I’m the princess of darkness.
My father was the king. My brothers, princes.
I thought being a princess meant I would live in an extravagant world. Princes would be knocking at my door every day, wanting me. Or at least that’s what happens in all the fairy tales. In reality, I sit locked away in the castle, and wait. Men are terrified to date me unless it assists them in doing a deal with my family. The Carini name holds too much power in this town.
I want out of the tower I’ve been locked away in for far too long. Dating isn’t an option unless my brothers have vetted the man and deemed him worthy first. To ensure him dating me doesn’t fuck with their empire. That’s all they care about.
But things are changing. I’m not the girl they can lock away in the tower anymore. They can’t keep me hidden from the world. I want to be free. If prince charming won’t come to me, then I’m going to knock down walls to find him.
I’m a grown ass woman now. I can make my own decisions about what I want to do with my life. Just like everyone else in my family.
Father has been knocked off his thrown. He no longer belongs in this town.
Arlo is gone. He ran away with his own love, and I have a feeling he won’t be back. Ever.
And Matteo, he has a new plaything he’s already falling for. He may be the ruler of the Carini empire now, but soon the Carini empire will fall to love.
And when it does, where will that leave me? Alone, without even a tower to hide away in.
I apply my red lipstick and fluff my hair. I’m beautiful. I know that. I have deep olive skin, bright green eyes, and dark, flowing hair that falls down my back and stops just before the curve of my ass. I have striking features any woman would pay good money to have. My looks alone should be able to land me a handsome prince. If only I didn’t have my damn name to go with it.
It’s not fair. My brothers carry the Carini name with pride. As soon as a woman hears the Carini name fall from one of my brother’s lips, any woman falls at his feet, worshipping him, begging him to date her, fuck her, marry her.
Not me; men hear I’m a Carini and it sends them running. Well, the good guys at least. Occasionally, there is a man who hears my name, and it makes him want me more. Because he thinks dating me will get him an in with my brothers. Those men are disgusting. They are old, gross, and twisted. They are involved in a dark world where stealing, rape, and murder are everyday occurrences.
I don’t want to belong to the dark world I grew up in anymore. It served me well when I was a kid. I had a dozen rooms to myself. I never had to lift a finger to do a chore, make myself food, or go to the store for anything as simple as a toothbrush. I got to go on the best vacations to the most exquisite places in the world. France, Bahamas, Greece, Australia, Maldives, Botswana - you name it, I’ve seen it all.
But now, I want my own life. I’m tired of being the dark princess. I want a normal life, with a normal boyfriend who has a normal job.
I frown, there is no way Matteo is going to let me date a normal guy with a normal job like a teacher or mechanic or something. He will say no normal guy will be able to offer me the protection I need to keep myself safe.
But maybe, normal is exactly what I need to escape this life. No one in Matteo’s world is going to care about me if I’m with a boring man who makes no money. I have plenty of money saved, what would I do with more money, anyway?
Tonight, I’m going to find an ordinary man. I look down at my dark black dress, fit for Cinderella to wear to the ball. Or at least, for Cinderella’s wicked stepsister. A dress like this isn’t going to work to find a normal man. A dress like this will attract a prince.
I step into my closet, although ‘closet’ isn’t the best word to describe it. It’s more like a dressing room filled with all of Italy’s designers’ most expensive dresses. Complete with a different high heel for every occasion. I love my collection of dresses and elegant shoes. But if I keep wearing them, I’m going to remain trapped in this world. I need to change.
So I slowly slip out of the sparkly dress, until I’m standing in my black heels, stockings that attach to my garter belt, and strapless bra complete with dark embroidered roses.
What do ordinary Italian women wear when looking for a man to take them home?
My hands run over the different fabrics. Silk, lace, chiffon. So many gorgeous fabrics cut to fit my body. I stop when I get to my dark jeans.
I’ve never worn jeans out of the house. I always wear a dress or a skirt. Jeans are meant for bumming around the house. Relaxing, not gaining the attention of a man.
I grab my darkest, nicest pair. One I don’t think I’ve ever even worn before. I slip it on and then scour my shirts. I settle on a simple black tank top with a little lace around the bust. This is the most underdressed ensemble I’ve ever put on. I feel wrong to be wearing something so informal.
This is what I want. I want to fit in. I want to be seen as more than a princess. No one will ever suspect me being anything but ordinary.
Now for slipping out my house unnoticed.
I walk to my bedroom and stare down at my phone lying on my dresser next to my black purse. I grab the phone to slip it into my purse, but then think better of it. Matteo can track me with my phone. I can’t bring it with me.
I leave it on the nightstand, slip my purse strap over my shoulder, and strut out of my bedroom.
I walk straight to Angelo, my security team lead and prison guard, for all intensive purposes.
“I’ll be ready to leave in twenty minutes.”
“Of course, Miss Carini.”
My lip twitches when he calls me Carini. I need to think of another name when people ask what my last name is tonight.
“First, can you fix the door lock to my bathroom? It keeps giving me problems.”
“Of course, Miss Carini. I’ll have it fixed and then meet you at the Lamborghini in twenty minutes.”
I purse my lips. “Thank you.”
I strut by him like I’m headed to the bar to fix myself a drink before I leave. Angelo thinks I’m meeting with friends at the local bar tonight. But I don’t plan on doing anything typical. I plan on taking the least flashy car we own and driving it at least an hour away to the farthest, yet practical, town I can find. Then I plan on going to the busiest bar and find a man who wants me.
When Angelo enters my room, I make a hard turn to my right and head straight for the garage. I walk to the large, black Suburban. It’s not mine. It is a car the security team uses to drive around on the grounds when they need to get somewhere fast. I stare at my Lamborghini that I really want to drive. It’s fast, expensive, and a joy to drive. This thing is a tank that burns fuel for no reason, unlike my Lamborghini that brings fuel to life.
I can’t drive the Lamborghini.
I don’t want people to treat me differently. I can’t show up in it.
So I climb into the tank and drive off before anyone in my family can stop me.
And for the first time in my life, I don’t feel like a princess.
I don’t feel like a villain.
I feel like me. A woman in seek of a man.
I smirk, staring into my rearview mirror without seeing a security team following me. A first.
* * *
This bar is loud, stingy, and smells like sweat. I love it.
I can’t stop smiling as I slowly make my way through the crowd, trying to find the bar so I can order a drink. I’ve been elbowed in the face, shoved, and had my foot stepped on. Not once did anyone apologize or cower and bow after possibly hurting a Carini. No one has run away scared I’m going to have my brothers hunt them down and shoot them for hurting me.
I’m just me.
I make it to the bar, but not without some serious effort. And when I lean against the bar and raise my hand to get the bartender’s attention, nothing happens.
He doesn’t even glance my way over the throng of people.
“Hey, I would love to order a drink!” I holler down the long bar, which should only hold about a dozen people, but has at least three times as many crowded around it now.
I frown when nothing happens.
“Hey!” I shout again. My voice can be loud when I want it to be, but apparently, it’s not enough to grab anyone’s attention.
I hear a deep chuckle, and I turn to give the man my best side-eye stare.
“You don’t come here often, do you?” the man asks me.
I look him up and down. He seems my age, or at least close enough. He’s not dressed up at all. He’s wearing jeans with holes in them, tennis shoes, and a dark grey T-shirt. He didn’t even bother shaving. His dark hair covers his chin and neck, making his sparkly white teeth shine even brighter when he smiles.
I try to contain my grin. I don’t want him to think I’m too anxious, but he’s exactly what I’m looking for. He doesn’t come from my world of fancy balls, thrown to hide the murders and evil occurring behind the scenes.
“You caught me. I’m not from this town. How do you get the bartender’s attention?” I ask, giving him a tiny smile and turning entirely to face him.
His eyes drop down to my impressive cleavage. He swallows hard and shifts his legs back and forth, most likely trying to hide the jaw-dropping bulge straining in his pants.
“Like this,” he pulls out a wad of cash, holds it out, and whistles loudly. The bartender turns and glides down the bar to the mysterious man who holds out the stack of twenties. The bartender takes it, pockets the large wad of cash, and then places two bottles of beer in front of us.
The man winces. “You probably aren’t a beer drinker, are you? I could get you something fancier than a beer, but it’s going to take a while. All the bartender will do quickly is get you bottles of beer.”
I eye the bottle and pick it up. I rarely have a beer, and never out of a bottle, always a glass. But tonight, I’m not a princess. That girl is gone. Tonight, I’m wild, adventurous, and going to go home with this man who keeps eyeing me like he wants to take me to the bathroom and fuck me.
I drink from the bottle, and the man grins like he’s just won the biggest prize.
“I’m Roman Alfonso,” he says.
“I’m Gia,” I say, leaving off my last name intentionally.
“Well, Gia with no last name. I would love to dance with you.”
I look out at the crowd of people smashed together. That doesn’t look like dancing to me. They press against each other, but are barely moving anything except their hips as they grind into each other.
“Or, I could take you back to my place, and we could talk. I’d love to learn more about you somewhere where we can actually listen to each other talk,” Roman says.
I’m not naive. I know what he means when he says ‘talk.’ He doesn’t mean talk. He means fuck. And I know whatever electricity pulsing between us isn’t a love attraction. It’s lust.
But I can’t ignore the way he looks at me. The way his grin softens when I return his stare. The way his hand brushes against mine, and I feel a jolt of emotion rush through me.
This may not be the man I’m going to marry, but he might be the first man I’m with who doesn’t treat me like a princess. He can fuck me, leave me, and rip out my heart as any normal man would.
Roman could be the first guy who treats me like a one-night stand, instead of royalty. I want a man to help me escape my atypical world. But I could use sex with a normal guy. The last man I was with was selling weapons to Matteo. I’m tired of dangerous men.
“I live three blocks from here.”
I grin and chug my beer. “Your place sounds perfect."
* * *
Roman’s place is anything but perfect. It’s tiny. It’s messy. And it has a weird smell, a mix of burnt coffee and old pizza.
“You’re beautiful, Gia. The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
I roll my eyes. “How many times have you used that line?”
He chuckles. “A few times, but I’ve never meant it like I do right now.”
His eyes twinkle when he talks. I like it.
He takes my hand and leads me toward his kitchen containing two cupboards and enough counter space to fit a single plate.
He pulls two beers out of the refrigerator and hands one to me, after popping the top off on a bottle opener stuck to the fridge.
“So where are you from, beautiful?”
I narrow my eyes as I drink. “We don’t have to do this. You don’t care where I’m from or what I do for a living or where I went to school. You want in my pants, and that’s it. So let’s not pretend you are this perfect gentleman and get to the sex part.”
He smirks as he leans against the counter not more than a foot from me. He cocks his head lazily to one side like he’s studying me.
“What if I want more?”
My heart catches. Stupid heart. He doesn’t want more. It’s just another line.
“You don’t know anything about me. How could you know if you want more or not?”
He licks his lips, and I can’t stop staring. I want his lips kissing me. I want more than a kiss. I want it all with him. I want the fairy tale. I know all I’m feeling is lust. This isn’t real. I don’t know this man. But yet, he’s perfect.
Roman reaches out and touches my flowing hair gently. “How could any man, not want you? I wasn’t lying when I said you were gorgeous. You are the most beautiful fucking woman I’ve ever seen. I saw you from the moment you entered that bar, and I followed you. I didn’t even need another drink. I was already drinking. I was dancing with a blonde bombshell, but she had nothing on you. I had to talk to you. See you. I couldn’t explain it.
“You have a smart mouth. No other woman I’ve been with has called me a liar for saying that line.”
My lips fall open as I listen to his every word.
“I’m not like most women.”
He stares at me with seriousness in his eyes. “You aren’t like most women. You’re special.”
I bite my lip, trying to control myself. But I want to throw my arms around him, kiss him, and tell him I’ll marry him and have his babies all in the same breath. I don’t understand what’s happening. Every word he speaks is dripping with sex. His eyes are oozing with sincerity.
I know I shouldn’t believe a word he is saying. It’s all an act. He says this and does this with every woman he brings home to get them into bed with him. Tomorrow, he’ll flip. He’ll be an ass who doesn’t even makes me coffee before he sends me home in a cab.
I can’t stop myself though from falling instantly in love with Roman. Maybe it’s the freedom he represents, but I want everything with him. I should walk away now. But I can’t. My feet are cemented to the floor.
I can’t move.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t think.
I’m lost in Roman.
“I want you Gia. So fucking badly. In my bed. As my girlfriend. As my wife.”
My eyes shoot wide. What the hell is he talking about?
“I know who you are, Gia. Jeans and a tank top can’t hide who you are.”
“You’re Gia Carini.”
“And I’ve never wanted a woman more. You’re beautiful, royal, and powerful.”
I bite my lip again as he grabs my neck and pulls me into a kiss. I’m lost forever as his tongue brushes against mine. I’ve never been kissed this hard or this passionately before. I’ve never been wanted. Not for being a monster.
Because that’s what I am, a monster. I may pretend I’m a princess who hides away in a tower and has no control over my life or what my family does, but it isn’t true. I have power. I could change my life if I wanted to. Stop participating in the evil my family partakes in.
I’m a Carini though. Carinis are powerful, dark creatures, incapable of real love.
Roman knows who I am. I don’t know how, and I don’t care. He wants me as I am. And I plan on giving him everything I have. The light, the darkness. My heart, and soul. And maybe with him, I’ll find a way to be the real Gia Carini. The one I’ve kept hidden beneath the pretty dresses. With Roman, I can learn to love.