“My father told me you’re scared.” Maybe I should have found a more delicate way to broach the subject, but that wasn’t one of my strengths.

Her eyes widened, those red lips falling open. “I… I’m not… I…” She bit her lower lip and looked away. The moonlight highlighted her smooth skin, unblemished and soft-looking.

“Will you look at me?”

She raised her eyes. I ran my thumb over her fingers to the ring, and she shivered slightly. “This ring makes you mine.”

She tensed, and I realized I should have chosen different wording, something that didn’t sound like I was a Neanderthal about to claim her, not that it wasn’t true. I would claim her tonight, if only to follow traditions we both couldn’t evade, and she was mine, but that wasn’t what I meant to say. I wasn’t sure what to say to set her at ease. Gaia and I hadn’t talked much. She’d screamed or cried and sometimes talked sweetly when she wanted something.

“Tradition binds us, Giulia. Not just you, but also me.”

I’d sworn to protect her, like a husband was supposed to protect his wife, and I would do my best to do a better job this time.

“I know of our traditions,” she said quickly, embarrassed.

“I’m not talking about the bloody sheets.”

She swallowed. “What are you talking about, then?”

“That, as my wife, you’re also entitled to my protection.”

Giulia tilted her head, regarding me curiously. “Okay.”

I wasn’t sure if I got my point across, but I’d never been a man of many words when feelings were concerned. I’d do my best to treat her right.

Silence fell over us. I could tell that Giulia wanted to say something, perhaps even wanted me to say more, but I remained silent. I didn’t know my young wife and had no clue what she did all day except for shopping and meeting other women. She was a teenager, and I was not. I hadn’t even acted like one when I’d been her age.

“Let’s return. Our guests are waiting. It’s almost midnight.”

She tensed, but followed me inside.

Luca’s uncles—my fellow Underbosses that I couldn’t stand—were the first to demand I bed my wife.

Giulia and I stood with my sisters and her parents when the first shout cut through the music.

Appreciative roars and clapping followed and then a chorus of “bed her” came from most of the men.

Giulia’s father and brother did not take part in it. Christian gave me a look that bordered on threatening. At another time, I would have reacted accordingly to that kind of disrespect. Now wasn’t the time, however. He was a braver man than his father. I had to give it to him.

Giulia clutched her wine glass and gave my sister Mia an embarrassed smile.

Mia hugged me tightly. “Don’t make me kick your ass, big brother. Be good to that girl. She’s such a cutie.”

I untangled myself from my sister. I would not discuss my sex life with her.

Felix gave me a hard look, but we both knew that whatever went on tonight was no longer his responsibility. He certainly loved his daughter, but he also loved power, and if he had to choose between the two…

I turned to my wife, tired of everyone shoving their noses into our marriage. Giulia gave me a shy look, her cheeks red. I held out my hand, and she took it without hesitation. Her palms were sweaty. “Are you ready to go upstairs?” I murmured, bending down so only she could hear me.

She swallowed, but nodded.

I turned to our families. “If you’ll excuse us?”

Before Giulia and I could take our leave, Egidia hugged her daughter once more and whispered something in her ear that drove a fierce blush into my wife’s cheeks.

Wine glass still clutched in her hand, she allowed me to lead her away. Again, we didn’t talk. I considered saying something reassuring, but the truth was there was nothing to say, and I wasn’t a man for those kinds of words anyway.

Giulia took a sip of her wine. She was on her fifth glass—at least.

“What did your mother say?” I asked to fill the tense silence between us as we took the elevator up to our suite for the night. The door slid open, and we stepped out.

Another sip. I stopped and took the glass from her. If she was intoxicated, I’d have to fake those fucking bloodstains after all. “That’s enough.”

“It’s ginger ale.”

I took a sip from the glass, surprised.

Giulia fumbled with the tiny white purse slung over her shoulder. “I only had one glass of sparkling wine at the reception. I didn’t want to be drunk.” Those big blue eyes hit me.

“What did your mother say?” I asked again, leading her the rest of the way to the suite. I unlocked the door.

Giulia pursed her lips. “That I should please you and try to mask my inexperience.” She let out a huff. “Right now, I’m just trying not to pass out from fear.”

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