Felice rolled his head around, venom oozing from his voice. ‘He is a child, Paulie. He will derail this family.’
Paulie sighed. ‘Killing Libero was the right choice strategically. And to have a Marino do it … well.’
‘Nonsense,’ Felice spat. ‘The whole thing is off. He has his soldati wrapped up in cotton wool – all of us barricaded in the same place.’
‘I think,’ said Paulie, edging lower, on his hunkers now, so he could look at Felice straight on, ‘perhaps you are indulging a little too hard right now.’
‘Stai zitto,’ Felice hissed like a rattlesnake. ‘You know why I’m drinking.’ He dropped his head back and closed his eyes at the ceiling. ‘I. Hate. This. Time. Of. Year.’
‘I know it’s hard for you, but self-medicating is not helping,’ Paulie said. ‘You’re not angry with Valentino.’
Felice waved Paulie’s words away, almost swatting his brother on the cheek.
‘You’re mad because she left you,’ Paulie added, his voice turning soft.
‘Say it,’ said Felice, looking at the mantelpiece, at a photo of him and Evelina laughing and toasting each other with champagne on their wedding day. I edged backwards, pressing myself against the wall so I was hidden behind the door. ‘Say the rest.’
‘She’s not coming back.’ He cursed. ‘She’s never coming back.’
‘It’s been a long time.’
How long ago had she been taken from him? How long did a broken heart last? I thought of my own grief, the constant ebb of it at the edges of my awareness. It hadn’t lessened; I had just accommodated it. It was part of me now – this blur of sadness. Maybe in five years’ time, I would be like Felice. Still angry, still questioning … still baying for revenge. His mask was almost perfect. Maybe mine would be too.
‘I want to see my child,’ Felice said.
‘I built her a palace,’ said Felice. His voice was vibrating with emotion – it was strange to see him so vulnerable, to see beneath that carefully polished veneer of his. ‘I gave her the world and she walked away from it without so much as a goodbye.’
‘Look to the future.’ Paulie gripped his brother’s arm, but Felice wasn’t even looking at him now, he was looking at his expensive shoes.
‘It was Angelo’s fault,’ he said quietly.
I caught my gasp on the palm of my hand. Did he know Evelina was dead? Did he really think his own brother killed her? If only he knew the truth. If he knew about my dad, or the safe, or the ring …
I told myself to leave, to get the hell out of that room before he caught me spying, but I had never seen Felice so … vulnerable, and I was compelled by it.
‘I know he helped her to leave. I know he convinced her.’
‘No.’ Paulie was shaking his head. ‘He would never do that to you.’
‘We’ll never know,’ said Felice bitterly. ‘We’ll never know what he did with her.’
‘You are talking nonsense.’
‘I know what I know,’ said Felice. ‘Angelo was a snake.’
Something cold rippled up the back of my neck. Felice wasn’t talking about Angelo as a brother … but as an enemy. I was starting to wonder just how deep his resentment ran, and whether he had felt like this the night he watched him get shot. Was that why he hadn’t intervened?
‘He was your brother. He was loyal to you.’
‘If he was loyal then I would have been his underboss, not his useless—’ Felice stopped himself, swallowing the slur. ‘Angelo destroyed this family’s prospects long before he got himself killed.’
‘Careful,’ Paulie warned. ‘Clean yourself up. Try and sleep. Don’t let the others hear you speak like this.’
‘Why?’ Felice looked like he was about to pass out. ‘Because his little bastards run this family? They take in strays and undermine our safety, and I should worry about voicing the obvious opinion of—’
‘Enough!’ snapped Paulie, losing the last dregs of his composure. He gripped his brother by the shoulders and shook him. I couldn’t imagine ever doing that to Felice; I’d get my head sawn off. ‘Get a grip.’
Felice shrugged his brother off. His suit was crumpled, his slacks turned up at the bottom.
Paulie crossed the room, pausing in the doorway that led directly into the study. ‘I’m going to take a nap, and then I have the girls for the afternoon. Pull yourself together before the others wake up. I can’t keep babysitting you like this.’ He disappeared, shutting the door behind him with a quiet thud.
Felice raised his head so suddenly I didn’t have time to jump backwards. We locked eyes, and he shot to his feet so fast he became one big streak of silver hair and spidery limbs uncramping themselves. I stumbled backwards out into the hallway, heading for the first room I could find.
I was halfway into the library when I was yanked backwards, my feet dragging against the floor as I struggled upright. Felice spun me around and shoved me into the alcove in the hallway, his left hand crushing my windpipe.
I grappled at his fingers. ‘Get off me!’
‘Eavesdropping were we, Marino?’ He tightened his grip and pushed me further into the alcove, until the shadows fell across us both.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ I choked out. ‘I’m just trying to do my homework!’