He lay on top of me, still buried in me, his breathing fanning over my cheek. I knew many women in our world preferred a beautiful lie to the harsh truth any day, and for the first time, I understood. After all that had happened today, I allowed myself that weakness. Tomorrow would be the time to face reality.CHAPTER TWENTY-ONEWhen I left the house before breakfast the next morning, Dante wasn’t there. I hadn’t expected him to, he hadn’t lain beside me when I’d woken either. Yesterday I’d forced him to let me closer than he was comfortable with and now he would be pulling away until we were barely civil again. I waved Taft over and he approached me at once. “I need you to drive me to Bibiana,” I said as we walked into the garage. He grabbed the keys, slid into the car and then we were already off. Time was important. “Hurry,” I added when we pulled away from the house. Taft didn’t ask why.
The moment we parked in front of Bibiana’s house, I got out of the car and hurried toward the entrance door. I rang the bell. I knew Tommaso was still home because there wasn’t a guard sitting in a car in the street. I’d hoped for that.
I could hear Tommaso shouting angrily and then there were quick steps and Bibiana opened the door, still in her bathrobe. Her eyes widened with confusion when she saw me. “Val? Tommaso told me what happened yesterday. Are you okay?” There was a hand-shaped bruise on her cheek and it made my decision easier.
I pulled her against me in a hug and pushed the vial with poison into her palm. “Nobody knows I have this. It’s poison, Bibi. If you really want to be free, then slip it into his breakfast today. Tomorrow it’ll be too late. Today we can still blame it on the traitors. Nobody will ask questions.” I straightened with a smile, my face the mask I’d learned from Dante. Bibi smiled back but there was surprise and incredulity and gratefulness in her eyes.
“Bibiana, what’s taking you so long?” Tommaso bellowed as he trudged down the staircase. He paused when he spotted me. Bibiana quickly hid the poison vial in her bathrobe.
“I’m sorry for disturbing you,” I said. “I only wanted to make sure Bibiana knew I’m alright. I don’t have much time though. I need to get back home.”
“Dante called for a meeting of the entire Outfit. Just got the email. I suppose you can’t give me details about what went down?”
I shook my head. “I should really go.” I gave Bibiana a smile, then I turned on my heel and walked back to the car. The last thing I heard was Bibi telling Tommaso she would make him a quick breakfast before he left.
This was the second man I’d condemned to death. This time, however, there was no guilt.
“Valentina, I’d like to talk to you,” Dante said before disappearing back in his office. I hesitated. This was the first time that Dante had actually asked me into his office for a conversation. All the times before, I had to seek him out.
Worry gnawed at my insides as I stepped into his office and closed the door behind me. Dante was facing the window but turned to me. For a long time his blue eyes searched my face. “Tommaso didn’t show up at the meeting I’d called.”
I forced my face to stay expressionless. “So?”
“The men I sent over to get him found him dead in his living room. Poisoned.”
“What about Bibiana?” I asked, trying to sound worried and shocked. She hadn’t sent me a text or tried to call me. It would have been too risky anyway.
“She’s with her parents now, but I’ll have to drive over there now to question her.”
I froze. “Why?”
“Because as Capo I need to investigate when one of my men gets killed.” Dante slowly advanced on me. “Of course, I’m fairly sure I know what happened.”
I raised my chin as he stopped in front of me. “You do?” I held his gaze, anything else would have looked guilty, even if it was probably too late for that anyway.
“You are best friends with Bibiana and you wanted to help her.” I didn’t say anything but he didn’t seem to expect me to. He continued in the same quiet, smooth voice. “Antonio gave you poison when he asked you to kill me, didn’t he?”
I considered lying to him, but I needed him on my side and he wouldn’t take being lied to kindly. “Yes,” I said softly.
“You didn’t tell me about it because you knew it was your chance to help Bibiana, so you took it to her and told her to blame it on Raffaele.”
“Did she say that?”
“She mentioned Raffaele visited them yesterday when my men took her to her parents, but she was too hysterical to say much.”
Was Bibi regretting what she’d done? Or had her breakdown been for show? “So why don’t you believe it was Raffaele?”
Dante’s eyes narrowed. “Because he would have mentioned it when I interrogated him.”
I nodded. “So what now?”
Dante shook his head. “Goddamnit, Valentina. You should have come to me.”
“I came to you. I asked you if there was something you could do against Tommaso, but you said there wasn’t.”
“You asked me to kill him and I told you I couldn’t because he wasn’t a traitor.”
I scoffed. “As if that matters. You are a killer, Dante. You can kill whoever you want. Don’t tell me you’ve never killed for other reasons than protecting the Outfit.”
Dante gripped my shoulders, bringing us even closer. “Of course, I have. But I told you ‘no’ and you should have listened to me.”
“Because your word is law,” I said mockingly.
“Yes,” Dante said in a low voice. “Even for you.”
“I would do it again. I don’t regret freeing Bibi of that cruel bastard. I only regret that I had to go behind your back but you left me no choice.”