"I'll explain myself / I can't play myself
Our first night, holy night
Five in the morning, yeah-yeah (yeah)
And it feels like you're mine / Signs of the times
Oh, what a time
Playin' it right, playin' it perfect / Laughin' it off but I know you're hurtin'"
Vienna stared at her ex-boyfriend with wide, uncomprehending eyes.
How was he here in America? In Chicago? In her house?
But then Royce's eyes darted down to the ring on her finger, and Vienna felt reality wash over as she dropped her hand back down to her side.
It was all real. He was here.
Vienna moved mechanically towards him, biting the inside of her cheek as she regarded him with confusion
"What're you—?" Vienna started, but broke off the end of her sentence when she got within a few feet of him.
He tilted his head at her as if he could already read her thoughts and he gestured to a point behind her.
"Can I get you another drink?"
Vienna suddenly became cognizant of her surroundings—the fixation on her and Royce—and she bit her lip before nodding once.
He seemed to exhale out of relief and Vienna followed his lead as they searched out a more private corner of the house. Vienna's heart was hammering in her chest as she watched Royce pour her a glass of pinot grigio—his hand moving in a practiced, familiar way that transported her back to their warm summer nights spent together in Italy.
Vienna bit her lip. (And he was here, he was here, he was here.)
"My condolences, by the way," Royce whispered quietly after handing her the wine glass. "I know you had a…complicated relationship with your father. But I'm sorry for your loss."
Vienna's mouth twisted at his words. It was not lost on her the irony of the situation: here they were, standing at her father's funeral—the man who was the sole reason she left Italy (and Royce) in the first place.
Vienna lifted the wine glass to her mouth. (And, perhaps it was her imagination, but she swore it tasted bittersweet.)
"Thanks, I—I appreciate it," Vienna replied after a moment. What else was she supposed to say?
They both fell silent once more as they found a remote corner of the room, and Vienna felt emotion churn at the bottom of her stomach. What were they supposed to say after all this time?
They both broke off, and smiled self-consciously at the way they interrupted one another.
"You first," Vienna finally urged, nodding her head at Royce.
Royce had a sheepish look on his face, and Vienna noticed as his gaze found the ring on her finger once more. "Did you like the postcards?"
Vienna tightened her hold on her wine glass, and her heart clenched inside her chest. "Of course I did. That summer was—"
She broke off. She did not know what to say. She could not say what she wanted to say. (That summer was the best summer of my life. That summer was the worst summer of my life. If I could, I would bottle that summer up and live in it eternally. )
Vienna switched the wine glass to her right hand. (She did not want to dwell on the present—not yet. Not with him.)
"How did you know where to send them?" Vienna decided to ask, as she peered curiously at Royce. It was one mystery she could never quite figure out.
Royce shot her a cryptic grin. "I have my ways."
Vienna tilted her head in confusion—unwilling to let up. "What do you mean?"
She had been expecting him to say that it was her grandparents or even, perhaps, Gino.
"Vi, I may not be like your cousin, but I know how to do some things."
Vienna scrunched her nose up. "What does that mean?"
Slowly, Royce's expression mirrored her own bewilderment. "Vi, I know we never really talked about it, but I thought you knew."
Vienna was growing increasingly irritated with his line of responses. "Knew what?"
Realization slowly dawned on Royce's face and his green eyes slanted away from Vienna's. "Our families are not quite so different, Vienna. The Cosa Nostra has its hand in many things."
Vienna blinked. She did not know what to say; it was a shock to the system.
Her relationship with Royce had always represented many things, but above all it was escape. Escape from Chicago. Escape from her family. Escape from the Mafia.
Royce was amazing simply because he was an average samaritan; he was supposed to be ordinary.
Suddenly, Vienna felt like there was an anvil hanging from her ribs.
Her mouth moved uncomprehendingly. "You—? You're part of—? But your family isn't even from Sicily! We were together in Florence."
Royce chuckled quietly, and reached out to grab her hand. "I thought you knew. Before my parents moved back to Italy, we were living in New York City. My parents had close ties to the Gambino Family—I thought you knew."
Vienna felt like a fish out of water as her mouth parted open in surprise. But he was right: the signs had always been there. The way he was so close to her grandparents, the hypervigilance he would keep while they roamed the streets of Italy, the funds he had access to despite being a fresh, post-graduate in a foreign country.
Perhaps it was something she had always known deep down: Royce and his family were part of the original Mafia family in Italy.
"We never talked about it," Vienna defended, her voice sounding weak to her own ears.
Royce's thumb moved back and forth across her knuckles. "Does it matter?"
Of course it does! She wanted to scream.
"We had so many other things to talk about."
The fight left her abruptly. Of course it didn't.
His roots did not erase all the history they had together. But still it was disarming: the sudden news. Vienna briefly realized that Gino and her father probably knew about Royce's background as well.
Vienna stared at the movement of his thumb across her knuckles and she immediately felt an ache in her chest for what they once had—what they once lost.
Sensing her line of thinking, Royce cleared his throat in a frustrated fashion.
"He's lucky," Royce grunted, tossing a look at Dante.
Vienna frowned, her eyes fixed on him. "You were lucky once."
Royce's gaze swiveled back to her—both heavy and immovable. "I remember. Trust me, I remember. "
The way his mouth curved around the words, had Vienna's cheeks warming. Abruptly, an image of them appeared in her mind: sweat-slicked, and making out fiercely in a dark corner of an alley—with only the light of Florence's stars to keep them from blending into the walls.
Suddenly, Vienna felt self-conscious of their point of contact, and she retracted her hand from his.
"Royce—" Vienna began to admonish.
"Were you ever going to tell me? About the engagement?"
Unconsciously, Vienna let her eyes drift back towards the wake, and she found her glower clashing with a pair of familiar, dark-brown ones.
Royce followed her stare, and made a sound at the back of his throat. "I'm surprised he hasn't tried to come over here yet."
Vienna bit her lip, noticing Dante's cool gaze moved from her to Royce. Silently, she agreed with Royce. But Dante's face remained impassive (though it was clear that he was keeping an eye on the two of them).
Still, she appreciated the distance that Dante was giving her.
Vienna turned resolutely back to Royce. "It wasn't exactly the type of thing I could text to you."
Royce had a wan smile on his face—covering his disappointment with amusement. "You could've called."
Vienna could not look him in the eye. "It wasn't the type of thing I could say over the phone."
She felt her heart dropping to the bottom of her stomach, but it was not longing. No—it was something else.
"That's bullshit," Royce ground out quietly, pinning the concession on Vienna. His green eyes aggrieved as he watched her. "And you know it."
Vienna's expression softened, and she felt her mouth dip into a frown.
It was a nostalgic kind of sadness—her heart breaking for a Past Vienna that no longer existed. They had made a real, genuine connection in the summer. And they had been robbed of that future together, leaving only a what if behind.
"I'm sorry," Vienna finally apologized, looking straight at Royce—trying to convey everything she could not with the one spoken phrase: for leaving so abruptly, for leading him on, for not being transparent enough with him. "I didn't know how to tell you, and I—I didn't want it to be true."
Royce's mouth tightened and something passed between them—a brief acknowledgement of what did not have to be said out loud: that their time together was forever meaningful to them.
"And now?" Royce pressed, his eyes regretful as he watched Vienna carefully.
Vienna's eyes darted back to Dante without her permission (he was still looking at them from afar), and she felt her stomach contract. "I—I don't know."
"Vi, you know—I-I still feel the same way I did in August," Royce stressed, his expression earnest as he peered at Vienna. "You just say the word, and we'll—we'll figure something out."
Vienna smiled softly at him. He was giving her an out. A last chance to go back to Italy and pretend like the last few months were some kind of terrible fever dream.
"Royce, I can't," Vienna replied, her tone soft but firm.
Royce sighed and nodded like he expected as much. Before Vienna could say anything else, Royce took one step forward and held his arms out. "Can, I—?"
Vienna smiled despite herself and stepped forward to allow Royce to wrap his arms around her. The hug was at once wistful and comforting, and Vienna breathed in his familiar scent before separating from him gingerly.
There was a note of finality between them and Vienna took solace in that.
"If you need anything—anything at all—just let me know," Royce prodded, pinning Vienna with a grave look.
Vienna nodded, grinning despite the seriousness in his voice. "Just make sure my grandparents get back home."
Royce nodded sincerely—already stepping away from her. "Of course."
"I'll see you around, Royce," Vienna bid, slipping away from their small, secluded corner of the house.
Royce held up his wine glass, as if toasting to the entirety of her.
"Oh. There you are."
Vienna glanced up—her eyes unfocused as she stared at Georgie.
Georgie lingered by the door of Vienna's childhood bedroom, her mouth pursed into a straight line as she watched Vienna.
"May I come in?"
Vienna nodded before turning to her pile of photographs on the carpet. She had been sitting on the floor, leaning against her bed when Georgie interrupted.
Georgie padded across the room to drop down gingerly next to Vienna—her legs folding underneath her as she sat kneeled down. She did not say anything even when her observation lingered on the nearly-empty bottle of pinot grigio on the floor.
Instead Georgie focused on the scattering of photographs on the floor and let out a gasp when she spotted a picture of the two of them.
"Oh my gosh," Georgie gushed, grabbing the picture at the corners. "How old are we in this? We couldn't have been older than ten!"
Vienna smiled as she glanced at the photo. Their arms were wrapped around each other and their smiles were wide—exposing the gaps in their teeth as they grinned.
Where had the time gone?
"Yeah. I think you're right. It was right before Christian threw that water balloon at us," Vienna said, snorting at the memory of a younger, more mischievous Christian.
Georgie chuckled before picking up another photograph—this one of Vienna's father trying to teach Vienna how to ride a bike.
"You know, everyone always says you look like your mother, but I always thought you looked more like Vito," Georgie commented softly, before placing the photograph gently back down with the others.
Vienna's mouth quirked up. She could not help but secretly agree with Georgie.
Somewhere between her fifth or sixth glass of wine, Vienna had snuck away to get away from the commotion of the wake. And, as she wandered upstairs, she could not help but be struck by the strangeness of walking in a house that was no longer her home.
Before she knew it, she was digging in the back of her closet to find her box of childhood things: a box of old photos and trinkets from her past that were perpetually frozen in time.
Vienna picked at the torn corner of another photograph; this one of her as a toddler sitting on her father's shoulders as he held onto her ankles—as if she was his very own miniature backpack.
"You know, growing up I used to think he was never around," Vienna started contemplatively as she examined the picture. "But he was…just in his own way."
Georgie tilted her head to the side in thought, and Vienna grimaced before handing her a picture near her ankle.
It was a picture of Vienna and Royce standing in front of the Trevi Fountain.
"Royce told me that his family has ties to the Gambino Family," Vienna said, her voice taking on a derisive tone as she watched Georgie's mouth drop open in shock. "I had no idea. But he knew. My father…He had to have known."
Georgie's mouth flattened into a thin line. "Vienna—"
"I think…" Vienna cut herself off as emotion welled up at the base of her throat. "Maybe that was his way of keeping an eye on me—looking out for me. I—I think he knew I didn't want to come back."
But still, it felt like a dead man pulling strings from the grave. Has anything in her life been real? Was everything a premeditated scheme?
As if sensing her line of thought, Georgie reached out to squeeze Vienna's clenched fist.
"No matter how Royce came into your life, what you two had was real," Georgie reassured, her expression steadfast as she peered at Vienna.
Vienna gave her a watery laugh. "Too bad an engagement with the Gambino Family wouldn't have been profitable. Otherwise, maybe I could have been betrothed to Royce. Instead of Dante."
Georgie gave her a knowing look. "But that wouldn't have worked out. Not really."
Vienna swallowed thickly, and glanced away. She was not mentally prepared to unravel the threads of her and Dante's relationship. Not yet at least.
Georgie eased back onto her haunches, and said in a joking manner. "I'm surprised Dante didn't try to rip Royce's arms off for hugging you."
Vienna rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "You're exaggerating."
Georgie threw her a mock-serious smile. "And you should have seen his face."
Vienna snorted, but dismissed Georgie's claim with humor. "And here I thought I was supposed to watch out for Gino and Dante."
Vienna paused before turning to Georgie with a frown tugging at her mouth. "Where is Gino, by the way? I haven't seen him all day."
Georgie frowned. "I was going to ask you if you knew anything; he dipped out early."
Vienna's mouth twisted. It was unlike him to leave without saying goodbye. Especially at her father's own wake. The feeling of unease at the pit of her stomach grew at the idea that her cousin was avoiding her.
But perhaps it was the grief plaguing them all—like an infection left to fester.
Before Vienna could say anything further, there was a warning knock before her bedroom door cracked half-way open.
Alarmed, Vienna and Georgie twisted around to peer over the top of Vienna's bed, only to see Dante standing in the entrance of the doorway with blank scrutiny.
Vienna's eyebrows furrowed at the sight of her fiancé, but Georgie answered her unasked question as she walked towards the door, "I texted him."
Vienna resisted the urge to make a face. It's not like she needed a babysitter for God's sake.
But when she rose unsteadily to her feet, she was immediately grateful for Georgie's forethought. She didn't need to go back downstairs to the rest of her family—to her grandparents—when an entire bottle's worth of wine was sloshing around her empty stomach.
"Don't be a stranger, okay?" Georgie bid as she reached out to pull Vienna into a quick hug. Turning to Dante, Georgie gave him a quick side-hug as well. "Get home safe."
Vienna peered back uncertainly at the mess of photographs that were left on her bedroom floor but Georgie—catching onto her concern—shook her head. "Don't worry, I'll clean up here."
Vienna shot her friend an appreciative smile. "Thanks."
Georgie waved her concern away. "Don't worry about it. You've had a long day."
At Georgie's words, Vienna's exhaustion suddenly wracked her body. She was tired; everything ached—her neck, her back, her shoulders…
Wordlessly, Vienna turned to face Dante who was staring down at her with an unreadable expression. She could see the weathered lines around his eyes, and she vaguely wondered if he felt the same way.
"You ready?" Dante asked, holding her coat up so that she could put her arms through the holes.
Vienna allowed him to help her, and she thought briefly of his quiet composure throughout the day—the ways in which he allowed her space while he lingered on the sidelines.
(Quietly, she was thankful for his closeness now.)
Sinking into her thoughts, Vienna bit her lip and bid Georgie goodbye one last time, before allowing Dante to escort her downstairs and out of the house.
In the half-hour it took to get back to their apartment, Vienna's drinking activities caught up and slammed right into her with all the force of a bull in a china shop. Her mind was a sea of thoughts rushing past and it was all she could do not to sway in her spot.
And, by the time they got home, she was absolutely, undeniably hammered.
"Oopsie," Vienna giggled as she tripped over one of her winter boots in her clumsy attempt to enter their apartment.
From somewhere behind her, she heard Dante grunt as he reached a hand out to steady her. But everything felt foggy—like her surroundings were registering in her mind as if in an afterthought; an echo of her actual reality.
Vienna hiccuped as she plowed forward through the apartment—carelessly dropping her purse on the floor as she went. She only had one goal in mind and it was food.
"Micina," Dante called as she lurched towards the kitchen on unsteady, high-heeled feet. "Be careful."
Vienna barely paid him any attention as she grabbed her favorite snack from the pantry, her eyes widening when she noticed there were several new bags of it.
With blundering fingers, Vienna ripped open the package and stuffed several gummy snacks into her mouth—her teeth chewing ferociously through the sugary sweets.
In the distance, Vienna heard Dante sigh once more before he approached her. Vienna peered at him suspiciously—holding her gummies out of reach just in case he tried to make a pass for them.
"It's getting late," Dante commented, jutting his chin out at the bag of candy in Vienna's hand with a meaningful look.
Vienna chose to shovel more jelly-like sweets into her mouth at his comment, blatantly chewing them in front of him.
Vague hilarity seemed to color his face at her childish response, but Vienna was caught off guard when she felt one Dante's large hands come up to grip her waist.
Her words broke off when Dante bent down—his hand brushing past her calves until they gripped the back of her ankle .
"Lift your leg, Vi," Dante directed, gently squeezing her leg.
Her brain was working at a sluggish pace, but she came to understand what Dante wanted, and she lifted her foot obediently while bracing herself against Dante's shoulders.
Dante slipped her high-heeled shoe off expertly, and reached for her other foot to do the same thing. When he finally managed to set aside both heels, Vienna wiggled her toes gratefully on the cold hardwood floor.
"Better?" Dante asked, his voice amused as he straightened up.
The arm that she had slung around Dante's shoulder for balance, wrapped around him tighter as she peered up at him.
"Better," Vienna repeated, her words a slurred agreement. She tilted her head at Dante, noticing just how close their faces were to each other. He was so handsome it should have been a crime.
Vienna let out a small giggle at her unintentional joke. No wonder Dante was part of the Mafia.
Dante cleared his throat, his eyebrows scrunched as if he was concerned about her. "C'mon, it's time for bed. Can you walk?"
Vienna made a disgruntled noise as she abruptly pulled away from him. "I can walk, Mr. Don."
But as she started to amble through the apartment, it became very apparent that her inner equilibrium was completely thrown off. Dante, to his credit, allowed her to stumble by herself, but he followed her closely in the event that he needed to catch her.
Growing amused at their current predicament, Vienna turned to Dante and pointed an accusing finger at him.
"My door is still broken you know," Vienna pouted as she staggered in the direction of Dante's room. "But I guess that's never going to get fixed, huh?"
Dante watched her with an indescribable face as she hung on the edge of the entrance of his bedroom.
"After what happened with the wiretap, I think it's better that we don't call maintenance,," Dante answered, gently wrapping his hand around her wrist to pull her inside his bedroom.
Vienna hummed as she surveyed his room with newfound curiosity. The last time she had been inside her fiancé's bedroom, it was when she woke up in his bed.
Vienna frowned and turned back towards Dante who was rummaging around in his drawers.
"You know if we get married and I take your last name, then I'll be Vienna Vena," Vienna blurted out loud, making a face as she said the joint name.
Dante chuckled quietly, turning to her with entertainment dancing in his eyes. "I didn't know you were such a traditionalist."
Vienna's jaw dropped open in disgust. "I'm not. But that's all anyone's talking to me about these days: wedding this, wedding that—"
Vienna huffed as she bent down at the waist to rip off her tights that felt suddenly restrictive and claustrophobic.
"You know," Vienna continued, her fingernail ripping a long run along the length of her tights, "they only ask girls that. Never the men. I've never heard anyone ask you anything about getting married—"
Vienna balled up her pantyhose and threw them onto the floor of Dante's room, feeling the blood rush to her head as she straightened up.
"Hey, watch out—"
Dante's voice was too-close, and his hand was once again pressed lightly against her waist, trying to steady her teetering posture.
Vienna leaned into his chest and closed her eyes, trying to grasp the tail end of her soapbox spiel. "You know, I don't know anything about you. Not even the basics—"
"Vienna, we can have this conversation in the morning. You can barely stand up straight let alone change out of these clothes—"
Vienna scowled. "See, there you go again. Avoiding the questions. That's all you do. Avoid, avoid, avoid—"
Somewhere behind her, she heard Dante grunt before he said in a resigned tone of voice. "Stay still. I'm getting you a T-shirt."
Vienna, to her credit, tried her best to not sway on the spot, but it was difficult when her senses were fully dissolved by the alcohol running through her system. When Dante came back seconds later, his voice was softer.
"What do you want to know?" he asked, waiting patiently while Vienna undid the French braids in her hair.
"I don't know," Vienna said gingerly, her expression annoyed as she unraveled her braids, tossing the hair ties on the floor, and allowing her hair to fall halfway down her back. "You can tell me anything. Like how many guests you want. Or where you want to honeymoon—"
"I want a small wedding and I want to go somewhere warm. Tropical," Dante answered in a low voice as he swiped all of her hair to one side in a gentle motion.
Vienna hummed quietly in response, her inebriated mind trying to process this new information.
When it was clear that she had nothing to say to that, Dante continued in a gruff voice. "I'm going to unzip your dress, okay?"
Vienna nodded, tilting her head forward so that he could reach the zipper that sat at the top of her spine. But as he tugged the zipper down, Vienna had more thoughts pop up into her head about the man she would eventually be marrying.
But before she could pose her questions, she heard Dante inhale sharply and mumble something in low Italian. (In her inebriated state it was hard to catch, but she swore she heard something along the lines of dio mi stai uccidendo—god, you're killing me.)
Vienna frowned and tried to turn to face him, but he kept his fingers firmly pressing into her spine—not allowing her to budge.
"Keep your hand on your dress," Dante commanded, his voice surly as he reached for something out of her line of sight.
Vienna quirked an eyebrow, but obeyed as she held the bodice of her dress to her chest. Within seconds, Dante draped an oversized T-shirt over her head, cocconning her in the soft cotton material.
"Okay," Dante said, his voice returning to his normal timbre. "Go ahead, now."
Understanding what he meant, Vienna dropped her hand, allowing the dress to fall from underneath the cover of the T-shirt onto the bedroom floor. It was also at this precise moment that Vienna realized something that Dante must have already noticed: she was not wearing a bra.
Shimmying her arms into the holes of the shirt, Vienna found comfort in the worn fabric of the tee as it fell halfway down her thighs.
But then her mind was back on her volley of questions. She did not know anything and it suddenly became very important that she heard his answers at that moment.
"Dante—" Vienna sighed, turning around to see him unbuttoning his Oxford shirt. Her mouth had gone dry upon seeing the bare skin that was exposed with each button that was undone.
Vienna jerked her head up to meet his eyes—amusement dancing behind them as he stared back at her and took off his shirt completely, leaving only his bare muscled chest.
She steeled herself against his stupid, attractive figure and said once again in a decisive voice, "That's not what I'm saying—Usually people who are getting married know more about each other."
Dante chuckled faintly at her words as he started on his pants. "Micina, what do you want to know?"
"I—I—" She was getting distracted again as she watched him undo the latches at his belt buckle. She turned away pointedly and folded her arms across her chest. He wasn't listening to her. "I don't know. I'm just saying usually spouses know things. Like what neighborhood you want to live in. Or if you want kids—"
"Not with me," Vienna sputtered, turning back to Dante with alarm. "Just in general. Like, hypothetically speaking—"
"Hypothetically?" Dante repeated, his smirk growing as he dropped his slacks to the ground and stepped out of them.
Vienna felt her mouth go dry once more when she saw him standing in just his boxer briefs. His body was tight with corded muscle and suddenly Vienna felt warm in his presence.
"Forget I said anything," Vienna quipped, turning away once again to give him privacy as he changed.
She heard Dante chuckle and rummage around the drawers before he spoke once more. "Hypothetically speaking, I'd like two kids…eventually."
Vienna turned towards him once more, peering at him thoughtfully. "Adopted or biological?"
A contrite expression crossed Dante's face. "Are you going to sue me if I say I want to have my own kids?"
Vienna paused as she surveyed him. "I didn't know you were such a traditionalist."
For a moment Dante seemed surprised before his mouth hooked into a wide grin. "Even when you're hammered you manage to pull that…"
Vienna watched as he shook his head chuckling while he pulled on his sweatpants. When he finished, Dante straightened up and stared at her one more—his face solemn.
"I could be swayed if my wife had a stronger opinion one way or the other."
The way his mouth curled around the word wife had something sharp biting into the center of Vienna's chest.
"Your wife," Vienna slurred, turning to fiddle with the things on his chest of drawers (a pen, a container of pomade, his Rolex), before she turned to him once more. "I bet she would already know what kind of neighborhood you wanted to live in. Or the kind of house you want: duplex or a townhome—"
Dante was distracted as he dug through his nightstand drawer, and he nodded absentmindedly. "Yeah, probably."
Vienna curled her lip as she thought viciously of his illusion of a perfect spouse.
A strange kind of self-destructive compulsion took hold of Vienna as she continued. "I bet she already knows everything about you—"
Vienna cut herself off angrily as she thought about Dante's flawless bride. As if she wasn't going to be the one walking down the aisle towards him. As if they were playing a game of pretend-marriage. As if her whole life would be a comparison to this figmented wife figure. Who would he have married had they not been stuck together?
Dante stepped back into her line of vision, his face inscrutable as he watched her.
Vienna was swaying now, her anger a hot acid thing at the base of her gut. "She sounds like a real catch."
Surprise colored Dante once more and he reached out to Vienna sharply. "Micina—"
She allowed herself to be pulled into his chest, her hands wrapping around his neck apathetically as she frowned at him. "Why do you call me that?"
"Because," Dante pressed, his hands coming up to hold her waist gently, "You look like a kitten whenever you get mad; I can never take you seriously—"
Vienna scowled and poked at Dante's chest stubbornly. "Arrogant as always, Mr. Don."
Humor lit up Dante's eyes as he squeezed her waist. "What? Would you prefer a different name instead? Perhaps cara or amorino or sei il mio tutto?"
Vienna blinked at the last one (you're my everything) and frowned up at him. She was too drunk for this conversation. She was too sober for his words. She was too, too, too —
"I could have a nickname for you too," Vienna quipped, her syllable slurring together as she gazed up at Dante's deep brown irises.
"Oh, yeah?" Dante said, his expression lit up with humor as he stared down at her.
"Yeah," Vienna promised, nodding her head heavily before she leaned in, dropped her voice down to a sexy whisper, and said, "Stronzo."
Dante immediately threw his head back with laughter, deep belly-laughs erupting from him and Vienna could not help but crack a smile at the sound—secretly pleased that she had been the one to make him laugh so hard.
"Did you just call me a turd?" Dante finally asked once he finished laughing, his words playful as he regarded Vienna.
Vienna shrugged coyly as she stared up at him, her hands wandering up his neck until they were sinking into the curls of his hair. "Maybe."
There was a flicker of understanding in Dante's eyes right before Vienna closed the gap between them and pressed her lips to his.
His lips were just as soft as she remembered.
Her hands tightened their hold on him as she leaned in further—trying to get as close to him as possible despite their height difference.
But it was futile, she felt frustrated as she tried to angle herself better in an attempt to deepen their kiss but Dante was motionless against her—allowing her to kiss him, but not kissing her back.
She made an irritated noise as she tried to nudge open his lips with her own, but Dante pulled away—holding her away from him fixedly.
"Why aren't you kissing me back," Vienna glowered, trying to inject anger into her voice when all she really felt was the sting of rejection.
Dante smoothed a lock of hair behind her ear and, for a moment, Vienna found the motion soothing. "You've had a lot to drink tonight, micina. Let's—Let's go to bed."
Vienna grimaced at him, and was about to make a snide comment, when Dante swooped down to place a chaste kiss at the middle of her forehead.
And suddenly everything dissolved until all she felt was the pounding in her temples and the spinning world around her.
Before Dante could say anything else, Vienna slipped out of his hold and made her way to his full-sized bed. Sleep sounded so good at the moment, and, before she could think too hard about her decision, she was pulling back the covers and nestling into the blanket of warmth his bed provided.
Dante stood stationary for a moment as he scrutinized her, before moving to turn off the bedroom lights.
The room was bathed in sudden darkness and Vienna felt abruptly small and vulnerable as she watched the shadowy figure of her fiancé get into bed.
The darkness lent a strange intimacy to the two of them, and Vienna felt her heart lurch as he settled underneath the covers. And, even though Dante left a sliver of space between them, she felt heat emitting from his body—like a radiator warming her from head to toe.
Vienna turned on her side to face Dante, trying to make out the shape of his profile even in the darkness.
His voice was quiet for a moment before he whispered, "Yeah?"
Vienna bit her lip, unsure how to bridge the gap between them—unsure how to quell the sudden longing that bubbled up in her.
"My head hurts."
There was a brief pause before Dante turned to his side and reached out a hand to hook around her waist.
"I know, micina," Dante breathed, his breath fanning across her as he pulled her into his chest. "I know. Come here."
Vienna snuggled up into the warmth of his body, enjoying the relaxing feeling of his hand smoothing up and down her back and the sound of his heartbeat against her ear.
Within seconds she had drifted off to sleep.
A/N: Happy Monday y'all. I hope y'all are doing well and once again, my bad for the slow chapter updates. As this story gets closer to to the "end" (I know I've been saying that for, like, the last 5 chapters but we are coming close!), it gets harder and harder to wrap up this plot. So bare with me. Also I hope y'all are doing well. Life's been a bit rough lately so I hope you all are in better shape than I currently feel at the moment. As always, I love to hear your feedback/thoughts/comments/reactions to this chapter. Let me know what you think! It always makes me happy to hear from you all. Guest(March 29) - Haha I'm pretty sure the microdose comment was meant to be sarcastic but I do love me a slow burn! So sorry to torture you readers like this (but, also, as an author I have to take pleasure in these reactions, don't you think?). Thank you loads for your review! I'm especially curious to what your thoughts are after Royce and Vienna's talk.
As always, I love to hear your feedback/thoughts/comments/reactions to this chapter. Let me know what you think! It always makes me happy to hear from you all.
Guest(March 29) - Haha I'm pretty sure the microdose comment was meant to be sarcastic but I do love me a slow burn! So sorry to torture you readers like this (but, also, as an author I have to take pleasure in these reactions, don't you think?). Thank you loads for your review! I'm especially curious to what your thoughts are after Royce and Vienna's talk.
Guest (March 29) - The last couple of chapters have been very Dante/Vienna focused but I hope the next future chapters will bring some light to the plot that's brewing in the background! (Mainly, what you mentioned in your comment about Dante being a target, etc. etc.) Thank you again for your review! It's much appreciated. Guest (April 17th) - This review made me laugh SO much. You're absolutely right. I did have the chapter (basically) finished by the time you left this review, but the same things held me back from publishing it (mostly nervousness of the future chapters). So thank you for the little push you gave me to just click the publish button!
Guest (April 17th) - This review made me laugh SO much. You're absolutely right. I did have the chapter (basically) finished by the time you left this review, but the same things held me back from publishing it (mostly nervousness of the future chapters). So thank you for the little push you gave me to just click the publish button!
Anyway I have like a 1/4 of the next chapter written so I'll try my best to update in early May. Thank you to all of you that left a review!