“Dante and his bodyguard showed up when I was about to step out. He ruined everything.”
“How did you even manage to follow me here without Enzo noticing anything?”
“I was one of them once. I could outsmart that guy any day.”
My head was spinning. I took a step back from him. “I cried at your grave! I mourned you for months.”
“I know,” he said. “But I couldn’t tell you about my plan.”
“Why not? You didn’t have a problem telling Frank.”
Antonio gave me a pleading look. “I didn’t want to involve you in this. It would have been too dangerous.”
“Who was the body they found? He had your favorite knife with him.”
“He was just a homeless stranger,” he said dismissively.
“You killed him and made it look as if the Russians killed you?”
Antonio nodded, a proud glint in his eyes. “I cut off his head so they couldn’t try to identify me through my teeth.”
I stared. “The Outfit sought revenge after they found you! They attacked the Russians and killed several of them.”
“The Russians deserve death. The world is a better place without them.”
The world would be a much better place without many of the people I knew. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. I married you to help you and you didn’t trust me enough to involve me in your plan. Have you ever considered that maybe I wanted out of this life as well?”
“I did trust you. I still do, Val. There are few people I trust more, but I couldn’t involve you in this. And how could I have taken you with me? It would have looked suspicious if we’d faked your death as well.”
I couldn’t see how that would have looked more suspicious. We could have staged a crime scene in our house and burned two bodies. But I wouldn’t have wanted an innocent to die so I could follow Antonio. It wasn’t as if I loved Antonio like I had at the beginning of our marriage.
“And be honest, would you really want to leave this life behind?”
I shook my head. This was the only life I knew. I wouldn’t even know how to function in normal society. I scanned his face. “But why are you here? If you wanted to leave this life behind, meeting with me isn’t exactly clever. Why are you even still in Chicago? Shouldn’t you be somewhere in the Caribbean or in South America enjoying your new-found freedom from the mob?”
“I heard about your marriage to Dante Cavallaro.”
I scoffed. “You didn’t come back here because of that. Why would you get out of hiding for that? You were safe.”
Antonio looked away. I could tell that he was reluctant to answer my question. “I tried. Frank and I tried a different life, a normal life. I had enough money to live comfortably in Mexico for a while, and then the plan was to find jobs, to live as normal people do.”
“I couldn’t do it, Val. I tried to work but it was degrading to work as if I was a nothing, to work for peanuts, to live without money. I was bored out of my mind. I tried for a while for Frank but he realized I was unhappy and so we decided to return to Chicago.”
“But why?” I asked. “You can hardly waltz into Dante’s office and tell him you’re alive. You broke your oath by leaving the Outfit. You betrayed them. They won’t welcome you with open arms.”
Antonio nodded grimly. “I know. Don’t you think I know that?”
Something dawned on me. “You want me to talk to Dante so he pardons you? You want me to come up with some crazy lie that will save your life?” I wasn’t sure there was anything I could do or say that would stop Dante from putting a bullet in Antonio’s head. He’d broken the mob’s cardinal rule. You couldn’t just leave the Outfit. It was for life.
Antonio grabbed my shoulder, eyes imploring. “If I could I would undo what I’ve done. I wouldn’t leave you behind as a widow. You know I love you, Val, right?”
I exhaled slowly. “I know, Antonio. You told me more than once that you loved me like a sister.”
Antonio brought us even closer. “Maybe I could love you more than that. Maybe if we tried again, we could be more than a fake couple.”
“What are you saying?”
“I want to return to my old life, to you. I want to try for real this time.”
I was more confused than ever before in my life. “Antonio, you have Frank. What about him? You are gay.”
Antonio avoided my eyes. “I know. But you could be the exemption. Frank wouldn’t mind if I acted as a husband should. He doesn’t mind sharing.”
I blinked, on the verge of laughter. “You want what…a love triangle?” I wasn’t even sure what else to call this. It was too ridiculous to even consider.
Antonio gave me his most endearing smile. The one that brought back memories of our youth together, the one that had manipulated me countless times before.
“I’m married to Dante now. You aren’t even my husband anymore. You were declared dead.”
“But you can’t be married to Dante if I’m not dead, because our marriage is still valid.”
“You realize that Dante might be reluctant to agree to your insane suggestion, right?” I said. This was surreal. Maybe this conversation wasn’t happening. Maybe I was asleep and dreaming.
“Yes. He wouldn’t allow it and he would kill me if he found out I’m alive. That’s why I need your help.”
Dread settled in my bones like a leaden weight. “What kind of help?”
“I know you didn’t want to marry Dante. He’s always been a cold bastard. You can’t be happy with him.”
“Antonio,” I said imploringly. “Spit it out.”
“When I decided to return to Chicago, I contacted a couple of my former friends who aren’t too fond of the way the Cavallaros run the Outfit, especially Dante with his new rules. I told them I had faked my death because I was sick of serving under Cavallaro’s rule. They welcomed me with open arms. They want change as much as I do. Dante hasn’t been Capo for very long. This is the perfect moment to force a change.”