There was a strong whiff of whisky on his breath. He peeled his lips back, his teeth glistening at me like fangs. ‘I don’t trust you as far as I could throw you, Persephone.’
I blinked dumbly at him, trying to convey innocence.
‘You walk around here like you belong, like these floors are yours to traverse, but they don’t belong to you, nor does this family. You will always be an outsider to us.’
If I wasn’t concentrating so hard on dragging tiny morsels of air into my bruising trachea I might have said something about his own botched loyalty, but I couldn’t force the words out.
‘I don’t know what went on in Valentino’s office on Friday night, but if you think I believe the diatribe Luca spun about Libero Marino, then you’re sorely mistaken.’ He relaxed his hold an inch, and I gulped down a breath of fresh air. I thought he was going to relinquish me, but instead he whipped his gun out of his jacket, cocked it, and pressed the barrel into the underside of my jaw. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth.
‘As far as I’m concerned, Persephone Marino, you are still an active threat to me.’ The gun was cutting off my oxygen supply. Felice’s eyes were wild, his lips quivering violently. Even his hands were shaking. ‘If you even consider breathing a word about anything you think you just heard to anyone, you will be facing your death at my hands. Mark my words, I will show you the depth of my wrath if you so much as tiptoe out of line.’
I had frozen in place, my pulse vibrating against the cold metal, trying not to move a muscle. Any wrong move, wrong word, could set him off. The truth was, he was crazy – drugged up and strung out. If he wanted to, he would kill me right there and then, and I would only get half a strangled scream out before he did.
‘I’m never going to stop watching you, Persephone.’ Spittle foamed at the sides of his mouth, the words coming in heaving gasps. ‘If you presume to undermine me in any way, or do anything that places this family at risk, I will put a bullet in your head.’ He dug the barrel of the gun in further, and I gagged, trying to suck in air. I was about to pass out.
‘Just. Like. This,’ Felice whispered.
The click was as loud as a bomb. It echoed inside the alcove, and grew louder and louder inside my head.
Nothing happened. There were no bullets in his gun. A warning.
He bared all his teeth at me – that shark grin, full of malevolent amusement – and as unsightly as it was, I almost fainted in relief.
Then another sound echoed around us. Felice froze, the empty gun still pressed against my neck as the sound of a hammer being pulled back filled the small space. A black gun appeared beside Felice’s head, the pressure of the barrel puckering the skin around his temple.
His face drained to a ghostly white.
Luca stepped into the alcove and brought his lips right up to his uncle’s ear. ‘That gun might be empty, scarafaggio, but this one is loaded,’ he growled. ‘If you ever threaten her again, I’ll blow your brains out.’
The shark grin died, and real, chilling fear consumed Felice’s face. His eyes grew lidless and wide. Luca kept the gun pressed against his uncle’s head, and slowly, Felice lowered his own from my neck. My jaw clicked back into place and cool air rushed down my throat. I gulped it down. Without turning around, Felice addressed Luca, his grey eyes still trained on me.
‘So,’ he said, his lip curling. ‘There are some things you deem worthy enough to kill for, Gianluca.’
Luca’s reply came in one steady breath. ‘Only one.’
HOMEWORK AND HEADSHOTS
The next few weeks passed by in a blur of classes, endless assignments, nightly phone calls about the upcoming Masquerade Ball, and meetings back at Evelina, where I learnt the names of every Marino in existence and watched as the Falcone boys disappeared at random times of the day and came back in the dead of night. They were in the city, scoping out Donata’s usual haunts, collecting information, turning Marino allies into snitches, dispatching those that couldn’t be persuaded. The house was busier than an airport at Christmastime. Donata and her remaining children, Marco and Zola (Franco, I learnt, was still in prison) had come back for Libero’s funeral – the most heavily guarded procession in Chicago’s history.
My father was still on the run, but I hadn’t heard so much as a peep from him. The police were patrolling Cedar Hill, on the lookout, following fruitless tips and making nuisances of themselves. I almost felt bad for them. It wasn’t hard to guess where my father was – at least if you knew what I knew. It wasn’t hard to guess what he was planning, but I couldn’t figure out what the hell I was going to do when I came face-to-face with him again. I wasn’t sure he truly wanted to protect me by sending me away to Colorado, but I knew he wouldn’t harm me, not deliberately. But if he was with Jack when we tracked him down, then we were going to have a problem.
The anniversary of Evelina’s disappearance passed and Felice sank back into his usual cartoon-villain self. I found it harder to be around him, knowing what he was capable of, and seeing how close he had come to actually doing it. He had left a ring of bruises around my neck, and I knew if I ever found myself alone with him away from Evelina, it might be the last thing I ever did. He could never know what my father had done to his wife, or I’d be dead for certain.
Luca spent all his time with Valentino, painstakingly planning and dispatching Falcones to far-off places in the state. For now, I had one duty and one duty only: go to school, stay in school. In the afternoons, I sat beneath the oil painting of Evelina Falcone in the library and forced myself to complete assignments I didn’t care about. As time wore on, Evelina’s eyes seemed to grow deeper, the sadness behind them rising to meet me like a terrible wave. Her face haunted my dreams, her lips twisting as she whispered to me in the night, I see you, Sophie Marino. I see your fate.