Dante laughed and his entire face transformed. “That’s not something I want to think about.”
I smiled. “I imagine you don’t.” I paused, curious. “What would you do if one of your men came to you and admitted that he was gay?”
“I would tell him to keep his disposition a secret and to fight it.”
“It’s not like people choose to be gay. They are gay or they aren’t. You’d force your men to live a lie.”
“They can live a lie, or they will have to live with the consequences.”
“You would kill someone for who they love.”
“Society may have come a long way but the mafia is built on traditions, Valentina. The moment I declared I’d accept Made Men to be gay, all hell would break loose in the Outfit. That would be one change I wouldn’t be able to push through. I wouldn’t kill someone for confiding in me, as long as they kept it a secret. I don’t doubt that there are soldiers in the Outfit who are attracted to men but who’ve learned to restrain themselves. They are probably married and live a lie, but as long as they do, they are safe.”
We were still sitting close together, actually talking in bright daylight. I reached for Dante’s chest, lightly brushing my fingertips over a long scar there. Dante gripped my wrist, gently this time and pulled my hand away. He slid his legs out of bed and stood. I watched as he headed for the bathroom, completely naked, and yet covered by hundreds of invisible layers I could never penetrate.
I dropped my hand in my lap. With a sigh, I got out of bed as well. There was no sense in lying back down alone. I had a busy day. My first day in the casino without Dante. I was anxious and excited at the same time. After a quick shower, I took a ridiculous long time trying on different outfits. I didn’t want to look too sexy, but I also didn’t want to hide my femininity. I knew those men, especially Raffaele, didn’t like that a woman was now working with them, and worse: their boss, and I had no intention of making this easier for them. They had to learn to deal with strong women, and if they couldn’t, that was their problem. I chose a knee-length dark-blue pencil skirt, matching slingback heels and a white blouse with a round neck and long puff sleeves. After I’d tugged the hem of the blouse into my waistband, I put my hair up in a bun, letting a few wayward strands hang down.
When I entered the dining room, it was deserted. I stopped in the doorway, letting my eyes rest on Dante’s usual place. His newspaper was folded beside his empty plate. With a sigh, I headed for my own chair. The door opened and Gaby walked in, carrying a carafe with fresh orange juice and a coffee pot. She smiled brightly at me. “Good morning, Mis…Valentina.” She gave an apologetic look but I only smiled, happy to see a friendly face in the morning. “I hope you slept well?”
My cheeks warmed unwantedly. “Yes, thank you.”
She poured me coffee and orange juice. “Would you like some eggs or pancakes?”
“No, I’ll only have a croissant and some fruit.” I gestured at the array of pastries and fruit in front of me.
Gaby turned to leave. “Wait,” I blurted, then flushed at how desperate I’d sounded. Gaby faced me with wide eyes, as if she worried she’d done something to offend me and would be punished. “Why don’t you keep me company?”
“Only if you want to. I’d like to get to know you better.”
A shy grin spread on her face, but she didn’t sit down.
“You don’t have to stand. Sit.” I pulled out the chair beside mine. Gaby put down the carafe and the coffee pot before she lowered herself gingerly in the chair.
“Have you had breakfast yet?”
Gaby hesitated, then shook her head.
“Then have a Danish. There’s more than enough food for the two of us.” I grabbed the basket and pushed it over to her. She took a chocolate croissant with a mumbled thanks, her cheeks turning red.
I grabbed one for myself, took a bite, then followed it with a hot gulp of coffee. I wanted to give Gaby some time to get past her nervousness. “Where do you live? I’ve been wondering about this since you told me your story.”
“Oh, I live with Zita and her husband. They took me in shortly after I started working for Mr. Cavallaro.”
“Are they treating you well?” Whenever I saw Zita, she was glowering or frowning. She didn’t seem like someone who should take care of a girl like Gaby, who’d gone through hell as a teen.
Gaby nodded her head vehemently. “Yes. Zita is strict but she treats me like family.” She put the last crumb of croissant into her mouth and swallowed before saying half embarrassed. “She’s starting to warm to you. Zita always needs some time to get used to new people.”
“Really? She doesn’t look like she’s liking me any better.”
Gaby gave a small shrug. “I’m sure she’ll change her mind soon.”
I couldn’t help but like Gaby. She was kind. I peered at the watch around my wrist. “I need to leave now. I want to be early on my first day at work.”
“Good luck,” Gaby said, rising from her chair. “I think it’s great that you want to work. You’re the only woman of your status who doesn’t only stay at home. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being only a wife.”
I briefly touched her shoulder to show her I wasn’t offended, then followed her back into the staff area where Enzo was drinking coffee. He got up at once when he saw me. “You can finish your coffee. There’s no rush,” I told him. Despite my words, he picked up his cup and downed it in one swallow. Zita was throwing disapproving glances my way. I definitely couldn’t see her warming up to me. She hadn’t said anything yet except for a curt ‘good morning’ but I could tell that she wanted to.