Laura Horowitz—no, that wasn’t right—Laura Augustus glanced around the luxurious sitting room at the many different faces of the world she had married into. Not willingly. No, her father had come home one day, sat her down, and told her that he had big plans for her. Whenever he had big plans for her, she knew they were lies. The truth was, he had big plans for himself. Not that she hated her father. Leon Horowitz was a scary man. Abandoned as a child, he grew up on the streets and fought his way out, earning himself a reputation and wealth that rivaled the mafia family she was currently sipping drinks with.
No champagne, not for her. A bad experience on her eighteenth birthday put an end to her alcohol-drinking days. Now, she kept to water or juice. Nothing alcoholic.
Not that she had a drink of her own. That would require the waiter to come close to her, and no one ever did that.
Her husband, Johannes Augustus, stood near a bunch of men, talking, probably business, or perhaps they were discussing who they were going to kill. He paid no attention to her, not that she minded.
They were like chalk and cheese.
Keeping her arms folded, she tried not to feel so selfconscious. In a room full of strangers, it was impossible.
This marriage was supposed to unite the Augustus mafia with her father, who was the biggest crime boss in the country. His businesses had expanded and crossed the boundaries of illegal into legal.
Her father had never kept his life secret from her. She wasn’t a fool and knew he wasn’t a good man. He’d tried to do right by her, but her husband couldn’t stand her. Their wedding night had been a huge sham. According to tradition, he had to marry a virgin. She had refused to take the doctor examination.
Her father had kept her shielded, but he’d also been sure to allow her to have her own mind. So her virginity had been questioned. It had nearly caused a war on the streets because Leon refused to subject his daughter to the test. Lucas Augustus had insisted. Her father had told him if he wanted to make this about blood, and not trust, then so be it.
The test hadn’t gone ahead, but the wedding had.
On their wedding night, Johannes had refused to touch her. She didn’t know if it was because she didn’t look like any of his other women or because he didn’t think she was a virgin.
Anyway, she got a shitty night’s sleep. He cut himself and gave the whole bloodied sheets a real feel to them so he could present them the following morning. To the world, they were married, but she knew she could get it annulled.
She was a virgin. Laura refused to put herself through such an archaic examination. How dare they ask that of her? Her wedding night was three months ago. Since then, she had rarely seen her husband, and when she had, he had nothing kind to say about her. Always critical. Then, of course, she was dragged to these kinds of functions where she stood out because she didn’t quite fit in. Unlike all the women present, she didn’t possess terrified gazes, nor did she fear being around men.
“You are all alone once again,” her father said, surprising her.
She turned to see him, hands in his pockets, looking as stern as ever. “Dad.” She went to him, wrapping her arms around him and breathing him in.
Her mother died many years ago when Laura was just a toddler. She had no memories of her. It was a drive-by shooting, and Laura, well, she hadn’t gotten away unscathed either. A bullet had done a through-and-through on her leg. One rival war gang had taken his wife and injured his child. Leon had gone to war within hours, and Laura didn’t want to think of the damage he’d done.
“What are you doing here?” Laura asked, smiling.
He was the first friendly face she’d seen all evening, and she’d been standing here for two hours, in the same spot. She could barely walk in the heels Johannes made her wear. The dress she wore was also uncomfortable, as it went around her neck and fell to the floor. It was completely unflattering, and Laura hated it. Years ago, Leon once told her to choose her battles wisely, and she used that advice in her marriage.
If she didn’t fight Johannes on the simple things like her clothing, then there was a chance for her to fight for something she did want, like freedom, or … something. She didn’t know exactly what she wanted, but being stuck in his country home or his apartment all day sucked. He’d given her a credit card to go shopping with, but she wasn’t one to shop.
“Business,” Leon said.
“Of course. It’s always business.” She had nothing to say.
“I’m not.” The lie was easy to say, but he didn’t believe it. Leon took a deep breath. “Excuse me.” “Dad, don’t,” she said.
They had already started to gain some attention. Public displays of affection were frowned upon. After she’d hugged her father, a lot of people frowned, clearly talking about her.
She was the stupid wife of Johannes Augustus. The outsider. The weirdo with the strange name. She happened to love her name. Admittedly, it was because her dad wanted a boy, but Laura was a nice name. She liked it.
“I am going to deal with him.”
“And what, force him to come and stand with me? Why? We have nothing to talk about. I … I don’t fit in here.” She hated how pitiful she sounded.
“Sweetheart, you fit anywhere you want to be.”
“No, I don’t. You didn’t raise me to be…” She looked toward the women who were in their own private circle. She’d never been part of the in crowd, never cared to be. This was no different. “This.” “Laura,” he said, and she held her hand up, stopping him.
“Please, don’t. I don’t need my dad trying to deal with my husband.” Even saying the word husband was difficult. She had never intended to get married. Never wanted to be married. Her parents had never married. According to her father, her mother hadn’t wanted to tie the knot, didn’t feel it was necessary.