Ruin (Page 48)

Ruin (Songs of Corruption #2)(48)
Author: C.D. Reiss

“You shouldn’t listen to birds,” I said. “They chirp what they hear, not what they know.”

He laughed, but there was no humor in it. We shook hands with the gentle Bernardo Lei, who made no insinuations. Then we met the groom, who was boisterous, half drunk, half bald, and a bride who beamed with pride. Despite the reasons for the union, it looked like a good match.

“Shall we dance?” I asked. “I think we have time for one.”

“He said you were going back to Italy? I thought you couldn’t?”

“If this goes through, everything’s forgiven. Come on, let’s go dance. I’m not looking for absolution from anyone but you.”

forty-five.

theresa

I was glad I didn’t speak Italian. It meant I could smile through the half conversations and small talk Antonio endured on the way to the cocktail room. I didn’t have to attach meaning to any of the looks I got. I only had to pay attention when he was addressed in English.

“Consigliere,” an old woman said from a seat we passed. She wore a black dress and shoes, no makeup besides years of sun, and brown eyes sharp and clear.

“Dona, it’s been years since I was your consul,” he replied in English with a rote, joking tone, as if they’d been through this a hundred times.

“It still has a nice ring to it. I haven’t met the lady.”

I put my hand out. “Theresa Drazen. Lovely to meet you.”

“Maria Carloni. I’m sure you’ve heard of me.”

I swallowed. Smiled. Ran through my mental rolodex, cross referenced her with Daniel, in the subcategory ‘nice things felons do.’

“Yes. Of course. The Catholic Woman’s League.”

She laughed in the way an old woman does when she can, because she’s old and she doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks anymore.

A young woman in a modest blue dress handed Maria Carloni a drink. She was lovely, with olive skin and brown eyes the size of teacups.

“You’ve met my granddaughter, Irene, Mr. Spinelli?”

“I have.” He took her hand and bowed a little. “Nice to see you again.”

She didn’t meet his gaze but curtseyed. Something in the gesture was formal, yet intimate, and I felt a surge of jealous rage I worked to cover with a noncommittal smile.

I wasn’t introduced.

Antonio took my hand and pulled me away. But as fast as he got me away, I heard Irene mumble, ‘puttana,’ under her breath. I was no scholar, but I knew what that meant.

Things had to be normal, right? I had to act like we were just walking out of here and going home and fucking. I had to act as if nothing had changed, and nothing ever would. I had to do things any typical woman would do on any particular day.

So I turned and smiled at her, then put my fingers to my lips and blew her a kiss.

“What are you doing?” Antonio asked.

“Being nice gets tiresome.”

“Contessa.”

“Yes, Capo?”

“You make a beautiful cat.” He pulled me two steps toward the piano player. “But you’re already dangerous when your claws don’t show.”

He turned me until I faced him. It was too early to dance, but he put his arms around my waist and pressed me against his body. I laid my fingers on the back of his neck.

“She’s cute.”

“I’m sure she fucks like a log in the woods.”

I smiled. He had a way of saying the exact right thing.

“The flowers are beautiful,” I said. “Did you see the truck? I saw it pull around to the Heritage House side.”

“They’re setting up the ballroom now. I made sure they were late.”

“Bad, bad capo.”

“It’s what I do.” The music stopped and people stood. “Ready?” he said. “We’re moving over.”

The party shifted to The Heritage Room, which I knew intimately. A big room that was part of a big building, with few doors and high ceilings gilded to the teeth. It was our last stop before we escaped this life. I reached for my phone.

“Who are you calling?”

“I didn’t talk to Jonathan. And I’m…”

Dying.

I clutched the phone, trying to find the words for what I’d forgotten to do.

Antonio laid his hand over mine. “No, Contessa. Just leave it. I’m sorry. Come on. You were the one who wanted one dance. Let’s have it.”

He pulled me into the center of the room, which had been fashioned into an ad hoc dance floor. The band struck some tune from the eighties, a happy kickoff. We were the first ones on the floor.

He pushed my hips away with one hand and pulled me back to him with the other. We turned, stopped, and kicked together. I must have been smiling because I squeaked with delight when he turned me and smiled back. The world blurred outside our movements. It was only us, stealing a dance, a moment, the space around our bodies an indefinite haze that had no bearing on our coupling.

I forgot for a minute of that. I forgot everything except the places where his body pressed to mine, and his skin touched my skin.

When it was over, the band didn’t stop but went right into the next song. Antonio pulled me to him. “There are two more songs before they introduce the bride and groom. We’re sitting them out.”

“You’re a good dancer,” I said. “Wherever we go, let’s make sure we dance.”

He nodded. “We’re here.”

We sat at a round table with two other couples I didn’t know. He greeted them in Italian, introduced me, and put his hand on my back when we sat. He glanced at his phone and cursed under his breath.

“It’s early. The truck. They finished setting up the ballroom already.”

“Let’s go, then.” I grabbed my bag.

“The doors are open. No one will see us go. It’s pointless.”

“I’ll go then. I’ll keep them there.”

He put his hands between my knees, like a teenager who couldn’t keep his hormones in check. “Go do what you have to do in the bathroom. Now.”

“Why? I mean, who even cares if I do Daniel’s bidding?”

“Trust me.”

I squeezed his hand and stilled my heart long enough to look into his eyes. I was doing this for him and for us. I was doing it to be a different person and finally shed my skin of pretense.

I kissed his lips and stood.

“Okay, Capo. I’m going.”

I carried myself, more than walked, to the bathroom, slipping in with my head held high. I gave my hair a quick swipe in the sitting room then went to the area with the sinks and the attendant.