“Come in.”

I slipped inside. Dante was busy cleaning his guns. They were arranged on a towel on his desk. “I invited Rocco Scuderi and his family for dinner for tomorrow night. I hope that’s alright with you?”

He barely spared me a look. He was obviously still angry with me. “I assume this is so you can talk with his daughter Gianna?”

“He asked you first, didn’t he?”

“I’m your husband. Rocco wanted to make sure it was okay to approach you.”

Sometimes their unwritten rules and traditions drove me up the walls. “Of course.”

“Don’t forget to tell Zita and Gaby, so they can prepare everything for our guests.” He rubbed a spot of grease at the barrel of his gun.

“I already did. But I will cook dinner myself.”

That made him raise his eyes, surprise flickering across his face. “You can cook?”

“Yes. I used to cook often in my first marriage,” I said, and that was obviously the wrong thing to say because Dante’s expression darkened again. “You haven’t found Frank yet?”

“No. We haven’t. He’s probably gone into hiding if he has any sense.”

I nodded, then hovered next to the door. I could tell the discussion was over for Dante but I hated how strained things had become between us. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but then I lost my nerve and left without another word.

***

I hadn’t even realized how much I missed cooking until I stood behind the stove again. Zita was a constant presence at my back, hawk-eyes watching my every move, but I was confident in what I was doing. I had cooked every part of today’s meal countless times. Vitello Tonnato for starters, followed by Saltimbocca with homemade gnocchi and a green salad, and at last, Tiramisu. As I worked in silence beside Gaby and Zita, I could occasionally glimpse the hint of approval in the older woman’s expression. I mixed everything for the sauce that accompanied the cooked veal for the starter before turning to Zita. “Would you try it? I’d like to know if it’s good.”

I knew it was how it was supposed to be but I wanted to show Zita that I appreciated her input. She stopped chopping the endive for the salad and walked over to me, wiping her hands on her apron. I took a step back as she dipped a spoon into the tuna sauce. She nodded slowly before leveling her brown eyes on me. “Good.” I knew then that things would turn out okay between us. I smiled and chanced a quick glance at the clock. “I have to change. I can’t welcome our guests in stained clothes.”

“We’ll take care of the rest,” Gaby assured me.

“Thanks,” I said as I hurried upstairs, feeling better than I had in a while.

***

The Scuderis arrived forty minutes later. My aunt Ludovica stood in the front with her husband Rocco who had a hand on nine-year-old Fabiano’s shoulder. I greeted his parents before I turned to him. “You’ve gotten so tall.”

He beamed up at me, straightening his shoulders even more. His father gave him a look that made the smile slip right off his face. Why did Made Men have to be so strict to their sons? My father had always coddled me, but my brother had never heard a word of praise from him. I ushered them inside as it had started snowing again. I couldn’t wait for winter to be over. The darkness and cold made it even harder to be upbeat about my marriage.

“Girls, greet the wife of the Capo,” Ludovica said sternly.

“I’m still their cousin. They don’t have to treat me any different now that I’m married to Dante.” I hugged Gianna who looked gorgeous with her red hair that twinkled with stray snowflakes, then her younger sister Lily, who was getting more lovely by the day as well.

Dante chose that moment to join us. He shook hands with Rocco, then patted Fabiano’s shoulder with one of his kinder smiles before he kissed the hands of Ludovica, Gianna and Lily. The latter blushed furiously while Gianna looked like she wanted to be anywhere but here. Dante walked ahead with Fabiano and Rocco. I hung back with the women of the family as we made our way to the dining room table.

During dinner, one topic wasn’t mentioned: Gianna’s wedding to Matteo. It should have been the focus of attention under normal circumstances, seeing that it was less than six months away, but I had a feeling the Scuderis were desperate to avoid a scene. After I’d received my fair share of praise for the first two courses, I rose and turned to Gianna, who was staring down at the table with a frown. “Will you help me with dessert, Gianna?”

Her head shot up, suspicion written plainly across her face, but she knew that manners dictated she agreed. She rose from her chair, sent a scathing look toward her mother, and then followed me through the door to our left. “Mother asked you to talk sense into me, didn’t she?” she muttered as we headed toward the kitchen.

“No, it was your father.”

“Wow. Shouldn’t you have lied to me? That’s what most people do.”

I shrugged. “I think it’s easier if you know the truth.”

We stepped into the kitchen. Zita was cutting the Tiramisu into squares and setting them on plates while Gaby decorated them with fruit. “We’ll take over from here,” I told them. They seemed to understand. With a small bow toward Gianna, they slipped away toward their staff room. I grabbed the spatula and heaved another piece of Tiramisu on a plate, then motioned at Gianna to spread raspberries, strawberries, slices of mango and star fruit around it. “So talk,” Gianna said.

“I know you don’t want to marry Matteo.”

Gianna snorted. “I’d rather chop my fingers off and eat them.”

I gave her a look. “All women in our world face the same problem as you do. Very few are lucky enough to choose their husband. An arranged marriage doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.”


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