I tried not to imagine the fury in the boss’s eyes when he heard what had happened.
I failed. I am a coward. I am useless.
I am weak. I am nobody.
Why did I ever think I could do this?
I can do this.
After what seemed like an eternity, my phone rang, and Valentino’s number blinked on screen. I pressed a hand to my heart and lifted the phone to my ear.
‘Come see me in my office.’
Was this it? Was this how it ended? Where would I go now? What was the punishment for failing the initiation? No one had ever told me. I tucked my phone in my pocket and stood up, rolling my neck around to try and ease some of the tension.
I walked slowly, listening to my quiet footfall on the marble floors, and imagining myself as a criminal making my way to the hangman’s noose.
THE FIRST LIE
Valentino was at his desk, his head tilted to one side as he surveyed me with those cobalt eyes. He looked oddly refreshed for the time of night, but then again, he hadn’t lifted a finger against any Marinos, so why should he be exhausted?
Luca stood motionless on his twin’s right, his black shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, his hair swept away from his face. Felice was on his left, arms folded across his chest. He was still dressed impeccably, and I had half expected he would be in some creepy silk robe, à la Hugh Hefner. Nic and Dom were side by side against the window, perched on the edge. Neither one looked at me as I came in.
I shuffled towards the half-circle of assassins. No guns on show. No guarded stances. The atmosphere seemed … relaxed. I was careful not to let it lull me. The Falcone masks were well-worn.
Valentino pointed to the only free chair in the room. I had been here exactly four days ago, staring at a photograph of Libero Marino.
I sat down. I looked at Luca – his mouth was set in a hard line, his jaw tightly locked. He lifted his hand, and brushed his fingers across his mouth. Then he pressed his lips tighter together, the colour disappearing from them entirely.
Don’t say anything.
I clamped my mouth shut. Valentino gestured to Felice, and Felice turned around and opened a cabinet. My hands seized up. I unclenched them. Why was nobody saying anything?
Felice placed two half-empty bottles on the table. One bottle of Southern Comfort and one bottle of amaretto. He bent down, opening a cabinet in the bottom of the desk, and when he straightened again, he was holding six shot glasses, all arranged in a neat tower. He separated the glasses in silence, and we all watched him as he filled them up – first with the Southern Comfort, then the amaretto.
Valentino reached for his glass first. The others followed suit, and when there was only one left on the table and all eyes on me, I pulled it towards me, thanking the universe for my steady hand.
Were we about to drink to my eviction?
Valentino raised his glass, and then did something totally unprecedented. He smiled at me. It felt, for the first time, like it was real. And it was undeniably dazzling.
‘I thought it might be fitting to celebrate this with a Sicilian Kiss shot,’ he said, nodding at the glass in his hand. ‘Considering what happened tonight.’
We were celebrating?
I looked at my shot glass, detecting the faint smell of almonds swirling inside it. ‘I’ve never had one,’ I said. Like it mattered.
Valentino smiled again. ‘You did a brave thing tonight, Sophie. You dispatched Libero Marino, and cemented your loyalty to the Falcone family.’
Luca glared at me.
I let Valentino continue.
‘Now Donata will return to the city with your uncle at her side. The blood war has begun in earnest, and we are going to win it.’ I tried not to let my shock show. I just sat there, stony-faced, as Valentino lauded me. ‘Tonight, you became a true Falcone soldato, Sophie. So with the others here to witness, I want to raise a toast to you, and say, officially, Benvenuta nella famiglia, Sophie. Welcome to the family.’
He lifted his glass once more, and the others chorused him, raising their shot glasses to the ceiling, to me, to the lie. The lie that Luca, Nic and Dom had told their boss. ‘Benvenuta nella famiglia, Sophie.’
We drank as one. I tipped the shot of alcohol into my mouth and let it slide, warm and fragrant, down my throat. The fire burnt in my stomach, the faint flavour of almond still dancing on my tongue, and my gaze never left Luca’s, just as his never left mine.
It was just after two a.m., and the house was silent as I crept along the darkened hallway on the third floor. Before I could psyche myself out, I knocked on Luca’s door.
‘Luca?’ I said softly.
After a minute of waiting, I decided to indulge my rudeness. I was too antsy to go back to my room. I was too nervous to sleep another night without talking to him, without trying to bridge this strange distance between us – especially after tonight.
I opened the door, still knocking to alert him to my presence. The room was dark, the only light streaming in from the moon outside. I couldn’t help thinking of the last time I had been here, of how tightly Luca had held me to him, of how passionately he had kissed me. That seemed like a world away now.
The room was much bigger than I remembered it. I had never really studied it before. It was about three times the size of mine, with a line of bookshelves, a desk, two wardrobes and a king-size bed. It was cream, with artwork hanging around the walls – contemporary prints I didn’t recognize. There was one with a melting clock, another one of a ship made of strange butterflies. The room was unexpectedly neat, and even the bed was still made.