I had to swallow twice before I could speak. “That’s barbaric. How can you not hate your father for what he did to you?”
Dante’s finger lingered on the swell of my breast. The fabric of my blouse might as well not have been there, it felt as if he was touching bare skin. “I hate him. But I respect him too. Fear, hatred and respect are the three most important feelings a Capo must instill in other people.”
“In your wife as well?”
Dante pulled away his hand. “Hatred and fear have no place in a marriage.” He stepped away from me and casually walked over to my desk, which was piled with the folders I intended to read. “I see you’re trying to familiarize yourself with our high rollers.”
I had trouble to handle the sudden topic change. My mind was still reeling from the horrible things Dante had told me about his youth. No wonder he was so good at shutting himself off after the cruelty his father had subjected him to. I wondered how many of the scars marring his body were the result from those torture sessions and how many the result of an enemy’s attack. “Yes. I want to memorize their faces, names and quirks.”
“I thought I should stay until the high rollers arrive and introduce you to them. That way it’ll appear more official. I had Leo sent them invites for an early reception. You’ll have the chance to talk to them without the usual chaos of the casino and they get the chance to gamble in private for a while.”
I was grateful to Dante for making sure things went smoothly for me. Of course I knew at least part of it was because he liked things to be in his control. “Thank you.”
He inclined his head, then looked at me for a moment longer before he checked his watch. “Why don’t you prepare yourself some more? The first high rollers should arrive in one hour. I’ll talk to Leo and make sure everything is set up for the reception.”
When he tried to walk past me, I put my hand on his arm to stop him. Then I stood on my tiptoes and kissed his cheek before I strode toward my desk and picked up a folder. After a moment, I heard the door open and close.
Fifteen minutes before the reception was supposed to start, I headed toward the main floor where a few tables with glasses and ice buckets filled with Champagne bottles had been set up. There was also a small buffet of canapées. Dante made his way toward me the moment he saw me. His presence set me at ease.
Soon the first high rollers arrived. Most of them were at least in their fifties. Old, rich men with expensive designer suits, tans from too many hours spent on the golf course, and smiles that spoke of overconfidence. These men thought the world was theirs for the taking. And yet I didn’t miss the look of respect that crossed their eyes when they faced Dante. The way they shook his hand, you could tell they were trying to pay him deference. Dante always quickly turned their attention to me, introducing me as the new manager and his wife. The last part always led to a wave of respectful praises of my beauty. While I certainly didn’t mind being praised for my appearance, it wasn’t something that would help me keep the casino staff in check. I steered the conversation away from my looks and involved the men in smalltalk. Luckily they let me, only too eager to share their stories about tricking the IRS, their achievements on the golf course, or the selection in their wine cellars, and it was obvious they were used to women hanging on their every word.
I led them toward the roulette table, all smiles, and soon they began to throw away money with hardly a notice, too busy bragging and impressing me. From the corner of my eye, I noticed Dante talking to Enzo before leaving the casino. I knew he was busy but I wished he’d stayed a little longer. I didn’t have much time for that thought however; I had to be the perfect hostess for another group of high rollers eager to schmooze the wife of the Capo.
It was past midnight when things had progressed enough for me to take my leave. Several of the high rollers had disappeared into back rooms with girls, or were too immersed in gambling to need my attention. I was exhausted, more exhausted than a few hours of talking and listening should make a person.
After I’d slipped into the passenger seat, I let out a quiet sigh of relief to be finally off my feet. My legs ached from standing for so long, especially in my uncomfortable heels. Men had it easier. They could wear their oxfords or Budapest shoes, and not squeeze their toes into pointy shoes.
I must have dozed off because the next thing I remembered was Enzo turning off the engine in the garage. I sat up, embarrassed. “I’m sorry I fell asleep. That was rude.”
Enzo shook his head. “I don’t mind.”
I was too tired to analyze that statement. I made my way into the house, my eyes sliding toward the door to Dante’s office, wondering if he was still in there. Deciding I was too exhausted to give him a recount of the evening’s event, I headed upstairs, wincing every time my feet hit the floor. I needed to get out of my heels as soon as possible or I’d go crazy. I walked into the bedroom and froze. Dante was in bed, reading something on his tablet. As usual his upper body was naked, but now as my eyes raked over the scars marring his skin, I couldn’t help but imagine Dante with fourteen being tortured by his father to toughen him up.
“Did everything go well after I left?” Dante asked, barely glancing up from whatever he was reading.