Without so much as a glance at Botelli, Sanchez broke the spell of congenial pleasantries by raising his hand and snapping his fingers. The sharp sound cut across the music, the light chatter of guests—and Botelli’s voice.
“Miguel.” Sanchez spoke with casual curtness that was shocking for all its quiet.
Though Ortega did no more than turn his gaze on Botelli, Gabriel had the impression of something sleek and dangerous scenting prey.
“Mr. Botelli,” he said in that sultry, slow voice—like poured honey. How well Gabriel recalled that charming inflection: not quite an accent, but exotic all the same. Ortega’s eyes moved dismissively over Botelli’s men, clearly discounting them all: Bruno, Michelangelo—but when his gaze reached Gabriel, he let it linger mockingly. “Gentlemen,” he said, and the amusement in that single word made it an insult. Botelli didn’t look any too thrilled as Ortega continued, “You may remember we spoke before, Mr. Botelli? Specifically, at your last meeting with Don Sanchez.”
“Uh, right,” said Botelli. He cast an uneasy look at Sanchez.
Sanchez said, “Miguel knows my wishes. He speaks for me in all things.”
That ought to make life interesting for Gina, Gabriel thought sourly as Botelli blinked without comprehension.
Ortega smiled again, but the smile didn’t conceal the steel in his eyes. “Tonight, all business requests go through me, Mr. Botelli.
I will convey your wishes to Don Sanchez, and further action will be dependent on Don Sanchez’s frame of mind at that time.” He paused for effect then graciously excused his employer’s demands by offering Botelli a face-saving explanation, “After all, tonight Don Sanchez’s mind is on more…personal matters. And this is as you would wish, is it not?”
There was a harder edge to Ortega’s deep voice than the night before, but beneath the cutting tone was still a hint of that almost musical lilt. It unsettled Gabriel, disturbed him in ways he didn’t want to analyze.
“It is indeed, Señor Ortega.” Botelli’s smile was frozen on his lips, but he looked Sanchez in the eye while he answered. “He is an honored guest in my home. The guest of honor. And I’m happy to grant any reasonable request any guest of mine asks of me.”
Gabriel could just barely pick up the emphasis on the word reasonable. The hired guns on both sides shifted, hands reaching surreptitiously to unbutton jackets, waiting. Gabriel’s hands were relaxed and ready at his side, his jacket hanging open. He picked his mark: Ortega. It would be a pleasure to shoot the sonofabitch.
As he watched, Ortega flicked a look at his boss. Sanchez was smiling a strange smile.
It was a long, tense moment. The silence between the factions couldn’t be filled by music or the laughing babble of oblivious partygoers. Then Sanchez said mildly, “I will try not to request anything too unreasonable, amigo.”
Botelli smiled widely at this sop to his ego, and just like that the situation was defused. Everyone was smiling again—or at least not frowning so blackly.
Gabriel relaxed a fraction. But, he was startled out of his reflections as Don Sanchez sucked in a sharp breath.
Gina had appeared at the top of staircase, tall and voluptuous in a black silk gown that looked like something Sophia Loren would have worn in her heyday. With an unexpectedly good sense of timing, she sauntered down the long, winding staircase in a slow, sexy descent that had every man in the place watching her. Gina had the body to pull off that kind of old-fashioned glamour: ample, firm breasts, tiny waist, and lush hips. Her long dark hair billowed around her shoulders in waves that framed her beautiful face, accenting her sloe eyes.
Eyes wide with an eagerness Gabriel could only attribute to her desire to see the engagement rock Sanchez had brought her—or maybe from the few lines of the coke he knew she did when she was feeling stressed. She’d probably be feeling stressed full-time once she was Doña Sanchez, but that wasn’t his concern.
People made their choices and had to live with the consequences. He was living with his that very moment.
“Here she is!” There was genuine pride in Botelli’s voice. “Don Jesus, here’s your stunning bride-to-be.”
His expression held that mix of excitement and avarice it always did when the mob boss thought about his kingdom aligned through marriage to Don Sanchez’s empire. Maybe Botelli did love his sister in his way, but that look told Gabriel that Botelli was willing to sell his baby sister for thirty pieces of silver.
And the fact was, Gina was just as willing to sell herself for the promise of unlimited luxury and wealth.
At the bottom of the stairs she paused, pouted her wine-colored lips. “G, may I take your arm?”
Gabriel stilled as a shocked ripple went through the circle of men. What the fuck was she playing at? She was going to get them both killed. Gina met his stare defiantly, a reckless look in her eyes.
For a searing moment a grim-faced Botelli met Gabriel’s gaze, then turned to retrieve his sister himself.
Gabriel didn’t so much as glance their way. After a few seconds, he chanced a look at Sanchez. He was staring with molten eyes as Gina approached on Botelli’s arm—or, more accurately, he was staring at her perky, partially exposed breasts—and right next to him, Ortega was observing Gabriel with frank fascination.
Damn him. And damn Gina, who didn’t have the survival instincts of a lemming.
Botelli unpeeled his sister from his arm and scooted her over to Sanchez. And Gina pulled out her party manners and best smile, offering her hand. “Jesus,” she murmured.
And astonishingly, Don Sanchez took her hand and kissed it.
Gina blinked in surprise, wavering there on her skyscraper heels, blinking at him under her fake eyelashes.
Gabriel’s own attention moved to Ortega, who maneuvered close to him. In a voice for Gabriel’s ear alone he murmured, “I don’t believe we’ve been formally introduced.”
“Giovanni Contadino,” Gabriel grated.
“Very musical,” Ortega commented. “And what exactly is it you do around here, Contadino?”
So many possible answers. But Gabriel could not afford to draw any more attention to himself this evening. He said shortly,
“Whatever needs doing.”
Ortega’s tone was ever so slightly mocking. “You must be indispensable. Señorita Botelli seems to think so.”