He came in quietly, no slammed-open door or yelling or grabbing. He just stepped in as if he had every right to.
He took my shoulders. The hands that had hurt were so gentle now, exerting just enough pressure to pull me back and kiss my shoulder. His lips curved themselves to the slopes of my body as if they’d been constructed for my pleasure alone.
“Contessa,” he whispered, “I want to ask you something.”
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I don’t know. You. I want you. But I don’t know how to have you.”
“What if you don’t have me? What if you’re had? You leave it to me, and I’ll take care of you.”
“Antonio, we talked about this. I have money. I couldn’t give it all away in this lifetime.”
“I don’t mean money.”
In the mirror, he considered my shoulder, and brushed the curve of my arm with his thumb like a lit fuse slowly burning.
“What do you mean, then?”
“I mean your safety,” he said. “Give me your safety. Abandon any idea you can take care of yourself.”
I turned to face him, and he pressed me against the vanity. “But I can take care of myself.”
“No.” He held a finger up. “You can pay for things. You can manage a political campaign. You can walk into any room and talk to anyone. In your world, you are the Contessa. In my world, you are helpless.”
“So, what are you going to do? Send me out in a suit of armor?”
“Don’t tempt me.” He gave a smirk, and I loved and feared it at the same time.
“Antonio, really, what are the odds Paulie is going to do something stupid to me to win this battle with you? I come from a very large, notorious family. I was engaged to the District Attorney. I’m not trying to throw that in your face; what I’m trying to say is—”
“You’re not untouchable.”
“I’m not saying I’m untouchable. I’m saying messing with me would be crazy. Suicidal. I’m not only protected by you; I’m protected by the world. It’s just who I am. Honestly, my disappearing into this apartment for too long is going to cause more of a problem.”
“How?” His eyebrows arched like landmarks, and he looked as if I’d just told him Santa Claus was at the door.
“There are places I go and people I see. Even if I have no life that you can see, someone is going to notice I’m not picking up the phone or taking lunches at Montana’s. I’m not saying it’s easy to prove an absence, but someone’s going to connect that with you and me at Catholic Charities. Someone ambitious and smarter than me.”
“Not too many of those around,” he said.
“Well, thank you. But the facts remain: I need to be let go without a fuss from you. And soon.” I poked his chest. He pulled my arm up by the wrist and put it around his waist. “You said you were going to leave the world. Under l’uovo. You said you were getting out. Give Paulie your business and come with me.”
“You need to watch more movies,” he said.
“Believe me, I’ve seen plenty.”
“Then you know I can’t just divide my business and walk away. Even with everything the movies get wrong, they get that part right. And with everything the FBI thinks they understand, they get that one thing right: I can’t just walk away. I can’t surrender in the middle of a fight.”
“Why not, if you have no more skin in the game?" I said. "Why wouldn’t they just let you go?”
“Imagine this. I act like a reasonable man. I divide everything and walk away. I promise you, I’d be a dead man as soon as I turned my back. And you ask why. Why? It’s because I have information. I’ve done things.”
I started to ask what, but his expression shushed me.
“Without my family to protect me, I’ll be picked up by your ex and questioned. Accused. I can either talk or not talk. If I don’t talk, I go to jail, where I’ll be murdered to keep me from talking. Or I’ll talk, and I can choose between a witness protection program, where you can’t join me because of who you are and how well-known your family is. Or I can be murdered in jail for talking.”
“What if I made a deal with Daniel to leave you alone?”
He held a finger up in my face, jaw clenched. “Do not—”
I took his wrist and kissed the inside, on the rough, blue tattoo of Mount Vesuvius. I’d asked him if it had hurt to have it burned into such a sensitive area, and he’d laughed and said he practically slept through it.
“If you made peace with Paulie, you wouldn’t have to worry about him killing me.”
He pressed my hands together between us. “It’s been quiet these few days. Zo is working on rebuilding the shop. The Sicilians, Donna Maria and all of them, have stopped complaining that the Neapolitans are fighting. I’m just starting to breathe.”
“Can I speak my mind?” I said.
“How can you not?”
“I don’t trust her patience. When a political opponent doesn’t respond to an attack or an offer, he’s not just sitting there waiting for something to happen; he’s gathering ammunition. The worst thing you can do is give him time to arm himself.”
He pressed our hands together pensively then kissed my fingertips. “You have a devil of a mind, Contessa.”
“What are you going to do about it, Capo?”
He stared down at our pressed hands as if considering something. “There is something distracting the Sicilians. A wedding.”
“They can’t plan a wedding and run a business at the same time?” I said.
“Not their wedding. It’s a wedding between a Neapolitan family, the Bortolusis, and a rival Sicilian family, the Leis. This doesn’t happen often. Sicilian mafias have a tower of payoffs. Don, boss, underboss, capo, on and on. I’m Neapolitan camorra. We’re smaller. We don’t step on each other. We don’t have all these people to answer to, just the capo then Napoli if something goes bad.”
“Like with you and Paulie?”
“Like that," he said. "But we don’t marry across organizations. Sicilians and Neapolitans don’t have a matching structure. It’s more trouble then it’s worth. So it’s just not done. Because marriage is for love when possible, but for business, when necessary.”
“And this one is business?”