After I’d showered and dressed in my favorite plum pencil skirt and a white blouse, I headed into one of the guestrooms that now harbored a few of my moving boxes that I hadn’t unpacked yet. It took me a few minutes of rummaging before I found what I was looking for, a wooden case where I kept a few things from Antonio. Inside were our wedding bands, which I’d never much cared about. The most important thing in the case was a thin photo album that held mostly pictures of the time before Antonio and I had married. Back then we’d only been friends without the added weight of having to pretend to be more. Antonio looked nothing like Dante. He had dark hair and dark eyes, and wasn’t very tall. He’d never wanted me to wear heels so I wasn’t taller than him. But appearances weren’t the biggest difference between my first and my second husband; that was their aura. Where Antonio had been open and friendly, someone people perceived as a likeable albeit ordinary buddy type, Dante oozed power and cold. Nobody would mistake him for a follower. If Dante hadn’t been born into our world, he’d probably be a governor or senator. He would have done well in that world. But as with all of us¸ our birth determined our fate. We were all bound to the mob. I glanced down at a photo of Antonio and me on a horse. It had been the first time for me. We both looked young and happy, hopeful. Antonio hadn’t been inducted into the mafia back then, had still thought he could find a way out of his duty.
I put the wooden case back down before I could dive deeper into sad memories. I straightened, took a deep breath and left the guest bedroom. There was no going back, but it wasn’t always easy to move forward, especially if you didn’t know which way to go. But I needed something that gave my life meaning and structure, something I could put my energy into, as long Dante didn’t let me into his life.
I missed having a purpose, a daily task. I wasn’t someone who could sit at home all day, or spent our going over the newest piece of juicy gossip. I wanted a job, but even during my time with Antonio, people had found it strange that he’d allowed his wife to work. I worried that it would be a scandal Dante wasn’t willing to risk.
My steps slowed as I headed toward the door he hid behind almost all the time. I wasn’t only nervous because I wanted to ask Dante for a job. What if things would be awkward and strained between us now that we’d slept together? Though I really wasn’t sure how our relationship could take a further nosedive down. We were already barely being civil to each other. Apart from throwing dishes at each other’s heads and bickering constantly there really was no way our interactions could change for the worse. And to be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I wouldn’t prefer heated fights to the cold ignorance I was getting now.
Gathering my courage, I knocked at his door.
“Come in,” Dante called after a moment.
I entered his office. My eyes immediately darted to the spot on the desk where the photo of his first wife had been, but he’d removed it. I didn’t think he’d thrown it out. It was probably hidden away in one of the drawers in his desk, and I didn’t expect him to forget her, to throw away every piece that reminded him of her, to banish her memory from his heart; I only wished he’d leave a little room in his heart for me.
Dante looked up from a pile of papers. “What do you need?” He didn’t say it in an unfriendly way, but it was obvious that he was busy. His demeanor toward me hadn’t changed at all, despite what we’d done yesterday. As my eyes took in his dark gray vest, my body remembered the way it had rubbed against my nipples yesterday and I almost crossed the room and threw myself at Dante again. But I didn’t want to appear too needy. Our next sex would have to be initiated by Dante. Of course, maybe he’d go back to not touching me again. I pushed that worrisome thought aside as I closed the door after me and walked closer to the desk. “I have something I’d like to discuss with you.”
Dante scanned my face. “Go on.”
“I want to work. When I was married to Antonio I helped him run his family restaurants too.” They’d always only been a way to launder money, but I’d enjoyed the task. I’d greeted guests and organized arrangements when someone booked a wedding in our restaurants. After his death, his younger brother had taken over. A woman alone couldn’t possibly handle the task. That’s what our men thought anyway.
Dante leaned back in his desk chair with a frown. “Work? What did you have in mind?”
I was glad he was open to the idea and didn’t shoot it down immediately. Emboldened by this, I walked around the desk and settled on its edge. Dante’s eyes flitted to my legs but too quickly they returned to my face. “I’m good at organizing and event planning. I’m also very good with people.” I was also good at leading people but I kept that to myself. Made Men didn’t like women who enjoyed being in charge. Somehow most of them couldn’t get it in their heads that a strong woman at their side didn’t make them less of a man.
Dante nodded. “I need someone for one of our casinos.”
I tried to curb my excitement. I didn’t even know what Dante had in mind for me yet. “Riverboat or underground?” The casinos on land weren’t official of course. It was still illegal to run a casino in Chicago that wasn’t situated on a riverboat, but the mob and Dante in particular were working to change that. He could be very convincing, and it certainly didn’t hurt that a few senators were regular customers in the Outfit’s casinos and brothels. Not that legalization would mean that the Outfit would make their secret casinos public. They’d lose too much money if they did.