“You’re implying I’m being used?” I asked.
“Dan, you don’t know the half of it. And it’s not my responsibility to tell you anything.” I pushed my bag farther up my shoulder and faced the door, putting my fingers on the seam at the jamb. “But I will tell you this: he is genuine. Maybe not in the ways you care about, but I’ve never been loved the way he loves me. He loves me recklessly, to the misuse of everything else in his life. What kind of woman would I be if I let him get careless for me?”
“He’s playing you.”
“He’s not. I’ve been used before, and it didn’t feel anything like this.” I stole a glance up at him. I’d hit him just where I wanted to.
A soft knock came through the wood of the door. I looked through the frosted glass to the light-grey shadow of Gerry.
“We’re on,” Gerry said.
Daniel opened the door.
I said a few hellos to the people I’d known in my past life as they filed into the conference room, and I walked out unscathed.
I could smell the rabbit cacciatore from the yard, where I swirled a jelly glass of sweet wine and walked along the rows of hutches. A slinky mink nibbled on the wire of her cage, and I leaned down to stroke her nose. Paulie was due in fifteen minutes. We’d make a cautious peace. He’d marry Donna Maria’s granddaughter and run an empire. And then?
Then, I’d make the impossible happen. I’d get out. It had to be done. Even if I got out of Los Angeles to avoid Paulie, I’d be expected to continue in the life, and Theresa would never fit. The only option was to secretly unwind everything in my life and live the rest of it out with her. I didn’t know when or exactly how. I didn’t know if it would be done during peace or war. But I knew it would be done. Then my Contessa could be released from the cage I had to put her in.
Far in the front of the property, I heard a car engine get louder then stop. It was Paulie, undoubtedly. I didn’t react to knowing he was there, close enough to shoot at me again.
Fabric rustled behind me, and I turned. “Hello,” I said to the girl before me. Her mane of dark curls contrasted with her white shirt. She had Donna Maria’s brown eyes, without the hardness.
“Hi. Grandma said I should come and see if you wanted anything.”
She shrugged and smiled. “Sure.”
I handed her the empty jelly glass and spoke to her in Italian. “You’re from Sicily?”
“Si.” She took the glass. “I mean, no. I was born here, but I’ve lived there since I was six.”
“And you’re how old now?”
She looked about that, with her lips parted in a smile and skin so smooth she looked like a painting. She looked as if she’d never cried a day in her life. She reminded me of Valentina, my wife, and I was blindsided by the memory. She had been one of the truly beautiful things in my life, before I became everything my mother tried to stop me from being.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“I know. Grandma said.”
“What else did she say?”
She smiled and looked away then looked up and swung her hand out, speaking English in a thick Italian accent. “‘Go find the man outside and get him something. Stand up straight. He is Antonio Spinelli, a prince. Treat him like one.’ Then she threw me out.”
“I’m no prince.”
“Camorrista from a long line? Kind of prince-like.”
“A bastard son.”
“Or just a bastard?” She kicked a hip out and shot me half a smile.
“For such an innocent-looking girl,” I said, “You flirt shamelessly.”
“At home, I don’t get to. My mother won’t let me look a man in the eye. Here, it’s expected. I kind of like it.” She looked me in the eye and waggled her brows. She was cute. We walked back to the house slowly, hands in pockets.
“What you’re doing is very dangerous,” I said. “If you pick up bad habits here, the boys back home will start talking. Then they’ll start doing. It’s not flirting anymore after that.”
“You sound like my father.” She flashed a pout worthy of a 1940s Hollywood drama.
“He’s a wise man.”
“All business.” She waved me away. “Cigarettes and gasoline. But he won’t let me smoke or drive.”
I laughed. Poor kid. Then I realized she’d told me her father’s businesses, and thus, her lineage.
“You’re Calogero Carloni’s daughter?”
“Yep. The Princess of Sciacca! I want to die. Jesus.”
“Hey, watch your mouth.”
She puckered it in response.
“Why did you come here?” I asked. “To Los Angeles. College?”
She laughed. “You don’t know?” I stopped and she stopped with me. We faced each other. “There’s a wedding in few weeks. I’m expected. So are you, I’d think.”
“I never miss a wedding if I can help it.”
“I got a light-blue dress,” she said. “What color are you wearing?”
“Haven’t given it much thought.”
She shrugged and turned on her heel. I noticed her feet were bare. “Someone else was here for you. Should I bring the wine to the dining room?”
She went ahead of me, her hips flirting with me while her face was turned away.
I walked back to the house. As if a box had opened and giggles came out, it was suddenly populated with children. Three ran past, screaming and bumping, none taller than waist high. They joked in pidgin Italian from deep in the south of the boot and colored with Anglicisms. I swore I heard one say, “Dude,” before rattling off a series of baseball stats.
I heard Paulie’s voice but didn’t need to look around. “You’d be dead if I wanted you dead.”
“Yeah, yeah. I don’t expect an apology.”
“I don’t owe you one.”
Donna Maria shuffled in from the dining room. “You two quit it.”
She slid open a big wooden pocket door, revealing a small study with heavy chairs and dark fabrics. A deeply masculine room, it looked inherited directly from her late husband.
Paulie went in first. Two men were at either side of the window. They had risen to their feet when the door had opened. One was Skinny Carlo; the other was a clean-cut gentleman in a full suit, about forty years old. I didn’t recognize him.