“G is coming with me to meet the limo.” Botelli walked his sister to the bottom of the staircase. He shooed her away with his hand. “Go on. Brush your hair again or something.”
Gina flounced up a couple of steps. “Oh, well thanks a lot!
Maybe I just won’t come back down.”
“For God’s sake, Gina. It’s your engagement party! Your fiancé
is arriving tonight.”
Gina stopped in her tracks. “And I’m supposed to get all in a tizzy? Come on, Ricco. This is more your wedding than mine.
You should be the one picking the cake and choosing the invitations.”
Botelli said flatly, “Don’t kid yourself, Gina. This will be a real marriage.”
For a moment brother and sister stared at each other. Then Gina said tartly, “Great! To a man I barely know. Way to go, big brother.”
Botelli said, “I heard Sanchez bought a rock the size of Manhattan for you.” He touched the tip of her nose with his finger. “Won’t that look nice on your hand?”
A greedy sparkle replaced the defiance in Gina’s flashing dark eyes. Gabriel watched the transformation from spoiled, petulant kid sister to spoiled, calculating woman. Yeah, no point wasting a lot of sympathy on Gina.
Sighing dramatically, Gina eyed Gabriel. She rubbed her bare ring finger. “Well, maaaaybe a couple of carats could go a long way to helping me see things from the right perspective.”
Botelli chuckled, evidently approving of his baby sister’s mercenary streak. He swatted her pert ass as she turned away and sashayed up the stairs, with more wiggle to her hips than the effort required. But then Gabriel guessed it was hard to stomp off effectively in four-inch heels and a tight black silk gown.
At the top of the staircase Gina paused. “Okay. Just give me plenty of warning. I want to knock my future husband’s Gucci’s right off his big, flat feet.” She disappeared and an instant later there came the sound of a door slammed shut.
Botelli shook his head and turned back to Gabriel, who met his gaze levelly. Botelli wasn’t bad looking, but forty years of hard living was etched lines and creases into his dark Mediterranean features. His black hair was already receding. The nearly constant squint from refusing to wear the glasses he needed gave him a hard, suspicious look. But then he was a hard, suspicious man: crazy-ambitious and harsh to the point of cruelty. His only soft spot was his sister.
Botelli motioned to Gabriel. Gabriel crossed the foyer, deliberately relaxing his shoulders, staying loose and easy, ready for anything. Botelli had an ugly temper, and part of Gabriel’s job—like all Botelli’s hired muscle—was to take it and like it. When he was in arm’s distance, Botelli suddenly slung his heavy, surprisingly still-muscular arm around Gabriel’s shoulders and hauled him close. The effect was something like being swallowed whole by an aftershave-soaked shark. Gabriel lowered his head slightly, keeping his spine relaxed under the added weight, submissive but not intimidated.
“You know, Gio, I like you,” Botelli said. With a sinking in his gut, Gabriel knew Botelli had finally taken note of Gina’s attentions to one of the hired guns.
Gabriel said humbly, “I know you took a chance bringing me on board, Ricco. I appreciate it.” He raised his eyes briefly, lowered them again. It was a fine line between appearing obedient or weak. Weakness of any sort wasn’t tolerated in the Botelli organization. But neither was insolence. “I won’t let you down.”
Botelli stared at him with reptile eyes long enough for a trickle of sweat to track its way down Gabriel’s spine. The staff continued to move about the hall putting the final touches on the room. The waxy perfume of a garden’s worth of floral arrangements filled the air. The musicians were already set up in the ballroom, and the periodic discordant note as they checked their instruments floated down the hall. Gabriel couldn’t help noticing that the caterers all moved around him and Botelli like they were invisible, eyes shying away from the two men and their undervoiced conversation.
The spell was broken when Botelli playfully slapped his cheek.
His restraining arm crushed Gabriel tight then released him.
“Hey, I understand, paisan. Gina has a crush on you.” Botelli grinned a wolfish grin. “My baby sister is used to getting what she wants.”
Gabriel said, “She’s a Botelli, Ricco. She doesn’t like no for an answer.”
Botelli winked. “But you tell her no, right, Giovanni?”
Gabriel relaxed a fraction. The wink was a clue that Botelli was actually in a pretty good mood; learning to accurately gauge the man had been a matter of survival during the past year undercover, and in fact Gabriel had pretty much mastered playing Botelli’s expectations and emotions. When it came down to it, he found evading and distracting Gina the real challenge.
“Sure,” he said. He tried to look suitably surprised, like he was only catching on now that Gina’s behavior might present a real problem for him. In this case seeming sort of thick was the safest move. He added earnestly, “Gina’s a wonderful woman. I know she’s not in my class.”
“That’s right,” Botelli agreed. “But she’s a kid. What does she know? You’re young, brave, good-looking. She thinks you’re just her type.”
“I’m not her type,” Gabriel returned steadily.
“No?” Suspicion glinted in Botelli’s coal-dark gaze. He scrutinized Gabriel’s fine features framed in silky black. “So what type are you, cugine?”
Gabriel looked Botelli straight in the eye. Machismo was like a religion in the testosterone-drenched world of organized crime.
“Hey.” He offered his easy smile. “I’m a gunman for a mighty underworld kingpin. My life expectancy alone makes me lousy relationship material.” He opened his dinner jacket, his hand unconsciously caressing the butt of the 9mm secured in a shoulder holster under his left armpit, and it wasn’t just a line when he said, “I’m nobody’s type, Ricco. Not for more than one night, anyway.”
Giovanni Contadino was a phantom with no past, no future.
Only the here and now had substance or meaning for him—maybe not all that different than Gabriel Sandalini.
Botelli laughed and winked again, good humor restored by that vow of an early death in the line of duty.