didn’t buy it. I looked away before she could see my blush.

“Of course,” Aria said with a knowing smile. “He’ll come over later when Matteo and Luca have to leave for business.”

Excitement bubbled up in me, but it was mixed with something queasy and nervous, too. I’d had the occasional nightmare about that night in the basement, not about Romero in particular but I wondered if a live encounter would bring more of the bad stuff up. But that wasn’t even the main reason why I was nervous. So far Romero had always ignored me, well not me, but my flirting. He’d treated me like a kid. Maybe he’d finally show more interest, or any interest at all. After all I was turning fifteen and it wasn’t as if I hadn’t caught many of my father’s soldiers checking me out. Maybe I wasn’t Romero’s type, no matter my age. I didn’t even know if he was dating someone or promised to someone.

During dinner I could tell that Aria and Gianna were exchanging the occasional glance. I wasn’t sure what it meant. Were they talking about me?

The elevator made a bling sound and started its descent to whoever had called it.

“That’s Romero,” Aria said. Luca gave her an odd look but I didn’t react at all, merely nodded as if I didn’t care, but I did, and I was glad for Aria’s warning.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” I said, trying to sound casual. Gianna rolled her eyes. I snatched my purse from the floor and rushed toward the guest bathroom. When I closed the door, I heard the elevator doors slide open. A moment later Romero’s voice rang out. It was deep but not rough. I loved the sound of it.

I faced the mirror and quickly refreshed my make up and fluffed up my dark-blond hair. It wasn’t as bright and pretty as Aria’s and not as eye-catching as Gianna’s red hair but it could have been worse. The others would notice that I’d gone into the bathroom to make myself presentable, my sisters at the very least, but I didn’t care. I wanted to look nice for Romero. Trying to look relaxed, I stepped out of the bathroom. Romero had taken a seat at the table and was loading a plate with the remains of our dessert: Tiramisu and Panna Cotta. He was sitting on the chair right beside mine. I glanced at Aria wondering if she had something to do with it. She merely smiled at me, but Gianna didn’t even bother hiding her amusement. I really hoped she wasn’t going to embarrass me in front of everyone. I strolled over to my chair, hoping I looked grown up and relaxed, but apart from a quick smile Romero didn’t pay me any attention. Disappointment settled heavily in my stomach. I sat down beside him and took a sip of my water, more to have something to do than because I was actually thirsty.

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