Home > By Virtue I Fall (Sins of the Fathers #3)(3)

By Virtue I Fall (Sins of the Fathers #3)(3)
Author: Cora Reilly

I flushed and for the briefest moment, my gaze flitted to my nightstand. Santino staggered toward it and tried to open the drawer but it was locked. I didn’t want Leonas to get blackmailing material on me. Santino felt under the bed and then smirked. My mouth fell open when he pulled out the little key that I’d taped to the underside of my bed frame and opened the drawer.

“That’s private!” I hissed, but he’d already picked up a stack of fifteen drawings of him. The one at the top showed Santino holding hands with my adult self. I’d used a computer app to age me and then drawn myself beside Santino.

I really hoped he wouldn’t recognize me. The stare he gave me crushed my hope. “What’s this?”

I swallowed and shrugged.

“I know this is supposed to be you, Anna. I recognize you, not to mention the ridiculous checkered Chanel costume no one else under the age of seventy would wear.”

“Chanel is fashion, no matter the age,” I said indignantly.

“You won’t draw me ever again, understood? This is my last warning.”

He stalked out, not waiting for my reply.

Embarrassment still warmed my cheeks and I was on the verge of an angry cry when I realized something: Santino had paid enough attention to my drawings to notice the differences in my progress over the last few months.

A grin spread on my face.

“Anna?” Mom called and pushed the door that Santino had left ajar farther open, poking her head in.

“Can I have a word with you?”

I picked up on the tension around Mom’s mouth. She shared the same full lips with me, but now hers looked like a hard line. Had Santino snitched on me? I couldn’t imagine it. “Is anything wrong?”

“Oh no, sweetheart,” Mom said as she came in and sank down on the padded bench in the window frame.

I sank down beside her, wondering what this was about.

“With your thirteenth birthday coming up very soon, your dad and I thought now might be a good time to discuss your future with you.”

This didn’t come completely unexpected. As the Capo’s daughter, everyone was waiting with bated breath to whom I’d be promised. “Okay?”

“Your father and I have spent the last few months thinking about a possible bond. We didn’t want to rush things, especially because the boy we have in mind for you might come as unexpected.”

I’d heard rumors of me being married to someone from the Corsican Union to strengthen the Outfit, but I knew Dad. He’d never allow me to become part of another mafia family. He’d be too concerned about my safety. Dad wouldn’t even let me leave Chicago, even if that would limit my possible future husbands drastically. An Underboss’s son would never want to leave his city for me.

“You know Clifford Clark, don’t you?”

My mouth formed an O. He wasn’t someone I’d had in mind when marriage was concerned. “We play tennis together.” Together was a loose term in this case. He and I had never really played double or against each other, but we played in the same club, and on occasion, our tennis coach had created groups of his students to work on certain skills. A few times Clifford and I had been in the same group, but apart from a quick “hi” we’d never exchanged an actual conversation. He always had a pack of friends around him like an entourage.

“Your dad’s been working with his father. The cooperation is important for the Outfit and we’re trying to create a stronger bond between our families. Having connections to the political elite can be an advantage.”

I racked my brain for my latest memory of him. It had been several months ago. He and a few boys had sat on the bleachers while Luisa and I had played tennis. Clifford was tall and blond, kind of handsome. If only my hair were blond, all the people who begged for a golden couple would have a field day. I giggled, causing Mom to give me a look of puzzlement.

“I just thought that he’d be perfect to satisfy the golden couple enthusiasts. But Leonas would probably have to take my place.”

Mom laughed. “These golden couple rumors won’t ever stop.”

I knew many had wanted Dad to marry someone other than Mom exactly for that reason.

Mom put her hand over mine. “You’re taking it better than I thought you might.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I’m surprised, but I don’t see why I should be worried. Everyone has an arranged marriage.” Then I pursed my lips, wondering why Mom was worried. “Or do you think I won’t belong in the Outfit anymore if I marry an outsider?”

“Sweetheart, you’ll always be part of the Outfit. Your marriage to someone like Clifford would help the Outfit, which everyone will appreciate greatly. His family is very influential and if his father becomes senator, this will only improve.”

I nodded. The Outfit would be untouchable if we had the support of an important political family. I knew Dad worried a lot about our safety and the strength of the Outfit. If I could help him, why wouldn’t I do it?

“And you would have more freedoms in a marriage with an outsider. You could study art, maybe even work in the field. Our men aren’t as liberal.”

“Have you and Dad already agreed to the marriage?”

“No,” Mom said immediately. “I wanted to talk to you first.”

I bit my lip. It was strange thinking of marrying someone I barely knew, or thinking about marriage at all. Whenever it had crossed my mind, it had been a very distant idea. Now it became reality. “Can I talk to him during training tomorrow? I want to get a feel for him.”

Mom smiled. “Of course, but he doesn’t suspect anything. His family doesn’t want to divulge anything to him until things are more concrete.”

“I won’t tell him anything. I’ll find an excuse for wanting to chat with him.”

“You’re a clever girl. I’m sure he won’t suspect anything.” Mom kissed my temple. “Tell me how it went, okay?”

 

 

Luisa looked more nervous than me, as if she had to marry Clifford. After we’d gotten dressed in our white tennis skirts and matching shirts, she and I headed for the tennis courts. My gaze swiped the wide hall until I found Clifford in the second to last court, playing against one of his friends, a boy of Asian descent, whose name I didn’t know.

The court beside them was vacant so I steered Luisa toward it.

“Stop staring at them as if you have something to hide,” I muttered as we entered the court. Luisa didn’t have a deceiving bone in her body. She was way too good. We were like good cop and bad cop.

She flushed. “I can’t help it!”

“Focus on the ball,” I said and tossed her a tennis ball before I took up position on the other side of the net. Only a low barrier separated our tennis court from the next one where Clifford and the other boy were engaged in a heated match.

Luisa and I played back and forth for a while before I fired the ball to Clifford’s side. I jogged over to the barrier. Clifford picked up the ball with a scowl. “Hey, pay attention to where you’re pitching your ball. You disrupted our game.”

He tossed the ball over to me, not even bothering to come closer. I pursed my lips. Rude. He was as I’d remembered him, tall, blond wavy hair and lanky limbs.

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