“I’ll be a prosecutor.” I smiled up at the transmission. I had no intention of being a prosecutor or a defender. I wanted to do family law, and he knew it.
“I want you to keep that woman,” he said.
“Yes, Pop. Bene.” My father could have had any woman, but he pined for my mother, who despised him. He’d never change for her or her children. He’d never try and be a man he wasn’t. He was a crook and as damned to hell as they came, and he knew it. He’d risk me being a non-camorra lawyer for the love of keeping me from being like him.
At the time, it seemed easy. The path was straight and clear. My father taught me how to hold two opposing ideas in my mind at once, but he never taught me how to live those opposites.
How distorted the path must have become, to have gotten me to America. To Los Angeles, of all places. I was neither consigliere nor lawful. Neither husband nor free. And now, I was twisted with that red-haired beauty I could never resist or deny. I’d been on a death-march from the minute I saw her, with her porcelain skin and blue eyes. She was a swan, gliding across the floor, so straight that I had to see her bend.
That mistake on her shoe, that imperfection inside that perfect package. It was a sign that I could have the unattainable, and when I touched her arm and spoke softly, she bent to hear me. She smelled like sweet olive trees, and she blushed like a virgin when she saw the paper on her sole.
I wanted to make her come from that moment. Not just come. I wanted her lost in such pleasure that mascara would streak across her china white cheek.
“Amore mio,” I whispered after I exploded inside her.
“Capo,” she groaned. “Fuck.”
“Those words.” She had been so pure when I’d met her. Innocent, yet mature. Her purity was a choice. Sinful words never left her lips until I demanded them, and every time I touched her, she lost a little more spotlessness and came closer to me. Closer to the animal I was. The only moral choice would have been to leave her, but I couldn’t. Not because of guilt, even though I had a little of that. But her pull on me, and mine on her made it impossible for me to leave her, even for her own sake. I never felt so helpless in the destruction of graciousness as I did with my Contessa.
“Destroy me,” she said, as if I had to be told.
“You’re ruined, amore.”
She put her hand on my cheek and put her blue eyes to mine. Was it wrong to want her again? Was it immoral to have a desire that grew with the destruction of the object of it?
“Where were you?” she asked. “I don’t even know how long you were gone.”
“What’s the difference?”
“It was too long.”
“You should make peace with Paulie,” she said.
How was I supposed to tell her that my old partner would not abide her in my life? He’d been very clear about that. As much as I loved Paulie like a brother, I couldn’t choose him. The last time I’d thrown Theresa from my life, my future had blinked out like an old bulb.
“I can’t,” I said. “That’s over.”
I put my finger on her lips. “What did you do today?”
“Nothing. I can’t leave here.”
“Yes, you can, but Otto has to go with you.”
“Shouldn’t he be working with you? Whatever it is you’re doing. Which you won’t tell me.”
“My most trusted man is with you. As it should be. And if he’s not around, you call me, and I’ll find someone for you.”
She sighed and looked past me to the ceiling. I’d been with many women in my life. I’d cared for some of them and loved only one before Theresa. She was the first who seemed so contented and discontented at the same time.
“You can go shopping,” I said. I almost offered her money, but the last time I’d done that, she’d laughed at me. Her reaction to my suggestion wasn’t much better.
“Shopping?” She turned her eyes back to me. “Are you joking?” The foul-mouthed girl who begged me to fuck her was gone. She was back to her haughty self. I wanted to fuck the arrogance right out of her, rip away the coating of innocence and take her to the dirty, sexy core again, because it was mine. Only mine.
“Get something nice for me,” I said.
“Antonio.” She put her thumb on my lip. “I need something to do. I need a life.”
“I can stay the night.”
She sighed again. There was something I wasn’t getting. Some key to a door I couldn’t find. She wasn’t fitting into my world. She had nothing to do, and she didn’t need me for anything, not support, not money. Nothing I was taught to give a woman,
She got up, clothed only in her poise. “Someone’s going to notice when I’m not around, and when they do, they’re going to tell someone else. And before you know it, you’re going to see my face on the news, and you’re going to wonder what the hell happened. So for your own good, Antonio, I’m telling you: tomorrow I’m leaving, and you’re not going to stop me.”
She spun on her heel and didn’t look back on her way to the bathroom.
We weren’t going to last, not as a couple. Not as lovers or sinners. She loved me. I owned her. Her heart was branded with my name. But she’d loved before, and she’d survived. She’d leave me as a matter of practicality.
I avoided death and imprisonment. I protected my territory and my partnerships as a matter of honor and business. But I didn’t fear losing those things. I’d had nothing in life, and having nothing again brought no fear.
When she walked to the bathroom without looking back at me, though, I felt fear.
She was my second chance to be whole and clean, and to have a life I’d failed at.
I wasn’t losing her.
But I was.
If I kept her under lock and key, I’d lose her. If I tried to keep her too safe, she’d evade me. If I worked too hard to keep her away from my business, she’d want to know more. She was right; she needed a life. I was going to have to provide her with one.
I think he bruised me. Or, more likely, I bruised myself on him. I was going to ache the next day, but if he wanted my body any time between now and then, I’d give it to him.
I leaned into the mirror. The sensitive skin of my neck was reddened and raw where his scruff had abraded me. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t as though anyone was going to see me anyway.