Maybe it would have once, but not any more. Not after I’d seen her around her sons, the love she showed them, even when she was snapping at Dom about leaving dirty plates in the sink or giving out to Gino about his messy hair. You could feel it.
‘It doesn’t surprise me, actually.’ That brought a fleeting smile to Elena’s face. ‘What made you want to be a nurse?’ I don’t know why I asked, but my shoulder was starting to go numb and I knew the needle would be coming next and I wanted to take my mind off it. Besides, I wanted to know more about her.
‘My mother was a nurse.’ She pointed towards the wall, and I looked away, trying to ignore the needle as she threaded it in my periphery. ‘She died when I was very young, but the care she showed my sister and me in our early childhood never left me. She was from Texas. As far from a mafiosa as you can imagine. She taught us to ride horses and make pecan pie when we were barely able to walk. She made the most magnificent turkey dinners at Christmastime, and the sweetest eggnog. And then one day, it all went away. She died in a botched hit on my father, and all of her goodness died with her.’ Her smile was sad, her voice hollow when she said, ‘When you grow up around torture and violence, it does something to you, Sophie. I wanted to end suffering, not cause it. I wanted to be a solution, in whatever way I could. My mother was kind. I suppose I wanted to be like her.’
I barely felt the first prick. The cream had kicked in and Elena’s movements were quick and steady now. Still, I shut my eyes. ‘Did your dad approve?’
She let out a snort. ‘My father rarely approved of anything I did. Where my mother was kind, he was cruel. He ruled the Genovese crime family with an iron fist, and that extended to Donata and me as well. I used to think he was the most impressive man I ever met. As I grew up, that changed. I came to fear how easily he could separate his emotions from his duty. Sometimes I wondered if he had emotions at all.’
The silence rose up between us, and I was conscious of how much she was offering me, how vulnerable she might have felt in that moment, so I said, ‘I can understand that. Thinking you know someone, and learning that they’re nothing like what you thought. It sucks. Especially when it’s your dad.’
Elena nodded. ‘We look at our parents through rose-coloured glasses. Part of growing up is taking them off. We come to understand them on a human level. It’s not always a pleasant experience.’
‘No,’ I agreed. ‘It’s not.’
‘My father didn’t believe in silly things like affection or love. He liked order and deference. He wanted me to marry my second cousin to keep the Genovese bloodline strong.’
‘Ew,’ I said, before I could stop myself.
Elena’s laugh was a passing tinkle. ‘Yes. Exactly. You can imagine how angry the great Don Genovese was when I ran away with Angelo Falcone instead.’
I remembered what Donata had told me about the situation. Do you know what he gifted to my sister on the night of their wedding? My father’s death.
‘Angelo killed your father.’ The words were out of my mouth before I could swallow them back. I winced, feeling the prick of the needle more keenly now.
‘Yes, Angelo killed my father, but not before he made an attempt on our lives.’ She sighed, and I could almost feel it in my bones. The sadness, the weariness. ‘He didn’t have a choice. For us, it was kill or be killed.’
I sucked in a breath. ‘Your father really tried to murder you? Because you fell in love?’
‘Because I fell in love with the wrong man and tied myself to the wrong family,’ Elena explained. ‘He would have preferred a dead daughter over a Falcone one. I think that’s why he tried to do it on my wedding night. As a lesson to others in the Genovese family. As a warning. He wanted me to die in my wedding dress.’
I wondered if my father felt the same way about me. I hoped not – though with Jack, the sentiment was clear. He had been ready to haul me away with Donata tonight – to let her torture me for turning my back on the Marino family.
‘When my father sent his soldato for me, I was in the shower, about to get ready for bed with my new husband.’ I felt her shudder at the memory, but she continued, her voice strong. ‘It was my cousin Johnny. I screamed when I saw him burst in, and if his gun hadn’t misfired, I would have died right there in the water. But Angelo was in the dressing room, and he got to him first. I guess Johnny thought I was alone.’
‘That sounds terrifying,’ I said, imagining that particular brand of fear.
‘It was,’ she said quietly. ‘Right after that, Angelo called Paulie and they paid my father a final visit together.’ She swallowed hard, cleared her throat, and said, ‘The end was quick.’
‘God,’ I said. What a mess these Mafia families made for each other. ‘And your sister never forgave you.’ It was a statement, not a question.
‘Donata was in the house the night Angelo killed my father. He could have killed her, too, but I asked him to spare her. Despite the fact we never saw eye to eye, despite her hatred of me and what I had done, I didn’t want him to harm her.’ She tapped my arm to indicate she was done with the stitches. I opened my eyes to find her icy blue gaze swimming with unshed tears. ‘I spend every day of my life regretting that decision. I spend every waking moment wondering whether she will take one of my sons from me, like she almost took Gino during that fire.’ She blinked, and the tears vanished. ‘I think it is the worst decision I ever made.’