He didn’t stop me, only tilted his head in a gesture of respect. I rang the bell. Bibiana opened the door, then glimpsed behind me. “Where are your guards?”
I shrugged. “I didn’t take any. Dante never said I had to take guards.”
“Won’t you get in trouble?” she asked as she closed the door and led me into their living room. As usual her husband wasn’t home. Bibiana of course didn’t mind. She’d gained a couple of pounds since Tommaso had been forced to work long hours. Now she didn’t look quite as emaciated anymore.
“Why would I?” I said. I wasn’t even sure if Dante cared if I left the house without protection. He seemed too busy with God knows what.
Bibiana gave me a worried look. “You should be careful. Dante is a dangerous man. He always looks so calm and in control, but Tommaso told me Dante doesn’t tolerate disobedience.”
That didn’t really come as a surprise, but I couldn’t really disobey him if he didn’t give me an order in the first place. “I’m not one of his soldiers.”
I sank down on the sofa. Bibiana took a seat beside me, curiosity filling her face. “So how was your wedding night?”
My lips twisted. “I slept well,” I said sarcastically.
Bibiana blinked at me. “Huh? That’s not what I meant.”
“I know what you meant,” I said, frustrated. “Nothing happened. Dante gave me the cold shoulder.”
“He didn’t try to sleep with you? What about last night?” I wished Bibiana didn’t sound so stunned; it made me feel even worse. As if somehow it was my fault that I hadn’t managed to make Dante want me. I knew she didn’t mean it that way.
“He didn’t even kiss me. He just lay down beside me and said he had an early day, and then he turned off the light and fell asleep. What kind of wedding night is that?” I leaned my head against the backrest. “I don’t get it.”
“Maybe he was really tired,” Bibiana said tentatively.
I gave her a look. “Do you really believe that? He looked fit enough to me. And what about yesterday? Was he tired then too?” I bit my lip. “Do you think it’s still because of his wife?”
Bibiana twisted a strand of her brown hair around her finger nervously. “Maybe. I hear he adored her. They were the dream couple in Chicago.”
I’d never paid much attention to Dante and his wife in the past, but I remembered seeing them together at social gatherings. I remembered thinking they looked like they belonged together. There were few couples in our world who looked like they were together because they loved each other. Most of them married for convenience, but with Dante and his wife Carla you had seen that they were meant to be together. Fate was cruel for ripping them apart, and even crueler for throwing me into the arms of a man who’d already found the love of his life once. “Maybe he hasn’t been with a woman since his wife died. That could be the reason why he didn’t try to consummate our marriage.”
Bibiana avoided my gaze and reached for a macaron on the silver étagère on the table in front of us. She shoved it into her mouth and chewed as if it afforded all of her concentration. Dread filled my stomach. “Bibi?”
Her eyes darted to me, then they were gone again. She swallowed and reached for another sweet, but I grabbed her wrist, stopping her. “You know something. Did Dante have a lover since his wife’s death?”
Bibiana sighed. “I didn’t want to tell you.”
The words hollowed me out. “Didn’t want to tell me what?”
What if Dante had a steady lover? Someone he couldn’t marry for social and political reasons. Maybe that’s why he chose me, a widow, because he didn’t want to screw over a poor innocent girl like that. My head started spinning.
Bibiana gripped my hand tightly. “Hey, it’s not that bad. Calm down. You look like you’re going to pass out any moment.”
I reached for a green macaron and stuffed it into my mouth. The sweet taste of pistachio spread on my tongue and I relaxed slightly. “So spill before I come up with more horrible scenarios.” I could tell Bibiana wanted to ask what kind of scenarios had popped into my mind, but thankfully she didn’t. Bibiana knew me well enough to guess anyway. We’d been friends since we could both walk. She was the cousin closest in age to me and we’d always spend every free minute together. Even in school we’d been inseparable, except for the classes that we didn’t share because I was a year ahead. But it was difficult to make friends among normal people, so we’d stuck together. That hadn’t changed after we’d married. If possible we’d gotten even closer because we both could share our marriage troubles with each other without having to worry that anything would get out.
“My husband told me Dante frequented Club Palermo for a while.”
I froze. Club Palermo was a mob-owned night club with pole dancing, striptease and prostitution. Bibiana’s husband was the manager of the club. “What do you mean?”
Bibiana’s cheeks turned red. She looked like she regretted ever having brought it up. “He used prostitutes for sex.”
I pressed my lips together, trying to figure out why this hurt so much. Only last night we’d talked about prostitution, why hadn’t he mentioned something? I could almost see how that conversation would have gone. “Not anymore, right?”
“Oh no, it happened a while ago. About a year after his wife’s death, he had a rough stretch and came into the Club a couple of times per week to ‘let off some steam’, as Tommaso put it.”
It had been way before our marriage, and yet the knowledge that Dante had slept with prostitutes, but hadn’t even tried to kiss me hurt a lot. “So he has no problem sleeping with other women, he just doesn’t want to sleep with me.”
“No, that’s not true. And like I said, he hasn’t visited Club Palermo in a long time.”