It was early afternoon, and Dante had left for a meeting at one of the Outfit’s underground casinos. I wasn’t sure when he’d be back but if the last two days since my embarrassing attempt at seduction were any indication, probably not before eight. It was silent in the house. Today was Gaby’s day off, and as usual Zita was busy in the kitchen and avoiding me.

I pushed down the handle and stepped into the room where Dante kept his dead wife’s memorabilia. The curtains were drawn, casting the room in darkness. I fumbled for the light switch but when I pressed it, nothing happened. I switched it back and forth a few more times until I decided that it was futile. After a moment of guilt-induced hesitation, I carefully felt my way toward the window and pulled the curtains apart. Coughing from a billow of dust from the heavy fabric, I blinked against the sudden light, my eyes tearing up. I wiped them quickly before I dared to look around.

There wasn’t a lamp attached to the ceiling, only a string of abandoned wires. No wonder the switch didn’t do anything. Dust particles danced in the air and a musty smell penetrated my nose. A fine layer of dust had gathered on every surface and even the ground. My footsteps were clearly visible. Briefly, panic threatened to overwhelm me. There was no way I could hide my presence in the room if my footprints were all over the floor, but the way the room looked nobody had set foot inside in a long time, not even Dante, so he’d never find out.

The room was cluttered with furniture and cardboard boxes. There was a dark wood wardrobe, two dressers and a king sized four-poster bed. Slowly realization dawned on me. This must have been the master bedroom Dante and his wife had shared before her death. At least, I wasn’t sleeping in the same bed where Dante had made love to his dead wife. I tiptoed toward the wardrobe. I wasn’t even sure why I was trying to be quiet but it felt almost sacrilegious to be in this room. I opened the wardrobe and was hit by the smell of disuse and old clothes. Two dozen dresses hung from padded pink hangers, everything from long ball gowns, over pretty cocktail dresses to casual summer dresses. Some of them looked like they might have belonged in my wardrobe, but of course they were too small for me.

I brushed my fingers over the fabric. It was strange to think that the person who had worn them was long gone, buried in cold dark earth. With a shudder, I closed the door and stepped back, but my curiosity wasn’t sated yet. I opened one of the drawers of the cupboard beside the wardrobe and found it stacked with underwear. I quickly closed it. That definitely felt too personal. I couldn’t rummage in the lingerie of a dead woman, even if it might tell me something about Dante’s preferences. Hesitantly, I approached the second dresser. I opened the top drawer. It was empty except for two photo albums. I had a feeling the drawer had once belonged to Dante, stacked with his socks and briefs a long time ago. When he’d changed bedrooms, he’d left everything behind, even his own dresser.

Ignoring my qualms, I picked up the two albums and carried them over to the bed. A dark red duvet was spread out over it, which was also covered in a thin layer of dust. After a futile glance around in search for another option, I sat down on its edge with the albums in my lab. The first album was white except for the image of two entwined gold rings. With trepidation, I opened the album.

A much younger Dante and a young, small woman in a wedding dress were in the first photo. Dante wasn’t looking into the camera. His sole attention belonged to his bride, and the adoration plainly visible in his eyes made a lump rise into my throat. The cold calculation and emotionless sophistication were absent in his face. Maybe because he was still young, but I had a feeling it had just as much to do with the woman at his side.

It was a simple picture and yet it conveyed everything a wedding should mean: love, devotion, happiness.

I hadn’t seen the photos of our wedding yet, but I knew what I wouldn’t find in them. I swallowed the rising emotion. I browsed the other photos, childishly hoping to find Dante with a look of the same indifference he always showed me. But even though his expression became more guarded and controlled in later photos, his feelings for his wife were hard to miss. They’d been married for almost twelve years, but they’d never had kids. I knew his wife Carla had fought cancer in the last three years of her life, but I wondered why it hadn’t worked before then. I’d never seen her with a baby bump, or heard rumors of a miscarriage. Not that it was my business.

Maybe I should count myself lucky that Dante didn’t have kids with Carla or I’d have them here to despise me as well. I hated the bitterness of that thought and quickly abandoned it. I didn’t want to get petty, or act jealous toward a dead woman. She’d never done anything to me and it was horrible that she had died so soon.

I picked up the second album. At its end, there were a few photos that showed Carla with a wig and no eyebrows. Dante’s arm was wrapped protectively around his thin pale wife. Sorrow washed over me. How was it to lose someone you loved so much?

I had loved Antonio as a friend, but it didn’t even come close to what Dante and Carla must have had, and if I was being honest I’d often resented Antonio in the end for keeping me in a loveless golden cage so he could hide that he was gay.

Tags: Cora Reilly Born in Blood Mafia Chronicles Erotic